We’re back with our seventh studio album
after a five-year hiatus our keyboard player
my childhood sweetheart and co-song writer
having left us for a model and a solo career
but the songs I’ve written since his departure
are full of treachery and turmoil and complicated
chord sequences and have brought us a whole new
generation of teenage followers and now we’re on
the road and I’m having the best sex of my life
with our drummer who’s in the best shape
of his life after giving up drugs and alcohol
and red meat and taking up long distance running
and our female lead guitarist who’s also always
been in love with me is consumed with jealousy
and passion and this is being translated into guitar
solos which are up there with the best of them
and tickets for our show are changing hands
for thousands of pounds and I even find it
in my heart to speak well of my ex-husband
and his disappointing solo albums in interviews
and the critics? The critics all say I’m at the height
of my powers and my voice has never been richer.
In which ‘if she has not a man in the house before the month is out, it is likely the little bit of land will be given to another’
My brother arrives with firewood
or as he says a useful table.
His sons walk the wrong way to the site
and they move the stones.
He tells me to stop worrying
and leaves in his hatchback.
I look up from the stones. The sky is red,
the horizon and path flicker
like a distant shop.
The conifers form a hex. Where I bow
them down they spring up again.
In which Hanrahan keeps bees
(shall I read a book?)
Books might stop the stories
that fall from his mouth.
(Loose teeth, sea winds,
The glade has been harvested
for brooms and hollyhocks
look back for no-one.
He parts the cards and the moons
wax and wane.
His hands are young again as hazel.
Mum crawls from the deck
followed by a swarm of drones.
I take any book and read out.
I turn onto my front holding on
to the bottom of the boat.
He takes my palm like a map and says
he will build my box
out of fallen trees.
last night you sang to my body
praised every inch of it
made it feel rare and royal
spoke to it the way you might speak
to a child in need of self
esteem taking time on each part
the mouth and the tongue
the nipples and the chest
praising the severity
of the circumcision and how I
talked to the older couple
in the bar who had been praising
my father I’d thought my body
dull and base I’d thought it loose
and wilted from the weight loss
but you composed hymns to it
cleaned it bowed down before it
as though it might spare you
The government paid a lady in London
to pick the leaves one by one
from the lime trees in Parliament Square.
Did she use fingers or secateurs?
we wondered aloud. You got in the car.
The sky darkened to vinegar.
Where you were, the weather rolled
out its cloud quadrant absentmindedly,
like a screensaver, the air tense and full,
as if an elastic band held the horizon
edges at odds and yet as one.
Think of all the things I thought
but never said aloud; toughening
on my tongue like thick, pink shoots.
I introduced myself as Rachel to a stranger
at the library, when we reached for the same copy
of The New Encyclopedia of Birds. I apologised
in a way Rachel would have apologised: prone
to genuflection. I let him take the book and wedge it
under his armpit so he could bend for his umbrella
just as I was telling him my name was Rachel,
but he turned and headed for the Loans desk. I decided
that as Rachel, I wasn’t interested in birds after all,
and anyway, I didn’t have a library card signed by Rachel
in black felt-pen, so I hit the big, circular button with a picture
of a wheelchair on it, and waited for the doors to open fully.
I walked around the town, in rain that fell as if it was undecided
about its volume. Scant bursts would be the best way
to describe it, had someone telephoned, and after I’d said
Hello, this is Rachel speaking, told them about the weather.
the ground still
wet underfoot isn’t it
0 a comfort
that the blue light from your television
will be alive on the lid of it all
your chest a little more
0 swollen, just knowing that
the grass will be no more or less green
or brown and the coffee will still cool
0 too quickly tomorrow
One day I was blown into the East River and carried all the way to
what must have been Cancun—it was so sunny when they pulled me
from the rushes.
One day a sesame seed popped out from between my molars and
finally I stopped stuttering.
One day I fished a diamond out of my margarita—it was the size
of a baby’s fist.
One day one hundred and forty-eight tornados touched down in the marina.
One day I borrowed a low-slung bus and for once drove myself
to the fiesta.
One day they blindfolded me but let me hold a heavy stick.
One day we asked ourselves Could there ever be anyplace better
and Are these all from the same mosquito.
One day books fell open at the places I needed. All afternoon I stood
with a dictionary in the local library, charging a fortune.
One day a wandering baby abandoned his pacifier and latched onto
a button of my coat.
One day we watched the reeds fold and unfold as a tiny hurricane swept
across the river.
One day we left the baby with Ramona, Samaritan, possessor of a mysterious bruise.
One day seemed to be the reenactment of a famous other, and everyone’s outfits
One day we took off into the beer-colored sky. A far-off forest was burning.
Having taken delivery of our first and only child, my wife found herself in need of a nanny. So it was that Hermann came into our home. And for a while the arrangement worked wonderfully: Hermann tended to our baby’s needs, leaving my wife to nurse the sickly grin that had ingratiated itself across her midriff. But soon she began to tire of his oily good humour, the flushed sheen of Hermann’s complexion as he stood at her doorway, meekly offering tea, or soup. I told her not to worry; after all, Hermann’s references had been impeccable. I implored her: Enjoy the freedom to bask in the glorious sunlight of our child! My wife’s reply was abrupt: He wears the glossy leather jacket of a sex pest. To which, of course, there could be no answer.
The next morning, I cornered Hermann by the water cooler. Friend, I began, affecting something of Hermann’s own unyielding good cheer, my wife is offended by your skin. At times of peace and quiet, it seems to give off a hissing sound, which makes her feel uncomfortable. I braced myself for his reply – but then something unexpected happened. Hermann brought his face close to mine, and whispered like a hangover in my ear.
The faces of Hermann’s friends droop like the parched buddleia of our neglected windowsill. Sometimes they drink Amontillado in the lounge, while my wife and I watch television in our room. The laughter of Hermann’s friends seeps from beneath the floorboards like a gas: flavourless, and without remorse. But Hermann is a gracious host. When our daughter turned seven he sold her to the proprietor of a touring funfair. We visit whenever she comes through town, and sometimes, as we hand over tokens for the dodgems, or the teacup ride, we see on the faraway worlds of her eyes pass the faintest ripple of appreciation.
There but for the conciliatory haze of fiction go I.
There but for the crazy kindness of strangers
go our crises of identity. There
but for the salt wind off the sea
goes the gold-drenched memory of 1992’s
family holiday. There but for the graze of fog go we.
There but for the winnowing of Yahweh
go so many of our quaintest folk-statuettes. There
but for the faintest sense of justice
goes the conciliatory haze of fiction. There but for the
uncomfortable persistence of humanity
goes the neighbourhood.
There but for the harrowing frequency of laundry-days
goes the grace of god. There but for the slough of despond
goes our Christian. There but for one specific curtain of
palm-fronds goes the amber clarity of our faith.
There but for the goes of going walks our lord. There
but for the gauze of saying so goes all.
Bare foot stepping on a bumble bee’s shadow:
it ought to sting. Too many
pink roses for one bee. How far can a pair
of socks be hurled
if the tops are rolled round each other.
People might think
the pink retro sports car outside
belongs to me. Laura Robson’s tennis skirt
is cut from a bed valance:
go Laura, but not
into the world of unnecessary soft furnishings
or cars like that one –
vandal target, metallic powder puff.
Strange how powder blue and pink exist,
but powder green
is unthinkable. My mother’s glass powder jar
and her seated at the three-sided
dressing-table mirror, my face
pale at its corners.
On the tube, long rows of heads
repeated through the glass
of each connecting door. Do I
exist when I’m not in the mirror;
and what if
the large rusty manhole
on the swimming-pool floor (deep end)
were to open. Our bodies
jammed in the sewer like pale fish.