Some poems – for adults

From Blueprints for a Minefield


The Axe

The day we met, I started work on the axe.
By the time you promised to love me forever,
it was done. Now, how to swing it?

Fetched string, tied it to the kitchen light.
Fired arrows at it while you whipped up
oysters kilpatrick, beef bourguignon. It held strong.

Poised it over the shed door. Hadn’t clocked
your reluctance to mow. Long grass grew
over the spatchcocked fox my lolling axe slew.

Laid it in the dead centre of the bed between us.
You climbed in with me on my side,
held me tight all night.

To buy time, I aped some sunken sister on TV –
hid my weapon in the arse-end of the deep freeze.
You found it. Made me axe ice-cream.

It melted. I promised to love you forever.
Started work next morning
on blueprints for a minefield.

 

The Sculptors of Small

You’ve heard the one about the camel?
A horse, built by committee.

No joke – it’s you,
that saddled beast
spuriously cobbled together
by the citizens of your life
chiselling away at the rock of your being,
knocking out shards of brilliance
and splinters of certitude,
nightly sweeping away all this hewn-off holiness
till you’re nothing more than human
and will easily fit in anyone’s hand.

 

To Be Beautiful
after Russell Edson

If the hair could be blonder still and grown and grown until it transcends state lines. Then soaked in a thousand egg yolks so it shines like a new car. Wonderfully wayward, wanton and wild. Or – kept tidy and covered at all times.

There was a certain hand that was the talk of Paris. Salons were held in its honour. But that’s never been my scene. As a girl I dreamed of having knuckles that would crack steel, then grew up to have knees as smooth as a six year-old.

To have beauty the way a fairytale fox has cunning and to reach out and stroke people with it.

The unusual grooves on the upper reaches of an adrenal gland might be recast as an aesthetic asset, say, by smashing open the pelvis and inserting a viewing platform with landing pads for two three-man helicopters and a model agency. Or a lymph node might be worn as lipstick.

Not to feel too ugly these days, I keep myself young and busy by shifting my weight from one hip to the other. I’m not against standing up straight, so long as I don’t look too tall, or too short, or too medium, or like a loudspeaker.

Had I more breasts I would frivolously consider a wide open road trip. With some encouragement or a little brute force my armpits could be kidnapped, leaving nothing but breasts for miles around.

Sometimes I just let my eyebrows grow in. Did you ever do that? But then the weight of uncertainty becomes a burden. Yes, I’m providing much-needed shelter for scores of pathetic brow-dwelling creatures, but what of the risk of derision at the bus stop?

I seek a land in which any countenance other than mine is considered imperfect. Where every inhabitant but me spends 23 hours a day deep in self-censorship and the remaining sixty minutes feeling shame while I parade around free, unkempt and flawless. A land where people want to hate me, but love rises up in them like steam in a vacuum pump.

Perhaps I could hug a tree for luck. Or ask for the name of its surgeon.

I’m sure that my first compliment / husband / front cover is not too far away.

A few others


Ginger

I’ll never forget, says Uncle Malc,
that time when Ginger Rogers tripped on the two-step
and tumbled head first from Hollywood to Hartlepool.

We all rushed down to the shore
and took turns nudging the washed-up body
with our loafers and creepers.
To check for signs of life, we said,
though really, each of us hoped
to make an impression

and dreamed of how, later,
over a steaming Bovril she’d ask,
Whose were those light-as-a-feather tootsies,
the tippy-toes in white winkle-pickers?
Now those belong to a hoofer and a half!
Then she’d call Fred and tell him
she’d found her ‘Top Hat’ and wasn’t coming back.

We waited and waited.
Then I guess we moved on.
In the end it was young Tyrone next door
who finally made it and moved to L.A.,
but by then poor Ginger was picked clean by seagulls
and the old musicals had pretty much had their day.

First published in Under the Radar, 2017 & Maggie Smith (ed),
The Best New British and Irish Poets. Eyewear, 2018.


An Easy Mistake

He had mixed up his musical instruments
and the contents of his fridge.

Neither the instruments nor the food
had the heart to embarrass him by pointing out the mistake
so, come breakfast, a violin volunteered
to be toasted and slathered in wild honey.

At coffee time, a piccolo posed
as an amaretti biscuit and for lunch,
he prepared a lightly grilled snare drum
while his wife practised arpeggios
on an under-ripe tomato.

But then a nervous cauliflower piped up,
I’m not musical at all, I seriously doubt I can pull this off.
Whereupon a sideboard shouted, Oh come on, a talking cauliflower!
What are we supposed to do with such an absence of limits?

First published in Domestic Cherry, 2018.


I Always Meant to Ask

Did the illness fill your life with dread,
or your dread of life fuel the illness?

Did you build the wall to keep it all out,
or keep avoiding it all until: the wall.

Did the kindness of a child warm your cooling heart,
or your heart’s chill snatch her childlike kindness?

Look: the bird, wings, flight – are these but side effects
of the egg’s devices to make more eggs

and was disease the cause of death,
or did death, pressed for a reason, give disease?

First published in The Interpreter’s House, 2016.

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