Poets Silenced

The Poets are silent today.
Nothing left to say.
No clever arrows
released above the world,
dropping truths
into troughs of expectation.

Not even the laureates with
their liquid pens
can find the flow
to describe the suffering
that distant butterfly creates
as he fans the flames of chaos.

Yes, the poets are silent today.
Their pages unsullied
as their gaze falters,
and their mighty hands
lie motionless
at the sound of distant fire.

Cast

On Saturday it was drama,
reciting lines and finding the right place
to stand and say our piece.

We talked about the context.
He with his historian’s eye
and me thinking of the costume,

the intrigues of make-up;
the tragicomedy of it;
the confined stage of it.

He spoke of the plot
as if it were simple,
as if there were no other scenes;

no second or third acts;
no love trysts or histrionics;
no heroes or villains,

while I wept copious
onion tears
as all good actors do.

Yes, it was just a rehearsal.
But I’m sorry to say,
that play is all but done.

Fugu*



*Japanese poisonous fish also known as blowfish. A delicacy.

Don’t just stare at it, eat it. Go on.
Do not be afraid.
It lies there in that perfect handmade bowl
yearning to be eaten.

That is its purpose.

It is why someone went out on a grey morning
and fished on the wild water,
enticing it to bite with a flick of a line.

It is why it was left to die gasping on the deck
seeing the unfiltered light of day for the first time
through a single upturned eye.

It is why it was stored in ice colder than the Siberian sea.

Brought from the market it warmed by day until its flesh softened,
its glassy eye melted, and it lay on the slab
under harsh electric lights,
waiting for somebody to fillet it with sequinned hands,

discard the poison,

cube the soft pale flesh, toss it into hot oil, fragrant
with garlic and spices, then gently lift it from the pan
and place it into this handmade bowl.
Garnished with herbs and a little black pepper,

it is a work of art

you must eat.

Place your life in that artists blade.

Grip hard with your chopsticks the flesh will try to slip
your grasp. Bring it to your lips,
accept its threat like a kiss.
Trust it.
Savour its sting on your tongue.
Feel the warmth of the melt and the release of juices.

The morsel will not last long, but the taste,
well, the taste will linger in your memory

for as long as you might live.

Homing

When he bought the first birds
home, and left them gently cooing
in a cage in our living room
mum was livid –
‘better not make a mess on my carpet’

He held one, passive in his hefty hands,
smoothing down the feathers
with his thumb. He passed it to me like a prize.
It was light and soft as sponge cake.

He cut up a cupboard to make a loft.
Replacing the roses in the garden.
Painted dove in that grey town,
It stood out like a tanner in a sweeps ear’ole’,
as dad would say.

We ferried the birds to their palatial home,
where the sun pearled their feathers,
and through the grill
they could watch the sky
and hear the taunts of the thieving sparrows.

Our fleet grew,
and on Saturdays they raced and flew
for miles, and almost always
found their way home because
of my determined rattle of a tin of grain.

I would watch the flock
circle as they spied their palace
between the dull bricks of London.
Dad won rosettes, well, his pigeons did.
Displayed them on the living room wall.

Mum complained about them
gathering dust. More often I had her to myself
and we snuggled on the sofa watching
Corrie on the telly before bed.

While at the pigeon club in the pub
Dad spent the evening getting drunk
and softly cooing at the barmaid,
holding the bird in his hefty hands.

Before long, those homing pigeons were gone.

And so was dad.

Social Distance

On the beach
she builds a fire with gnarly driftwood
and sits a copper pot above it.
Stirs in sea creatures like a witch.

Hot chillies and pinches of spice:
ginger; turmeric; paprika, for flavour.
She knows the aroma will drift
on the sea breeze to sunbathers
at the swanky hotel

who lie sweating under palm umbrellas
sipping coloured cocktails
brought to them by young men
in uncomfortable clothes.

In the midday heat a couple strolls
hand in hand towards the woman

who stirs her pot in the shade of sarongs
that hang from a line behind her.

She sells them ladles of soup
in mismatched bowls.

They sit on rocks by the aloes
to slurp and agree
it’s the best fish broth
they’ve ever tasted.

When bowls are empty she points
to her line of bright sarongs
Only 40 she says,

The woman says ‘they’re pretty’
and the man pulls just 20 from his fat wallet.

The old woman yields and watches

them sashay
back along the beach,
back to the sunbeds,
where they’ll try and tan
without burning,
or turning as brown as her.

She wipes her dusty hands
on a rag and casts the dregs of soup
in an arc across the sand,

back in her hut
she eats boiled rice and stale bread,
then drops her skinny frame down
onto her single mattress.

At 10 she hears the music from the hotel start.
Singing and laughter cling to the wind.
She snuffs her candle and tries to sleep.

They may dance until dawn
but she will be heading to the market then.

 

The Mother Ship

I was the vessel
that ferried them to this world.
They travelled in economy,

limbs contorted,
while I billowed through the months,
growing my curious cargo.

Wedged inside the hold
they didn’t want to leave.
Wouldn’t disembark.

They saw first light
through a porthole carved
in that cramped cabin.

Then were hauled out,
two pink slippery shrimp
complaining loudly.

My bow adrift
I bled a galaxy of tears,
while alien life lay mewling in my harbour.

Horse

I was only young,
eleven, twelve,
when the old brown horse
turned up on some bombed-out land near home,
its big soft snout snuffling
over the fence searching for sugar.

I lived in a brown town
punctuated by red buses,
not a place for country creatures.
No sweet greens,
just scratchy weedy, unknown things
to graze. No dapples, just
blocks of shade.

Skipping to school with sticky hands
I stopped each day at that wasted land
where the horse shone
and softly took the treat,
then thanked me with a stroke
of his conker coat.

Until we knew each other.
He always waited and watched
at the right o’clock
and greeted me,
delighted,
I named him ‘Horse’.
He knew me as ‘sugar lump girl’

One day the land was waste no more.
The builders came and built some flats
where old Horse once stood
and waited,
waited.