Angela Readman’s collection Strip was published by Salt. Her poems have since been commended in the Arvon International Poetry Competition, and won the Ragged Raven and Essex Poetry Competitions. She was shortlisted in the 2013 Jane Martin Poetry Prize. ‘Return to Sodom’ was published in 2012 by Kumquat. The other five poems are new work.
Return to Sodom
Curiously, I returned to Sodom to visit
the woman worth her weight in Amen’s.
The sky was a widow, veiled as the best of us.
I saw a temple’s old coals, the pitched stones
of houses, the coliseum – a begging bowl for rain.
Specks, in the city that burned people still lived,
eyes charcoaled to skulls, palms lined in sketches
of who, and how they had loved. Somehow hands
reached, pale robes taking fingerprints of every touch.
Everywhere, children flitted like feathers, feathers,
tiny soldiers, bone swords held clean above heads.
They lay on their backs, played dead. Then, flaps,
vast arms swept filthy angels out of ash. And there,
in the market, stood the woman who looked back,
so many tiny fires of home stitched into one inferno.
Birds, preserved mid flight, lay offerings of wings,
cured meat at her feet. I touched her lips like mine,
white, worn where sick horses licked. I bowed,
and swept salt off a hem. I left, and did not turn back,
just a minute of another woman’s hourglass in a pouch
on a string around my neck; grains moved on my chest.
Beatrix Potter’s Bed
I never told you how when I saw the sows
birthing I could no longer draw pigs in red velvet.
The sounds curl around me like tails, drag me
back to watch you digging all day. One hand
brushes a fringe from your eyes, we look,
rabbits in our garden, eyes hopping into holes.
The sky’s a blue jacket, snared on a fence,
I suppose tonight we’ll try again. But, for now,
we have daylight to farm, hours to bump into,
glimpses of each other to snatch. You: lips wind raw,
knee deep in sheep. Me: knuckles radish red/white
pounding dough. Tonight we will pull back the sheets
like squirrels making a raft of twigs, open the basket
and pour a hundred pictures the day paints of us
over the bed, so full, I can’t see room for more.
In the moth theatre of my mother’s closet,
I find Father’s chiton curled into a ball.
I bundle it to my nose to inhale one morning
unarmed, his only one with me I can recall.
Back from the temple, he sat outside alone, sword
and my sister’s sandals, sleeping dogs at his feet.
This cloth is frayed sunlight, I hold Father
lifting me up, clutching me close like a shield,
my hand in his, a scrap of map folded into a map
of somewhere a man wishes he’d never been.
Some ladies can gauge it, sadness drips in,
rain in her attic. A man turns away,
a dwindle of eyes. And she is paper,
curling at the edges, her smile in ashes.
The day we wed I felt naked as snowdrops,
carted white nods to spring popping up
in winter’s shadow by the stable, blistering
the frozen earth. Yes, it was that to make him love.
His kiss was ice-cream, bit to the nerve
of each tooth, my head ached. Yet I wanted it,
sharp joy and pain. Each dowdy sketch of me
blazed in his grasp, cinders in his mouth.
He said I was mad when I told him I’d love
to paint us asleep like snowmen, who’s who
melted, arms and legs bleeding into a drift of bed.
If I’d known, I’d have one picture now,
a view of who we were to guzzle like water
to put out the fire that starts at the mouth
and keeps going all the way down. Flickers light
our best rooms then raze us to the ground.
Emily Brontë Misses Her Portrait, Again
The lamp sets fire to the oil of my sister’s eyes
on the portrait watching me come in too late.
The space on the canvas waits for me, a white egg.
I want to crack out of it in green, laid on the moors
like a patch on a burnt dress, my eyes rain
and blinking, a collar of mist above my breast.
There is room for my animals, I see, a hospital
that follows me everywhere I go: Blackbirds
flown ragged, hares with boxed ears, a limp of badgers
like night’s nervous curates, all sick and all mine.
Everyone should hold something broken, love it fixed,
or at least try. There’s not always time for portraiture.
There are starved dogs to feed and arms to be bitten.
I gape into a mouth telling me to stay clear of wild things,
close it with a hot poker. The scar is heather silk.
And I want the portrait to show it, me and my scars.
I sit and listen to sable sssssh red to a lip, brush
that fox who sniffed me out all summer into my hair.
The Long April of Electra
With more than one way to kill a mother,
I plot to love her and be loved till it hurts.
Our smiles into shivs, father wounds
we won’t find for years. I’ve learnt to whistle
like a God breathing prophecy into chimneys –
cut to the nerve. I see hairs on her neck stand
like a woman about to bear bad news. I step
into tender seconds trying on Mother’s shoes.
Lifting a moth off her robe, I recall one night
she braided Cassandra’s hair, knuckles moons,
floating on, swallowed by a river of oil.
The sky is lemonade spilt into this room.
I see hands squeeze a woman from a clay figure
set to be widow – zest at her lips, wine pressed
from wry grapes. The sheets are fields, raked
by a man who never went to war, sweat decorating
his chest in gold beads chaining her hands.
And I am free, to place daffodils in an urn,
Trojan horses. A charge of yellow muzzles sniff
troughs of the bed, wait to roll through the wall.