Poetry

Selection of 5 poems from Inventing the Fishes

WHEN

When you know you must change
you look back at the leaves
like a shadow, inventing reasons
for staying small.

When you know you must change
trees skate past the window of your train
and the fields' pages spell out your itinerary.
It is simple as a stamen's antenna.

When you know you must change
you make silence your convent,
pure and sharp as salt. The bricks
pile up like little lies, impishly.

When you know you must change
you walk in several directions all at once.
The sky instructs you in the art of cleansing.
Cloudy letters remain unanswered.

When you know you must change
you meet the intermediary in a buttonless coat.
You can't read her face but her words spill out
like a flock of bats. You do everything she says.

When you know you must change
you are unprepared, caught like a moth
in the act of leaving.
Your dusty wings sprout freckles, pinpricks.

When you know you must change
you move furniture on the fourth day,
as if the violet darkness were not
a regular visitor. She breathes herself
behind the curtain, stays very still.

When you know you must change
a hundred frowns assemble on the horizon,
each bearing a different grudge.
You rub them out, one by one.

When you know you must change
the room suddenly seems warmer.
An owl flutes in the forest.
An answering call trembles up your throat.

SERENDIPITY

Alalcomeneus was the first man to appear, by Lake Copais
in Boeotia, before even the Moon was.

- Robert Graves

You'd be in silk - emerald I think,
its frou-frou as crisp as leaves -
with perfume a ghost at your ears
where copper moons hang like apples,
your foot on the taxi's metallic step

and there he'd be,
burnished, at one with the leather;
best of Earth's fruits, a few
inadequate leaves necklacing his waist -

Alalcomeneus, breezing in from Attica
to celebrate the net result of all his
choices - to step on this leaf not that,
eat the black berry not the red. He thinks
of himself as forked tree, asking for rain.

He makes for the moons, believing them
to be his own, for weren't there whispers
at his death-bed? 'Moon', they murmured,
as if delivering a kiss, 'There will be Moon'.

Pavements fade with a thousand cries.
Moons tumble in the green silk of your lap
where he, wonderingly, looses them
and you fall to your knees like Athene
for knowledge, his own rough tutelage.

TESTING THE WATER

In the shape of a cloud
I'm jostled from Monday to Wednesday, gathering
my thoughts on the wing. Some drift off.
All my life is a training in letting go.

In the shape of a rain
hold my interest and I'll strip your worries
like feathers. They land uncertainly,
making arch suggestions about coracles.

In the shape of a stream
I have swallowed my own name in the rush
to establish an alibi. Now I brush
with death, whose walls are armed against me.

In the shape of a river
my yarn is invisible, unbroken by sleep's scissors.
I follow the letter of the law
and grant small acts of kindness.

In the shape of a waterfall
I fall apart to absolve you.
How long can you defy my coolness?
Ill at lease, I contemplate the horizontal.

In the shape of the sea
I have no eyelids. My ardent wish
is to be caught basking in moonlight.
I take her face and crumple it in a mother's arms.

In the shape of a tear
there is safety in numbers.
I nurse my little grief in a crocheted smock.
Together, we make for the hills.

LIGHT

from Genesis sequence

It is empty of guile, like water
And has the gift of flowing
but everything water is, it is not.

It is both master and servant,
returning with a broom to see the night off.
Moths twirl away like sycamore seeds.

It is a lifter of veils,
a painter without easel or brush.
It gives shape, but is shapeless.

It says, 'No, this is curve of eyelash
and this, the straightness of a twig.'
It can't keep secrets, publicises your every look.

It inches its way towards shadows,
confident in the power of vanishing.
They abandon their safe distance.

It is generous, giving its sum total
to all without favour. Its steady glide
is like a thin wash, cleansing and isolate.

It is in at the beginning,
overseeing every leaf and whisker.
Turning your back is no escape.

INSIDE WOLF

I lose a shoe on the way in, as sign - my one
mistake - then teeter on his tongue's root
and dive into cramped air, counting the pillars
of bone that arch and spool like a cocoon.

If I lie flat and stretch out my splayed feet
I can touch his ribs, play the concertina
of their breath. And then I know happiness,
held in a minor key or, as now, drumming thumbs
against the taut and ivory skin of their brow.

His panting chest has me to handle, dead weight
in the adjacent room. I squint straight ahead
but can't decipher one red from another,
untangle threads of satin warp, aortic weft.

And this is as I would have it, though a voice
tunnels from the other side, reassuring me
the hood is intact, that I am alive,
my grandmother too. They have plans
to make me fill his belly with stones,
drag his heavier heart to a glottal stop.

But wolf and me are in this blood bath
together. He arranges knowledge in a swan-song,
music I'll not let him suffer alone.
As womb is grave, I'll not come out
though the gamekeeper and granny
call over my body, each to each.