We had come to the old house for a cure  —
or a reason, a road map, or a railroad, inked across a page,
to take us to recovery. Feelings

were running high —  we sat beside locked doors
with children on our knees. The rooms inside

were where the old men sat. They were
weighing us, and watching us. But
who, we wondered, could possibly save us? Outside,

in the rose garden, decisions were being made.
The light reminded me of lost things —
keys and spectacles, and names and dates,

words left on the tip of the tongue. There was a smell
we recognised — not of warmed earth,
the wet grass each morning, but

of oil, of dirty summer afternoons
in traffic jams, of oil slicked on wave-edged beaches,
in the mouths and wings of fish and birds,

oil in the old tank where the neighbour’s cat
lay pristine among blistered paint, the rust,
the aching sun. In the waiting room

the children now grew restless, mothers
wiping noses, scrolling on their phones.
There were perspex layers, locks

between us, a plastic box of blunted crayons,
no paper on the table; the air was empty
of animal sounds.  When I looked again

the children’s hair had started to fall out in clumps,
skin puckering like old balloons.
Shown in, at last, the rooms were being dismantled

and I knew then like a trip of flame, a spark
from an ignition, we’d forgotten dates we’d meant
to keep before.  Now everywhere was being emptied:

files and boxes balanced on the grubby office chairs.
And I think of them now, how sorry we were,
the old men, and the children, the door propped open

like an garden door we had left open, once before,
through which we could not really leave, despite the urge to run.