is what I want – your soft fingers, that trail
at a pace that I imagine you imagine as yourself
drawing the limits of the skin, just half
solid, you outside moving in, and me pulled
to be all surface, mirrored, still as the whole
orchestra that hangs on every tick of deft
and mathematical command, a faith
expanding through the volumes of the house, the hall,
the almost weightless ash inside the grate,
the air over the frozen roof, the orange
cosmos of the vapour strung along the street
reflected by the tight hard stars – to take
their delicate echoes back, find nothing strange,
and prove each thing for what it is – complete.
– Ian McEwen
Inventory: Recovery Room
A thin yellow curtain shivers around my bed.
On the cupboard, a clipboard displays failing, falling numbers.
An IV stand bows its head from a tall metal stem and sends
a tube from pouch to cannula to vein, drip-feeding me morphine.
A plastic plug lies on the tile, no longer wiring the TV to the wall.
That blank screen is black now and shows only my reflection:
pale face, blue paper gown, surgical socks stretched up to the crotch.
On the windowsill, a row of bottles stare out at rain with dry eyes.
My breasts are funneled into plastic cups. The machine waits.
With each whine-whirr, it stretches my flesh, then lets go again;
the sensation as strange as a pinned and needled leg.
I think of milk, of beestings squeezed from a cow’s udders,
the feel of my fingers in a calf’s mouth: the fierce suck,
wet tongue muscling hard against the ridged roofs of a mouth,
the echo of a mother’s angry bellows from the meadow.
Within my chest, an itch begin to stir, turns to a tingling surge.
The machine’s slow suck and release yields a single drop
of yellow liquid. It leaks from me, drops into a plastic bottle.
Another slow drop forms and falls… Another. Another.
I sit and feed the machine, politely, quietly,
as through some bodily alchemy, electricity pulls milk from me.
By the wall, an empty cot, a hand-knit blanket neatly folded.
On top, a tiny hat and an unused nappy, flat.
Note: Beestings~ the nutrient-rich colostrum of a cow
– Dorieann Ni Ghriofa
AT THE STOP SIGN
On a day like today, with rain
pouring down the windscreen, not
much visible beyond the next car, rain
gathered in puddles by the curb and rain-
water lapping the toes of peoples’ boots
when they try a longstep to avoid the puddled rain
and with one foot trembling over flooded drains
they seem to catch their breath
and float out from the pavement – breathing
air mixed fifty-percent with rain –
until they reach the other side and click
their heels back down on the road, they click
their fingers at the leap, and click,
clock, off they go through a veil of rain…
Dreaming at the wheel again, the click
of wipers awakens the driver and she clicks
into action, brain empty, nothing
there but the automated click
of changing gears and revving up, the clicking
accelerator pressed by her boot –
one toe-nail turned black from wearing those boots
a little too tight – and that’s when it finally clicks:
his photos were taken right here… she breathes
in and out more slowly now, each breath
measured as she tries to breathe
her way back to the day when she clicked
open the briefcase lock with a screwdriver, breath
held in case she should find some breath
of the past left behind, perhaps a rain-
spotted note or brass compass breathing
out a faint scent of the sea. But the length and breadth
of his briefcase had been emptied, there was nothing
left, except two photographs of nothing
known. The lid drifted down, exuding a breath
of mothballs while she studied the red boots
of the woman in the photos, her boots
so bright she seemed to float, red boots
gliding three inches at least, or the breadth
of a hand, above the pavement. Those boots
red against grey, an unknown woman in boots
striding along with a clickety click.
As in a diptych, the high-heeled boots
daubed a red spot, drawing the eyes. Boots
crisp against the blurred grey of rain-
drenched cement and fence. Roadside and rain
a background to the day, the scent of those boots
step, stepping their way in two old photos, nothing
to tell her name, or the name of that place, not
a clue about why she was there, nothing
but the set of her shoulders and those red boots.
The oval blur of her face as she caught his eye, no
ties to the future or the past, nothing
now will tell us her name. A breath
of wind shakes heavy drops down and none
of it makes sense any more, nothing
but two blurred photos hastily clicked
from a car, as though the scene clicked
and he wanted to make something out of nothing.
And now, there is more rain
pouring down the windscreen, enough rain
to drench his photo-woman who had drops of rain
sparkling on her shoulders, or mist, or nothing –
its hard to tell at this distance – the red boots
dancing across the page and no breath
on his windscreen, while these wipers continue to click.
– Jane Robinson
How the body Remembers
Last night I was woken by a loose scrap of siren
and found you, face pressed to the night,
watching some drama unfold on our road,
cobalt strobing the silence
the way it lit up the street that September
in Trastevere, washed over you blue after blue
where you lay among fag ends and chair legs
until they lifted you on to a stretcher
and breath guttered back through your lungs
as we lunged over cobbles in a language
unknown to us and you found yourself
back in a nine-year-old body
careening through London’s cacophony
of sirens, bomb flares through blue glass,
the City in flames, your eyes wide
with terror and me holding your hand.
– Geraldine Mitchell
The Crocodile Bag
An African nun tucked it in my cradle.
I grew to love its glossy scales,
side pockets to hide things in.
Mother, dressed in full squirrel
said it made her shiver –
some reptile that once lurked in the Nile.
I yearned to clutch it under my arm
carrying: compact with mirror,
a lipstick called ‘Strawberry Kiss.
I polished its hide with my sleeve,
propped its mouth with a pencil
to keep it mould free.
Released in a drawer, it glided
in eau de Nil seas
of mother’s silk negligees.
shoved in the tallboy of oddities:
orphaned socks, mismatched cufflinks,
rollnig pearls of a necklace.
It surfaced last week on a tide of old shoes,
lay there unravellled –
the hide of a fabulous beast.
– Marie Coveney
November Rain, Swanage
That time we exchanged several emails a week
were the months of visits and therapies I could hardly
even in sympathy for you grasp the fearfulness of.
And now your time has become a more a more ordinarily
work-beset sort of time, while mine, much less
occupied, too much mine, needs urging firmly
towards things, like today this poem-like letter
or letter-like poem, in which I want to say
the thin November rain on Swanage Beach
is moist on the hand still, the chips are warm.
I can easily tread the winding cliff-edge path
and see the fulmars curving there, stiff winged,
easily feel the sand underfoot at Arne,
easily see you without a picture to prompt me
pausing to scrutinise shell, weed, stone,
crouching to see what coded sign the receding
tide leaves, till the sound of small waves breaking
is the sound of you taking the world in.
The walks we’ve had seem one long walk, its speech
one long conversation that won’t be interrupted
till it finishes, one single walk on which at first
you’re in this skirt then magically it’s jeans then
a green rainproof, a new winter coat with lobster-
hued buttons. The photographs are a trail
of illuminations, like a novel with no plot,
just images, of sun and sea, a cliff-edge
with a single poppy, or purple thistle-heads;
a tale of rock, yacht, flower, cliff, pub garden,
a fishing-boat drifting between jagged chalk-stacks
while out on the sea’s shimmering opal, sails
lean white, umber; a story of silent accretions
of place, moment, weather, season, with its own
episodes and diversions, its motifs, like the note
of your footwear metamorphosing: shoes to pink crocs,
to trainers, then boots, their step accompanied once
by stabilising Nordic walking sticks-
one of which you lent me to forestall any possibly
headlong stroll I might take down the one-in-five
slope to the beach at Durdle Door and its rocks.
How strange that with all that light on water, that colour,
The oceanic opals and turquoises, sharp red
highlights of poppy, knapweed’s imperial purple,
Harry Rocks’ dazzling white and croc-pink thrift,
it’s the grey November rain on the beach at Swanage
fills the mind to satiety with its music.
The stumps of the old pier curve into mist,
sad as the wake of a ship on which someone’s leaving,
ghostly with silenced decades of promenading
on summer evenings, its silver bands singing clear
above each quite breve of wave falling.
And when you point at a steam-train pulling out
towards Corfe, as if to show me what a steam-train
is, or lean on a soaking gate, absorbed, smiling
into a vacancy that contains, it must be,
some funny thing you’ve just remembered; or stand
a few feet away, a few years away, with the sea
glinting round you, sumptuously, deeply blue,
foaming obligingly white over rocks, while you
subject a packet of peppermints to the kind of scrutiny-
intent, relaxed – jewellers give diamonds ( it’s the wrapper
you’re focussing on, preparatory to offering me one ) :
you return those places to me, me to those places;
as these words, maybe, when the prints are scattered,
or I’m not around, might return to you a day
when the thin November rain on Swanage beach
was moist on the hand, and the chips were warm.
– Robert Hull
In winter I awaken to the dread
of losing something indefinable,
and darkness stretches out around my bed.
September flips a trip switch in my head
and daily living seems less feasible;
in winter I awaken to the dread.
On All Souls’ Night I’d gladly hide instead
of letting on that I’m invincible,
as darkness stretches out around my bed.
By December, it’s as if the world were dead:
to flight the darkness seems unthinkable.
Each winter day I struggle with the dread.
I wish that I could hibernate instead
of coming to and feeling vulnerable
to darkness stretching out around my bed.
I try to think of shorter nights ahead
though springtime now seems inconceivable.
In winter I awaken to the dread
of darkness stretching out around my bed.
– Amanda Bell