Tuesday 24 October 2017

October in Summer: Poems at Can Serrat

Magic Woman

We stand in the middle of the woodpile, flames spitting, licking our ankles, burned at the pyre for laughing too loud, for running naked in the woods, for cackling and scheming and spending nights in the forest crouched down bleeding into moss, unconcerned as the animals watch, deers and hares and the moonlight glare, and the crunch of leaves as we dance internally to the goatskin drum of our fathers – distant and absent and here's their support, the rhythm of a heartbeat, a long flowing river of genes, an inheritance etched on bones and traced invisible on skin.

  We command ourselves, we spell us into being.

     We are connected to the underground network of roots and we sing in the morning, listening to birds, and the echo of wolves leftover from the deep dark night and carrying with it, a resonance, metallic and clanging, and thick in the air so that owls dart around it mid-flight, an airborne circuit, swooshing and gliding -

           my grandmother, one of my many mothers, said to me in our tent as the fire glowed inside, she said, 'Never expect anything, just know or don't know', and I understand now that she was referring to a sense of presence, a here-ness in the body, my stomach knows, my whole body alive and beating with all the knowledge needed to know -

                                      I am an ancient remedy and a modern tonic

         - I admire bubbles as they pop up on the edges of lakes, and tadpoles and reeds, and those unknown depths where tragic heroines are left lamenting, where ghosts live and swords go to die, the death and the wonder of deep deep water.

   A sneeze may wake me from my dream but I will still be in the fire, it is where I burn eternally, and all these lives are mere projections, spells I cast to distract me from the pain.

I am a magic woman and I have a thousand more lives to conjure and lead until I am ash. 


I Make Myself Clear

Banana peel held in a half-open palm

the birds alight and

wasps in their pristine costumes,

glossy yellow, petrol black

they would be skinny and cold if they were human.

We sit together at the watch-tower

up the steep stone steps

in warm shadow

the sun not yet come.

Yes I was chosen

Yes there is space

I wonder, were we all meant to meet in this way?

I forget,

I was not born in a pond

there was a jet-stream at my birth.

We all take up space

and this is my open enclosure

this is the invisible parameter

between fiction and truth.

We are ghosts reborn

skeletons on loan

funerals at home.

Creation beats us bloody

tears off our skin

so we feel the day's every detail.

Begin with an image

begin at the mountain-top

on hollow ground

the tree-bark snaps.



Grapes hang beside cobwebs and lightbulbs

Dying sun shines peach against mutating clouds

The town sleeps, in the wake of sirens.


Communal Living

Rat-a-tat groaning of a waking house

the clang and chink of dishes

footsteps, bare skin on tiles

creaking stairs,

thin plasterboard.


the garden fluctuates and blooms.

Elderly crows recall bluebells in June.

Bugs in their circus flights.

We look through cardboard telescopes

only to see grooves of a palm

skin soft, colour mute and reddish,

glowing with trapped light.

Though these minutes are empty

people switch positions -

chess pieces unsupervised,

in flux.



Toes planted in wet sand, how the waves crash so softly in the drizzly grey morning, all of us expected to chime in with wholesome-hearted wonder, the serene faces of nature lovers. But I do not feel these things, I feel a deep, sad rawness. I thank God, the creator (how hard it must be, all those blank reluctant pages, prescribing hang-ups, personalities, DNA malfunctions, addiction, delight) I thank God for the transparency of skin, how it soaks its surroundings, how I glow so alive, so alive, so alive, like the rock pools, the crags, the dainty formations of sand. How the sea spray plays with the sun ray. How we stand at the precipice, our faint stories floating above us like lost children. Walking in a quick stride, we are the process.
                                                           I am a body and I am not linear.



The chink of ice against glass,

with open faces

bodies tread past.

Someone wheels a barrow

then carries it.

The way your lips feel against my finger:

that's how October feels in summer.

The way cigarettes smell on your jumper:

I would say stain

if it wasn't so fragrant.


Spirit Animal

The leopard sleeps in a smoking cauldron at the foot of my bed. My toes curl up with his thick breath, condensation and meaty vapours drip down between them, the smell reaches me, musty and primal, and I wonder if he is just a cub now what will he grow into? He doesn’t even know his full strength, he has yet to notice himself bulk up in the mirror, to check his weight or practise his growl alone with the window closed. He just is, and is fierce with it too. I did not birth him but he is a part of me that grew too literal and large and had no other option but to escape. His claws tighten around my big toe. He licks the edges of my nail and it tickles. I think of sandpaper and fetishes. So many animals in this house already, yet more buzzing outside the window.


To Dream

When I dream I let them float and disappear in the morning. There is a certain grown-up wisdom in that, a Buddhist calm that receives and lets go. Perhaps we really do travel every night, is that why I’m so exhausted every morning, jet-lagged with time difference. Vulnerable and open to all the interpretative power of the dream world, filled with shadows and symbols, and seconds that mean days. Skylights welcome me when I wake and most days they are blue and wispy-white. The farmer’s engine growls, gates clang, dogs call each other hoarse, and the silent twitter of birds line each moment with the faintest of shimmers. Like a fish gliding with its whole body, let us swim confidently and surely towards a new day.

Friday 21 July 2017

Snapshots #2: In collaboration with Lara Usherwood

Pink Satin

The studio mirrors multiply you
a thousand times.

Over and over
your face torn, repeated.

Jealousy there greeting me like a sister
like a sister downtrodden and told to hush
like a relative battling
with chronic shoulder pain.

Lifting weights
when will you relax.

My feet slip and slide and catch
the wooden scrubbed floor with a squeak.

In the writing I backtrack.
With creation I am life
and I have the power to backtrack.

I resurrect the bones
dress them in pink satin,
spilt milkshake reflecting
the light from the windows.

Fresh grey afternoon
parks spread out in terrible neat patterns
the glass in need of a clean.

I need need
ripples, my hands shake,
there you are at the door, leaving,
entering the corridor.

The stains of your presence
you are not really gone.

Fluorescent strip lights
and the dust-creased floorboards
lined, scummed,
the wood knocks heavy under bare feet
and I am sliced.

Snakes of satin crawl in the light
petal-skin and naked
the beat of my feet
slapping skin,

Like Jewels in the Light

Waves splash up like scattered stars, fleeting constellations resounding in the echo of the ship's horn. We peer down and you raise a skinny wrist, a gold chain dripping down, glinting in the evening sun.
   'This is my favourite time of day' you say, and if I was feeling less generous I would remind you that you say it every time we are together at this hour, which has been many, but now at this moment, as the waves churn the deck, make us float and soar like birds in an oil-heavy sky, I let you muse in your own private glow, I let you think that you have just said something poetic, and I know what thoughts do backflips in your head as you look out into the peach-gold horizon, that enigmatic slice, that unattainable sliver.
   You lean down to watch the white foam curdling at the base of the ship, and as you do so an earring falls, a big gold art deco statement that I always secretly thought looked a little overdone, a little too much for your sweet monkey face, but would always smile when you put them on. You let out a scream and I notice people's heads turn.
   'My earring!' - as if there was any doubt what had just tumbled into the dark, gloating waves.
   You keep peering down, and to each side, and further on to the distance, the innocence of a child searching for the Easter bunny, the treasure chest.
   The evening service imminent, some of the crew begin lighting the hanging lanterns and the band set up by the bar. A pleasant evening by anyone's standards, another one to tally off, to throw in the spent pile of other pleasant evenings soon to be forgot, recalled only with the smell of salt, the crackle of paraffin, and your presence beside me, undulating with chronic unease. 

 Tree Surgeon

Balmy crickets and salt-sweet drops of sweat on my forehead, the hollow sound of my boots on the sun-parched earth, horseflies and swallows and crunching snail-shells, and winding down my back, the snake-skin crackle of guilt, and how do I feel such a thing in this landscape, your face, I wish it wasn't but there it is at the end of the track, at the mouth of the forest, walking towards me with an axe in your hand, and maybe you are topless, but most likely sweating like me, too hot in a hoodie, and you swing the axe as you stare at me head-on, like you know for certain that it's me and you're not surprised in the slightest and your skin is dark tan and I know you've been cutting down trees or at least collecting branches from the dead ones.
   Shadows – I imagine dipping into them but I fear the cool dark returning me to the primordial cot, it's safer to stay in the light though it scolds – everything is gold – and here we are on the run. If I stopped the noise would be too much, and no, that's it, I must keep walking, the path goes on with nothing behind, long stems of grass, bark mingling with earth, trees, beautiful apparitions, souls turned inside out, guts and veins expressed in fragrant boughs.
   You said you always loved trees so I asked you why you cut them down – 'I mend them' you said, 'like a surgeon.'
   Looking around, I wonder what ailments you'd find in the cypress, the fern, the cumbersome oak. Would you respond instinctively to their quiet cries, their whispering pain?
   I see you with your palm spread out as if feeling a heartbeat, as if I needed any more proof that they were alive. 

All photos by Lara Usherwood

Friday 30 June 2017

Summer Layers


It's a toothpaste brand and the precise time of day
the exact shade and colour of a stranger's hat
the plaster wrapped around your finger
the absence of teeth
the hollow screeching of a train on the tracks
the crunch of an apple, the afterwards slurp
memories left over from summer
the strawberry smell of cheap jam
the dainty sad simplicity of your grandmother's kitchen
the stubborn dirt beneath your toenails
a spider's shadow on the walls of your childhood
the bags of exhaustion that lay heavy under-eye
the tight waistband of your jeans
the glint of copper wire in a frayed connection
bits of grapeseed in your gums
a scar the size of Jupiter
the scribble of a fountain-pen from some distant dream
bald-headed men
a pot-belly marked with pubic hair
the smell of a public bathroom as you pour white on white
the clear liquid left behind from cheese
the note of a killer detected in a lover's voice
the passing seconds as you wait for a yes
the stark stark absence of your father
a misshapen thigh spilling over a plastic chair
the need and disgust that trip over each other
the loss of self
as they all blur to one.


I Muse

Angles of light appear differently now
the twee whisper of summer makes the room seem smaller
re-arranges objects.

Rays caught on edges
dust on the window sparkling
sun rising over the hill
edging up past rocks
echoes of a dog bark
farmer's voices
cars speeding off
birds twittering
and the profound silence beneath
the morning rhythms
of life in the country.

I dare to dream about walking over the tops
huddling under slate shelters as it rains
or browning my skin in the sun
in company.

How things turn around (and how they don't)
and how I have let myself dangle on a string
with my mouth open wide as bait.

I invite romance and comfort and beautiful still settings.

This magic place
lambs bleat, throats quavering,
tongue vibrating like the bell on a church tower
stairs creak, wooden frames stretching with the change of temperature
each word
is a vessel.

I channel some sort of luck, or in other words diversion,
so many times I have entered a stranger's car.

Oh yes life is beautiful
I am just discovering the sweet gentle underside
of the vibrant buzzing truth.


Screaming in the Present

White-wine sauces
and red-wine reductions.
Dark chocolate eaten like an ancient remedy.
Wind combing through a barley field.
Days spent on the internet
scrolling, to where, to endless depths.
Please please please my darling
make each action deliberate
do not find yourself gorged out and bloated
at a train station, alone,
with no transport and a hand scarred
with too much action.
One morning you embrace in bed
and it is very certain he means it
and it is very true and unavoidable
and he looks at you shocked
with an open mouth
and you throw in penny sweets.
Sparkly wallpaper
and stuck-on words.
These worlds I inhabit.
- Yes I do like to shine
out of context -
Lambs bleat
and I hear myself.
I am not in an echo chamber,
I am screaming in the present.
The sound comes out like the rush-roar
of a waterfall
and we swim in the pool of endless time
of fleeting eternity
and its mother,
the forest.


Wednesday 26 April 2017

Home Ground


Wild gorse and
the wind wails threats
Brambles and hedges and stone walls
Farmers’ lives and
the quiet long years of sheep
Trees submit to air
Leaves waver,
sultry and wild
A different kind of landscape
another flavour, another time
A piece of flint stuck in a giant’s tooth
Whispering myths
and loud self-righteous ones


Birthday, 24

And so the story goes -
    A midwife walks up a muddy dirt-track at four in the morning
    It’s dark and windy - she uses a torch to clamber up, making sure she doesn’t slip. She can see orange stains of windows in the distance - the treehouse on the mountainside
    I am born in the loft upstairs, wailing as rain patters down on the skylight - my father the first person to hold me, he feels my wet head as it pokes out - edging out of the precipice - gasping the strange air of this new world
    Born under a Scorpio storm, year of the Water Monkey, born under tumultuous clouds, under a couple never meant to be, and yet -
    I forage for connections, gather them like acorns,
    I spin my yarn daily, tighten the strings, colour the gaps,
    I flick back the pages to roots and beginnings, arrange the shards to form a mosaic,
    Dreaming in my own personal theatre.


Winter Solstice

Old man looks like he could be from Lapland - floppy-eared hat, long beard like a ram’s coat - says to me -
    Hey miss, do you like the truth?
    I say, Yes, always, fixing him with my most sincere gaze
    Read this
    He shows me a few inches of article in the ‘i’ paper underlined with black biro, and lights the strip up for me with a torch against the cold dark (this being five p.m. waiting for the bus)
    The article is about a member of the KKK who was arrested trying to kill Muslims through an ‘X-Ray device’ that can kill from far away without any trace. The old man says -
    This is very frightening because who are they going to shoot next? The Queen? The President? You? Me? It’s going to make it very hard for the police to prove who’s murdered
     - he says -
    Some people think I’m a bad man (his face lights up all wild and googly) Someone came to my house to tell me that - but I know things about him - I know he was a supporter of Lord Harlech - and you know that Lord Harlech sells drugs. It says he’s dead in the local paper, but it’s only a short column. It could be a way for the IRA to get off his case.
    And then the bus comes and he says -
    Take care now, and Merry Christmas
    and I wonder what bus he’ll catch, and in his accent, so thickly Welsh that it’s foreign, he says to me -
    Mankind is sick
Lonely cold winters. The earth smells harsh on the shortest day of the year.


Boxing Day Walk

Concrete things
    like the rose-gold light on trees choked with ivy
    the misty-clear expanse of the estuary
    the gradients of silhouettes
    hills fading and coming into the fore
    this old seabed
    - and all the pine trees lined up like skittles -
    perched on a slope in the distance

Sat there, my sister by my side, I let myself be silent
just feeling and letting it wash -
    the eucalyptus trees sparkling with
    the glitter of dew-soaked leaves
    patches of water across the landscape,
    pools of gold,
    pockets of sunshine
I walk and feel nauseous and that’s OK
because I’m alive and here to witness -
    the pain in my body, shame prickling skin, the need for retreat.

Purpose eludes me like a shrinking horizon.


Morning Prayer

Rain, rain, I love you as you dance the tinkly dance above my head
blessing me eternally, blessing me through the glass
I light a candle in the morning before I meditate
to cleanse a little
to let the light move the dust in the heat, the small flame,
I am whole again
and I wonder what world I’ll wake up in when I’m thirty, forty,
what will become of my average day
what will I use and refuse and who will share my bed
and who will I read stories to
and what will I have for dinner
who does my shopping, are my nails tidy
will I care for my lungs and - Oh God - please grant me this -
will I still have time to listen to the tap of the rain above my head
on a Saturday morning fresh from sleep?
I begin in the same way as ever -
with no real clue of the end point
with flutterings of doubt, ginormous expectations
and canyon-deep hopes.


Dydd Dewi Sant

Tangled in sheep’s hair
dancing on the beer-breath
of the indigenous, oppressed
centuries ago - but no matter -
with no outlet for expression, poetic tragic masters
wear an ill-fitting urban image of the dispossessed

but the mountains surround us
we are cradled and trapped in a countryside bowl

what industries? - drinking and cheating -
fates inscribed like a crime writer’s six o’clock slump:
he slashed her face then drove off a cliff
we are all actors but we forget the stage

sour pancake mix on the sideboard
heaven cleans it all, why waste your time with the hoover
we are all one, and since when did that become an anthem

ants laugh and scurry and call us unaware
while we stamp on livelihoods
farmers pack up and call this the end
thousands of civilisations and we are at the tail-end
we are - we are -
we are the ghosts of violent barbaric tribes, and of those who were curious and fair,
all of them and us
seeped and frozen into rocks

older than memory
we live in houses built on hills
with rounded windows and winding stairs
and the sea echoes each morning