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Poem Without Any Vegetables

She has recently been made a sister. At the far end of the bread aisle at Sainsbury’s she roots herself to the spot when I call her name, her soft bruised legs planted wide, arms flat to sides, chin to chest. Her brother is a snoring spud in his car seat, sprouted on top of the trolley. I nudge a few agitated jam-browsers as I make for the milk. I call again. Once or twice she looks up to check I’m still there before quickly re-fixing her gaze on her toes. I stomp towards her. She splats on the floor. People are staring. I crouch down and hiss, ‘Come with mummy.’ She spits the pips of her vocabulary in retort: ‘No. Can’t.’ I pick her up, bundle her into the trolley amongst the groceries, then push us blindly to the checkout, by which time she’s left a trail of flung leeks, lobbed broccoli, speared carrots, chucked Pak Choi and a soil-spewed basil plant from aisle one to twenty-four, and is calm, having won.

Published in Inroads (Seren, 2010)

Because of that morning in 1983

I shall bake a cake.

Because I hid under the chipped wooden counter
at the dole office, wondering what ‘redundancy’ meant,
I shall set out the cream, break a chocolate bar
into pieces, like a sacrament.

Because my mother paced the hours into the bare
floor, her face tight as dried fruit, I squidge
coins of butter through my fists, think of her
tap-tapping feet as I sift the flour,

then grate a lemon’s belly with a bailiff’s mercy
because her pleas shredded into tears
through that multiple-choice, categorically-
chicken wire grille.

My recipe? An interpretation of how she said
and what she meant by ‘seven weeks, seven weeks?’
drawing breath as if hoarding it for the winter,
and a little ingredient of my own:

all the flavours of that morning and thereafter
melted into one of few kinds of easy richness –
this golden cake, which I shall devour whole,

just because I can.


Orpheus Gets Punk’d

They said she was dead. Bitten by a snake:
chainsaw with a brain. They filmed the news
slicing my heart like a special effect.

The plan was to surprise me at the pyre,
have her burst out of flames as though leaping
off a yellow train. Immortality

is real estate, brokered by King Pluto.
So I knew where to go. They don’t know
the details of our contract, but I’ll tell you.

I mortgaged my future; he bought my past.
He requested my memories, the whole
million reels. Persephone recalled

the seven pips that signed off her pre-nup,
and she relented. I could choose seven
scenes to keep as my own. I chose quickly:

the night we met. The taste of first love dressed
in her kiss. Wedding, owning, missing her.
Re-finding her. And, for a reason I

cannot place – losing her. This most recent
barb was tantalizing as pomegranate,
the tang of quenched fire, the borderline

between breath and death. That was my ticket.
Cerberus heard it in my veins. Dropped, mute.
I entered Hades’ darkroom where souls flapped

in eternity like blank pages.
I knew her in all guises: sketch, acrylic.
She was iconic in negative.

She played along to know love’s mileage.
All CCTVs on me, I led the way,
recalling the deal. Do not look back.

No past. Just continents of remembrance.
But like a Tarkovsky goddess she was
divine in my mind. The close-ups and jump-cuts

symphonic shots of closeness, hours I’d watched her
sleep symbolic images of craving
loss. The stroke of its blade. So I left her,

stuck as a shade. Lived like a Polaroid.
Loved in retrograde.

first published in Magma 37



Stowaway inflections and locally-produced slang
have passports of their own, a visa for the twang
that tells me you’re not Xhosa
but a Geordie raised in Grahamstown, maybe. It’s a blitz
of souvenirs on the ears, the way you bring your bliss
of home that much closer.

Home? Or everywhere? Like combing coral
or sand and snow globes, or a wave-shaped petal
from Sydney’s Manly Cove
my voice fossils places. The way sound chases
itself in tunnels and halls, the way senses
fold memory into five

is an accent’s suitcase aesthetic. Listen.
There’s an address, a postcard in the tone,
the foreign rhythm
and that emphasis, that accent on the off-beat
which echoes longing clearly; the picked-up place-music speaks
where you ache to be, with whom.

First published in Poetry London, Autumn 2006

Asda, Ten Days Post-Partum

At the fish counter I crawl in among the plaice,
wrap myself in herring, doze off on pillows of ice.
What do I dream about? Hazard a guess. Days
sopped in milk and blood, gauzed
in a pre-snooze, puppet-slung from the cobweb-thread
of consciousness, inanimate as bread.
Whether face-down in ciabatta dough
or elbow-propped on a tub of Haribo
I am still awake, no, sniffer-dog primed, our boy buoying
me up with his kettle squeals, his mossy head bobbing
on bantam-egg shoulders, his semi-smile
a red slice of morning at the roller-blind’s hem, all
between long trips to the Isle of Nod
where sense dictates I should join him. Instead

I’m pronged on the been-there-done-that
of the second child, hooked on an auto-pilot
expertise in nappy changing, single-handed,
in the dark, while breast feeding; anxieties disbanded
by our firstborn’s foreshadowing
of reflux, hoax-SIDS. Burping.
Why would I sleep when I’m waist-deep in forensics,
dissecting the maternal bond, excavating the subtexts
of Gina Ford? Second time round, the fog is gone:
boat trips through baby blues suddenly have a shore line,
a changing room mirror throws back my body’s plowed loam
as a harvest that will be re-sown. Knowing that the plum-
bottom cupped in my palm will shortly squirm out of sight,
that the tulip mouth will soon turn to other light,

I dream of snoring among the onions, what that feels like.

First published in Poetry London, Oct 2009

Yesterday, I Failed

I failed, and the failing was great thereof.
I failed all the way to the sulphur cliffs of cynicism, then bungee-jumped.
I shot a hole in one in failure.
I failed and changed the course of history.
I failed admirably, catastrophically, unremittingly, relentlessly, perspicaciously,
deliciously, spaciously, and with the dexterity of the common impala.
I did not merely stall, pause, or change my mind –
I failed, like any serious attempt at oil painting in a wind machine.
I failed, but the crops did not.
I failed in a field, and filed as I fooled.
I walked right up to failure, kicked it in the shins, and insulted its mother.
I fell in love with failure. We got married and raised a family of failures.
I failed to the sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle.
I failed in the key of D flat.
I failed my heart out, I failed until my lungs burned, my brain rattled, my skin flapped
like a rag against my bones and my tongue uttered only ‘failure’…
I failed, much to the regret of the management.
I went scuba-diving in failure, I camped under failure, I hiked to the summit of
failure, I painted the floor with superglue while failure was sleeping and when
it woke up…. I laughed.
I failed in several languages.
I added failure on Facebook.
I failed from caveman to Homo Sapiens.
I failed stupendously, outlandishly, biblically, savagely, juicily, Byzantinely,
heroically, intergalactically.
I failed in hard copy, fax, text, email, Skype, and podcast.
I failed to the soundtrack of James Bond.
I failed as magnesium is to water, as the Apocalypse is to a Saturday morning lie-in,
as Godzilla is to the streets of Tokyo.
I failed, and I failed,
but at least
I tried.

First published in The Stinging Fly, Summer 2009