I have always been a good judge of small distances,
reach to shelf, hem to waist, bedfoot to the wardrobe door;
an accurate pie-divider, puddle-jumper, assessor
of the lifespan of the only toilet roll.
Not only I.
My sister put on lipstick without looking.
A modest outline but it never strayed—
it was so useful in the dark.
And she would sing out A’s, as many as required
to tune her ’cello to. Her perfect pitch hung in the air
until the tightenings and releasings were complete.
I threw a florin once from off the Prom
into a bucket miles out on the beach. When it dived inside
I thought My God, I’m someone after all !
first published in Smiths Knoll, 38, 2006
When all Dad’s jobs were bombed, he learned the saxophone—
in just three weeks—the Sheffield Empire had a vacancy by then.
I’d sit with him and listen, and report my findings from the chesterfield.
‘Better?’ he’d say. I’d say ‘Oh yes, it sounds much better now’.
The thing would scream and squawk and crack and bray,
day after day. I’d say ‘Yes, Dad, that bit was really, really good.’
One day the notes began to roll—solid globules floating out,
quivering but holding, rising up and breaking just in time.
He played and played. I did not say a word because relief
was filling up my ribs until they hurt. Now we were safe.
first published in Brittle Star, 13, Spring 2006
Watching her interview on video
My office colleague was required to say
Were her responses apposite or no ?
How she ‘observed herself’ and in what way ?
‘I could not answer them’ she said ‘But only stare,
I did not see myself, it was my Mother there.’
My daughter and myself are not alike
In feature, colour, shape of head, or hair
The most observant artist could not strike
The slightest likeness from this disparate pair.
And yet my colleague said ‘Go to the foyer, do,
A smaller version of yourself is there for you.’
I have a tiny snap—its amber sheen
Obscures a young girl sitting on the prom
Nothing remarkable about the scene
Yet when I look at it odd feelings come
Time’s sequences have engineered a small escape
It is my mother sitting in my daughter’s shape.
This ghostly dispositioning of limbs
Identical displacements of the air
Are sharp adjustments as the likeness dims
Keeping identity in good repair,
A skeletal recall maintains our gestures true
Our children’s children’s child will move as now we do.
first published in Staple, 49, Winter 2001
‘The world at a distance is best’ said the boatman, prising a star from his net,
travelling it up between finger and thumb to rest on a ledge with the others.
No sound in his movement, the nets took all noise to themselves,
muffling into their delicate lattice the undisturbed hubbub of years.
Sweeping over the boatman’s knees and my knees, layering the warm boards
waistdeep in places, swooping up walls, rooting at oak studs struck in at
differing levels, hammocking under the roof. Only the door and the floorswing clear.
He raised the first fold on his nails. Yard after yard rode his finger-ends,
bright in the door-light, sun squinting and blinking, crazy with chequered joy,
netting his lighted face, leaping and swerving, joking the walls.
Manweb, threaded air tesserae, fluid as seawater, smelling of life before death.
‘This one’s done’. He lowered the heavy folds down and stood up.
Freeing his feet, he swept the stars into the cup on one hand and
carefully stepped to the door, raised the cup and flung the stars clear of the wall.
They swung up and down in the sea’s oily lap, then turned like a little flotilla
and swam for the sky
He watched, forgotten hand curved at his neck, as he always did,
to see what the stars did.
first published in The Rialto, 57, Spring 2005
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