SAY

A brick-sized block of grey stone washed ashore on which was carved
the word SAY. My dad picked it up at low tide and two months later found
another, and another saying LES. We worked out that rather than a command –
like Rilke’s flow – it was the name of an old firm, SAYLES, which sold
refined sugar, with plantations in the Caribbean and a factory in Chiswick.
As capital flows, accumulates and breaks its bounds, so too had SAYLES
broken into various subsidiaries. Slipped, dissolved and loosed. You find
all kinds of things at low tide. One time, a black retriever came wagging up
to me with a jawbone in its mouth. What can’t be disposed of otherwise –
what can’t be broken down – is taken by the river, spat out or lodged

in mud. The SAY brick took pride-of-place on our chest of drawers –
masonry, defaced by time, made part of the furniture. My dad decided
to give it to you, in part because you’re an artist and he thought it looked like
art, but also, which is maybe the same, because it suggested reason
in madness, and made him – made us – less afraid. Last week, there was an
acid attack. Two cousins, assumed to be Muslim, having torn off their
clothes, lay naked on the road, calling for help. Passers-by crossed the street.
Things break, not flow; it is impossible, however lovely, to see the whole
of humanity as a single helix rotating forever in the midst of universal time.
Flow, break, flow. That’s how things go. Is it? What are you trying

to say? After the operation, they stapled shut his stomach. As the scars
healed, it became harder to discuss. He drank as if he had no body – nothing
said, admitted to or broken. Flow, break, flow. Gather up the fragments.
Now he is back to saying The country’s full. Why are they all men? Four months
ago, in a flimsy hospital gown, the fight had almost left him. In a tone
you’d use to distract a child, the nurse told my mum about her holiday to
Sumatra in the early ’90s. He likes custard, she replied. We told him when
to cough and when to breathe. He clasped a button that controlled
the morphine. Bleep. Bleep. What did the blue and green lines mean?
The sudden dips? What was the nurse’s name? I chose not to

keep notes. Thoughtful as moss or black coffee, or as the screen of
a dead phone. That’s what eyes look like when you really look at them.
Inanimate. Moss, though, is alive enough to harvest carbon dioxide,
to grow. Yesterday I googled thoughtful as moss, thinking it was from
a Seamus Heaney poem, but only found a description of the poet
“grown long-haired / And thoughtful; a wood-kerne // Escaped from
the massacre”. At school, we learnt that wood-kernes were armed
peasants who fought against the British in Ireland. I imagined them
(and him) as thoughtful kernels, seeds that had escaped death by being
spat out. I am nothing so solid or durable. What are you trying

to say? For years I made patterns in the air, not knowing what to say,
then you came and pointed out the paintwork cracked and bubbling
on the wall beside my bed which, though it stank, I hadn’t noticed.
The streetlight sparked on beads of damp. Your skin smelt bready, warm.
I couldn’t say how bare my life had been. The stillness in the room
was like the stillness in the air between the heaves of storm. We flowed
into and out of each other, saying – what? Saying. Not yet together,
we were incapable of breaking. Cradled in pure being. The paint flaked,
exposing streaks of poxy wall. I remembered a church where the saints’
faces had been scratched away, taking on a new expression: alien,

afraid. Some days I must look alien to him. Scary. One poet said
the devil was neither blate nor scaur, incapable of being scared. I sleep
scared most nights but feel no more holy. Once I pronounced “oven”
often like my mum does, and a friend laughed. The cracks appeared
beneath me. In the years before we met, though I wrote, I was too scared –
too scarred – to speak. Flow, flow, flow. I wanted to be carried along, not
spat out or upon. That SAY brick picked from the riverbed proved that
broken things still flow. What are you trying to say? When you asked
me that I closed my laptop, offended. Why? It never mattered what
I said. Whether you speak up or scarcely whisper, you speak with all

you are. To the eye of a being of incomparably longer life – to God
or the devil – the human race would appear as one continuous vibration,
in the same way a sparkler twirled at night looks like a circle. In darker days
I couldn’t say that to my dad, slumped in front of the TV with a mug
of instant coffee. Saying it now only makes me think of times I’ve held
a sparkler – the hiss and flare, the after-smell – which runs counter
to that whole vision. One morning, gagging on his breathing tube,
he started to text my mum, but before he could press send his phone
died. He couldn’t remember what he tried to say. I can’t remember
what I tried to say. Flow, break, flow. You hear me, though?

The Republic of Motherhood

I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.
I handed over my clothes and took its uniform,
its dressing gown and undergarments, a cardigan
soft as a creature, smelling of birth and milk,
and I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.
Then I soaked my spindled bones
in the chill municipal baths of Motherhood,
watching strands of my hair float from my fingers.
Each day I pushed my pram through freeze and blossom
down the wide boulevards of Motherhood
where poplars bent their branches to stroke my brow.
I stood with my sisters in the queues of Motherhood –
the weighing clinic, the supermarket – waiting
for Motherhood’s bureaucracies to open their doors.
As required, I stood beneath the flag of Motherhood
and opened my mouth although I did not know the anthem.
When darkness fell I pushed my pram home again,
and by lamplight wrote urgent letters of complaint
to the Department of Motherhood but received no response.
I grew sick and was healed in the hospitals of Motherhood
with their long-closed isolation wards
and narrow beds watched over by a fat moon.
The doctors were slender and efficient
and when I was well they gave me my pram again
so I could stare at the daffodils in the parks of Motherhood
while winds pierced my breasts like silver arrows.
In snowfall, I haunted Motherhood’s cemeteries,
the sweet fallen beneath my feet –
Our Lady of the Birth Trauma, Our Lady of Psychosis.
I wanted to speak to them, tell them I understood,
but the words came out scrambled, so I knelt instead
and prayed in the chapel of Motherhood, prayed
for that whole wild fucking queendom,
its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty,
and all the souls that were in it. I prayed and prayed
until my voice was a nightcry
and sunlight pixelated my face like a kaleidoscope.

Ruins

Here’s my body
in the bath, all the skin’s
inflamed trenches
and lost dominions,

my belly’s fallen keystone
its slackened tilt –
for all the Aztec gold
I’d not give up

this room where you slept,
your spine to my right,
your head
stoppered in my pelvis

like a good amen –
amen I say
to my own damn bulk,
my milk-stretched breasts –

amen I say to all of this
if I have you –
your screw-ball smile
at every dawn,

your half-pitched, milk-wild smile
at every waking call,
my loved-beyond-all-reason
darling, dark-eyed girl.

And death demands a labor

When it rains in Boston, from each street rises
the smell of sea. So do the faces of the dead.
For my father, I will someday write:
On this day endeth this man, who did all he could
to craft the most intricate fears, this man
whose waking dreams were of breaking the small bones
in the feet of all the world’s birds. Father.
You know the stories. You were raised on them.
To end a world, a god dances. To kill a demon,
a goddess turns into one. Almanacs of annihilation
are chronicled in cosmic time. Go on.
Batter everything of mine that you can find.
Find my roe deer with the single antler. Kill him.
Find a girl, or a woman. Display to me her remains
on some unpaved expanse, like road kill
on Kentucky highways, turning from flesh to a
fine sand made of ground bone, under a sun
whose surface reaches temperatures six times hotter
than the finest crematory. On the surface of the earth,
our remains are in unholy concert with the remains
of all who have gone before and all who will follow,
and with all who live. In this way, our ground
resembles a bone house. Search in my body
for my heart, find it doesn’t sit gently
where you learned it to be. Thieve in my armory.
Take my saws, take my torches, and drown
my phalanx of bees. Carve into me the words
of the chronicler of hell. Make your very best
catastrophe. My piano plays loud and fast
although my hands are nowhere to be found.
Father, as you well know, I am but a woman.
I believe in neither gods nor goddesses.
I have left my voice up and down the seam
of this country. I, unlike you, need no saws,
or torches. The bees you drowned will come to me
again. Each time you bear your weapons, I,
no more than a woman, grow a new limb.
Each time you use a weapon, my sinews grow
like vines that devour a maple tree.
When I cry, my face becomes the inescapable sea,
and when you drain blood from a creature,
I drink it. On this day this man died,
having always eaten the good food
amid the angry ghosts, having always made
the most overwrought hells.
On this day the moon waxes gibbous
and the moths breed in the old carpets.
On this day from a slit in the ground rises
a girl who does not live long.
On this day to me a lover turns his back
and will not meet my eye.
On this day the faces of the death-marked
are part-willow, part-lion.
On this day has died an artist of ugly tapestries,
and his wares burst into flame.
On this day endeth this man upon who
I hurl the harvest of this ghostly piano,
and on the surface of this exceptional world
the birds have all come to our thresholds,
our windows and our doors, our floorboards,
our attic crannies and underground storerooms,
wires and railroads, tarmacs, highways,
cliffs and oceans, and have all begun to laugh,
a sound like an orange and glittering fire
that originates from places unseen.

Girl to Snake

We’re not supposed to parley, Ropey Joe.
I’m meant to close my eyes and shut the door.
But you’re a slender fellow, Ropey Joe,
____________________  thin enough
to slip beneath the door and spill your wicked do-si-do
_________ in curlicues and hoops across the floor.
I’ll be here. And I’m all ears –
there are things I want to know.

Oh tell me tell me tell me
about absinthe and yahtzee,
and sugarskulls and ginger, and dynamite and hearsay,
and all the girls and boys who lost their way
and the places in the woods we’re not to go
and all the games we’re not allowed to play –
there are so many things to know.

My mother’s got the supper on the go.
My father will be sagging in his chair.
But you’re a speedy fellow, Ropey Joe,
____________________ quick enough
to slide behind his back, a wicked line of dominoes
_______ zipping through the hall and up the stairs.
Come on, pal. I’m ready now –
there are things I want to know.

Oh tell me tell me tell me
about lightning and furies
and ligatures and diamonds, and zipwires and gooseberries
and all the girls and boys who went astray
and all the ones who never got to go
and all the words we’re not supposed to say –
there are so many things to know.

They told me you were trouble, Ropey Joe.
You’ve always got to tip the applecart.
But you’re a subtle fellow, Ropey Joe,
___________________ suave enough
to worm your way inside and pin your wicked mistletoe
_______ above the crooked lintel to my heart.
Come on then, shimmy in –
there are things I want to know.

Oh tell me tell me tell me
about hellhounds and rubies
and pretty boys and bad girls, and runaways and lost boys
and all the things that made my mother cry
and all the things he said to make her stay
and all the things we’re not allowed to say –
there are so many things to know.

 

Name

My grandmother’s name was Chris.
ach ja – Christl.

a chrism, christ with a lemon tongue.
turquoise water inside a glass
wörthersee water
a crystal you take in your pocket or carry
touching your neck

a pair of blue and glass eyes
from a black and white portrait

a ring of yellow hair
Chris
in your army green cap

Christl
a baby lying over a stream
or the picture of a baby

Yeki Bood Yeki Nabood

every day someone finds what they need
in someone else
_______________ you tear into a body
and come out with a fistful of the exact
feathers you were looking for wondering
why anyone would want to swallow
so many perfect feathers

_______________________ everyone
looks uglier naked or at least
I do my pillar of fuzz my damp
lettuce
________ I hoarded an entire decade
of bliss of brilliant dime-sized raptures
and this is what I have to show
for it a catastrophe of joints this
puddle I’m soaking in which came
from my crotch and never did
dry
____ the need
to comfort anyone else to pull
the sickle from their chest seems
unsummonable now as a childhood
pet as Farsi or tears
__________________ I used to slow
dance with my mother in our living
room spiritless as any prince I felt
the bark of her spine softening I became
an agile brute she became a stuffed
ox I hear this happens
all over the world

Dancing Bear

Children bring me coins
to watch him balançoire, tombé –
they imagine he has a
forest inside, they close
their eyes to see him
foraging on a high cliff
above a burnished lake –
belly to the wet earth
but inside is just a savage
who loves only his
claws, his wild mouth,
tears at honeyed flesh
with his barbed tongue
so I tamed him with
a rod, a crop, my fist –
starved him until he would
dance this way, that way.
At six o’clock you should
see me count my money –
hatfuls of brass and gold.
I uncouple his snout, rub
a drop of lotion in, pour
myself a drink as my
father unzips his bear skin –
places his naked head
on my lap – throat exposed.
He apologises to me
for all the places on my body
his hands have scarred
but I just close his eyes,
sing him to sleep,
nuzzle his ears – a blade
in my other hand.

I See That Lilith Hath Been with Thee Again

Love,
I saw our daughter in the grocery store again.
This time, she’d discarded the old shoes,
because finally,
her hooves are coming through.

She was using her talons to tear through meat packets.

Oh, honey, I frowned.
Your mum is a vegan.
Our daughter followed me to the produce aisle, and she chewed
one carrot, sadly, to try to make me happy. It didn’t take.

She could barely tame the wild things of her teeth.

We sat and talked in the trunk of my car for about
fifteen minutes afterwards. I offered to pay for her shopping.
She said,

Mother, don’t bother. I’m covered. I’ve got it
sorted, between the furnace and the fire and
the pit of my stomach does all my flame charring anyway. I’m
set, for days.

She said, “Tell Mum don’t worry. I’ve got a nice place. No boys.
I’m finishing up my degree and I don’t dream of having fathers;
not anymore. You raised me well, you can’t even tell
where the roots of my hair
used to be.”

She said, “I’m sorry I didn’t want the same life as you both did.”
I guess that’s what most mothers want to hear.

Honey, oh honey,
we did good.

Lilith sends us love and photographs of her last kill.
We made a mantelpiece of her baby antlers. We know
how to breathe now, how not to be
ungrateful. We love her; we just
don’t want the same things she did.
That’s all.

Day, with Hawk

for K.M. Grant

Here among witch-hazels I miss
the peregrine we met just once.
Like the fire from bare twigs that twists
a floral kiss on winter’s neck,
He stunned me so I’m hanging on
to language by its clichés, pushed
to singer-songwrite fingernails
down a tumbling slate precipice.
I would call Him chestnut-stippled,
light on the arm, I want to say,
the non-urgent flexing of chest
muscles making a snow-champion’s
balance; and bad old hierarchy
doffs its executioner’s garb
to rise with the word, princely. Love,
this is; no poem. What is the term
for the gathering of one falcon?
An embarrassment of poets.
An adoration. An abyss.

Annunciation

I feel ashamed, finally,

Of our magnificent paved roads,

Our bridges slung with steel,

Our vivid glass, our tantalizing lights,

Everything enhanced, rehearsed,

A trick. I’ve turned old. I ache most

To be confronted by the real,

By the cold, the pitiless, the bleak.

By the red fox crossing a field

After snow, by the broad shadow

Scraping past overhead.

My young son, eyes set

At an indeterminate distance,

Ears locked, tuned inward, caught

In some music only he has ever heard.

Not our cars, our electronic haze.

Not the piddling bleats and pings

That cause some hearts to race.

Ashamed. Like a pebble, hard

And small, hoping only to be ground to dust

By something large and strange and cruel.

[Born from the need to counteract the threat.]

During the early years of the Cold War my father, in his capacity as an R.A.F. officer, was involved in that aspect of bomber-command which dealt with maintaining the Airborne Nuclear Deterrent, as it was then. The following takes what I’ve gleaned of his role over those years and represents it here as a work of variations and possibilities. The scenario itself may be one of routine and repetition, but what I’ve chosen to draw from it is the undercurrent of waiting, in the ever-present awareness of what is lost when such a waiting is permitted to play out.

 

 

 

Born from the need to counteract the threat.
Now that such a threat.
For threats have been made.

Now that the enemy has shown that they.
And in sailing so close.
In having simply sailed.

That they could even consider.
That their so-called threats.
That they might launch, and in so launching.

As such a clear need has arisen.
And in its rising.
In its staying up.

A need to negate, to nullify, to rule out.
By our having in place.
By our simply having.

Because if the enemy did.
If the enemy chose.
If, at some point, at length, the enemy.

Because whatever they might send our way.
It wouldn’t take long for it to.
From the precise moment of notification.

It wouldn’t be.
It would soon be.
It wouldn’t.

Four minutes is all we could really expect as.
That’s not sufficient for any.
In four minutes there’s not enough.

In such a small window there isn’t.
Hardly even to get out of. Let alone.
From that initial alarm. From our hearing.

So any counteracting measure must by needs balance out.
And our own force, already deployed, would.
Each and every, at the merest drop.

At Lullington Church/To My Daughter

In my kingdom it is winter forever.
The snow falls & there is no time nor day –
no distinction between things, no compare,
no flaw to taint our rudimentary clay.

The falcon has flown away with history,
the bullfinch sheathed in ice & snow, the bare
branch shall never know its May,
nor husband teach the vanity of despair.

Nothing disturbs its peaceful sleep, no dream
of life, no hope, no falsifying dawn
alleviate the blank space within the frame –
no words to speak, no beauty to adorn.

Until she wakes and finds herself alone,
you are her rock, Lord. Lord, you are stone.
Lully, Lulley, Lully, Lulley. 

dinosaurs in the hood

let’s make a movie called Dinosaurs in the Hood.
Jurassic Park meets Friday meets The Pursuit of Happyness.
there should be a scene where a little black boy is playing
with a toy dinosaur on the bus, then looks out the window
& sees the T. rex, because there has to be a T. rex.

don’t let Tarantino direct this. in his version, the boy plays
with a gun, the metaphor: black boys toy with their own lives
the foreshadow to his end, the spitting image of his father.
nah, the kid has a plastic brontosaurus or triceratops
& this is his proof of magic or God or Santa. i want a scene

where a cop car gets pooped on by a pterodactyl, a scene
where the corner store turns into a battleground. don’t let
the Wayans brothers in this movie. i don’t want any racist shit
about Asian people or overused Latino stereotypes.
this movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks—

children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exile—saving their town
from real ass dinosaurs. i don’t want some cheesy, yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny, yet strong, commanding
Black girl buddy-cop film. this is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. i want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors

with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. i want those little spitty
screamy dinosaurs. i want Cecily Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
i want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. But this can’t be
a black movie. this can’t be a black movie. this movie can’t be dismissed

because of its cast or its audience. this movie can’t be metaphor
for black people & extinction. This movie can’t be about race.
this movie can’t be about black pain or cause black pain.
this movie can’t be about a long history of having a long history with hurt.
this movie can’t be about race. nobody can say nigga in this movie

who can’t say it to my face in public. no chicken jokes in this movie.
no bullet holes in the heroes. & no one kills the black boy. & no one kills
the black boy. & no one kills the black boy. besides, the only reason
i want to make this is for the first scene anyway: little black boy
on the bus with his toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless

___________________________his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there.

 

Sketch 19

A woman in high heels walks slowly along the broken avenue.
The boys tangle their leashes trying to get ahead, turn and
look back at her, then veer up the hill towards the open
field. The park can’t contain their desire. It pours into the
atmosphere in particles that speed and collide, cause small
children to lose their balance and fall off their bikes. This is
quantum entanglement on an unseasonably warm November
afternoon, the smell of coffee from Bittersweet that makes me
bend backwards into morning, the spring of another year, trip
while rushing home to meet you—

Aura

Listen to me                               little water
I called you up            believing something
would arise                         in me believing
I could make                          you reappear
on my way                         to the cemetery
every face was                              luminous
as if they knew                something about
the dark                                     I think you
were in us all                  reminding me not
to despair or if                 despairing know
that we did not                  lose each other
either side                           of the calamity
we fused                           you went inside
& I could not                                  see you
but afterwards                           afterwards
I could see                             underwater I
could see in the dark                I could see
with my eyes closed         I could see past
the shimmer that        separates the living
& the dead and I knew there was nothing
no separation                            it was just
aura the most                          remarkable
sadness &                            if only I would
keep looking                    I would see you

Angel Hill

Someone must be looking after the headstones.
It might be you with your easel and brushes
And your big sheets and charcoal for drawing
Snowdrop cumulus and lichen lettering.
Someone must be looking after the railings
And closing the rusty gate behind her.

My Life According to You

So I was born and was small for ages
and then suddenly a cardboard box
appeared with two furry black ears
sticking out of it it made me nervous
but I was brave and gave it a bell
to play with and then out it jumped
and loved me it was my cat I called it
Morris Morrissey it matched
my mother’s Morris Minor

For the next bit

I was a teenager and then I grew up
I had a flat in Dublin and a boyfriend
he was a vet little bed little kitchen
little towel rack lots of little cups
and saucers and then off he went
to Africa he sent me pictures
of giraffes and of the second
tallest waterfall in the world
when he got back he wasn’t my friend

anymore I cried

for a week I was also at university
a bigger place than school with bigger
chairs and desks and when it finished
I found a suitcase it was red
with purple flowers it had a scarf
around the handle I put in everything
I needed socks and a jotter and snacks
and took a plane across the ocean
to Japan to visit Godzilla

where it was

summer and boiling hot and the people
all kept wind chimes to make it
cooler and rode bicycles to the shops
and at the same time held up umbrellas
though it wasn’t even raining
and when I met a man in a bright
white classroom the darkest parts
of our eyes turned into swirls then question
marks then hearts so we got married

and went hippety

hoppety splat a mountain a lake
a desert we bought a house a tiny one
at first and then a massive one a baby
knocked at the door one night
but didn’t come in and then another
baby came he cried a lot
we thought he had tummy ache
we gave him a bath in a bucket
he was just lonely

for his sister

to come and keep him company
but you were still floating about
in space inside your bubble egg
it had accessories a switch
for going sideways a switch
for going upside down or faster
it was a cross between a sparkly green
and a sparkly silver the moon
was very annoying and then whenever

we’d all been bored

on our own for long enough down
you came on a path of lightning
to finish off the family you were born
on the living room floor at three
in the morning in front of the trampoline-
sofa and I heard them say A Girl!
and sat up straightaway we were both
pretty and I opened out my arms
and that’s it really

When you grow up

I’m going to be so busy taking you
to the house shop waiting by the play-
ground gates to bring your children
swimming I won’t be any different
I’ll keep your room exactly as it is
for you to visit bric-a-brac collection
on the shelf the bed your father built
the letters of your name in neon
appearing on the ceiling

when it’s time

Ghazal of Guyana

Do you see? The bones of stars are falling,
crashing to the earth like trees, like greyed spears

again I find myself amidst a frieze of bodies
lost in our commune of ritual sweat

a hurricane is spinning Saharan
winds through the constellation of islands

they whisper my name from the muddy rows
of cane, reminding me, the flesh is sin

the trees ache in the light, their ashen limbs
a warning to birds: do not alight here

this tree which is not a way of breathing
of keeping your head above whipping waves

we praise in spit and surf to our God
but not to this sea which is everything

until I can not help but think that I
am again: a flesh and blood poetry

my sister can remember how to make
baigan, blistering bulbs on splitting flames

on the Parika bank of the river
a boy sells water out of a rice sack

in my office sits a stoic Ganesh
intricately carved out of fiberglass.

Prayers for Exiled Poets

Were you to ask me where I’ve been…
I would have to tell how dirt mottles rocks.
How the river, running, runs out of itself.

Pablo Neruda, ‘There is No Forgetting (Sonata)’
Translated by Forrest Gander

Prayers no longer hold up these walls in my absence.
My own country rebukes me. I hold the world on my back.

Look for me in translation. In my own language you will go unanswered.
My Ugandan passports are a quiet place of ruin.

Where I come from, money is water slipping through their hands.
They eat what falls from trees and turns the flesh to gin.

I am of the same fruit and close to extinction.
My only root is my father’s name. Both of us removed from the soil.

In recent times, despite my deeds, you let me stay
no longer in bondage between earth and sky. No longer

do I hide in my own shadow. No longer waiting to stop waiting.
This rock becomes a sanctuary from which I can repair the ruins.

You have given me back my eyes.