My first reaction is: I want it,
can’t wait to squeeze into
a scarlet sheath that promises
breasts round as russet apples,
a waist pinched to a pencil,
hips that know the whole dictionary
of swaying, can’t wait
to saunter down an August street
with every eye upon me.
But the moment I’m zipped in
I can’t breathe and the fabric
hugging my stomach without mercy
pronounces me a frump.
Besides, in the internet café,
where you can phone Tangiers
or Thailand for almost nothing
fourteen pairs of eyes
are absorbed by screens.
No one whistles when I smile
at boxes of tired mangoes
and seedy broccoli heads
outside the Greek superstore.
By now I’m in a fever to undo
the garment and pull it off.
And for all its flaws, for all
that it only boasts one breast,
I’m overjoyed to re-possess
my body. I remember I hate
holding in and shutting away.
What I want is a dress easy
as a plump plum oozing
juice, as a warm afternoon
in late October creeping
its ambers and cinnamons into
leaves, a dress that reassures
there’s no need to pretend,
a dress that’s as capacious
as generosity, a dress that willingly
unbuttons and whispers in the ear:
be alive every minute of your life.
Once it was crossing the unmade road to sing
to wet mouths that chewed, stare at the sway
of udders soft as babies’ heads, sniff milkiness,
glimpse emerald wings on cracked dung;
was nibbling the seeds in ripe heads of rye,
picking clovers – the pink and mealy white,
was thistles prickling legs and lying among feather-
head grasses that tickled as they brushed the sky;
was the night the carthorses raced round
driven by an electric storm’s purple slashes,
their madness spilling into my excitement,
drops of light next morning glistening the ground;
was climbing the Downs, letting out the fears
penned in my head and walking a stubble field
to a blackened mill that stood defiant as it whirled
cloud and sun, roared its energy into my ears.
Now, field is the sweep below the spinney
in the park. Its glorious grasses stand unpawed
by city, smell of hay and are rarely mowed.
Here, carwhirr is muffled, collies plunge
into jungles of pungent stalks, tortoiseshells
flitter over ragwort. Ragged lines of geese
flap darkly across the setting sun’s fleece
and utter warnings that day is paling out.
Here is fade, fall and rot till willows beginning
to green signal the white surprise of spring:
blossom on blackthorn knobbles, scatters of long-
winged anemones. And where dandelions hold up
their gorgeous yellow crowns, stinging nettles
herd and cunning spiders hang their threads,
where beetles scarper, slithery worms bed,
who knows what could sprout, run wild?
A crucial ingredient is the right frame of mind
so abandon all ideas of getting on. Stop pedalling,
dismount, go indoors and give yourself masses of time.
Then begin by heating a pool of oil in a frying pan
and, Mrs. Beeton style, take a dozen onions
even though the space you’re working in is smaller
than the scullery in a Victorian mansion. Pull off
the papery wrappings and feel the shiny globes’ solidity
before you chop. Fry the segments in three batches.
Don’t fuss about weeping eyes, with a wooden spoon
ease the pieces as they turn translucent and gold.
When you’ve browned but not burnt the cubes of beef
marry meat and onions in a deep pan, bless the mixture
with stock, spoonfuls of paprika, tomato purée
and crushed garlic. Enjoy the Pompeian-red warmth.
Outside, the sun is reddening the pale afternoon
and you’ll watch as it sinks behind blurring roofs,
the raised arms of trees, the intrepid viaduct.
In the kitchen’s triumph of colour and light the meat
is softening and everything in the pot is seeping
into everything else. By now you’re thinking of love:
the merging which bodies long for, the merging
that’s more than body. While you’re stirring the stew
it dawns on you how much you need darkness.
It lives in the underskirts of thickets where sealed buds
coddle green, where butterflies folded in hibernation,
could be crumpled leaves. It lives in the sky that carries
a deep sense of blue and a thin boat of moon angled
as if it’s rocking. It lives in the silent larder and upstairs
in the airing cupboard where a padded heart pumps
heat, in the well of bed where humans lace together.
Time to savour all this as the simmering continues,
as you lay the table and place at its centre a small jug
in which you’ve put three tentative roses and sprigs
of rosemary. At last you will sit down with friends
and ladle the dark red goulash onto plates bearing
beds of snowhite rice. As you eat the talk will be bright
as the garnets round your neck, as those buried
with an Anglo-Saxon king in a ship at Sutton Hoo,
and the ring of words will carry far into the night.
is a revelation. Peer
through the compressions
and the releases in its many layers
to segments that are pink
and purple – you will make out
a snake coiling in on itself to make a maze.
Follow the concentric paths
led by pointed leaves – you’ll wonder
why they travel with such determination.
You can see the beginnings
of shapes that are still inexplicable.
This black speck might be a tadpole
in a bubble of spawn
or the eye of a fledgling in an egg.
Something is waiting to be pulled out,
threaded with breath, wrapped
in light. Will you try and discover
the intention or if there is an intention?
Lines you have read,
your own lines of thought,
your intuitions may illumine a route
through these circles
with the intense blue which burns
in the flame of a match that’s struck
in a dark room.
But the further in you go,
the nearer you come to the mystery
at the crimson heart
where word is not divided
from rose, the deeper you see it is.
(inspired by a painting done by a woman at a drop in centre for people with Alzheimers)