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.


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.


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
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.

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

– Louise Glück

A Central Pain

The man in the bathroom,
his words are waiting
the way pips are suspended in the throat of an apple.

He spits into the sink.
Who is this man. Where is this bathroom.
He throws something into the bin from a distance.

His heartbeat vibrates little waves through the bathwater.
He is an island, after all.
The sound of his blood in his ears is a fuzzy,
high-pitched sound.

A voice from the next room calls out
come here.
Whose voice is this.
What do they want from him.

There is a pain between his shoulder blades.
It is a central pain, where wings would sprout from.

When he closes his eyes
he is in a room of people in identical clothes
refusing to dissect cow hearts –
their purpleness, their unromantic shapes.

It is a hot, bright day
and the smell of blood fills the air, or seems to.

Underwater he is rehearsing
once again
the moment he will pour forth words, which will be arrows,
which lodge in the thigh of a princess,

who looks at them but doesn’t feel pain.
The brain tells the body a lie. The brain
tells the eyes a lie.

The heart continues to beat
after it is removed from the body
like a mouth failing over and over again to find words.

(After R Perry)


How many poems sleep in dictionaries
buried like needles in hay
How many poets not yet born
rolled in tight webs of confusion
How many tender confessions there
How many small unkindnesses
How many games

And what unexplored
deserts of silences

(after Anna Kamieńska)


I have a soft roll on my desk
which two or three times
I’ve squeezed very gently
when no one is looking
sprinkle of salt
the price of gold is falling
I can’t see behind me out the window
but the reflection
on the floor suggests
intermittent sun
I will sit on the museum steps
and read
last week
a pigeon actually flew into my chest
an avocado on my desk
is playing dead and prehistoric
another politician
has behaved terribly
I will take an online personality test
and do better
turns out the sky is falling down
in fat pieces
I will be caught in a vicious cycle
of removing strawberry pips from my teeth
with strawberries
moving through the rain reading the texts from a person
who is the person I fell in love with
I will be electric in the world


The party I skipped,
so we never met,
the ballets we saw alone,
years in which we swam
over and under

never breaking surface,
slippy with youth, one kiss
an island between two deeps,
the birds wheeling, a fish leaping,
there, in the Before.

In a dream

The trees shake their leaves
in this darkest of springs
lit from within, like the face
of the woman whose fresh glance
finds his as he tilts a glass
at a book or a film, at life itself,
where they sit by the river
in the red and gold of dusk
while bubbles rise to the rim,
o, o, she almost had his name.
Remember me? Maybe she does.