I wouldn’t call it a honeymoon,
those muffled nights in mothballed rooms.
With cake in the boot we pilgrimmed north,
taking a young marriage to old widows,
my father’s brothers dead,
their crucifixes still hanging.
In each house we were given the double bed,
my aunties inviting us to fornicate
on concave mattresses holding dead men’s
seed. Had we come one week before,
you would have been given nothing
but dusty blankets on a downstairs floor,
and I would have sunk, alone and deep,
into the mildewed sponge of a cousin’s bed.
My aunties would have spread
as wide as angels in their marital sheets,
their doors ajar, the solemn whispers
of their night-time prayers beating
as sweet as deathbed love-making.
But our wedding vows were said,
so we sipped tea on upright chairs
still dimpled from Brylcreemed heads,
and rolled like screws in sideways jars
on shelves in locked-up sheds.
one son, one daughter later,
Jesus has been sent to us.
(The aunts are gone, their houses stripped)
His legs are broken (long marriages skipped,
thrown into landfill) and we laugh
when our little children ask about our honeymoon.
I see you dreaming down our garden path
as you hold the broken body in your hands.
He was nailed to the Anaglypta. You are picturing
the twist of wire you’ll use to bind his legs;
the nail, the hammer, the spirit level, the pencil
mark the place he’ll eternally outstare us.
I love the way our daughter sings
as her finger traces our wedding rings.
Maria and Elizabeth Brontë, died aged 11 and 10
So young to be marooned here,
we spend our pain on travelling
dreams, skating over frozen seas,
following their inky maps,
our boats to Gondal trapped
on battered moors. We straddle
the backs of galloping hares,
fly flat on the wings of marble-
eyed hawks grown dragon-sized,
since in our dreams we are
as tiny as toy soldiers.
We cry for them to carry us
beyond mountains and frog-filled lakes.
They shake in their beds.
The travelling box lies waiting.
We tiptoe on lopsided floors,
watch the news from Angria
ripple over them in sleep, whisper
We mustn’t keep you any longer.
They have laid out shadows
and attics and mists.
Brewing tea in our kitchen
we snort, remembering you screaming
to your mother we were witches.
Behind her back
we flew to fetch biscuits,
you said. We were trees in the dark
who followed you home,
the lampposts that tiptoed after you
to blind your unclenched eyes.
We fed you trifle, persuaded you
we hadn’t eaten your mother,
that shadows were not black blood
against a sunlit wall. You understood
she was drinking wine,
there was no hole in her side
where we’d ripped you from her,
and you knew that knives were for cake
and the crusts of sandwiches.
You threw careless waves to your mother,
ran into our house like a spring tide,
the seagulls laughing;
the old tricks had worked again.
Gasps and Sighs
Is it because
we fell from our nests
before we knew
we had wings?
that we remember
our heads crowned
in pain? our upended
legs? is it because
our wombs are
falling? a lament?
does all this explain
the gasps and sighs
we hear on landings,
doors, when we are
burglars at the top
of the stairs,
Thanks for Not Switching Me Off
I’ll have no concept of time
so, no rush, and I may fail to respond
to painful stimuli,
and to sound, but don’t let that stop you
from playing me The Three Degrees
singing When Will I See You Again?
because even though I may be oblivious
to the doctor tipping light in my eyes
from her sterilised torch,
that doesn’t mean I won’t see again
and Mrs Cuthbertson,
or rather, three sixth-form girls on the stage,
done up as them, in gabardine raincoats,
sturdy shoes, clear plastic rain bonnets,
doing the moves, singing
(The Three Degrees Fahrenheit! came the shout)
and wheeled to the daylight
I’ll shake again,
a laughing girl again
in a sea of other laughing girls –
when the future flung open
the world’s windows,
our lives soared in.
I’ll fly again with oxygen in my blood –
that was the first time I understood love
when I dared to look at the three of them
on the day of their retirement.
They laughed too,
their rock-hard curls trembling,
on their bat-wing glasses.
We never knew
if they liked the carriage clocks,
if they ever set
their hearts ticking.
I Remember the Fear of Forgetting
I remember the fear of forgetting
the Austro-Hungarian Empire
under the cuffs of my school blouse.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand
and Sophie, his pregnant wife, are hiding
in my pencil case. The Black Hand,
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia
aren’t visible until I creep
my skirt three inches up my thigh
and Sarajevo, 28 June
1914 is folded so small
it’s a blister on the sole of my foot.
I take Gavrilo Princip to my lips;
I would rather swallow ink
than hand him over.
The Aunties & other poems are © Josephine Corcoran