“Blackbird” and other poems by Imogen Forster

Testudo

 
A bone-hard carapace,
a shell cast on a hot shore,
emptied by the labour
of leaving the nurturing
sea, scraping broad ribbons
up the sand’s glassy slope .
 
Gasping, digging a damp hole,
she lays round, sticky eggs,
a hundred leathery balls.
Then spent, noon-dried,
she dies, picked clean
by quick scavengers.
 
Her hatchlings flail
and scuttle towards
the sea, led by the
gazing moon, their plates
small patterned
purses, hardened
in the rich sea-soup
into a vaulted chamber
built to the blueprints
of this old architecture.
 
Published in Visual Verse
 

Blackbird

 
The blackbird sits, a smudge
in the prickly hedge, stooped,
wings and tail all downward.
 
I want to touch him, to feel
the quick, warm shape
in a cage of bare branches.
 
What does a bird fluffed
against the cold see
in his crouched stillness?
 
If I could grasp him by
his ashy back, hold his whole
breathing body in my hand
 
what would the soft bones
tell me, the barbed primaries
and the mite-infested down?
 
The bird stirs, and now
shows a bead, a pinhead eye,
a beak ripening to yellow.
 
Then the sudden thrust
out of the damp bush,
the perfect trajectory.
 
This was his first lesson,
the enactment of his ease.
 
Submitted to The Rialto Poetry competition, February 2015
 

Dancer, after Yinka Shonibare, ‘Girl Ballerina’

 
I am tailored, buttoned, piped,
the colonist’s clothes a tight fit
round my slim child’s waist.
Net and frills, my costume’s
a good girl’s best party dress.
But am I a welcome guest
or a blackface clown?
Headless, I say nothing.
I am a dancer’s body
in a pair of cotton shoes.
 
I am a sister to Marie, the wax
and bronze work of M Degas,
shiny, moulded on a frame
of pipes and paintbrushes.
Called monkey, Aztec,
a medical specimen,
the flower of depravity.
I am ten, to her fourteen, and so,
you could say, innocent.
 
My neat bodice of East India
Batiks is the bright stuff
of conquest, traded from
Batavia to Benin and now
spread across south London stalls.
My Brixton market wardrobe,
my new flags, my hopeful anthems.
 
Hands behind my back,
my finger resting on the trigger.
 
Submitted to Faber New Poets competition, January 2015

WP_20150116_19_52_26_ProImogen Forster is a freelance translator, mainly of art history, from French, Italian, Spanish and Catalan. She translated one of the French volumes for the new edition of Vincent van Gogh’s Letters published by the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, in 2009. She has published poems on-line, and in a number of magazines.
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