Gaia Holmes’s Lifting the Piano with One Hand

Gaia Holmes 
 
 
 
Gaia Holmes is a West Yorkshire-born poet and a graduate of Huddersfield University’s English with Creative Writing BA, and has previously made a living as a busker, a cleaner, a gallery attendant, an oral historian, a lollypop lady, a poet in residence at Bradford Library and Halifax festival, a freelance writer and Creative Writing lecturer. As well as being a familiar face on the local poetry scene, Gaia Holmes is also known nationally. She has read at literary festivals throughout Britain and beyond. Her poem ‘Claustrophobia’ was highly commended in the ‘Best Individual Poem’ category of the Forward Poetry Prize, 2007 and ‘A Homesick Truckie in the Algarve’ was the featured poem in Frieda Hughes’ weekly literary column in The Times (May 2007).
 
 
 
 
Lifting the Piano with One Hand 
  
 
 
“The poetry of Gaia Holmes delves deep beneath the urban and the quotidian to reveal a strange and exotic other-life. This, her much-anticipated second collection, champions the survivor and celebrates the indomitability of the self, measuring at each turn the cost suffered against the hope retained, the loss still felt against the new-found strength of starting afresh.”
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“More like incantation or witchcraft – these poems are spells, taking the most ordinary and mundane of things, including jokes and sadness, and working some metamorphosis on them, so they shine like stars – tiny but brilliant.”
 
– Sara Maitland
 
 
 
 
“Like the narrator of her title poem, Gaia Holmes performs elegant feats, her language effortless and remarkable. This is a haunting but often witty collection, the poems alive to both ‘the sweet and the sour / moments of life’.”
 
– Helen Mort
 
 
 
 
“Here we see Holmes deepening the distinctive voice which made Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed such an impressive debut. With frailty and ferocity, she finds the sacred and discordant in the everyday. Empty teacups and beds are brimful of loss. Sex is sweet, sour and subversive. All this in a style which is as accessible as it is challenging. An engaging collection from a poet going from strength to strength.”
 
– Cathy Galvin
 
 
 
 
“Gaia Holmes became my favourite contemporary female poet the moment I read her potent, enchanting art. A wordsmith chef mixing the magic of the concrete and sensory with the imaginative, she is like a young Lady Prospero, able to make eiderdown moonlight or lift a neglected piano up to the skylight.”
 
– Joan Jobe Smith
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Blessed
 
 
Your grandmother
had tins full of prayer tags
and soft Garibaldi biscuits.
She stored gossip like hymn sheets
folded into the back
of her breeze-block bible,
kept a row of icons
above her fireplace
with garish hearts
like rotting plums,
reserved the best bone china
for priests, saints
and other visitations.
 
If you were lucky, upon leaving
you’d be blessed with a dry kiss
pressed upon the brow,
otherwise you’d leave
drenched in a frenzy of spittle,
Hail Marys and Holy Water.
 
You said I’d done quite well,
made a good impression
but I could tell by the way
she edged her way
around my name
and how damp I was
when we said goodbye
that she thought
I’d burn in Hell.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Retraction
 
 
Our sadness lives
on different floors,
separated
by a flimsy wafer
of carpet and board.
 
Mine is the feisty kind
that screams,
yours is the quiet rat
that gnaws.
  
Sometimes they meet
at the breakfast table,
spill milk, make chaos,
leave meaning out to sour.
 
But we
keep missing each other.
A fast car shrieks,
a bass-beat
jellies the house
or a cat keens and mewls
over our pleas
and we hear nothing,
only the tense creak
of our parallel pacing,
the gush and scratch
of something
scrubbing itself raw.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Ice Hotel
 
 
We have here
our own cheap little room
in the ice hotel
with none of the glamour
of a honeymoon bed.
 
We sleep on glaciers
with thick sheets of glass
between us.
 
Already
you have forgotten me.
My name turns blue
on your lips.
 
At night
the hotel glows
with its chandeliers
of seal-fat candles
and from the outside
you can see us,
you can see through us.
You can see
our meaty hearts
choking
under traceries
of frost.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Carmelo’s
 
 
On Albion Street, squeezed between Pisces fishmongers
and Custace’s game shop there is a little slice of Italy.
A tiny stereo plays Mina Mazzini’s greatest hits
as Carmelo flours his rounds of soft calzone dough.
All day a gush of butchers’ slop trickles past his shop,
a slurry of gills and gizzards and shreds of hide.
Carmelo grins above the gore, spins pale manna on his fingertip:
‘A calzone , Madame? Nice with the coffee, the tea’,
but he says it like a tragedy, as if he’s announcing a death.
No one stops. His beautiful cubes of feta run like milk
as the sun shines hard, turns pig’s blood into clots
and the dead rabbits swinging beside his sign
begin to drip.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I turned my heart into a 2-star B&B
 
 
hoping that I might trick you
into checking in.
I covered the uneven walls
with red flock
and tawdry dados,
painted the ceiling
nicotine yellow,
hung dog-eared landscapes
at subtle slants,
put a back-lit tank
of Angel Fish in the foyer,
left stacks of browning
Readers Digests
on a pouffe in the lounge.
 
I transformed myself into a Mistress
of Marigold gloves
and tremulous ash cones,
wore pressed pin-curls
and a lilac housecoat.
And the only way you might
see through my disguise
would be when I slid your
grease-jeweled breakfast
onto the yellowed oil-cloth table,
bent low and close
so that my powdery cheek
dusted your jaw
and beneath the new
Jiff and liver scent
of my neck
you smelled wood smoke
and coconut
and remembered me.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I’d like to live in a French film
 
 
where the thin tea-brown light
paints me wise and beautiful
Where the Sacre Coeur bells
and my neighbor playing Satie
make a stinging soundtrack
to my life.
 
Nothing will be bland:
you will be addicted
to my skin,
you will smoke
stumpy Gauloises cigarettes,
fill your car
with lust and violet clouds
as you drive through storms
dodging monstrous wind-fall trees
and toppled telegraph poles
just to get to me,
just to plant little kisses
like forget-me-nots
at the top of my thighs.
 
And in the morning,
every morning
we will drink black coffee
from shallow bowls,
we will eat croissants.
Our bed will become a table
full of love, books,
butter and crumbs
and outside
the wet streets will shine
like pewter,
the world will smell
of Montparnasse cafes
and Parisian rain.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
I am lifting the piano with one hand
 
 
I am holding it effortlessly steady
like a graceful waitress balancing a tray
of quail’s eggs and salmon soufflé
on her horizontal palm.
 
I am dexterously carrying it up three flights of stairs
without stubbing my toes or splitting my fingernails,
without chipping paint off the door frames
or denting the soft plaster of the walls.
 
I am lifting the piano with one hand.
I have not eaten spinach, mineral supplements,
muscle powder or Weetabix.
Today I am just unusually strong
and able to carry the piano up three flights of stairs
where I’ll leave the skylight window open
and a note inviting any passing ghosts
to come in, sit down and play ‘Moonlight Sonata’
or Chopin’s ‘Nocturne’ or ‘The Entertainer’
or whatever they’d like to play on a neglected piano
in the house of a strong woman.
 
 
 
 
from Lifting the Piano with One Hand (Comma Press, 2013).
 
Order Lifting the Piano with One Hand here or here.
 
Visit Gaia’s blog.
 
Read four of Gaia’s poems here.
   
 
    
   
*
 
  

4 thoughts on “Gaia Holmes’s Lifting the Piano with One Hand

  1. Valerie Morton

    Thanks for a taste of Gaia’s poems – wow! I felt oddly addicted and certainly want more. I particularly love “I’d like to live in a French film” – could identify with every word. Thanks for this wonderful hors d’oeuvre – I am now ready for the main course.

  2. E.E. Nobbs

    What an enjoyable mix of poems. Not sure I can pick a favourite – though I must admit the feel of the grandmother’s spittle is staying with me – as she tries to put out the fires of hell! I also like how some of your poems use the longer lines so effectively. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Gaia Holmes's Lifting the Piano with One Hand |...

  4. sharon black

    Love this selection. Particularly the final, title poem whose name I am about to type into Comma’s website right now to order the collection. I’ve already got ‘… Celestial Bed’ and it’s always been an inpsiration.

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