Dust Sucker

Dustsceawung (Old English): contemplation of the fact that dust used to be other things – the walls of a city, the chief of the guards, a book, a great tree: dust is always the ultimate destination. Such contemplation may loosen the grip of our worldly desires.
– ‘Untranslatable Words’, The School of Life, 2018




my living is thick and filthy


I start the day by reading obituaries
like I’m smoking a morning cigarette,
ash in my one eye, the other tucked under my pillow


this is the crap I breathe to dust absurdity
over everything


I saw this coming in my periphery
I’m short-sighted, so never wear
my glasses


I’m a painter brushing a wash for the background,
everything atomised
beyond a point




making coffee, drinking water at the sink,
an evening with dear friends:
the warm up frames in the comic strip,
the montage of my trivial activities before
the incident


the creak on the stairs in the new house
is a home invasion


the click of the boiler, like someone striking a match,
foreshadows a gas explosion


well someone is going to stop breathing




the german word for hoover is staubsauger, lit. dust sucker
and you may call a baby säugling – little suckler
we call them tot, resembling das deutsche wort for ‘dead’
staubschauen, like the old english word for the contemplation of dust,
might be translated as ‘dust-gazing’


sounds irritating on the eyes




brambles tumbled over the back wall overnight
I pick the berries
bunches of black balloons
leaving the infants and the mouldy ones
grey and puffy like a bulldog’s face


I make a crumble and give it to a neighbour
I think this is living
but my mind sees through it


there are hundreds of berries along the main road


I wouldn’t touch them


juicy with fumes and roar and residue
from discarded drinks bottles
each black bubble
filled with cola and stout




squatting on low stools in a pub full of lungs
we proclaimed we’d started trying
wet smiles, motes drifting in sunbeams


years later, no one asks anymore


that’s all a load of old dust




we moved away to the coast


I slide out a photobook of seaside towns in the sixties
the grandmothers getting ice-creams
the husband looking past his wife
the wife at her wedding ring
couples dancing outside the nearby pavilion


they’re just a sandy beach now




the roofs are heaving with seagulls
the fluffy grey babies mew, warming up their voices
for adulthood
the big ones pump out trumpet honks


gulls have piñata’d the bags of recycling
sending cans rolling down the hill like a flood




my dad still manoeuvres me to walk on the inside of the pavement
warns me of hitchhikers and roadside merchants
recalls a cluster of his school friends
who floated out to sea on a raft


t/here I am in my baggy swimming costume
a fiver from a charity shop
(previous owner probably eighty)
demanding through my ice-cream cone
don’t swim out too far

t/here wearing inappropriate footwear
on a walk in the forest, thinking I can feel
ticks all over my body, pleading
careful not to touch it
as someone pulls aside a fern to flash
an enormous mushroom, gills inverted like a blown out umbrella




look, a pony ! a woodlouse !
a cow ! a wasp ! a frog ! a dragonfly !
a newt !


a neutral word in german is baby

our friend’s baby says steam when it sees steam, smoke, clouds


we play in the sandpit together until das baby suddenly remembers mama
feels baby shame


could I bear to give someone the forever-feeling of having
left the heating on?


I slide out a baby-weaning book and get fixated on the risks of eating:


Introduce common allergens, never two on the same day.


a pic of a baby’s blotchy face after cashew butter,
tests reveal: also pistachios


the normality of gagging


my mum’s greatest fear for us: choking


no lollipops


she has no appetite these days
she sucks ice-lollies


the baby kneels on a strawberry
pink juice on white linen


when we get home there’s a sunset
on the toilet paper, and me
falling for the fib for the fortieth month
that debris a baby makes


my body feels crisp and brittle, a fire hazard
a flight risk


I am a sand castle of a woman




if I breathe too much exhaust it will lodge in my lungs,
bear a grudge


I feel like I’m walking along the curb of a busy road
coughing, eyes running


I need a good thump,
like thrashing a rug after winter




for too long
woodland and forest alike have been seen
as the side salad to the steak
the crust on the jam/ham sandwich
somehow: the past


they were eternity all along


a zillion specks
no beginning no end
camouflage correlated
in dialogue
over millennia




the tread of my shoe is a display case
cradling a fragment from
my daily meandering


I have a display case of mud clots slowly crumbling


I wake in the night and calmly think: is that a blood clot
gently rumbling




dusting for fingerprints
chalky white over everything
like a tick
suckling the juice, rotten little sucker!
leaving our mark
like a snail trailing over books
it didn’t write




cocoa on a cappuccino in the shape of a toad


the cat comes in sparkling with pollen and seeds




my desk is piled high with
charcoal dust


it trickles from between book covers
into the covers of my bed


I spend my time sieving it, moving it from
one bucket to the next




I’d rather sleep on a beach
than in my bed


the dusty feeling on my hands afterwards
from gripping salty stones and shells
like after hoovering up a dish of pistachios




white plastic bags of
reasonably priced fruit             günstiges obst
wash off the rough film of pesticide


dusty scent of a peach tickling my throat




when my friends know I’m leaving
they start hoovering and won’t stop till I’m gone


my friends




german feels chewy and sweet on my tongue,
not flaky, not like choking-hazard english


I roll maltese around in my mouth like an everlasting gobstopper
that gets no smaller, no matter how much
I suck


my dad won’t put his bil-malti teeth in anymore,
my mum mimics her irish ma only never


she keeps her name out her mouth




my parents’ air
fizzes and froths with laughter
in spite of everything


so why in spite of not much
are we submerged in CO2 sighs




I’ve got names gathering dust in a folder on my phone


you can always adopt


like adding hot water to granules
but it ain’t all gravy


the website depicts adoption as a winding asphalt road
all sleeping policemen and no rousing bumps


you can always adapt




I’ve come unshelled
envious of the slug, satisfied bohemian hermaphrodite
a.k.a nacktschnecke                  naked schnecke                naked snail
like in maltese, bugħarwien     naked bebbuxu                 beb-bu-shoo!
bébé    boo-boo   shoesneverworn
bambino            to            babushka
masc.                  to            fem.
bambina, surely?              “derog. equiv. bimbo”




I’m the diplomat between my lover and my body
but no interpreters are ever at hand


when it’s time for that famous intimacy
I’m always constricted in a musty latex catsuit from the eighties
and the zip is jammed


I think I can proceed but then
a flea bites me on the ankle
dust bunnies tumbleweed under the bed


the bunnies and the flea are of the opinion
that I should just close my eyes


you’ll see




shocked to see the head of a seal like a black balloon
we’d forgotten there were animals in the sea


look, a seal !
look, a dolphin !


yellow buoys like lint from a duster


wishy-washy sea kneading the shore, surfy hands
rolling pebbles like dice when it has
everything to lose




don’t say a poem can’t be a to-do list or a diary or showing
my workings & findings


this is, in fact, a graph




I brush down my shoulders and sleeves
shake my hair, sending out a fine cloud, like steam


I will wear my glasses every day


I will keep writing missives on smeared glass


these words have floated and alighted in this exact arrangement


this has been my vacuum cleaner


my gaze drips warmly over everything




is the author of I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype), Goblins (Rough Trade Books), Hamburger in the Archive (if a leaf falls) and Serious Justice (Test Centre). Her writing has appeared in Best British Short Stories 2021 (Salt), Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry (Ignota), The London Magazine, 3:AM, Somesuch Stories, Another Gaze, Ambit, Inque, and regularly in the Brixton Review of Books. She was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her translation of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands and was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library. Alongside Kat Storace, Jen is co-publisher at Praspar Press, which publishes contemporary Maltese literature in English and English translation. She lives in Hastings, UK.



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