Barbara Smith holds an MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Queen’s University, Belfast, 2008. Kairos, her debut poetry collection was published in 2007 by Doghouse Books. Her second collection, The Angels’ Share, is also published by Doghouse Books. In 2009, she received the Annie Deeny Prize, a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Writers and Artists; was a prize winner at Scotland’s Wigtown Poetry Competition and was shortlisted for the Poetry Business pamphlet competition and the Basil Bunting Poetry Competition. In 2005 she was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions reading series. She has read at venues such as Edinburgh’s Poetry at the … series, and the London Oxfam Series of readings. She is also an enthusiastic reader of her work with the Poetry Divas and the Prufrocks, including diverse venues such as Electric Picnic, Dromineer Literary Festival, the Flatlake Literary and Arts Festival and Phizzfest.
dedicated to Dolly Parton
The talk in the bar lulls a half-time fill:
as I knife-scrape the head from another pint,
he hovers, pocket-foothering his change.
Steadying for the ask, he addresses
my full frontals, my baby buggy bumpers,
my Brad Pitts, my boulders, my billabongs,
my squashy cushions, my soft-focus bristols,
my motherly bosoms, my matronly bulk,
my Mickey and Minnie, my Monica
Lewinskis, my Isaac Newtons,
my snow tyres, my speed bumps, my Tweedle twins,
my milk makers, my Mobutus, my num-nums,
my Pia Zadoras, my Pointer Sisters,
my honkers, my hooters, my hubcaps, my hummers,
my Eartha Kitts, my Eisenhowers,
my God’s milk bottles, my Picasso cubes,
my chesticles, my cha-chas, my coconuts,
my dairy pillows, my devil’s dumplings,
my objectified orbs, my über-boobs,
my one-parts Lara, my two-parts globe,
my skyward pips, my lift and separate,
my airbags, my feeders, my mammy glands,
my Bob and Ray, my big bouncing Buddhas,
my sweater stretchers, my sweet potatoes,
my rosaceous rotors, my trusty rivets,
my melliferous melons, my mau-maus,
my tarty, my taut, my pert palookas,
my jahoobies, my kicking kawangas,
my agravic gobstoppers, my immodest maids,
my Scooby snacks, my squished-in shlobes,
my cupcakes, my soda bread, my bloomin’ baps,
my brilliant bangers, my brash bazookas,
my windscreen wipers, my Winnebagos,
my wopbopaloubop bopbapaloos,
my yahoos, my yazoos and yipping yin-yangs,
my paps, my pips, my pommes-de-terres,
my pushed-up, plunged-down, paraded balcony,
my slow reveal, my instant appeal,
my décolletage, my fool’s mirage,
and I watch him pay up, steady up and leave.
Fresh girls – as we know them in the trade –
are constantly in request.
A keeper who knows his business
has his eyes open in all directions.
His stock is constantly getting used up.
He must be alert to keep up the reputation
of his house. I have courted country girls
assuming the dress of a parson,
taking her to town to see the sights.
I bring her up, giving plenty to eat
and drink – especially drink –
and take her to the theatre, contrive
it so that she loses her last train.
She is tired, a little dazed with gin
and frightened at being left
in town with no friends.
I offer her nice lodgings for the night.
She goes to bed in my house
and then the affair is managed:
my client gets his maid,
I get my commission
and in the morning the girl, who dare
not go home, will do as the others
and become one of my marks.
Another very simple method
of supplying maids is by breeding them.
Many women on the streets
have female children. They are worth
keeping. When they get to twelve
or thirteen they become merchantable.
For a very likely mark of this kind
you get a great commission.
I once sold a girl, twelve years old,
to a clergyman who used
to come to my house
to distribute tracts.
The Angels’ Share
is time and molecules of water:
alcohol of gold vanilla extracts disappearing,
patient payment made in ullage.
It is two per cent for every year
that these charred, white oak casks
sit within these granite walls,
through the slow rise and falling
of shadows, sun and starlight,
rain, frost and wind.
It is seven years, or more,
waiting for the glowing fire
to come from the pure cut,
the heart of the run.
A long way out from grist and yeast.
* The Angels’ Share is a distiller’s term for the evaporation
from casks as whiskey ages.
The Scold Bridles
She waits with her head in the optician’s cage:
a scold’s bridle for those with frown lines
from not seeing far enough through the future.
The non-contact tonometer whirrs into position.
An expected pneumatic wheeze still surprises air
into each wide-open eyeball, pushing lashes
lightly apart. This is the glaucoma check made,
breath held tight, a stay against future diagnoses.
She imagines each iris flexing in shock, not just
narrowing her pupils, but browns, greys flocking
across a clear blue eye and thinks of iridology.
Is that a science, or the art of the inferred
from tiny flecks? Is there correspondence
with a broken arm, or mind; a scar checklist?
Once man broke an owl’s leg, to set it again;
ten thousand hours of practice on the dumb.
How could he, later, think those dark specks
put there by his acts, his arts of Hippocrates?
Was it like the day a strange photographer
came to image blue-grey irises, intense focus
blurring into tears, murking the past, marks
that reeled a story whole from a broken lifeline?
The chin-rest frames a jaw set against these scenes.
There is a slight adjustment; the test now complete.
Achieving the Lotus Gait
In winter, the uphill path to Madame Xing’s
is treacherous. I watch for loose
stones among the grey-brown gravel
and the birds are almost silent
as each step quarries me,
wincing on wooden pattens.
Madame unravels yards of stinking cotton
from my feet and her thorough thumbs
knead them from numbness.
She honours my feet with warmed water,
loosening shedding skin,
trims each bruised nail to the quick.
She rebinds each foot in cotton lengths
soaked in herbs and animal blood.
A neat figure-of-eight turns
over instep, gathers toes, under foot
and round the heel, each pass tighter
than the last. And then my thoughts
cringe homewards, as I totter out under
a brittle moon; my own weight
crushing each foot into the correct shape.
from The Angels’ Share (Doghouse Books, 2012).
Order The Angels’ Share.
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