From Her Whereabouts:

The emergency

All of us talking about how we couldn’t write about it, we were

all writing about how impossible it was

to write about. I touched a finger

to my phone and there was a brushtail possum

holding its burnt paw pad up to a camera

like it was showing its passport

or like, Look what you did!

Or just: Look! Its hand a pink

and blackened diamond

pinched between some human’s thumb and finger.

 

Outside the room, the wind sucked and threw

and people were saying

it’s too big to focus on: we can’t.

On Horse Guards Parade we sat down

on tomb-cold slabs, and by and by police

came and took the tents, which ended up in landfill

as if the land weren’t full already.

The sycamores, yellowing leaves outspread

like stars or hands, processed along the park

beside us. We rested there, leaning

on their trunks. I felt daughterly.

Someone said

the pelicans beyond the railings

belonged to the queen. Eventually we went home.

 

My dad said

dead animals were piled up at the roadsides

this was on Saturday

this was happening, really happening

and also, something new and worse

was fizzing away in the sea. The headlines

rose off the papers like smoke

lifting out of themselves in disbelief.

 

I wanted anyone to be cold who wanted to be.

I wanted to be plenty, and un-seared.

It was generally agreed that we couldn’t write about it -

our little paws raised to the cameras in disarray

saying

Look at us!

Look at us, saying: This is terrible. Terrible!

This poem first appeared in The Rialto no. 94, as part of the Nature and Place Competition winners issue, Summer 2020

Her whereabouts

Stand, evincing hope

and looking round for her.

The loss and the search shoot right down

to the feet, through some central shaft

like a flare descends a well, illuminating

mossy sides, or a harpoon freefalls through olive sea

to spear the silver shield of a fish.

 

This central shaft is empty, with space enough

for your little search party’s elevator to stop

at each level, cast its torchlight about

and holler for her voice, her person.

She as a bright thought echoes back

as if trapped inside your ribs -

or a spark, bouncing on the currents of your breath.

 

So she’s as in your lungs, as anywhere.

Is this what ghosts are, then?

Is this how they operate?

This poem first appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review no. 35, Summer 2020

From Water Person Kit:

Autumn Equinox

And if a goose were flying near me

it could tell

the story of this woman in a yellow dress,

I am the woman,

who came to the muddy banks of a slight river

looked about, undressed

and slid in for one last fling, resting

like a kiss on the water, while the pale willow feathers

landed in the first gentle funeral rehearsals

towards their next job, soil -

everything sweet and slow and shifting.

 

I don’t know why I imagined that goose.

It ought to be enough that I am here, afloat.

The sun still up, still gold.

The leaves like longboats around my head.

This poem first appeared in Butcher’s Dog in Summer 2018

Here, afterwards

When the city stills, abandoned

you will be anchored by two feet

and drawing on reserves

as deep as mountains

those caves

which limbo by

unnoticed under fields

the ones that are                                                                              a blackbird’s music

half river anyway                                                                              five notes, far off

which yield                                                                                        the bat-shaped

to flooded                                                                                          shadows cast

rooms of quartz                                                                                by blankets

and knotted worm-bores                                                                as they dry out

of tunnels                                                                                           in the sun

that stuff                                                                                            an old key

obscure and under you                                                                   you’ll still keep

you’ll need                                                                                         around your neck

and some familiar things:                                                              for some reason

                                                                                                            and your same feet

                                                                                                            at which you will look down

                                                                                                            from time to time

                                                                                                            amazed at the journey

                                                                                                            their new strength

                                                                                                            the way that they’ve

                                                                                                            adapted best of all

                                                                                                            to this time

                                                                                                            of spores

                                                                                                            and rain

                                                                                                            and herding kids

                                                                                                            through dark.

This poem first appeared in MAGMA 72: Climate Change issue, 2018

Fort Lauderdale Bus Station

Olive spent til 4a.m. telling me about The New Jerusalem

which is three hundred and forty-five miles square and twenty storeys deep

with a plot of land each, from which no-one will ever steal.

In any case, everyone will be recast in Jesus’ image

except for me: I will be trapped on Earth for a thousand years

while Satan rages round, because of how I live.

I plugged in my headphones and let Duke Ellington

erase me, but Olive woke me up

by prodding the soles of my feet from her end of the bench

to describe the pustules in which I will be covered as well

from head to toe, this being the wages of sin. I needed her on side:

the security guard thought I was looking after her so let us stay,

but eventually I told her,  I wasn’t raised like that. She said, You mean

you stand in your own light? God might make allowances for that.

He’ll find you a space, she said. You don’t deserve to burn. 

*

It turned out the security guard ran his SUV as a taxi

to help with the price of gas. He’d drop Olive at the hospital,

she was eighty-five and on her own, then take me to the Amtrak.

The city slid by through tinted windows, I stared at the backseat

full of crap he was storing for other passengers;

McDonald’s vouchers on the dash, him huge and fat,

watermelon bubble gum squeaking blue-pink between gold teeth

as he told us how he feeds the birds outside the station every morning.

He said they know him now, and sit on his arm.

When we were alone, he straightaway told me

I raise giant snakes. That’s what I do, on the side.

 

He said back home he had a twenty-eight foot python. I raised it from a baby.

What’s she like? Aw,she’s very sweet, y’know. Softly. Sweet-natured.

In downtown traffic, people not giving an inch to let us in,

he said See? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Why they have to hold on like that?

 

When we finally found the train, he gave me his card:

            EXECUTIVE PROTECTION

            McBride, T.A.

            Enforcement Officer, FL

            Commercial/Residential Armed Services

            Bodyguard – Plain Clothes

            Escort, Landscaping, Patrolling Area

            Reconstruction, Buildings, Tents,

            Homes, Special Events and Parties.

It had a little picture of praying hands.

You should have mentioned the snakes, I said

and he laughed, showing all his gold. 

*

The TV in the station waiting room was showing food riots:

somewhere abroad the price of rice had doubled in a year.

When the train lit out, it was a sudden cutting away -

the relief of wild thickets of palm, lily-pad pools

stubby soft pines, leaves with pink tips and white herons

amongst the cattle who grazed their way across the flat green pastures

where a sign said BEEF – IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER. This

was near to a citrus works, its open-back trucks lined up

brimming with oranges which shone colour to the sky, standing in their own light.

This poem first appeared in The Poetry Review in 2018

Longshore drift

How everything is starker on the shore,

how families stand out bright-coloured, like rosettes;

 

how sheer the strand is here,

shaped wing of shingle pared down by wind

 

to meet the sea at one side

and green marsh along the other.

 

How much like a stage it is, yes

everywhere, but here most of all.

 

How poignant we are, how rueful it is

how very alive, how pleasant, how sad.

 

How much the littleness of us shows up

out here. How close I am to nudging

 

the sea at this second and saying: rise up,

get on with it, lose us altogether, now you’ve started.

This poem first appeared in The Rialto No 84, Winter 2015

Incident

                       After Wallace Stevens

 

In the middle of it all, while I was on the phone to the police

this blackbird appeared at the window of the project

 

suddenly thudding at the glass

as if the rain had thrown it towards shelter.

It was a flummox of wet feathers in the squall

 

outside, and as I described the ill

looked-after teenager

to the man on the switchboard

 

the only still thing was its eye

which led me into the core of itself

in an act of mesmerism:

 

the sharp yellow circle and the little black hole

caught the two of us for a slow second.

The bird was there, frantic, then gone.

This poem first appeared in Under the Radar Issue 22, Autumn 2018

Four legs and a head

Option one is not an option

neither are options two or three

so this leaves me with

looking hard across a flat field

at dusk

for gaps in the hedge

where dark matter builds an apparition of a horse -

a horse which bridges earth and sky,

clay hooking its hooves, gravity startling its ears.

 

I love this. The not-knowing, the possibilities,

the lack of proof.

This poem first appeared in The Rialto No 84, Winter 2015

From Billack's Bones:

London dream

London Dream

We rowed through star porridge.

How was it?

As you’d expect:

sweet to the touch

speckled, stirred with light

smooth and bottomless.

You dived for a shell,

blue-lidded. Surfaced with it,

your head webbed with silver spawn.

The blue shell held

my explanations, you said ,

but I woke, then -

to a prehistoric cave,

lying under red sheepskin.

Woke again -

staring into a goat’s yellow scored eyes.

And woke again -

here, with the traffic

and the pink sky.

Ten commandments for the rain

Fall forgivingly.

Rinse us again and again.

 

Temper your moods,

gather purity from hidden pools,

 

never desert us.

Cool the cities, the smoking pans.

 

give rise to grass richer than chocolate.

Let us near you.

 

Hide and replenish yourself at the mouth of the sky.

Laugh on us.

This poem appeared also in Earth Pathways Diary 2010

The Pitchfork

Then he enticed me into the fair –

and I said I would go on the parachutes

where we could drift diagonally like spores,

graze the ground with just a gentle mooning in the stomach,

but he told me to come with him on to the fastest

where it throws and hurtles

and circles at angles: I could trust him,

he said, it would be fine,

definitely – and we were locked in

and when it grew fast, he said, it will get faster

 

and the world pulsed past in uneven rushes,

the music trailing behind, my head

knocking on its stalk, I clenched

against the air, smelling red metal

and he said, let go –

City

 In a cheap hotel in Portland

warped dank walls, blank jammed window,

scared to look inside the wardrobe,

I sleep in my clothes and ring you.

 

When I slip down the corridor

a slow creak groans the building

as if the weight could pull it down –

men unhappy, I suppose.