From the start some things puzzled him:
the strange shadow that played around her legs
her plaits’ gleam like angel hair at low tide
the way she was only happy when in the bath
how she’d eat nothing but raw fish and seaweed
though she wasn’t Japanese; her great love
of sitting on rocks, gazing beyond the waves.
He never could remember how they’d met
had no idea what kept her close to him
when she spoke so little and her words
rose like bubbles from deep inside her body
in a language he could only half understand.
He noticed how her kisses tasted of salt
felt her slither away when they made love.
While she was with him he learned to forget time.
Each night their room became a watery cave
quicksilvered with shoals of fish; the furniture
turned to corals that pulsed and swayed. Her eyes
changed from blue to green to grey as the light
came and went before them, while he swam
in this new element, following after her.
Each morning he awoke in their dry bed
with her beside him writhing in discontent
till it was time for her to take her bath.
One day he reached out, touched empty space,
kissed the pillow which tasted of her salt.
He went down to the shore. She’d left her clothes
in the shape of the shadow, shoes splayed like fins.
The other day an angel
wrapped soft grey wings around me,
feather-tips touching my heart.
I hadn’t expected it to visit. It said
it had come to stay, and smiled
the way I hoped an angel would smile.
I leaned back against it, cushioned
from the shock of being human.
My naked skin felt its own feathers.
I remembered I could fly.
After you died, in singing May,
I walked under the lime trees.
Lind, linden, tilleul, tiglio,
tisane the warm wet taste
of grief, lime’s bittersweet smell.
In the Russian church I steadied
your tottering candle on a stand
where other souls burned low. Dusha, soul’s whisper of a word,
dissolved in the echo of music.
Now I breathe bluebells, each head
sharp-focused, each moment’s scent
already lost, swallowed by the past.
When I die may the moment drop
light as leaf on lind in summer air.
and I’ll take you to places that weren’t
until there were the two of us,
streets that turn to shingle underfoot
where the sound of cars becomes surf
before we’ve even reached the wave,
green hills that part in a rush of sea,
seals eyeing us as they flop
over kelp that a moment ago was grass.
We’ll see sheep turn to clouds and lift
high in the air, gulls alight below them
in a descent of sky that washes us with blue
so we don’t know whether to walk or swim.
We’ll meet sunrise where the sun sets again
so fast it leaves us all the dark we need
for finding one another, sunsets that last days
so we can taste each colour of their light,
rain that falls into our mouths as sweet
and nourishing as fruit, storms that shake us
free of the people we thought we were
and set us down again beside ourselves.