Since there’s no blind, the tree outside’s
a curtain on your room, the yolk-bright mornings
breaking through. Last night, its shadow seemed
the only thing between you and the leaking dark,
the rain set loose and needling the bark.
Look close. Its leaves direct the wind.
Your world’s veiled by a moving thatch —
this is the way a hunter squints through grass,
a hide-and-seek cheat peers over their hands,
a girl looks up from underneath her fringe.
This is the landscape’s hidden hinge
where all things start and peter out:
the summers you were blind to, winters when
the tree gave back the tin-roof coloured sky,
the small, white knuckle of a distant farm.
These branches force the valley’s arm,
pin down the light, headlock the air
until there’s nothing left of it at all.
Watch how the leaves balance the sky,
then let it fall.
The Word for Snow
The Inuit have twenty-two words
for snow, I told him, but he didn’t want to hear,
didn’t raise his head from the bowl of dough,
thumbs kneading flour in a frenzy.
The lawn was freezing over, but the air stayed
empty and I wondered how the Inuit
would name this waiting—
the radio playing to itself in the bathroom,
the sound from the street of
ice-cream vans out of season
in this town where we don’t have
twenty-two words for anything,
where I learned the name
for round hills built on plastic
and bothered by seagulls, the bridge
where a man was killed in the strike
and where they want to put street lamps
to keep away the kids.
From the window, I watch
the sky as it starts to fill. In the kitchen,
dad sifts flour, over and over
as if still panning for something.
I trampled ants for kicks on the quay at Dieppe, dawdling
by the desk where they wouldn’t take yes for an answer;
yes, it was our name and spelled just so –
we shook our heads at Moor and Maud and Morden,
dad traced phonetics in Oldham’s finest guttural.
Rope swung from the captain’s fist
and flayed the water. I saw him shudder, troubled
by a shift of air or a vision of our crossing: glower of thunder,
the lurch and buckle of the ferry, a thick Alsatian
with a face like Cerberus ushering us in to port
and I looked him in the eye, popped my bubblegum,
a child from the underworld in red sandals
and a t-shirt made by Disney, not yet ashamed
by that curt syllable, locked, cold to the tongue,
its hush of the morgue, not yet the girl
who takes the worst route home
pauses at the splayed mouths of alleyways
and looks straight past you as we kiss, as if to pick out
small behind your left shoulder, the spindle of a shipwreck,
prow to a far country.
Hold me, you said,
the way a glove is held by water.
Black, fingerless, we’d watched it
clutch a path across the pond,
never sure if it was water or wool
that clung fast. The mills are plush apartments now,
flanked by stiff-backed chimneys
and you ache for living voices,
the clank and jostle of machinery,
for something to move in this glassy pool
where once, you were the waterwheel,
I, the dull silver it must
catch and release
as if it can’t be held.
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