A space for poems you like to read again and again.
This is the end of our first month. Huge thanks to the poets whose poems make up the August anthology. We complete them here with poems by Tony Lewis-Jones, Barbara Smith, Angi Holden, Sally Douglas and Christie Williamson.
More poets and poems next week.
Room 35, Amsterdam Hotel
It’s early, but the heat has started.
You’re lying motionless,
Towelled from the shower
On the too comfortable, unmade bed,
As in sleep or death.
Room Service will come to clear
The debris of our lives,
Remove our signatures from
Amsterdam – its tourist hordes,
Its ghosts – the booted strangers
You could almost touch
In Anne Frank’s house or
Wandering the galleries. And we
Are leaving now, before the avenues
Melt into the silent canals,
Before those voices claim you.
First published in iota in 1993.
The Scold Bridle
She waits with her head in the optician’s cage,
a scold’s bridle for those with frown lines
from not seeing far enough into the future.
The non-contact tonometer whirs into position.
An expected pneumatic wheeze still surprises air
into each wide-open eyeball, pushing lashes
lightly apart. This is the glaucoma check made,
breath held tight, a stay against future diagnoses.
She imagines each iris flexing in shock, not just
narrowing her pupils, but browns, greys flocking
across a clear blue eye and thinks of iridology.
Is that a science, or the art of the inferred
from tiny flecks? Is there correspondence
with a broken arm, or mind, a scar checklist?
Once a man broke an owl’s leg, to set it again;
ten thousand hours of practice on the dumb.
How could he later, think those dark specks
put there by his acts, his arts of Hippocrates?
Was it like the day a strange photographer
came to image blue-grey irises, intense focus
blurring into tears, murking the past, marks
that reeled a story whole from a broken lifeline?
The chin-rest frames a jaw set against these scenes.
There is a slight adjustment; the test now complete.
Second prize winner in the Wigtown Poetry Competition 2009, this was published on Wigtown’s website at the time, and in the booklet of the competition winners. Also appeared in appeared in Northwords Now 18, Summer 2011, and The Angel’s Share, Doghouse Books, 2012
I pause to rest the woven basket,
heavy with aubergines and sweet potatoes,
guava, melon, fragrant mangoes.
It makes my shoulders ache.
Nearby, my wife selects pearl buttons
from a tray, matches thread
to silken fabric, soft and peacock blue.
I wait, and glimpse across the crowded market
four girls in saris; they make a beaded necklace
of amethyst, of garnet, topaz, ruby,
strung between their guardian aunts,
black robed and sombre.
They pause to buy whole mace and ginger,
chilli, pungent cardamom.
The vendor twists each paper cone, exchanges
aromatic cinnamon for tarnished coins.
I watch; the youngest girl looks up and
hides a smile behind her slender fingertips,
looks away. The gesture is familiar.
I saw it on my wedding day, the same dark eyes
peering through the scarlet voile,
the painted nails and bangled arms,
the garlands of aster and marigold.
The air weighted with jasmine and sandalwood.
My wife drops buttons, threads, into the basket,
trickles English coins into a leather purse.
You look a million miles away, she says.
No, not that far. But many years ago.
For this is no Mumbai bazaar, but Huddersfield,
where beneath the teeming Yorkshire sky
I saw four girls in saris, a beaded necklace
strung between their guardian aunts.
First published on the Huddersfield Litfest website as a prizewinner at The Huddersfield Literature Festival 2008, with the image by Amanda Crowther that inspired it. Also published in The Best of Manchester Poets (Puppywolf Press)
hiding in the gaps and folds of things.
Places you don’t know you’ve left a space.
The cracked spines of old paperbacks.
The belly of a hole punch.
A grater’s razor-smiles.
I’m getting good.
I’ve come a long long way from dust in air, mould
in forgotten coffee cups, grime
in the sweaty crevices of you.
Now I’m liquid; slight as sunshine
jumping from a blade.
I spy from the eyes of vanished children,
flickering pixels, shackled margins.
Twist myself into your keyboard, feel
you through the vowels, the S, the T –
your thumb firm on the spacebar, your
smallest finger gentle on the Enter, the Return.
I’ll do it soon. I’m nearly there.
I’ll slowly, slowly, peel the edge of you.
A tiny flap is all I need: a shaving nick,
a lip cracked with the winter cold.
I’ll open you and slide myself
right under the meniscus of your skin.
First published in Ambit 204, 2011, with the title ‘Through’, and then in Candling the Eggs (Cinnamon Press, 2011).
Anniddir poyim aboot da mön
scrieved apö da back
o da Sharon Olds poyim
aboot hir feddir snoring.
Da aald eens is da best.
Da simplest rules takks da langist ta lairn.
Aabody haes dir pert
ta play, dir wan step ta takk
at a time. Rules
is rules for a raisin.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Poem in Shetlandic Scots, first published in Northwords Now, 18, Summer 2011