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Six Poems

in a sheltered garden 

 

in the business lounge the new state scientists invented

for very hard things, men break into the heated pool.

they dip their toes into a dare and dream all night of drowning

they look up the skirt of an escalator and see the skinless

red muscles of the groin slide under their desk before sundown.

 

men’s papers are square offices with revolving doors.

inside their folders labelled PIOUTA POA POOMA

they boil the ocean into streams of sweating campus hire boys,

bird-dogging the postman into a running bullet.

 

in a sheltered garden they are spinning-off

non-core competences: effective altruism,

saying excuse me, holding doors open, greeting strangers,

taking pills with water. their plates are always full.

 

somewhere they are bricking up 

the small forgotten edges of the universe.

 

let’s run the numbers off the loop. let’s think of low-hanging

fruit. how apples provide colour, their shadow

the threat of a back hand    raised to hit

 

 

testaments

 

sin crouches at cain’s door in the shape of a sickle.

the door handle is a fish. pull it and deborah enters,

swatting a wasp as a woman brings a king cream

in a silver dish. she hammers a tent-pin through his head.

 

at the land of nod east of eden a child crawls

into a cave of olives. his brother is the shrunken bottle

people used to take to war. your daughter-in-law

who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons 

hangs a gold plate around her neck. 

 

two men hide under a flaxen roof and become windows

to the prostitute’s conversion. she hangs 

crimson thread from their foreheads.

 

boys dress in lamb skins and trick 

their fathers into blessings over lentil stew.

an ostrich egg hangs over a green canopy,

our inheritance. 

enter here. cradle it

in your hands.

 

 

away in 1997

 

3 par 4 and the course stretches out into green

across rumbled wooden bridges and manicured trees

grasses tease the edge of weeds, wag the dog cracks chestnuts

as swampy emerges from a network of underground tunnels

he staples a public notice with a flying golf ball:

pop bands branding ecstasy as a four-day week! 

yellow flags wane half-mast in the breeze

 

along the bridle way london loops streets of halfidentical houses,

a garden metal-pronged with a broken trampoline and power

-washed patio. there are lodges and round bushes, a princess

counts stems of potted basil. a sheep opens one acorn eye,

a tree with heart rot knots cotton boxers onto a clothes line.

 

our mouths form chambers around the antonym of home.

my people are an empty morning before sunrise

we are gulletless fish, we are rootless trees,

we are dogs howling when a child is born.

 

 

footnotes to an experiment on the memory of a sheep able to recognise 20 human faces 

 

1we carry cardboard boxes and plastic frames 

the fields brim, a pixelated photo of georgia 

o’keefe’s red flower petals bursts on the wall 

as the hill tilts into the valley 

 

2we wear binoculars, contacts two times 

too big to trace woolen curls in charcoal

 

3we cast wishes into the green river, dyed  

by the metal crosses of the sewage compound 

 

4we weed the garden, uprooting the pink legs

of thistles and dandelions in uneven tufts of grass

 

5we dust corners and polish streaky mirrors 

 

6we shear the sheep until their skins wrinkle 

softly, rising and falling as a tree scratches its leg 

and a dog’s collar in the field jangles its name

 

7we shout in alarm when our sheep falls

in the middle of the field

its stomach pushed into a balloon a circle a slit

bleeding all down its left side

 

8we stand as the mother tears a sac with her teeth 

bleating something unique we quickly

jot down, sound strung along telephone wires 

 

9we draft our headline in the papers:

dolly’s daughter: the new smart sheep

 

10we wake in the night when a sheep cries

like a man shocked, no longer sleeping

 

 

the briefing

 

through a crackled speaker:    for your safety

please keep arms and legs inside the vehicle

the woman next to you is pregnant,

her stomach is a parachute falling

 

in the night. it leaves no footprints.

she watches the galley, leaning forward 

on her shins. she is the type to laugh 

at cartoon infants on safety brochures, 

at yellow lifejackets on a flat ocean.

 

she asks:     can you see a spot

near my tonsil? a segment of lemon,

a dark curved mark? she pulls a tooth

the symbol of copper from the back

of her throat. engraved in the porcelain

is the sign of a circle and a cross.

 

now that we are alone again,

I’ll tell you:     my partner is a woman.

she was a man. we are both becoming women.

 

I think of that song:     stay, little Valentine, stay.

every morning I feel the pull of the waves

and the ache in my chest, the crash of my personality

against everything I have been taught to believe.

 

 

painting a landscape in the Cambridge English exam

 

multiple choice 

 

my/his father used to celebrate Christmas but we/he do/does not now

what has changed/stayed the same?

do baubles swim in the same pools of light as mirrors?

will a candle always paint the same shapes?

 

my/your/her aunt was caned/whipped in school.

how do our cultures differ/align?

is the soul of a person always lower than the body?

will the womb always be a sickness?

 

the death of a daughter/son in a hay bale

he/she sleeps through the second coming

will all addiction be announced by a whistling eagle?

does the moon of Jupiter resemble a G-d?

 

you play/played a game of jacks/knucklebones.

do your ankles/knees break/twist to the sound?

which inspires fear? a flaming sword/a leather belt.

 

which is the correct nomenclature?

the firmament/ring of ocean. the sixth/seventh day.

rachel at the well, watering the flock/hagar fleeing, cast into the wilderness.

to give birth/the song of the sea

to be born/the splitting of warriors

the promise of generations/floods/exodus

 

correct this common rhyme:

Ip dip, sky’s blue! Who is it? Is it you?


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

 is a finalist in English and German at St John’s College, Oxford. Her debut pamphlet Cataclysm was published by Cheltenham Poetry Festival in September 2021 as winner of the New Voices First Pamphlet Competition. She has won various other awards including the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, Forward Student Critics’ Award, the Mapleton-Bree Prize 2020, and the Martin Starkie Prize 2021. A past Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review of Books, she has also served as Editor-in-Chief of The Isis Magazine, the longest-running student magazine in the UK.

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