To my hands          

 

When I slid into the world,

you came out clenched, like two walnuts,

then gradually uncurled like ferns,

finding your way into mouths, eyes, porridge.

 

Later you wrapped yourselves round stubby pencils

to form my first As, Bs and Cs.

A few years on, I gnawed your nails

in my worried teenage mouth,

and your fingers made discoveries

in the slick coral heart of me.

 

Soon you moved fast enough

to make boys spill their seed.

You balanced cigarettes, held soggy joints,

trailed in rivers beside lazy boats,

fanned out like angelfish

as I swam in the South China Sea.

 

You wielded an editor’s blue pen:

insert, rewrite, delete, stet.

Later still, you learned to type

on an Amstrad’s qwerty keyboard,

sent faxes, never mastered texts,

graduated to desktops, laptops.

 

In between, you rubbed off cradle cap,

tested milk – too hot or just right,

wiped babies’ bottoms, smeared on cream,

combed thistledown hair, snapped poppers,

did minimal washing and ironing,

waved tall sons off to university.

 

You are still labouring,

pecking away on keyboards –

more stiffly now.

Your veins form a relief map.

Your papery skin has lines

that gather on your finger joints.

 

At night I often wake

to find you tightly clenched.

 

Published in Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, 2021

 

The saddest birdes a season find to singe*

 

In Spring 2020

we heard them all –

not just strident gulls

but blackbirds, meadow pipits, larks,

sparrows, starlings, cuckoos, doves.

 

As traffic faded

birds grabbed the microphone –

and they were full of the joys.

They laughed and shouted,

strutting like Jagger.

 

Behind our locked doors,

we bit our nails,

washed our hands,

watched news reports,

waiting for our feathers to grow.

 

 

*From ‘Tymes Goe by Turnes’ by Robert Southwell (1561–1595)

First published in Tymes Goe By Turnes: Solstice Shorts Festival 2020 (Arachne Press, 2020)

 

Floating

 

While swimming, I noticed

a dark speck floating in the pool.

A wasp, I thought. Probably dead.

Not wanting to risk a sting

I cupped my hands below, and

whooshed water and insect aside.

 

Beached on the tiles,

the wasp heaved rhythmically.

A shipwrecked sailor

flung ashore,

gasping, seeping

chlorinated water.

 

One umbrella-spoke leg

repeatedly tried to unfurl,

a limp wing attempted to open.

Two little movements that

sent it spinning: a one-oared boat

paddling nowhere.

 

Using a leaf as a scoop,

I gently placed it on dry tiles,

then swam a few more lengths

and returned – to find it

still at last.

First published in Shooter Literary Magazine, Issue 12, 2021

Also published in Best New British and Irish Poets 2019-2021 (Black Spring Press)

 

 

Trying to edit the Holocaust          

                            

I delete a word here,

smooth a phrase there,

remove the repetition, modify the tone.

 

The material is too raw.

We must present it in a form

that can be easily digested.

 

The pictures must be carefully selected.

They mustn’t be too gruesome.

Our readers mustn’t turn away.

 

It’s too important –

this generation needs to know.

Books and websites are all we have.

 

Even the truth must be packaged.

It’s paid work –

and I try to do it professionally.

 

Yet every now and then

I hear echoes of another story:

the one my mother told me, of her childhood.

 

The day her Lithuanian father

opened a letter that made him bellow

like a wounded bull.

 

The day he heard

that his parents, brothers, brothers’ wives

and children had all been shot.

 

That story was also illustrated

with photos of the dark-eyed relatives

left behind.

 

He planned to earn enough to bring them all to Africa.

But history caught them, and their bodies fell

into the pit.

Under the pile of corpses lay his friend.

When night fell, he fled, then sent a letter,

via the Red Cross, to a Durban address.

 

Years later, after the war,

Grandpa’s friend returned to reclaim his house,

and was murdered by his ex-neighbours.

 

No uplifting end to that story,

just a final deletion.

Yet – here we still are.

 

 

First published in The Journal, Issue 55

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