For my nephew, who I hope will read this one day and know how deeply he will always be loved. If only because he is, as my nephew, an extension of my sister, the only person I have ever loved.

for toby

observe. there are cracks in the world.
at first small and threadlike, picked out in red
across these spades you call my hands.
when we curl our palms like peanut shells
dancing in rotten black bins on the street,
the cracks curve over and under and disappear
under the flat moons of our fingernails.

our fists ringed with hairline fractures
of the skin, which flatten out and vanish
with the tightening of our hands. left. right.
we are shadowboxing, face to face, fist to fist
but cushioned between with a slab of air,
gritty with pollution from the motorway below.
we never make contact but we feel it just the same.

now in your face there are lines forming, whirling
like water pirouetting on open drains in a hurricane pattern
around the soft black round gutter of your mouth.
would that I were there to see them grow
and reach out like tender vines across your skin,
and in your throat a Scottish accent stirs and sends out tendrils
vapour-thin and insensible to the eye.

in later years your voice will crack,
splinter from inexplicable spurts of growth
and your bones will ache in time, you piano, you,
time falling like hammers on your throat and limbs.
I remember the smell of your head
was like newly varnished wood, an oasis of smoothness
in the cracked-and-weary hospital ward.

observe. between us there is a gulf or chasm,
scar tissue bubbling at the borders, edging an open wound
too wide to bridge with any falling tree or oar:
only the teeming morning flight, filled with cracked lips
shouting splintered welcomes into mobile phones,
forms a double stitch across the gap
and fills out every crack.

Neph"ew [OE. neveu, nevou, nevu, fr. F. neveu, OF. also, nevou, L. nepos; akin to AS. nefa, D. neef, G. neffe, OHG. nevo, Icel. nefi a kinsman, gr. , pl., brood, young, Skr. nepat grandson, descendant. &root;262. Cf. Niece, Nepotism.]


A grandson or grandchild, or remoter lineal descendant.


But if any widow have children or nephews [Rev. Ver. grandchildren,]. 1 Tim. v. 4.

If naturalists say true that nephews are often liker to their grandfathers than to their fathers. Jer. Taylor.


A cousin.




The son of a brother or a sister, or of a brother-in-law or sister-in-law.



© Webster 1913.

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