Postulates

Love is more complex than gain
Though neither completely understood.
One remembers
He was fourteen years old.
To the fact of the memory
The memory stands
As an axe to wood. Wood, ourselves,
In the streamings and contours,
The roughened grain.

Make a mark on me.

A Lost Thing

You hate yourself when the object that defines you, or at least you
think it does, is lost or broken. It makes perfect sense: you are the
one who is lost and it’s your own fault, having left it behind in
a stranger’s room for where else but in the room of a stranger
would you leave it, inadvertent, shoddily careless, the enemy of attachments. Or it is that you, or they, rush through the room in a hurry – slow
down you hear someone say – rushing out the door
or past each other in the street so many months later, knocking it into
a thousand pieces, glass shattered on the floor, the frame twisted,
a strange disfiguration replacing the face – the photographic paper
marred by shards – and it’s not only the having done it that one
must live with – one’s own arm thrown carelessly through the air –
but the evidence of what was meant to be.

Your Voice

‘And the poem, I think, is only your voice speaking’.

– Virginia Woolf, The Waves

A Paper Crown

You realise some piece of you has to be pierced in order for the
almost unbearable desire to be slotted into place. Do you suppose
they do that anymore, cut slots in cardboard for paper tabs, the
small hats fitted around the heads of children waiting in line
for the play to begin, their lines circling their brains so they won’t
forget, ‘I’m coming my prince, my princess, I won’t forget you, I
won’t ever forget you’, and when the performance, and the school,
and the brick, and the street are memories that come only in fits, the
way crayon skips on the grainy surface of the paper you’ve folded up
for the crown, you realise what the embrace of what you thought
you could die for has cost you.

Tests

You tell your wife and children
you’re having some tests.
They’re familiar with tests.

You tell them
you’re having examinations.
They understand examinations.

You say
you’re waiting on results.
They know about results.

You are having tests, examinations, waiting
for results, for a piece of paper stating
how you fared.

You’re under pressure not to fail.
You are studying survival.
You are ill-prepared.

The Old Fuel

Half the time I’m microwaving something               or planning a meeting
or deciding which blue shirt to wear                        and it’s all happening
Other times     I wake up                                       and the day’s flung out
in front of me like a roll of lino and I’d rather not                        step on it
I’d rather stay in bed                         thinking about you and eating toast
and East African doughnuts saying                   “Who owns this monkey?”
to a group of women,    one night I dream                       of entering a lift
with sides that aren’t attached to its floor                   so when it goes up
I stay stuck on the ground;   I take the stairs                  but  none of this
is enough    to reach you                                 some things never change
Someone on the radio is shouting at someone                            between
seven-thirty and nine;       thoughts of you line up in the corridor; and I’m
cranking out oodles of love                  the way an old spaghetti machine
cranks out spaghetti                                                   baby, it’s hard work

You Are Not

You are not the shell that shines on my table. You are not
the pillow of my hands.

You are not the metallic taste in my mouth
when I wake
(though you could be those threads
running underneath my tongue).

I doubt you are the strands of hair that survived
on my windowsill
(that lost their lustre).

Though you could be the windowpane itself, which
allows me the view of the sky;
the interesting birds.
(You are not the birds).

You are not hidden in bone, you do not bloom
in the marrow.
You are (in my opinion) not the rain in July
that studs my scalp.

(But you might be the heat pressing
against my body
when I struggle to sleep).

You are not the sacred cow, a murmur in the heart
or blood-spit in the sink.
If I open my book you might well be the moth’s
wing dashed on the page.

You are not the hand of God on an incoherent
newborn’s face.

But yes, I think you might be that moment
when the clouds ripen
(just before the rain,
before it hits the cloth of my shirt,
my cold hands).

The Found Thing

It infiltrated, left a trace in my mouth
and I wanted it. Emboldened, it began
to colonise all those tight spaces.
So I let it bed under my fingernails
and drip into my tear-ducts. It felt so warm,
was my constant companion,
became one of us, on work days,
shopping trips, holidays. I never asked
any questions, never wished to see its face.
One morning it was just not there.
I searched and searched, panic rising up
in my throat, and I couldn’t manage
to say what it was I had lost, and how.

Hummingbird

Ask the stems in the glass to bend.
Let your flingers fly, a momentary grasp

slip into spaces, surge in and out of folds
where breasts begin to curve and rise.

Be God. Press your skin to mine,
dissolve and pronounce me. Let my eyes

roll out and embed in the carpet, rooting;
my hands arrange the air for you, braiding.

Reluctant sun at the window, open your eyes
burn through the haze with your love.

Slide open the bone-zip of my spine,
anoint each rigid peak. Take my arms

and hold me. Here’s my mouth, hummingbird,
linger there, and hold my breath.

After you, I will fall in love with someone
two or three hundred years older. Their heart
will be a hole
in the church roof. For them, falling
will be like cutting a telephone wire and watching
it swing
down into the street. If we have sex, I will take
some annual leave
and position our pleasure like I’m setting up
a game of chess, and they will drop an apple
on the floor
to clear all the weather away.
They will tire quickly of my nervousness, as you did.
My hurrying blood. It will not end well.
My lover will cut another wire, and perhaps you
will find me
again, wandering the end of a century, my eyes wide
as coconut halves, my heart the last hole your lace
ties through.

Certain

Nothing before had seemed so potent
and self-contained –
surely the onion you chopped
whilst we made bolognese
was beautiful.

Its hung cloud of acid worked
in my nose
and throat
and eyes
as the knife bisected

like a maker of names
passing
between twins,
calling one half Perfect
the other also Perfect.

Letter of Health

My body is in debate: This house believes
that love is an enviable fever
Last night my chest was an office on fire.
My pillow hurt. I couldn’t save the documents.
Now it is day again. The room has furniture
and I have ins and outs.

Is that the knife-grinder, grinding his knives
outside the window, or the sound
of my heart cooling down?
If I were in a novel you’d travel three days
by horse and carriage to see me. If you were in a novel
I’d die somewhere in these middle chapters.