Before the Removal Men

Beloved friends leave us
keepsakes to remember them by
a curl of their hair in a locket
a scarf that still smells of their sandalwood
but You don’t have hair
or need for neckerchiefs
What You have is Spirit
or what You are is – the knots
words tie tongues in! –
instead, You left a trace of Yourself
in every human’s being
so we could close our eyes
shut our mouths
sink our yearning faces into it
and smell our way back to You

You left in us a doorway
that was once the only place we’d stand
backs turned to the
grimy storeroom of our brains
contemplating only Your garden
but noises from this side distract
furniture gets in the way, bruises shins
boxes of sentimental value build up
each one blocking out that marvellous door
by another cardboard square
until at last we place a wardrobe in front of it
and forget it ever existed
And we only remember
when the house is crumbling
the wardrobe eaten by woodworm
and in the moment the wrecking ball
tears off the roof
that golden opening blinks

God, help us clear away all this junk
before the removal men come
for us

Like Gardener’s Hands on Silk

I am all elbows
leaning on ledges
strangers’ shoulders
eyelids falling involuntarily
after nights fractured
by screams as gums are
lacerated slowly by
a knife tip tooth

My corners catch on everyone
like gardener’s hands on silk
bunions build up on my edges
myelin thickens to muffle nerves
and stiffens my walk to a
peg doll pace
so I cease to bend
and instead
start to
cr
ack

How can a woman come apart
– limbs popped out like a doll
in the inquisitive hands of a 5 year old –
and drag the pieces along by
fibres of some unearthly substance
below the threshold of her vision
whereby lunches occur in spite of her
beans falling out of the ceiling
into pans that manoeuvre themselves
onto the stove
loo roll replenishes itself
the baby picks up crumbs and helpfully eats them
crayons roll off the edges of the floor
into holes that return them to their place
like balls under a pool table
bread grows back from crusts
rugs stretch out like a man in bed
teabags multiply in hollow boxes
the emptiness inside cupboards
solidifies into the shapes of
jam jars and pasta twirls

If children can meet on Minecraft
and throw ocelots at zombies
while being safe
in their pyjamas on the sofa
surely I can
make magic too.

Afterbirth

image

The carob seedling that took two years
to grow two feet was planted over
half of the placenta that took
nine months and eleven days to develop
and forty minutes to birth
into a bucket, so dense with my blood
it looked like crushed raspberries.

There are pieces of me buried all over,
one beneath a pomegranate tree
in a nearby Andalusian garden;
another under an apple tree in a
Norfolk farm – the only one in the orchard
to fruit the first year.

The goodness of meat
that once nourished my babies
before they opened their mouths to eat
the meat that died in the act of birth
now feeds those stalks and leaves,
sipped thoughtfully by xylem and phloem
(words I learned eighteen and a half
years ago, the only ones that have
travelled forward from Science GCSE)
and plumps out fruit that I
shrink from eating lest it be
cannibalism:
my flesh into theirs,
vegan victuals from viscera.

Parts of me are already underground.
The backward-rolling echo of tombs
reaches me half-asleep, feeding
a dozing baby, not knowing if an hour or
ten minutes have passed, the way
the mind dashes forward during prayer
and a third rak’ah feels like a fourth.

Time is plastic when one has already put
an organ into a tiny grave, when one’s footprint there
roots the soul to the soil. It owns me now
in three segments, yearning for the last piece
(currently in my freezer) to join them underneath
an avocado sapling, followed one day
by the rest. Like taproots busy seeking
low lying aquifers there are unseen ligaments
that tie me to the world
so that the hot air balloon of my thoughts
– straining against its ropes –
does not spiral off and be vaporised
by the sharp edge of the atmosphere.

There are parts of me
all over, buried too deep
for dogs and foxes to despoil
deep as the bones of an ‘aqiqah lamb
must be buried too.

You Forget

The same eternal newborn returns each time
to different arms, does the same belch
(in various tongues)
deposits the same spit-up
on T-shirt shoulders,
sealskin coats and jellabiyahs
saris, kurtas, kimonos
striped sweaters and batik robes.
Reeling back through its
tireless trajectory it
did the same on togas, Celtic cloaks
bare skin and button-neck Victorian blouses.
This is a well-practised baby
educated in how to curl its toes
when the sole is stroked
expert at rounding its lips towards
a touch on the cheek
it snuffles politely when hungry
– eyes closed to smell better –
or howls with gum ridges exposed
face the same outraged knot
no matter the colour of the cloth
and there is the same hiss as it feeds
same gulping, same satisfied silence
fists arrayed in sleep
as though a triumphant boxer.
I could be an Aztec and
the same rhythm would ensue:
change, feed, burp, feed, burp, sleep.
They cooed as I do,
kissed noses, tickled bellies
squished rolls of fat on arms
made up silly, fond names
crooned lullabies
walked about at night to calm a gassy gut.
All arms understand rocking
knees recall being half-crossed
to form a triangular bed
and bounced in regional variations of a horse
eyes find these delicate fingers familiar
rush to trace the extraordinary
tiny face, to meet the old, old gaze
so knowing it makes you bashful
lips always returning the refrain
“How amazing! So tiny! You forget…”
They intend it as parents of grown-older kids
who keep speed with their growth
so they never seem small
but inside that meaning is another:
they too were that ancient child once
fresh from the other world,
then the ancientness seeps out and
solidity creeps in
and you forget.
Go to sleep, little baby:
in sleep you are
returned.

Love Her And She Will

Woman jumble sale

Each woman is a jumble sale

a riotous clash of

obsolete cassettes

that hold nostalgic value

holey socks and too-small

suede jackets that would look good

if only…if her body were…

(still, the thought of looking fly in it

was worth every penny.)

And you, male browser,

scanning through her

chipped gravy boats

scuffed pumps

retro plastic sunglasses

that still make her grin to wear them

– but really, how much cargo

can this camel lug around? –

you, oh male peruser,

have the choice whether to scorn

her history of bad taste and saunter

off in search of more impressive tat

or

to riffle patiently through her EPs

and cheesy paperbacks

(remembering that this is just the junk

she’s willing to show the public)

and chance upon that rare 1880s

engraved silver compass

she was always looking for

someone to give to

and the glow in your eyes

appreciating it

turns all the trinkets into treasure

at the feet of a queen.

Don’t you see, oh male desirer?

It is your admiration

that draws out her beauty.

She see your delight

and opens the box

hidden under the foldout table

full of more wondrous things

the ones she didn’t want to muddle up

with the broken fake Rolexes.

Don’t you see, oh male

seeker of the sublime?

She embodies it

when she feels your awed gaze

lighting her up in a corona.

Just as He said,

“I am in the opinion of My servant”,

want only this Beauty

and she will dazzle you with it.

Love her

and she will give you

reason to.

Two States

Two states compete
for my longing:
one, a room for living in with wood fire
burning behind smudged glass
a heap of books, some open
wet socks hung on the back of a chair
a bowl of fruit, some cut and not yet brown
shoes toed off and left at irreverent angles
something humming in a corner,
processing dried fruit or data and
even when the room is empty of people
it is thrumming with the echo of them.

The other is wall to wall cabinets
neatly closed, dust-free,
windows freshly Windexed
a bank of new steel iMacs
working glitchlessly
leather seats arranged to look casual
but there are no crescents of coffee
on the coffee table or
crumbs on the geometric rug
no scratches on the wooden floor
or piles of dry clothes to fold
no glasses waiting smearily
to be washed up.
A fug of central heating
closes throats to a polite silence. No ash!
Double glazing drowns out
the noise of the neighbour’s dog;
here one can concentrate
there are no cobwebs to sigh over
or interruptions by small children
thumping each other over felt tip pens
behind the cabinet doors are
stationery supplies to last
’til kingdom come
fresh orders of necessities
have been made weeks in advance
for there is no chaos here to hinder
business, no boring list of frets
to get on top of before projects
can fructify. This orchard
only yields polished apples
red and round
without pockmark or warp
grown under supervision
under daylight lamps
to industry standards.

The latter is where a half a million
is small change, where minds
boil and brew great schemes
reach nebular heights
dynamic people drop in
to ping ideas about
and everything occurs on time.

The former, though, is the only place
my mind will sink its toes
into soft soil, send down
taproots that drink from
hidden aquifers
and while my hands are
pairing socks
cutting paper snowflakes
making tea stains on the table
the real business is happening
on another schedule, one that
sees a calendar like any other piece of
earth-to-be
and gives misshapen fruits
that fall and lie embedded in nettles
edible gemstones
the ore of that ground called home.

The only guarantee
it gives me is that
nothing will be perfect
(at least I can’t be disappointed);
here the products hug me back
leave me love notes in scrambled English
and the day they leave
and my rug goes for weeks with
no hint of a crumb
I might finally get something done
if I can only stop myself
from spending all day blinking
in surprise at the quiet
and missing the mess.

Gravity for Letters

What passes for patience
is a chessboard click of rooks
prim smiles with unlifted eyes
while tides of bile rise up:
the player’s lava. Boiled rock
clots up your sluices
if it doesn’t find an aperture
a slit in underwater earth
from which a stream of gas escapes
as bubbles, hot enough for crabs
or – better yet – a brazen hole
from which to rain down smoking
boulders over unsuspecting towns
with a belch of ill-digested
feeling. My cascades of ash and pumice,
are directed into hollow caverns
carved by quills
where they tumble on feet and heads
serifs and dots hot off the press
like iron brands of olden days
to stamp the blank white
paper landscape.
Here there’s no need for sweet ‘pleases’
and ‘thankyous’, underbrimming with
cantankerous intents
only a playground for words to skitter in
swing off branches, crash and crumble
knock each other senseless
til some sense emerges, breathless,
floating out of its own crushed importance
laughing, light-headed and happy
for the loss of its gross weight.
Gravity is overrated when
you are a letter.

Watch the Dancer

She translates longing into leafstorms,
that dancer. She turns the bright sun beak
of a wheeling lark into a swooping hand
calls on the lichen’s listening creep
the golden arches of dry riverbeds
and races them into our quick-lived gaze
so when we watch that dancer’s sweep and stamp
we don’t just see tendons and skin but
algorithms of wind and root
the shooting out of limbs that fruit
sped up halfway to a fly’s life span.
So when we watch that dancer we
might catch the glacier as it glides
the underwater mass collide
the mountain creep over horizons
redwoods burst with rings and ride
breakers too vast to fit inside
a human tide. That dancer, she
gives voiceless forces words
they would still understand,
so watch the dancer
if you can.

Poem on Little Sleep

I walked into town naked
rode the bus naked
gave a public address naked
improperly ended conversations naked
in nightmare mornings caught trains
at chilly stations naked
bought croissants naked
sent emails naked
– they won’t guess –
enlisted male help
when I locked myself out naked
everyone must be so well-bred
to gaze down instead
pretend a cotton guard
defends the naked backs and legs
breaths down a neck exposed
although I take precautions
wrap round cloth printed with
distracting themes
an amulet against the demon gleam
of touchable flesh
but what shines through is
more touchable still
no cell involved nor nerve
but penetrating to the quick
there comes a sight that sometimes
takes a long-cut through
human perception
just to share the ride
defies the laws of physics
this eye needs no bundle of optic fibres
it’s connected in a million strands to
visions scattered in unseen lands
and seeing has no nationalist pride
seeing itself sees itself
seeing itself sees through all this
all these borders of dirt and cloth
needs no permission to raise veils
any more than we need to
ask ourselves for permission
to undress
any more than a hand would need
to ask permission right before
it grabs yours as the floor gives way
there are no rights to clamour for when all is almost lost
and when was anything
ever safe?
We protest our innocence naked
with guilt bruising our ribs
extol our brilliance naked
with doubt in weals on arms and hips
proclaim nobility naked
with weakness red on fingertips
notorious on our lips
perhaps our dignity’s eclipse
goes unseen to some eyes
but I know there is One who
sees right through it.