C.I. Marshall , Marilyn Timms , Helena Goddard
Two Heartbeats Are What The Doctor Heard
Carlos, listen to me now,
it’s not that easy to be you
and, also, be me. Your toes
once curled like sword ferns
padding their way across my brow.
Did you slip out of mother
late one night? Were the strings
weak, no longer a hold on you?
Your unreliable spine, bowing.
I have to tell you, my fists
weren’t alone to pummel boys
at my final birthday party, mother
staring at my torn taffeta dress.
When I ran the New York Marathon
you were my arms, wing-like, folded
a bumper for my breasts, my body
bouncing mat to mat across Brooklyn.
As I passed man after man, I called
Carlos, please, stand in line for me
become parcel of my body, my compass.
In the arms of Central Park, a bridge troll
tells me how your sleepy coil floated
upstream, how a wood duck gulped
you down as you settled into egg yolk
emerged in three weeks, all feathered.
Mother waited twenty long years
to let me know, added off-the-cuff,
it was the plan to call you Carlos.
It rolls off my tongue, over and over
I say it, whisper your name after dark.
Tripping In The Black Country
I don’t ever take them for granted,
those Brits in Waterstones, see how
these sales clerks go head over heels
to help me find just my literary nook.
I wander down a steep hill, straight
to lichen-covered St. Martin-in-the-
Bullring dating back to the Crusades,
it does. I’m not far from Google Garage,
short trek to the Burning Soul Brew,
I crisscross down Needless Alley, bent
on a winsome dress from that boutique
called Disorder. Trudging onward to New
Street, I stop in my tracks, a girl outside
H & M sings and plays her guitar, the best,
best version I’ve heard, next to Tom’s,
of his hit, “Free Fallin.” Rumbling inside
my purse, I pour coins into her open case,
she sings, It’s a long day living in Reseda,
the way she pronounces this Valley town
sounds like it just could be a Shangri-la.
Zygodactyl And Chisel-Billed
“White Bird”, song, 1969, written by David and Linda LaFlamme
those tri-toes cling on the base
of the feeder, thread oh, so long
tongues into a yellow bloom
tagging sugar water; what might
be known as store sap to them.
Under the juniper tree,
hear them overhead, click
click. The bird people rattle
And me, I barely whistle,
my pencil-thin lips purse
into depth of dead winter.
And you, you are from
Africa’s savannahs —stripes
stolen off backs of zebras.
You’re nothing like a ladder
offering yet another step,
another thousand rungs till
I’m up above cloud cover,
miss moist dabs on my cheek.
It was morning, pushing the slider
I stepped on the porch. There she was–
stiff, unbreathing, eyes shuttered
to lid feathers. Mourning, I try
to count the steps down her back,
but can only languish her Latin name,
Picoide scalaris. Bars of the burnished cage
glint at me. Inside, toes wrap a pine perch,
piercing eyes – this bird turning to platinum.
Final Gig at the Motorway Services
A bridge, pitted by generations
of iron-clad wheels, marks
the end of the known world.
Prone upon its ancient planks,
I ease under the guard rail,
listen to the river breathe.
The world is a saccharine bubble,
centred around me alone.
The gift of a cheap tin globe,
wrapped in tissue, gaudy with ribbons,
explodes my known certainties
into never-to-be-mended fragments.
With one urge of my finger,
I spin the world on its axis.
The British Empire, unashamedly pink,
sprawls across both hemispheres,
invites an infinity of questions.
Like giant lungs, my world balloons
and shrinks with every sweet-sour answer.
Music becomes my camouflage,
honeyed armour against unpalatable truths.
Years of practice in airless rooms.
My cello is friend, lover, child.
Tonight, the noise and chatter of the room
circles around and over me, never touching.
I wheel away from the false bonhomie,
the fries and half-chewed chicken,
to the darkling sanctuary of another bridge.
Eight lanes on the midnight tarmac,
eight notes in an octave.
A single, eastern headlight mimics
a sigh from my orphaned instrument.
Plaintive at first, it grows nearer,
larger, louder; issues a summons.
A cohort of cars, a metal orchestra,
responds, spills over unseen horizons:
each headlamp a golden dragon’s eye
to be pinned on my stave.
Lines of light move right, left, right;
overtaking, undertaking, twisting, turning;
weave and interleave a liquid tapestry of notes.
Rear-lights play a scarlet counterpoint
to this concerto of despair. An imagined
cello solidifies between my knees.
Insubordinate arms shuffle to attention.
Palsied fingers lift an ethereal bow,
lost in the music, knowing the score;
Multiple Sclerosis and wheelchair upstaged.
My Last Fox
I stare until my eyes hurt.
Thinner than he ought to be,
burnished by a failing sun,
a fox slinks into my garden.
Repeat aloud, Vulpes vulpes
kissing cousin to dog and wolf.
Watch him probe the shrubbery,
interrogate dustbin and bicycles.
Don’t move, he’ll see us.
Catalogue this moment!
Eyes like oranges. Marmalade fur.
Black-stockinged limbs, walking on point.
Tail, thick and bushy; balancer and blanket.
Fox circles the lawn, growing in confidence.
A white bib under his chin echoes a flourish
of white on his retreating brush.
Triangular ears edged with black. Narrow muzzle.
Wide, white whiskers. His mouth, half-open, smiling,
Tiny paws, deftly placed one before the other,
inscribe a single line across the snow.
Crouch. A spring to the dry-stone wall.
Fox walks capstones like a ballet dancer,
drops out of sight to the field beyond.
I ache with love but cannot protect him.
Each night I dream of shouts of View Haloo!
Slash of hooves on turf.
Slather of teeth. Hellish tug-of-war.
Blood, feeding the empty land.
I shed a tear, rehearse a memory.
Alas! Mrs Clitherow, I am sorry you are so wilful
a judge at the trial of the Blessed Margaret Clitherow, 1586
The idea of the stone
was its place under the spine
where its honed point could function
as a fulcrum, so her ribs
would tear open her prison
of flesh, unclam her lost heart.
The idea of the door
was to keep her body still,
so the rocks could be loaded
one by one, till the pressing
and the rising met in her
and the business was done.
Head and hands protruded, fixed
in a human trinity:
when her pulse was a relic
in her wrist, Catholics hewed it
free, to witness this martyr,
this saint, this mother of three
whose idea of a fourth –
she was not sure – pulled apart
like a cloud on the stone point
her body blunted. Her tongue
could have saved her from peine forte
et dure but could not, could not.
Her bloodless hand spoke to me
from its glass dome in the gulp
of my first school pilgrimage:
I gripped my tube of sweets tight
in my pocket; then there was
a field, sandwiches, cricket.
Last night I dreamt of Berners-Lee
At first, we were hopeful as he because the fetid
caves lay deep underground and though full of extruded
excrement were largely single cells that did not seem
to be joined together. It was still possible to dance,
dance barefoot, to lie down with love, with eyebright,
groundsel, the common grass, though now I look back
fine threads were already winding round the ears of some
who presented them daily for webbing, the taut globules
fattening from lobe to helix so voices were either trapped
inside a skull or left homeless outside it. It was the first
aperture to go. In this way my second son had his pinna
stuffed with grey; he upturned like a diver from a springboard,
powered down through soil headfirst, determined as birth;
I grabbed his ankles, guarded them in an embrace, cheek
chafing against the back of his shins – but he chop-kicked,
vanished below. When he emerged, he had a fresh umbilicus
in his forehead, teeth scrimshawed with fearful images of the
encroaching other – offered to protect me even though he could no
longer hear me. After the descendings, disgorged tunnel earth
smothered the hillside, memory slackened. The cloaca caves
now one vast city, females felled and filled, voided veins moiling
mud that sheen that sheen did we used to temper chocolate?
November, Paddington basin, you and I,
and a tiny white compositae, pink-tipped,
blazing, asserting life on a canal wall.
Neither of us could impress ourselves
or each other by calling up the Latin name
in the open hand of that moment,
but I remember now – how your hair
grew out dark, then found a conker’s light
somewhere down its length; how you told me
so carefully about her; how I saw heaven
sends some messengers to delight us all,
and to proclaim in the quick of the heart
from earth to sky we possess nothing
but what we see shining in a day’s eye.