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They Are a Tableau at the Kissing Gate

Gawain's Horse            Twins

In Response to a Nude Photograph of Mina Loy, 1905


They Are a Tableau at the Kissing Gate


Maids of honour, bridegroom, bride,

the best man in a grey silk suit,

a flash to catch them in the arching

stone, confettied by a sudden gust—

an apple tree in full white spread

beyond the reach of bone and dust.


I am the driver in a passing car:

the wedding-dress a cloud of lace.

A small hand clutching at a skirt,

some nervous bridesmaid, eight

or maybe nine, has seen

the blossom fall, has closed her eyes—


her head falls back into the scent,

the soundless whirr and whirl of earth-

bound petals like sycamore seeds

on a current of air, silent helicopters

bringing light— a wedding gift

the bride will brush away, unconsciously.


This is no ordinary act, no summer fête,

another simple wedding held in June.

This is the wind shaking the apple-tree,

the bell above the kissing-gate,

the sudden fall of blossom into light

which only love and innocence can see.


We must be held accountable to love:

where they step out together arm in arm

as newly-weds, spring-cleaned, and climb

into a waiting car beneath a summer sky,

the blossom will still fall, unstoppable—

a drift of change across a changeless time.


Jane Holland

in collection The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman,

1997, Bloodaxe Books, ISBN: 1-85224-417-8




Gawain's Horse

 for Colin Dick


In dreams, I see his horse again; its red eyes,

its strange oak-leaf skin. What Gawain sees

I can’t tell but he wakes desperate some nights,

clawing at his face. It should have been the King.

We’ve been wandering in this forest for months,

Gawain and I, neither of us daring to admit

we’re lost. The year is nearly up; he babbles

in Scots in his sleep, prays for deliverance.


Morning. The road takes us again, my hooves

scoured by snow and blackened ice, burnt

like old pots on the fire. I try not to remember

the tales they told for months before we left,

the grin of the axe, its shiver of steel through bone,

grease and sinew, the head rolling and rolling

like a football, those bruised eyelids flickering

back afterwards, a grisly green, unreal.


I see myself step numb under his dead weight,

Christ-like blood on my flanks, his severed head

bouncing against the saddlebags, hailstones

scattered hard as pearls beneath my hooves.

Out of habit, I’ll stop when he’d have stopped

and drink when he’d have drunk, imagining

his thighs, the tug on the reins, finding my way

in the dark without him, only the clop of hooves ...


Jane Holland

in collection Boudicca & Co., 2006,

Salt Publishing, ISBN: 1-844712-89-3






 for Dylan and Morris


We do not know you yet, you are nothing

but bone and fluid and mass to us.

They lift you out through your necklace

of cord, slippery and indignant,

and suddenly you’re inspired, all lungs,

pure beetroot. Your brother,

tucked up tight beneath my breast-bone,

does not want to wake. His mild eyes

open in surprise to a world of gowned figures

and white masks.


and emptied from the waist downwards

like a breakfast egg, I lie back

with my arms full of babies. Your father sits  

with a perpetual grin on his face

like a man in a Greek comedy.


These lights above the bed are your first stars.

Urgent with milk-haze, you root

for the breast and I gather you in, begin

with your own names.


Jane Holland

in collection Boudicca & Co., 2006,

Salt Publishing, ISBN: 1-844712-89-3





In Response to a Nude Photograph of Mina Loy, 1905


Women poets are not supposed to look like that,

did nobody tell you? The one

with the cigarette is bullish enough

but this, taken naked, face

against the wall with one arse cheek

suggestively raised

is the portrait of a muse, my dear.

In later years, your beauty was eclipsed by age.

Here your skin’s like frost, that white back

and hourglass waist

crying out to be marked, to be photographed.

Did it feel safer like this, turned away

in your nakedness,

to be stared at, lusted after?

‘Leave off looking to men to find out

what you are not,’ you said.

Then let me take you to bed, Mina,

to the ostrich feather bed

of our imagination. There we’ll smoke

and make poetry all day, decadent

in our sticky love,

looking each other in the eye, drinking

each other’s blood

like tea from a china dish, steeped

in what it means to be us, spawning

our poems like fish.


Jane Holland

in collection Boudicca & Co., 2006,

Salt Publishing, ISBN: 1-844712-89-3


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