Monthly Archives: July 2012

Catherine Theis’s The Fraud of Good Sleep

Catherine Theis is a poet and playwright living in Chicago. She spent her childhood summers in Sicily, where she swam in blue coves and ate gelato before dinner. Recent poems and plays have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Barrelhouse, CutBank, and 1913 a journal of forms. She is the recipient of an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her first book is called The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Publishing, 2011).

The Fraud of Good Sleep is a book of “serious humanist” poems. Theis’s poems combine a stunning, classical rigor with a passionate madness that is utterly contemporary and surprising. Charting the magic arc of a modern love story on a banjo string or through birch-white epistles left behind at a deserted campsite, these poems engage in the oblivion of snow, intoxicants, and broken-heartedness since living includes loving where “destruction be our lot”. It’s a place where fortunes are told: “Degenerate fruit and burned apple wood./ The impure equals the fertile plain”. From prose poems and extended lyric sequences to translations and fragments, this book attempts to enfold the living past into the insane present. Or, what you might call “the wild hunt to baptize the dead”.
“With The Fraud of Good Sleep, Catherine Theis gives us poetry as sensuous, glinting energy. Swerving between the intimate and the adamant, these poems feel like letters written to you by someone who’s in love with the world—someone whose eyes and heart are wide open, who’s learned (and keeps learning) from the ancients, who can mingle her voice with Sappho’s and smile wickedly at Dante. There are musings on cities and foods (“Who will bring the chocolates weather permitting?”), mock lectures, disarming wisdom (“Fidelity, the sea we share in peaceful times”), and exhortations to live—to live well. “My concern”, writes Theis, “is with circumference, many-faceted/ crystal wine glasses, Roman aqueducts, all sorts/ of highway thinking”. These are poems flashing with wonder and humor, but “roughed in sorrow”, hard-won in their realizations. They are full of the bright ache of being alive.”

– Joanna Klink
“Catherine Theis’s The Fraud of Good Sleep is a riotous and refined celebration of language. It is elegant and erudite without ever being stuffy, and surprising at every turn. A truly dashing collection, full of glitter, and everywhere intimating the “joy in the mountains very near”.
– Maggie Nelson
The ancients loved in a way that allowed
them to relay their delicate campaigns
across opposite seas, and so, we dutifully
diagram triangular examples well into
the night. Of course keeping my voice
present to itself throughout the duration of its
speech is no easy task. There are reactions:
the final problem not limited to missed steps
down a waterfall. It will be readily understood
that you come and go without the slightest
warning. Asleep in pinwheel cross-stitched
blankets, composer, composer, your hair,
uptorn tufts and silvery spokes, tells me
morning arrives again rough. The confirmation
and wait. Starched linen, your blue collared
shirt I can almost fold into a ship.
A gardener still
manages the unlived’s
lawn: ivy twists
& grass brown scrapings,
windswept seeds,
shadowhungry nightshade.
But it is God’s wish
to let live the cypress
where no one stood.
Who am I to judge
when we seem both
equally loved.
(gray light/Arabian moon).
Upright pines
column our souls.
A flag of red
is all a hummingbird needs.
I know the pleasure
is in the speed.
(crickets hum, apses fall)
Knowledge is thoroughbred
while stillness is God’s domain.
Previously published in GutCult, 4:1.
The Mock Florida Lectures
Today giant icicles kept falling off the eaves of the house. Every time we heard the torso-thud shake the walls, my husband said, “You’re getting a boner, aren’t you?” When I finally found my other sock to put on, my foot cramped up as if to remind me there isn’t a moment in life when someone’s breath doesn’t smell like a sack of old potatoes.
If I had a house in Florida I would plan snorkeling trips for all my friends. If no one liked to snorkel, I would offer dinner instead, provided that there would be a lot of beer for me to drink while I fried fishcakes on the stove. We’d make a big to-do when we finally sat down at the table, washing out our wine glasses and lighting candles, anything to get out of actually sitting down (please, don’t look at me, not now). Then I’d have my husband parade out the grappa, which we’d all drink ceremoniously, talking mindlessly about our intended trips to Bassano or how beautiful Italia! is in September. I’d play the JAWS music in my head, over and over, until I formed the right question to ask.
Taking a red eye flight doesn’t have to end in exhaustion. A great deal can be accomplished the night before the flight. Adjustment of curtains, new buckle on a sandal strap, checks for outstanding debts. I have to remember to thank my travel agent. He’s a small-necked prick, and real nosey too. Doesn’t he realize I am a lady? What would he say if someone asked him about his eating preferences? Sometimes I wish I could smash his bird-like ribcage to smithereens, scatter the mullet shaped bones under all the telephone posts in town.
Last night I dreamt about Florida. I was hunting for baby sand dollars, which are illegal to take, in soft white mucous sand, all the while savoring how lucky I was to be on vacation and proud of my own true earned decadence. The light off the ocean blinded me.
Previously published in Make Magazine, #3.
The livery system works out here in the country.
We have use to polish the silverware, use to
restore empire embroidered chairs,
the coins in the fountain remain as they are,
the plumes remain, the walking trails are frequented
by our visitors but without much earthly care,
do you see from where I am approaching?
Come with me to France and drink from the vintner’s cup,
surely more than a gastronomic treat,
I will tell you of my pretty wife’s disposition
and her refusal to travel by aeroplane, lunch, or boat.
Can you ever say what holds your hand under
a woman’s skirt—perhaps I am the one
who need not be speaking, nevertheless,
time we have for whatever swampy middle
marsh the air prescribes because don’t you see
the condition of feeling lovely beside someone
translates into the way one is willing to drive
their motorcar straight into the face of a mountain?
For what? That the happiest moment is recognition.
The strawberries have been quite good this season,
more importantly, the chestnut trees have been in constant bloom
for you, and I cannot say when that has ever happened.
As brought up to be
skeptical, noncompliant,
brought to bask in the failure
or refusal to comply.
Pliancy is my own little flower
I refuse to call my own,
where on the battlefields I keep myself busy
trading tobacco, collecting the wounded,
administering myself to others because it is
Christmas Day no less, and the fog rising in boxy outlines
above boxed hedges so distracts me
for once I am not thinking about what kind
of material I’d like to be buried in.
Clementine elixir. Lots of fabulous shit happening.
Apologies, kind sir, apologies
for the way I acted the other night
when the moon was out of bounds.
Scrying out,
still the flower pinned to my lapel bloomed
and I was made to notice the carbon copy.
The priority of my death did not prevent me
from noticing this poem
in which I was permitted to succeed
if I ever wanted to. Aromatic solutions.
Ductile conditions.
Like the poem at the time of my death,
it’s believable.
Previously published in Rabbit Light Movies, Episode 9.
The country’s manse requires a calmness
of mind, of method.
Pewter plates, tankards,
the dried firkins fitting comfortably
in the endnotes without disruption,
mummies wrapping themselves in parlance,
in abundant white cloth, how historical.
Here, drink this glass of milk, stay in bed,
do not think such strange thoughts,
do not think at all.
The cast-iron pan cast apart,
away from the mind’s deliberate action.
Holding things off,
as if one could be a butler or lady’s maid
to a very rich gentleman,
so estranged from a self-problem,
castellated. To be cast in metal,
to be a pellet disgorged
by a hawk’s decisive spirit.
Double-headed lights cast
through the darkness of night,
never carried inside you,
never broached, never recognized
as invoice or receipt of a city
made famous by its twilight.
Gold and silver. Birds nesting in the ivy,
voices resembling a tower,
their invisible faces, a cup’s worth
of goodwill chatter.
Water, smoke, lakeshore fogs & light now leaving—
new forms, new spaces, life’s materials
contributing to a structure
but not to sympathy,
the cupholder’s proof not measured
in finite steps, or as an ordering principle,
but roughed in sorrow
it sees its way through,
it passes into sense.
The skillful application of paint surprises you.
You suddenly realize you are not yourself.
Previously published in Gulf Coast, v21, Issue 1, Winter/Spring.
from The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order The Fraud of Good Sleep.
Read Catherine’s Salt interview.
Catherine’s chapbook, The June Cuckold, a tragedy in verse, will be published by Convulsive Editions in Fall.
Read two of Catherine’s poems at Barrelhouse.

Graham Burchell’s The Chongololo Club

Graham Burchell was born in Canterbury and now lives in Dawlish, Devon. He has lived in a host of places in between including Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Tenerife, Mexico, France, Chile and the United States. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. His collection Vermeer’s Corner was published in the United States by Foothills Publishing in 2008. He frequently gives readings and runs poetry workshops in the West Country and further afield. You can find out more at his website:

The Chongololo Club is a compelling recreation of the poet’s time in Zambia in the 1980s; a series of vivid snapshots that captures the people, the wildlife, the politics with colours ‘brash enough’ for this ‘dark continent’ as we slide down it alongside him – ‘glass in hand, whisky gone, just a melting ice-cube cold’ against our teeth.”
“These poems have the virtues of close observation and personal engagement in their accounts of living and teaching in Africa. Flora, fauna, loneliness, culture-shock, compassion and humour all contribute to making this collection haunting and coherent. The poet sustains triumphantly the demands of his particular subject material.”
– Penelope Shuttle
“Graham Burchell’s The Chongololo Club is a wonderful book. Full of the sights and sounds of an Africa he clearly loved, he is not blind to its occasional horror; nevertheless he convinces us of its beauties through his careful observation, his ear for its many languages and his eye for telling detail. His style of writing serves his subject matter, but he is not afraid of demanding forms such as the pantoum. If you want your poetry to be pleasurable, you will enjoy this book.”
– Ian Duhig
Crossing the Sahara
Night is a black drone in an aeroplane’s throat,
hidden sand below, pricked with occasional orange stars.
There are things I’ve forsaken already.
This is the dream between being awake and being reawakened.
I slide down this continent, glass in one hand,
whisky gone, just a melting ice-cube cold against my teeth.
There are fires down there, remote, winking,
I dream but I cannot sleep.
They’ve dropped me in this compound –
a village fenced inside a town.
Left me in the middle of a terrace
of one-bed flats; bachelor hutches
with a veranda and steps down
to a frangipani bush I’ll come to like
for the butterflies it draws.
And there’s a flowerbed,
already washed away by rains.
Thoughts ferment under the drill
of cicadas and crickets. Spiders
work for food in carports; design
pluckable webs with a tensile strength
that makes us chuckle. We chat, wave
to passing Indian nurses, smile
at old Horace sat outside.
His houseboy serves him Saturday brunch.
The house in the corner is like an ark.
Photographs of wild creatures
line the inner walls. Peter lives there.
He attracts nature – St Peter of Lundazi
who brought me a chameleon
on a bamboo stick.
We gather in his garden;
a circle of ten to thirteen to eat,
drink the watered light
and eventual chill of evening.
A stray dog is drawn to the scent
of cooked meat; a weathered mutt
like a butterfly with tattered wings.
It makes for Peter directly.
At his touch, one stroke, it gasps,
and dies happier, at his feet.
I.  The Gestalt of Experience

I cannot stay still. There are new butterflies,
possibilities, a lake bigger than a country,
deep as a mine. There are fish to pull from it
and fresh faces to fish with. A couple
join me day by day. We three are cooped
in a boat with a sun that cooks my feet raw.
Together we ride the skin of indigo water
or hug the lake’s southern edge.
She is English. He is South African.
As wild creatures watch us from a rugged shore,
he tries to teach me Afrikaans; tells me
how their words are built from smaller parts
(little fire sticks, vuurhoutjies, matches)
that are so much more than the sum of the stitch of them,
like the gestalt of experience;
the warm absorption of life, here.
II.  From the Underworld
The fish we hook are corkscrewed
through dark water lightening: Lake Salmon,
Nile Perch, Nkupi – fins and tails resisting,
finally grasping the folly of a shiny bait
inside their mouths. They battle until
their eyes balloon through decompression.
The fish we catch, we’ll eat. They grill
on our boatman’s fire of small sticks
picked up from above this shave of beach
that rims mile-deep Tanganyika.
The fish to eat have blackened skins.
On plastic plates we prise them up like lids
and fork from bone, bland flesh imbued
with subtle hints of hidden depths.
III.  Ndole Lodge – The Dark Side
Bring a torch, the brochure said. I did, but forgot
to take it to evening meals, or afterwards
to the big round outside the bar, lit like Christmas
for all the moths to circle.
The Lodge’s generator was a trembling heart
with a time switch like my own.
At nine it shut off without warning or slow fade.
We’d had light to laugh into each other’s faces.
Then that sub-aural rhythm stopped, dead –
a swamp of dark. Moths melted into their other night
and I had to feel for the path beneath my feet;
test a reckless route through string-balls of wild fig
to rondavels tucked in, numbered.
I stroked the doors for a figure four, fingers as eyes,
and fiddled keys until I was in, arms stretched,
brushing mosquito-net, fingers reaching
for a torch on a bedside cabinet in which
I kept collected butterflies. Ants knew.
Those body snatchers came in ordered lines –
from door to cabinet door as if by right.
They’d cut my frail gatherings down to wings,
spread legs, scraps of antennae, rolling heads …
Torch grabbed, switched on. They’d crawled my boots
and up. Instinctively I stepped to my bed, wobbled,
felt for the pyramid of net, but found
a praying mantis there instead.
Border Control (North)
They call it Zaire now. Sometimes they change the name.
It’s still settling after being shaken like an abused child;
a country just up the road from where I live.
I go there with two others to see it.
It has large banknotes in colours that match its mystery.
It has beer in beautiful brown moulded bottles
that can be made into lamps.
We drive as far as Lubumbashi, to a mine camp
where we eat and drink with other expatriated faces.
We speak French as impure as the copper
that comes out of that ground. It is all good
in a town two thousand kilometres from the sea.
Glowing, we return to the border. The guard takes
my passport. His fingers block the guardant lion,
unicorn and Latin words. He looks at me – indifferently,
and ambles across a flaky space to his bit of a tin –
takes his time – ignores me because he can.
He pulls out a rusting hypodermic thing.
Lets me see, tells me in French that I must have injection
against cholera, administered by him.
Is that pond-dirty water rocking back and forth within?
I went there with two others. One has her fingers
over the face of a president on a bank note
in colours that match the mystery. It is offered, taken
in a blink. The hypodermic is returned to its tin.
I may pass into the no-man’s-land between
two border posts. Au revoir – visit us again.
from The Chongololo Club (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Order The Chongololo Club.
Visit Graham’s website.

Rethabile Masilo’s Things That Are Silent

Rethabile Masilo is a Mosotho poet. He was born in 1961 in Lesotho and left his country with his parents and siblings to go into exile in 1980. He moved through the Republic of South Africa (a very short stay, on account of the weight of Apartheid), Kenya and the United States of America before settling in France in 1987. He lives with his wife and two children and works as a language teacher. He is co-editor of the literary magazine Canopic Jar and blogs at Poéfrika. Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012) is his first poetry collection.

“In his debut collection, Things That Are Silent, Rethabile Masilo has crafted poems that bear witness to seemingly unnoticed events. Whether it’s a tribute to Sharpeville or an indictment of apartheid from a lover’s tongue, Masilo’s lyrical voice attests the fervent need to preserve memory from the quotidian crush of collective amnesia.”
– Geoffrey Philp
“This debut presents the assured voice of a writer who is also never complacent with certainty. It is as if Masilo moves across darkened territory – of the self and of society – with a flashlight and is surprised by what becomes illuminated. The art of the poetry lies in how this surprise is a mutual illumination for writer and reader. Or, the poems enact the writer’s surprise, making it available to the reader. Ranging from love lyrics to landscape poems to elegies, the poems constantly light upon central human dilemmas. In ‘Birds of Ill’ there is the sense that death is an integral tragedy that makes our humanity – a tragedy, but part of us; our humanity, but a tragic part of it. The poetry never shies away from the kind of shadowland of our existence and it illuminates with a subtle metaphoric and symbolic intelligence. In that sense, there is light throughout, but the book never loses its gravitas. It is also an enigmatic intelligence moving behind these poems, which ensures that the reader returns, again and again.”
– Rustum Kozain
“Rethabile Masilo is a soulful citizen of the world whose poetry flows beyond the bounds of generations and continents. At once ancient and contemporary, Things That Are Silent is a marvellously crafted poetic offering for the ages.”
– Phil Rice

Letter To Country
1.  Climb atop the rock and look,
The grass of your escarpment
Awaiting plough and gait of cattle,
Land of fertility and slope,
Of hilly mountains on their backs,
A land of men dying to till it.
2.  Through tool and implement
We seek the electricity of hammer
Versus anvil, spark a world
With toil and labour because
They are hope’s only key
And we its only gate.
3.  Spring is the offering, the core
Of brightness. From the door
We watch it come into the house
With breakfast in its cereal hands.
Oats, wheat, barley – and seeds
In all its pockets.
4.  Our ancestors came, holding
The sun in their right hand
Like an object of worship,
Crossed Mohokare into the foothills,
Bags full of hops, paint sticks,
Venom in phials, dry meat in leaves;
And they hung the sun
On a rope above the Senqu river.
5.  Bowls clanging like ghost vessels,
In the blankness of the hour
When all else has deserted us,
Beneath an oven sky we wait
For the black bird’s final arrival.

Janice’s Poem
When you get there, the horses of dawn
before you, the furious wheels of drawn carts,
each distance hard-won with sweated salt,
the road flat between miles; tense; only hoof
and sound of wheel loud above the air,
proof that this is not just a bad dream,
who can say what’s best to do for our calm?
You sit like sculpted ivory among jaded colours,
something in the face you wear, hung like a mask
on walls of inner rooms, something in the sound
whose echo names you, the morning of which
rose out of the gold of you, flaring nostrils
at the world. How can we say who is to blame?
Halfway into destiny, the sun lost all hope,
and shone into itself above the great Smokies.
A slow descent home. The accurate death
of the first words ever spoken: let there be light!
What do we know about the meanings
of things that work against that kind of light?
My Father’s Killers
They take to the road at midnight, and turn
Toward land that by right we plough and turn.
Their dark convoy passes white-washed houses.
A brake light: the bakkies slow down, then turn.
They park at right angles to the street
To light the yard – it’s daddy’s day and turn.
They have come on a crisp September night
To blight us, make our season change and turn.
The moon shimmers its flashlight on a blade
As, from a height, the planets spin and turn.
Eve & Adam
This is a reading of this poem
because this poem yearns to be read.
Read me, it says to girls passing with clay-pots
on their heads, bangles on wrists. Monica
read it to Bill, pausing between lines for this poem
to sink in, the way Camilla kissed Charles
with her tongue when this poem revealed itself
to her. And so this poem is barred from Poems
on the Underground. This poem
is read by women whose husbands
haven fallen to cancer, voices trailing the lines
like sound behind light, or mechanical waves
chasing photons, or the sound of an aeroplane
you can no longer see. Our neighbour
kept reciting this poem every day
till the moon of her mind moved
into her window, and she lay in the arms
of a gentleman’s kindness again. Strauss-Kahn
missed the point of the whole thing, but Eve
read it to Adam on the eve of their sin.
Suddenly aware of the lock and key design
of genitals, he said this poem back to her,
spat in his hand and rubbed her crotch.
We arrived after dark, the place already full,
and looked for spaces to pitch our tents;
then sat down and contemplated the stars,
pointing out those we knew by name that are
to children a familiar connect-the-dots
at the playground; we drew them exactly
as they appeared to our eyes, tracing lines
with our fingers in the air – before meeting
the man Jesus. I cannot recall whether
later we played shax, but the night was rife
and a fire flung sparks into the darkness.
He was near, praying in the park somewhere.
You could almost smell him.
And perhaps we played shax but who
can remember such a thing? No one
was going to escape the moment, taken from
scrolls and tablets with tombstone faces,
and brought before us like a sacrificial lamb.
He was kneeling near the silence of the grove
and we knew his sun was going to rise on Judea,
a kingdom spread from here to the sea, knew
prayer would stop when cries of pilgrims
came from afar as they realised what was
about to pass, and the time was right
from the carpenter to bring out his cross,
chiselled, smoothed over with a plane, oiled,
and women had mixed salt-water with herbs
for the bathing of feet. The black man Simon
was just setting off for the synagogue, biltong
and dried fruit in a pouch at his waist, along
a road where hordes lined the sides, waiting
with boards of shax folded under their arms.
The Pomegranate 
Heavy with sap, this year’s crop
hangs from a branch over the terraced edge
where the hillside heaves into it,
propped up by boulders
like bricks below the ledge
where mother linespotted flowers
to help her think of spring.
A boy at the foot of the mountain looks up,
his fingers red with ochre.
The mountain is a haven for Edens
among whose trees lovers walk at night.
The pomegranate is a fruit of ancestors
who have seen to it that plates are heavy with its flesh.
Cut to the purple berries inside,
scoop them into the mouth and crush,
moving the tongue along the top of the palate
to squeeze the wine, follicle of kings,
folly to the world,
flesh the cave-man ate
when the world was young.
The pomegranate
wants you to give earth her grains back
before the autumn drizzle,
in order to start preparing for another birth.
from Things That Are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012).
Order Things That Are Silent.
Visit Poéfrika.

Five poems from Andrew Bailey’s Zeal

© Image by Rebecca Mash

Andrew Bailey was born in London and raised in Northwich and Preston. He studied at the universities of Nottingham and Sheffield, lived in London for several years, and now lives in Sussex. He was one of the original editors for the Poetry Archive, and has also worked for the Poetry Society, Poetry International Web and a handful of fringe theatre companies. Poems have appeared widely, online and offline, in journals including Poetry Review, Rialto, Ambit, Gists and Piths and Stand. He was the 2005 winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize.

Zeal (Enitharmon Press, 2012) honours the moments in which the everyday face of the world slips for a second. Dream, myth, faith or intoxication will lead you there; but these glimmers can intrude upon a life when they are least expected. With a poetic eye alert to these moments and roots in the work of Redgrove, Raine, Hopkins and Blake, Bailey’s writing follows an unselfconscious and fascinating path toward the more than quotidian.”
“Elements of earth, air, fire and water are the presiding spirits of this collection, poems that explore transactions between a strongly realised physical world and inward experience. Fluid tactile language is tempered here by stringent observation and wit. A notable début.”
– Penelope Shuttle
“Love, joy, helplessness and comfort are explored through the sounds and scents of the elements, combining the natural world with a classy and subtle narrative.” 
– Sarah Reed, Guardian reader reviews roundup
Dream is headfill, is only infrequent or forgotten.
What there is is rarely image, but instant knowledge
mainlined to backbrain – you have seen this, said this,
only now, dream is a shark while pinned to the raft,
the rafters of its gullet gothic and closing.
The place to which the world goes as eyes close
is where the laws come from, is why there are none;
that you cannot move is common, common as birth
and an offer of that, don’t wake, accept the stillness,
the invite written in your immobility, and belong.
Dream  is a thread from the invisible who want you,
it can lead you, but if you fight will break.
Do not wake. Do not try to. Let the teeth close,
you will see the vaulted arches spin around your sight,
a kaleidoscope of vision solely yours. Sleep.
And if I will raise hands empty of stars,
          forgive me.
And if I am through being fed by the rain,
wound round limited material need,
          forgive me.
And should I come to the river where questions
are washed away under waternymph murmurs,
of fearful mechanical measures of wealth,
          forgive me.
In wind and windfalls; in the imperatives of words;
in front of distant thunderheads, of empty stars
considering their way from me; those moments
you wanted wrapped round the flesh are flesh,
          forgive me.
Silence by little silence fills my windfall nest
fortified with shadow for the mud. I am
out of starlight, empty of rain, a calculation
rattled on the riverbed, where the wrong jewels
flash their must-have figures. My sleeping stars,
          forgive me.
Herb Robert
‘ … no-one can legally claim that the herb is a cancer cure. No scientific research has been done that shows it can cure any ailment.’  Middle Path Awareness Sanctuary website
The great Dioscorides has already described it.
An irrepressible, joyous addition to any garden.
Will add beauty, health, healing wherever it goes.
Thousandweed. Staunchweed. Nosebleed.
It has this wide range of applications in the home
and clinic: astringent, antibiotic, antiviral,
styptic, tonic, diuretic, Foetid Cranesbill. Stinky Bob.
Note it only smells like foxes, the flavour
is not unpleasant. Old-Man’s-Pepper. Digestive,
sedative, antioxidant. Dog’s Toe. The dog
made a full recovery. Felonwort.
Soothing to bladder pains, neuralgia,
Fox Geranium. Yarroway. Cuckoo’s Eye.
Bruises, fistulas, and skin problems,
Crobh Dearg. The lumps are going.
The new x-rays showed not one sign.
Soldier’s Woundwort. No insect pest bothers it.
Granny-Thread-the-Needle. Stinking Jenny. Her life
was now free of any sign of it, which Mary believes
was due, entirely, to taking Herb Robert daily.
Hop o’-My-Thumb. Puck. Robin-i’-the-Hedge.
The nodes started to recede and diminish in size,
Wren’s Eye. Devil’s Nettle. Dragonsblood.
Till they were completely gone. Bloodwort.
Redshanks. Death-come-quickly. Don’t. Saint Robert.
Neighbouring plants are healthier and more vigorous.
Alcyone, headlong to clifftop, is becoming
a bird. Orange through aquamarine
behind her, liquefaction of speed,
her clothes stream as her feet are slashed
by sea grass. ‘Ceyx!’ Son of light,
daughter of wind, lovers each side
the surface of sea, her grief leaps miles out
and fathoms down, just as the lees of his air
leapt to her bed, becoming in dreamstuff
his sodden shape; she knew by the brine
on his breath his death, threw unfastened on
the dress she had sewn to speed his return
and ran. And runs. Through palace gardens,
palisades, over paving, grass, gorse,
          and the edge. An ankh
          of herself she turns
          orange through aqua
          marine shrinks
          faster than distance
          would force her
          and that is a kingfisher
          that flies out to sea
          to a wet mate returning
and that is not the rosette of her clothes a nest
on the surface, nor is that blood on the rocks.
There are still days, days with the sea still enough
to nest on, that put storms aside, that become this day.
Sea-Girl Wreathed with Seaweed
I have seen such things so deep my eyes are pearls,
such pretty things beyond the surf and reefs,
beyond the seals, the whales, the narwhals and down,
the rocks, the wrecks, the darkening, so deep
that the weeds dance in anglerfish light. Come see,
come reach from your raft to me, for I know the currents
that lie beneath these doldrums. I know where to lie
so that tides may take us further than one oar may.
Becalmed, to be still is to stay still, as lost as on land,
where you mistake danger and death for freedom.
Can you dive there? Can you rise? Is your weight taken,
your every gesture swathed in reaction to a caress? Join me,
make no choice but the water, be borne in the currents
and never choose wrong again. Join me, come to me, yes –
o, the brine of this first breath, I know, is acrid,
but these arms that hold you here are soft. The memories
that your lungs hold onto are substantial only as the foam
of breakers retreating always through the shingle. Nothing,
nothing, is so sweet as the second. It is a small price,
to be dead, to be free of the fear of becoming so.
from Zeal (Enitharmon Press, 2012).
Order Zeal.