Not for me the clean sweep of ocean,
the Atlantic’s glittering haul,
the sleeping bulk of Mull across the Sound:
give me this out-of-season garden
with its corrugated plastic greenhouse,
its broken trellis and the outline of a door frame
bleached into grass.
Last night I unpacked,
cranked up the radiator, jammed the wonky door
shut with a spoon. If only it were as easy
to fold away the lists, the end-of-term exams,
my husband’s flirty emails to his student,
the forms and overdue accounts.
Since I woke, no one’s crossed the lawn,
a crate of empties or kitchen peelings in their arms:
only that starling on a wire,
crisp against pale blue, which flies off
as I fix the curtains into place,
before I write him down, recording how his wings
bear off an oil-slick with such grace.
Voices from a stage. Knives
at girls spreadeagled on boards.
Champagne against an ocean-going hull.
A cap above a surge
of heads. An opportunity
away. A pitcher on a potter’s wheel.
A spanner into the works.
A first draft into the bin. Caution
to the wind. A lasso into air
to tame the wild. A wild card
into play. A lifeline.
A javelin to the far end of a pitch.
Confetti. A fist of silver
from a car. The trap below a sentenced man.
A coat around the shoulders
of the last one out the door. A plate
against a wall. Fire
towards the enemy. Hands up in dismay,
or higher, in surrender. A ring
into the sea. All of it, away.
I come from a line of strong women:
Earth mothers whittled and painted
with colours fit for a Tsarina –
gilt-edged primaries, corvid-black hair,
a bud of mouth and these high Slavic cheekbones
with their puffs of pink.
I’ve perfected this pose, thrown it so many times
that even when you look inside –
my body opening Caesarean-wide
then wider still till I split in two –
you’ll find replica after
The only part that still remembers tenderness
is my birth wound, untreated balsa:
smooth, pale as the forearm
of a longed-for child,
its veins an ornamental blue.
The question spirals down his throat
and lodges in his ribcage.
It is conch; a flowering artichoke;
a cochlea that hears only pulse.
It speaks a seaborne dialect. It speaks
of gases compressing, of stars
seeding like sunflowers, of the origin of salt.
It speaks of the trails of ancestors
dragging themselves from the surf;
a shedding of fins, scales, monocular vision.
The question turns again
and hooks in deep.
As he wanders the cathedral gardens of Pisa
he sees it in everything.
The tower straining for it. He feels
its pressure when he inhales:
a bruise, a colour breathing into life,
the small ache
of coming back to himself
while spinning further away.