Friday, December 23, 2005

Your return is a poem from Fever Tree, my third book published in 2003. The book was featured by Mslexia, a UK mag for women's writing, when they included me on a list of the best new women poets of the decade in 2004.

This is one of my favourites from the book, although I don't normally write in rhyming couplets. I'm posting it today because I was at a friend's house last night for a Christmas supper and she showed me a painting which made me think of the poem again. Sometimes I forget what I've written or I remember it in a certain way. It's great when other people's work helps you see it from a different angle and reappraise it.

I'm working on my fourth collection at the moment. It's moving into new territory and has two sequences based on the Ten Commandments and the Me Who...aspects of self.

Under Your return, I've put some poems which have been published in magazines recently and which are part of this emerging new book.


Your return

The dust of that remote village is in your hair.
A bag full of mangoes, guava,

peaches from your mother's garden,
cooked in syrup; names on your tongue -

telephone numbers, songs I've never heard.
Your hair's wild, beard straggly. Birds

escape as you clean your teeth and panic
in our house, every window stuck shut.

One by one they disappear. Spiders the size
of a hand crawl from your shoes and hiss.

On the kitchen floor, a caterpillar concertinas
and straightens, looking for masonja trees

beside the unnamed roads in your irises,
overhung with thorns, tracks only goats can use.

You carry the darkness of December's eclipse
in your pupils. They release that earlier eclipse

in Devon, when I too felt the cold of the night,
boat lights sparked on and birds went quiet.

You pull us into a circle - 150 pipers at a barracks
in Messina. An 80 year old woman claps

and dances. I saw none of this, but on the phone
I heard music, people chatting sometimes

in Zulu or Tsonga. Mostly when we talked, though
you could have been in town or down the road.

And me? I spread myself over our bed, changed
the rules. Do you see the timetables scrawled

on the walls? We swap late Christmas presents
like strangers, wary, gauging reactions. I apologise

for the cold as if it's my fault. Your words come out
in the wrong order; English forgotten, you translate

each heat drenched phrase too literally for me.
We'll need an interpreter for weeks.

So we lassoo each other to the old fighting pit,
tie each other to the fence with the same knots,

lash until the other's showing teeth, spit
as we re-open, rediscover, our ritual cuts.

Now those monkeys, porcupines and snakes
are leaving, a fish eagle hovers over terrace

house off the seafront, along Lewes Road.
I've spread out all the food I know you've missed -

olives, bread, houmous, cheese, salad and nuts,
coleslaw, plum tomatoes, vegetable puffs.

And with it slices of dense paw paw; its lush
seeds containing the orchard you planted for us.


The islands

Here light expands the tunnel you’ve become.
A big sky always takes you in.
There’s no-one but the Hebrides chattering,
a stone leans towards another; a lover listening.
Birds don’t care if you live or die.
Here a cloud tries to be a mountain-top .
Colours need water and you are water.
Silent Steinways replay each odd and even year.
One day an Annunciation will happen.

(published in The North, autumn 05)


Where’s my lover?

Not in the wind
banging on windows,
or clouds,
so slow
to turn pink and grey.

If I whistle
will he rush to me
over the Downs?

I long for Antarctica’s days,
as queues for bread,
squatters reclaiming wasteland.

Children wait for kisses,
mothers stand by graves
until the Resurrection.

In three hours,
I meet them all.

we stare
into the next minute

hoping land and light
will break our fall,
that they will cushion us,
soft as silt.

(published in The Rialto 04)

Don’t covet your neighbour’s goods

Desire the crystal drop
of a chandelier,
Swiss Army knife,
for the marks they make
on walls, the pauses
they offer. Memory’s enough.
Pick clay from the lost city
you’ll become. Watch
how sea turns mahogany
to driftwood, restores metal
to sand. What cloud wishes
for snow, heavier rain?

(published in The Rialto spring 05)

The me who’s a window

I face Jura, its Paps, its Sound
where fire left a hole in the night
when someone burned a million pounds,
oh yes, in notes…and couples fight
over loose change. I’m the only screen
you’ll watch here. Playing today:
no mountaintops or blue Sistine
sky - a child’s smeared mess of grey.
A rod of sun hits waves running
towards gorse. Imagine yourself, spotlit
for a second, only to disappear again.
Today I’ll keep you close to me. Sit
with three pianos. I’ll blur the glass
with rain, put on a lover’s face.


The me who’s a mother

“Watch me dance.” How my back bends
kneeling to tie a shoe, arms stretch
to a pavement with bags, how I tense
anticipating a fall, step forward to catch
a ball. My two children repeat each “bloody hell”.
There’s so much to pass on: stories lost
along the way, the taste of pineapple
sound of gamelan, a Welsh miner’s chorus.
I show them a swan walk on water as it lands,
a child acrobat dancing on his hands,
a brown river break its banks. I conceal
how I pine for them already, let them go
until the radius they describe around me
is the world: equator, two tropics, two poles.

(published in The Poetry Paper, Aldeburgh
Poetry Festival November 04)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

In February this year 2005, I finished a series of poems based on the 10 Commandments. I have no idea what prompted me to do this, other than I was on a train and there it was, the idea. So I rushed into Smiths at Victoria station, because I couldn't remember them all, and consulted a children's bible. Well, it took a while, but was an interesting exercise, having been brought up a Catholic. Some of them are quite forthright, some ironic. This one came because I began to realise what a ridiculous commandment it is, given human nature, so I started thinking about all the different ways in which people commit adultery. This is just scratching the surface. It worried me, because it's basically a list, but it seems to work in performance. One poet I performed with said he'd done all but two. That was probably said in jest.

I have found it stimulating to write a series. The hardest ones to write were the don't kill and don't covet. Because that is what humans do all the time and because I suppose I didn't want to approach those ones ironically.

I hope these will appear in my next book. I think they will. Now I'm not writing much at all and when the poems do arrive, they come singly or in twos and threes. No more series for the time being. Two of the commandments poems have appeared in The Rialto, a wonderful poetry magazine based in Norfolk and edited by Michael Mackmin. I was grateful for that.

Don’t commit adultery

In a hotel room, rented flat, a friend’s place, beach,
car, caravan, your own bed, his or her bed,
the childrens’ beds, with dogs, that guy from the Red
House, your boss, on a motorbike, in a coach,

wearing that old leather jacket, after a cricket
match, in a tent, while your second child is being born,
watching a famous boxer do press ups in the gym,
while your first child is being born, after 10 shots

of Greek brandy, with someone who writes fan mail,
with your therapist, the priest, manager or director,
wife of your best friend, while your wife is having a
hysterectomy, because she has thrush, piles,

with your son’s teacher, when your husband’s in a coma,
with your son’s girlfriend, in the Pussycat Club, with a lap
dancer, while smoking a cigar or reading the latest crap
crime fiction, contemplating Escher’s prints in the Alhambra,

while your partner’s leaving a message on your mobile,
by e mail, live webcam, wearing stiletto heels, while your wife
is undergoing radiotherapy, while flying a plane, in Fife
station, with a doctor, over the baby listening device.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

My heart

Can you hear which note
the horizon makes
when you catch it like this,
how music's made,
the surf we can't do without?

It keeps my heart in time
right now
when it's capable of any form.