A Poem for All Souls Day: Big Bed by Helen Anderson

It’s All Souls Day, a day of remembrance for the people we have lost. As a ritual it’s almost been absorbed into the extended festival of Halloween and now we know it better as the Mexican ‘el dia de los muertos’ (Day of the Dead). We see the carnivalesque painted skulls but the more homely celebration involves picnics at family graves and leaving food out for dead relatives. I can relate to this, as that’s what my Irish mother did: we made a feast for the dead and gone. This ritual, though initiated by Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic religions, is very much a ritual of hearth and home. It’s one we can hand-make with what we’ve got to remember and celebrate those we have lost.

We can put out their favourite sweets, read from their favourite books, light a candle by a photo – whatever you feel works. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something to tend that little garden of grief we carry where their memory still grows with us.

Earlier this year I posted Notes from the Watch, a call out for work that explores the thoughts that keep us awake in those dark hours of the morning. Helen Anderson, an exceptional writer from the North East coast, responded with this incredible poem that looks at the way loss fractures memory and how

grief is not a staged process towards closure but a kind of ‘unfinished fixing’.

Helen experienced the loss of her teenage daughter Georgina to cancer in 2013 and she lost her husband suddenly last year to a brain haemorrhage. This poem is raw, beautiful and honest and captures the strange joy and pain that is remembering. Take a moment to breathe, read and let this one in.

Big Bed

I wish
night would come
real dark
not streetlight gloam
the house is hushed
I remember
listening for splutters
not knowing how
I would know
the sound
when it came
calling the nurse
from her bed
not wanting
to make a fuss
causing a right rumpus
my child MY CHILD
your face
pale as moon
your face
yellow like sun
holding the phone
your mouth
On Her Way
no Braxton-Hicks rattle
they wheeled you
by candlelight
I wish
I had made them
let me keep you
I remember
they told me straight
your dad would die
by morning
no Wait and See
dimming the switch
scraping my skull
for unsaid things
promising to try
not telling them
straight away
he had gone
knowing the sound
this time
when it came
to take my time
I think
my bed is too big
Grandma died
in bed
they say that
I think
tea and toast
grey red-tape
unfinished fixing
I imagine
those creaks are
I imagine
this weight is
not hollow-fibre
I hear
the night-shift
for Christ’s sake
now bloody birds
the day is coming
purple and green
never real

Helen Victoria Anderson

Helen Victoria Anderson has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Teesside University. She won First Prize in the People Not Borders Short Story Competition 2017. Author of ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ (Slipway, 2015), she is a bereaved parent and a widow.


Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

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