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The Abandoned Quarter                    Caret Mark

Journey                          Late Lunch


The Abandoned Quarter


The war is at the top of the hill

just up there

in that tree-lined suburb

at the edge of the town

its expensive flats abandoned

and the roadway empty


how tightly the rest of the city

draws away from it

you never hear it mentioned now

and nobody goes there


so why do I stop

turn and look towards it

my hands full of blue plastic bags

weighed down with groceries?


From under the tarmac

through cracks that are invisible

blue flames flicker

as pointed as holly leaves


and just out of sight

in the cover of the tree-trunks

bare-headed, fair-headed

his gun across his stomach

a soldier stands braced


The war’s coming closer

go home now quietly.



Mary Michaels

from Assassins, 2006, Sea Cow Press


Caret Mark


Nailed to a post in the middle of the levels



four hundred and fifty houses, a road



against the waving heads of the new-grown cereal




square-towered church with outward leaning walls,

Norman, enlarged in the following centuries


pilgrim crosses behind the chancel arch

(faintly scratched lines plated over with glass)                

and a Latin invocation, narrowly incised


For the soul of my father who died at Agincourt




deckle-edged notelet - full of underlinings, exclamations, capitals -

among a box of postcards, Birthday cards, Get Well cards


letters of condolence, Thank you for the flowers

(depicting a pointed Gothic window with tracery)


bits of scrap paper with drafts of replies

scrawled over with caret marks, crosses and strike-throughs




in the dark of a bedroom, two hours before dawn

the smooth plastic case of a ticking alarm


reached out for and turned in one hand like a pebble.



Mary Michaels

from Caret Mark, 2008, Hearing Eye




Some part of me wants to open the train door


I told him about the film where a character

opened the door and threw himself out


that was unnecessary, tactless, vicious

that was the nasty part of me


I didn’t know he was depressed


some depressed part of me


I was on my way to the wedding, the hairdressers

all my not-seen relatives, got up in black, shrinking and tiny


he opened the door and


it was some time before I told anyone

the train had gone miles farther on


would he be lying alongside the track?


we set up the search then

lots of false leads, wrong interventions

people in bright colours and struggles


he always used to say he had friends in the camp

and wanted to join them


we knew they were grey-white shadows  


yet here in a leather jacket life-sized, kindly

a man who says he’s come from there

will take us back


he knows my name


I don’t ask him what journey this is


some part of me won’t ask

goes willingly.




Mary Michaels

from The Shape of the Rock, 2003, Sea Cow Press


Late Lunch


Two o’clock


 among the dull green tablecloths

 the tall waitress sits down to take her break

 with a cup of espresso


 slim pink sleeves in the dimness


 her long dark hair fastened loosely at the neck

 in a loop of blue elastic

 one strand, as always, falling onto her face


 Eating at the other end of the café

 I sense in a mouthful of tomato and lettuce

 from the plate that she brought me

 something like a thread


 my tongue skilfully separates it out

 and my fingers discreetly pull between my lips

 a long dark hair

(unlikely to have come from

 the shaven-headed chef)


 I crumple it up in a paper serviette

 don’t mention it to anyone


 like having that softly falling lock in my mouth


say it was her hair.



Mary Michaels

from Assassins, 2006, Sea Cow Press


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