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Snake               In the Consulting Room

         Passing on the Tickle           Grass




Just a glimpse of my bare heel or toe,

the slightest movement of my sheet

would alert a knotted writhe of snakes

lurking in the cave beneath my bed.

Heavy with poison,

they’d be slung between the springs,

coiled around the metal frame

or simply thick in number, camouflaged

among the carpet pattern’s twists and turns,

their bifurcated tongues

wavering between needle-teeth and fangs.

They’d strike at the sight of a pale insole

or ankle, better still, a plumper calf.

When my night screams

brought the man married to my mother

he’d cover my mouth

then reticulate his other hand

between my grooves and hollows.

His tongue, strung with saliva,

would engulf and swallow me

as he delivered his shot of venom.


After the ringing in my ears had stopped

I’d fly into a treetop nest and sway there.

Coach whip, copper head, bull snake,

python, diamond back, smooth snake,

cobra, mamba, sidewinder, hoop snake,

house snake, ophidia, serpentes, my mantra.


I’ve gained their confidence. Come up,

I’ll say, and then, in their jewelled tuxedos,

watch them stretch across my pillows,

slither below my duvet. Each time

I am surprised how warm they are,

how sleek their polished scales.  

Who’d have guessed I’d have them

eating from my hand? I can

even stroke and squeeze them

while they nudge for more, their dewy eye

not fooling me. I’ve spent years

learning to unhook my jaw, perfect

the toxicity of my digestive juices

so not a single drop’s superfluous.

See how much breath I hold

in this single, elongated lung.

See how I’ve sloughed my childskin.


Pat Borthwick

2nd Prize, Petra Kenney Anglo/Canadian Poetry Competition, 2004;

in collection Swim,  Mudfog 2005




In the Consulting Room


Do sit down, he says,

pointing to the jolly-coloured chair

perhaps assuming

they’ll sit on each other’s knees.

He picks up the phone,

requests another be brought in.


They’re joined at the sternum,

have shared the same blouses

and stretchy cardigans, heart,

for twenty years.

Their memories and imaginations

have been visited by the same blood. At night,

they pass the same breath between them.

It wreathes their dreams.

Sometimes, their lips rest on each other’s.


So how have you been? Any problems

since I last saw you?


nono, they reply,

pulling at their knitted cuffs.


Stairs still manageable?  Sleep well?




Eating?  Any difficulty there?  Bowels?




They reach for a mint

from each other’s pocket.


A clinical sister brings in an x-ray,

fixes it against the light box.

And leaves.

They both turn their heads,

see a pattern of pale bones

like snowy branches,

timber from a ghost ship.

They see a huge dark shape

hung from the spars,

a pulsar, an exploding star.


So, have you thought about

what we talked about last time,

reached a decision?


Sweet wrappers spill from their laps.


yesyes.  nono.  yesno.


Pat Borthwick

2nd Prize Petra Kenney Anglo-Canadian Poetry Competition, 2006

published in Seam, 25, 2006





Passing on the Tickle


Lie flat as sky, sleeves rolled to the elbow

so that, arms outstretched, your hands


hinge through the grassy overhang

to where water runs in shadows


and hollow reeds set notes free.  

All possibilities are in this place.


It’s here the speckled trout waits

gleaming in war-flecked armour.


For now, he’s made himself invisible.

But you saw his flash of leap and catch,


his muddy swirl and dash.

And you know he faces upstream


breathing in, breathing out. And close

his contemplation, the next plump fly


or next, the deliciousness of this one

snatched from heaven’s bright mouth.


You were taught to watercreep your fingers

towards where he wafts his fins.


Are you closer to pectoral or pelvic,

the narrowing of sword to tail?


A clash of artistry.  His argent muscle

tightens to attention as you make touch.


D-rum, d-rum, d-rumdiddy d-rum. He feels

your drowning beat. D-rumdiddy d-rum.  Hook


two fingers in his closing gill and he’s in air.

Your father, grandfather, his father, his,


throng the grassy bank, caps doffed.

Well done lad, well done. You watch


as their hungry plates and cutlery

zig-zag to the bottom of the stream


while about to break your family line,

return him to his water. D-rumdiddy d-rum.


Pat Borthwick

1st Prize, Poetry on the Lake (Italy), 2006

and published in Poetry on the Lake anthology/CD.







(Surely the people is grass. Is XI 7)



Gather a root of grass

from every lawn in the world,

every sports pitch and gutter,

barrack and hospital ground,

fold yard and pasture, watery bank,

concrete crevice and crack,

wherever grass might force through

to wave its green flags.


And look under things

like wagons shunted away

down the branch line, a churn,

rusting headstocks, long-handled tools,

the soles of the man left waiting.

Yellow it might be

but grass knows how to survive.

It never complicates air.

It travels the world

by linking arms with its neighbour.


With these roots, start a new lawn

in a place where everyone

can walk barefoot across it

(at least once in their lives) to feel

how something as simple as grass

knows how to sing so flutey and free

you need to get down on your knees

and tune your ear to its frequency.

O grass, what have we made you hear?


And after we named you ‘grass’

then renamed you 5¹(TTTAGGG) n-3¹,

what words did the wind bring

to make you cower and tremble?


Nimble Will, Squirrel Tail, Tumble and Quitch,

Quaking Grass, Ribbon Grass, Velvet and Witch,

Bristle, Spear, Panic, Redtop and Switch,

why have we made you brandish your swords?


What do you know?


Pat Borthwick

2nd Prize, Torriano Poetry Competition, 2006


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