Caroline Carver: Six Poems

Caroline Carver

Caroline Carver lives in Cornwall, after alternative lives in the West Indies and in Canada. She is a National Poetry Prize winner and has published three collections: Jigharzi an Me in West Indian dialect (Semicolon Press), Bone-Fishing (Peterloo Poets), and most recently Three Hares (Oversteps Books). A number of her poems have been translated into Romanian and Italian. Caroline is a Hawthornden Fellow and currently poet-in-residence at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall, and revels in living in a place where there are so many poet friends.
Unpredictable as my sister’s shadowed face
the clouds are playing house again
building castles for giants;
there’s a beach framed by mansions
of extraordinary beauty      the sun plays hide and seek
among Roman villas in terminal decline
and the giants are planning a ball –
soon the great yachts and cruise-ships will come
dispense their passengers at the doors
of these dream palaces
although the coastline has already moved crab-ways
into new countries   new continents;
oceans puff and fill
perhaps dragons are stirring underneath
as we enter a world wrapped by Christo,
(to this day I have a small fragment of cloth
clipped from the Pont Neuf)      But look!
The cloudsea is no longer calm
the tumbler of gin in my sister’s hand
clicks its castanets of ice;
our pilot acknowledges turbulence;
the plane begins its slow   measured descent
Previously published in Artemis 4 (May, 2010).
The Empress stops at the Crescent Moon spring of Dunhuang
She settles her head carefully onto the stone pillow
which will give her the last dreams of childhood
before she takes the western route to a new life
              the Silk Road waits in the evening sun
She has left her camels with their heads down
drinking as if they would like to drain the oasis
their babies with soul brown eyes and soft muzzles
already nestled into the cupped palm of the desert
waiting for the latest fall of sand
to fly back to the Mingsha Mountains
The Empress lies in her silken tent
surrounded by treasures
placed there by her ladies each night –
a trunk filled with gold and silver
a glass jug engraved with flutes
a delicate ivory comb for her long black hair
She fingers the red dress embroidered with a thousand butterflies
sings to the caged canaries   twelve, for each of her twelve years
strokes the statue of the flying horse
      which will one day carry her to heaven
but best she loves the moths of the second moult
      in their large wicker basket
she likes to stir the tiny black hairs on their backs
with her polished forefinger
She doesn’t dream of the coltish young camels
the gold and silver and glass and ivory
not even the shimmering red dress or the twelve canaries
but mounts the flying horse, beautiful as a God
clutching his mane, whispering into his soft ears
turned back to catch her voice
When she wakes and tiptoes out into the cool desert night
to dip her hands into the magic spring,
      curved like a crescent moon
she is surrounded by moths
Previously published in Agenda and Three Hares.
Sedna the Sea Goddess
The bird turned into a man
so beautiful
snow lay on his shoulders
like ermine
was he petrel or fulmar?
he didn’t say
At first he came
only in dreams
one summer night
lay with her
at dawn she left her house
to marry him
Who could explain
her father’s rage?
The storms of Anguta
reached across oceans
she knew full joy
only six days   before
he killed her husband
threw her in his umiak –
pushed her overboard
when winds frightened him
she wouldn’t give in
gripped the boat so hard
he had to chop her fingers off
one by one
did not know
that in her new Kingdom
they would transform
into narwhals   seals   walruses
singing humpback whales
sailors who hear them
believe in mermaids
Previously published in Acumen and Three Hares.
“long-eared owls roost secretively in willow thickets”
RSPB diary
They hide their secrets
in willow baskets
which my grandmother has woven for them
I saw her down by the river
picking withies and long reeds
to be bleached by an autumn moon
her fingers curved
by the slow separation
of knuckle and joint
and spindled, like the twiggy legs of owls
under their brushed fur feathers.
Orange and yellow eyes catch light
as they fall from the branches
into a long slow arc of flight
oo – ooh – ooh they say to my grandmother
and she smiles to herself
unlike her they do not show their age
and she is not telling oo – ooh – ooh
as their wings beat deep and slow in the slow night.
Previously published in Bone-Fishing.
Leaving the Ice House World
Like preCambrian rocks
which have finally mastered the art of standing still
Gaia turns quietly on her axis
continents stirring contentedly at speeds perceptible only to her
the fires in her belly feeding fantasies of a domestic hearth
where she’ll sit with her feet up
flicking the channel switch of her Big Brother creator
watching herself in all his mirrors at once
   sometimes wearing dust-brown rags of famine
sometimes her favourite Snow Queen outfit
with icing borrowed from Neptune
but the devil’s in the detail   she likes to make herself invisible
listens eagerly as poets struggle to describe love
scientists talk through the night in space laboratories
measuring differences in ice
Wait!   another space ship has just gone up
carrying items of immense importance –
radio recordings of 21st century music
a speech from the greatest of all presidents
sealed canisters filled from Pandora’s box
Gaia shrugs       tectonic plates grind their teeth
as always in times of doubt
she reaches for her pack of Tarot cards
Previously published in The Wolf magazine and Three Hares.
Song of the Ash Tree
like Yggdrasil the great ash
with her snake coiled at the root
we are bound by water and hope
roots reaching deep into that kingdom
of ferns and wet darkness
where past   present   and future
water each life from the sacred well
Did you know – in those high days of summer
when shadows retreat into the forest –
and the wind rustles our leaves
till we burst with love
male   female   or androgynous
we are always the wild ones of woodland
wrapped in ivy   dancing with Satyrs
Seize the day     pretty child     Seize the day
when you are matronly
bunched keys at your thickening waist
every leaf you grow
every kindness  every point of suffering
will be carved into your face
unless you have gazed nightly through shy leaves
dreaming of both water and fire
the milk soft bloom of stars
lambs in their brief dance of spring
Visit Caroline’s Oversteps Books author page.
Order Three Hares (Oversteps Books, 2009).
Read more of Caroline’s poems at poetry pf.

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