The Metric System

I sucked the milk that Harold Wilson
invested in my infant skeleton,

laced with strontium from Windscale
and Christmas Island. Miss Odell

perched on my radiator, bra-less
in her flower power sundress.

“How would you weigh that straw?”
A spring balance hung from her finger,

graduated in the metric system
that had taken us to the moon.

She smiled when I tied a squidgy knot
in my straw and baited the hook with it,

but her spring remained unstirred.
She led me to the Straws Cupboard

seeming riddled with woodworm,
the shelves of plastic honeycomb

drinking our voices. She jiggled
down a 1000, her armpits frizzled

like my mother’s all that summer,
and pierced the glossy wrapper,

cupping the tight-skinned bundle
like an apple in her palm until

the scale read 300 grams, dead.
“Now see that 300 in your head.”

I stared at her rose trellis ribcage
and the digits bloomed in the foliage.

“Give me your finger. I want
you to put it on the decimal point.

Move it to the left. Again. Again.
Right there.” So our answer came,

and she laughed, the hook ripping
the paper, the spring zipping

to weightless as a thousand straws
splashed down on the cupboard floor.

Winner of the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem