Zeeba Ansari is a poetry tutor. She has worked in partnership with Cornwall Adult Education and Library Services, and on a freelance basis. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Poetry Wales, Ambit, Magma and The Rialto.
As a child in summer you founded a country
whose native sun was the dim green light
of your tent in the garden, its local squares
laced up each night, its villages listening for rain.
When you slept, orchards rose from the apples
you kept in your pockets, peaches grew
from a heap of spat-out stones, oceans
gathered in the ground-sheet. As morning
collected in the flaps, you went to the woods
to search for twigs to whittle into tent pegs,
hand-picked keepers of your borders. Now
when you sleep, the same woods wave
their passports at me – at the checkpoint
you’re guard, driver, smuggled human goods –
our bed has become a foreign land
and nothing I say is understood.
You keep me at a distance, in the dark,
far from your capital city. To make the word
husband you hired a man who broke stone,
mixed cement, and raised it facing north.
What you meant was four corners lightly set on grass,
a windproof canvas under stars.
First published in The Rialto, No. 64 (2008).
The tilemaker of Majorca is sometimes given
to firing greater things – a century,
the birth of love, flowers from the lips
of gods. Big-armed, warm-faced, he works
in woman’s clay, and comes into the café
his hands rosy with breasts. Women
provide my strongest red, he says
as he fishes a star from his beer
and gives it to me. Taste, he says. I taste –
warm light runs through the star-shaped tile.
Conejo, he says, we make them here
and here you are, in white and blue,
a Spanish rabbit on my kitchen wall
with sorrows of your own. His fingers
stirred the last house in the square
too deeply, brought out love and loss –
leaving, he wept himself white as cheese,
his tears a gloss for the deep azûl
he took from the sky he walked back in.
His firing went to the tile’s heart
who roars out egg-layer, mound-thumper
calling out the dead when March is luting
lightly as a gun and longs to break its strings,
be Mister Hare and net the ghosts
in his round blue eye
but I tell him not yet, it’s February,
drinking time for the soulless dark
quaffing the month with a dirty mouth
and looking, cold smith, to fit
the last frost to my English spring.
At Quanzhou Harbour
Sunset fires the ghost fleets of the Dragon Throne,
their hulls smoke like parchment;
dusk chars timbers, its lingering stain
a wind in their sails, which blacken and curl;
the ships become paper, floating downriver
as boats a man made for his son, who cries in delight;
become burnt letters sending word to his wife,
who looks up from reading –
he stitched sea and sky to the spine of the world,
making a scroll whose pages fly open
as if in a whirlwind – horizons unfold in her hand.
The years turn east; he writes with the limitless ink
of the sea how his heart misses the simple things –
a shoot of green rice, the delicate claw of the first crane
touching the fields in spring, his boy singing –
on his wife’s lap a grey cat is reading the sutras –
the scroll springs back; the ghost ships sail.
‘the cat is reading the sutras’: the literal meaning of the
Chinese word for ‘purring’
First published in Ambit, Issue 198 (2009).
Sit down with me
where the common rivers meet,
smooth your clothes, become a bird in the rushes.
Soak the thorn
of your throat in spikenard,
consume your sharps and let us fold up
the corners of our quarrel.
We were fledged to plainness of word
and look, our love has become a part of speech
we can’t agree on,
shepherds herding with the same crook
branch or bough, stream or brook, white herald or storm,
on each other like salt
from the truck of the sea. I see a flat-topped
hill whose sides
run down so rampantly the heart
has little grip. You see a set of skills, widow
of medieval rules, a perfume jar, a gauntlet.