When you live on the edge
of an ocean, you cannot pretend
you did not see it coming.
The leaves are still, birds
chatter, the sea is a sheet
of steel. But out west
where last night the sun
left a sky illumined
like stained glass
dirt heaps up,
someone else’s dustpan
emptied on your doorstep
and a magpie
at first light.
First published in Cyphers and subsequently in Of Birds and Bones
‘Heaven Scent’ Magnolia
They tack in, full rig, under cover of darkness,
dock before dawn in cement-paved ports
at wharves of picket fence. The voyage
has been long through winter’s bald estates,
gusting grit and dust have shred their sails
to votive rags, bound now to every leafless branch.
Waxen petals blood-tinged white
glow like manna at first light.
First published in Abridged and subsequently in Of Birds and Bones
This morning I woke with seawater
in my mouth. My eyes felt rinsed,
like after crying, my veins were
scoured, my limbs wrung out.
I was beached on a fogbound bed.
Adrift. Missing the aquatics.
Nothing is lost, just out of reach.
Everything that ever was, is –
somewhere – if only we can
get there, find the key, remember
the encrypted PIN, be brave enough
to jump. Know how to swim.
If only our feet have not been bound
at birth, our wings trimmed back
like wicks to suit our mothers, or
cobbled to a gooey mess by fathers,
confusing the discrete powers of
son and sun, deluded and controlling.
As long as no-one changed the locks
along the way and didn’t tell us, or
dropped the keys or, worse still, built
a breeze block wall – a suicide bunker –
performing hara-kiri on our dreams. Left
bag and baggage rotting on the floor.
This morning I was reminded
by a taste of salt that we do not waste
those supine hours spent sprawled
unconscious in an oarless bed;
that we are all at sea, our time well spent
diving, back and back, to unpick locks, find home.
First published in The Stinging Fly and subsequently in World Without Maps
Le Jardinier Vallier
There is an ease slips through the body
after work well done. The heart
minds its own business, leaves alone
the slack repose of limb and bone.
On summer days we’d find him there,
still as a lizard by the orchard wall,
hat over his eyes, his hands asleep
on his thighs. The chair
was never moved. C’est la chaise
de Monsieur Vallier, we were told.
As if this explained everything—
the silence of his deer-like tread,
his loping gait. The way he came
and went unseen. How the garden
sang with light and shade.
First published in Small Lives (Poddle Publications) and subsequently in Of Birds and Bones
The Suitcase of Bees
She brought it with her everywhere,
its silver, dimpled surface effervescent
with the whirr of wings within. In public
she would spread her skirt’s thick folds
to mute the angry drone, paint a smile
across her face, hope no-one would notice.
Once inside her own four walls
the vibrations grew so shrill
she held her head and hummed.
The ambulance crew was gentle
as they led her owl-eyed through the gates,
bees still rustling taffeta in her head.
The case was silent, a ruse
in sly collusion with the doctor
who swore she was an expert,
knew all there was to know
of stings and swarms, their stridency,
how to outface the queen.
They built a wooden beehive,
surrounded it with lemon balm, sweet basil, mint.
And now, except for mild tinnitus, she is calm.
A version first published in The Interpreter’s House; subsequently in World Without Maps