Published in the July 2009 issue of The Cannon’s Mouth poetry magazine
Gathered from your bed by hand
from shallow Californian water;
your pale, radial folds nestle in sharp,
iced gravel. Pacific. Lent cream, sancerre,
the slightest shallot, I can still
taste your brackish water, the intimacy
of magnesium, copper, your rare acid.
We sit and cup you, ostreidae. Kiss,
spilling your nutty juice into our
mouths. Behind glass your family
of pilgrims, thorny and saddled
are scrubbed, freshly shucked, peppered
with white. Across the coast your
feather-shelled sister bleeds
a gem pearl, the colour of mushroom.
From your reef, where your outer shell
tilted upward, improving water, catchers
have snatched you from the throat
of river and seacoast.
Emperors have paid for you in gold.
Married to chilled champagne,
your small, three chambered heart
pumps colourless blood, cares not.
But your firm, deep-cupped sex cells
spray zinc cloud into our tubs
until we know the brisk taste of you
and go home, fumbling into the
snowscape of our bed -
forgetting already, your frilly ridges.
Clung to roots in mangrove swamps,
cobbled across the Kentish flats,
your armies of children harvest. Creamy
metallic, tinted beige, their razor hinges
prepare for the lacquered bar, for the grey silk
suit to comment upon their buttery delicacy.
Against a last opaque horizon; frosted
tumblers of lemon vodka, curled shavings of rind,
they shed their shells like tutus and await the swallow,
awake, unwounded, alive.
Published by Sarasvati Magazine (Issue 9)
You kicked off your sneakers and
lay on the bed playing join-the-dots.
I have a winged badger, a teapot,
colouring pencils! Gossamer fell
over the cathedral, thin and light.
Sycamore seeds settled on the ledge,
pigeons were soporific in the heat.
Naked from the rafters you stared
down into the orange grove. The sky
over the city was buff yellow. Warmth
leaked through windows to a flutter
of caramel curls. I was flawed,
cornered in the centre of the room.
On the glass your breath mists. You
scrape a heart. With the final lick
of sunset it rains, hails, shoots shards
of snagged ice. You say you are an actress,
a natural. You litter blank verse and fiction
over the labyrinthine city, the gridded streets
a vague grey. You make tea, work out; rent
and lift, smoke, bleach your teeth, flick
pages of a magazine. The day ekes itself out.
I shuffle home in sheepskin and wonder
what you meant by unspectacular planning.
Los Angeles greets you, snarling snow.
Le Mal D’Afrique?
Days sift into eachother at the moment, tiny and treacherous as fine sand. Days with no beginning and no end. I am restless, walking about the house barefoot, standing and staring out of the window, into the fireplace, at our still unmade bed. What is it? What is it? Time flickers, an afternoon doused in sunlight. The globe seems to revolve over my glass desk. I pick up the telephone, dial New York, static fizzing across an ocean. Five hours behind. Apathy.
I email Nairobi. As I press send, the sun is setting over the Ngong Hills. Teatime in Oxford, listless. It is a day when a cup should be chaperoned by a saucer, for its own good. I stand, trembling at the array of coloured boxes. They promise an end to inertia- ‘revitalizing’, ‘relaxing’, ‘energizing’. I choose a loose, perfumed jasmine. Poured, it is the colour of caramel. It sits bitter on my tongue.
A day of fretful finger tapping, but the world is pooled in a terrible calm. A message from London. My sister has negotiated for and taken, a new apartment in the East End in the time it has taken me to pick buds from the rose bush at the bottom of the garden, read and reread two pages of a novel, make tea and watch my lover shower. It troubles him that I do this – tag along, trail behind. He doesn’t understand it. What’s wrong with you today? he says, half smiling, flecks of white foam on his neck.
I sit on the looseat watching the water run over his body and text my sister back. She is probably sketching floorplans, plotting the exact geography of her furniture over square feet. Moving house is her passion. Nesting. Packing and unpacking to discover her possessions as if for the first time emerging from frothy tissue. Every home she makes is more beautiful than the one before; carefully lit, tasteful, scattered with tokens of exotic travel. There are two new elements to encorporate in the new nest; a mosaic tiled garden table, and a cat flap. Are our beloved cats are going to like London life? I can’t really see them being Hackney cats.
We are a strange nomadic family now. I wonder how it would feel to be normal- parents either together or not, married parents, one family home, one family home on this continent, a steady home, for our passed-around-cats. I wonder how it would feel to have my fathers name instead of my mothers, to have been christened, confirmed, to have godparents. Nowhere is home. I think if I could have all that, would I want it? The answer, of course, is no. I suppose really, I like being rootless. I like it that my father is a man who disappears, only to emerge tanned and beardy to hold my hand through a crisis. That my mother is apart; aloof and beautiful. For us, after all, home is eachother. It is love. It is the fortune of friendship, the gold-link chain I play with around my throat all day.
Lately in the mornings I wake with an uneasy sense of corrosion, drenched in sweat. I barely wriggle free from dreams of sparse bush country, vast deserts of sky and twisted acacias to find that I am trapped in blankness; walls, ceiling, floor. I pick up Isak Dinesen. Beloved, battered copy. Her words snag at my subconscious…
“up in this high air you breathed easily …You woke up in the morning and thought, Here I am where I ought to be, because here I belong“.
Africa. Longing. Freedom.