Monday, 29 May 2017

Snowmelt

The boy with beetle feelers for fingers
says the sky is a spectre that haunts the land.
He claims in another era they were best friends
that used to kiss whenever the universe slumbered.

Then something invented grown-ups and kisses
had to stop. And the horizon got sad and snagged
itself in the mouth of a polar bear bigger than Earth.
Now, when the creature coughs, blizzards gust out.

Beetle feelers fingers boy also has a volcano tongue.
When he whispers stories to the listening gloaming,
my gaze flakes into orbit, flurries around the bright tip
of muscle as it burns. The snowball in my chest softens.

Dissolves into a tarn full of thought-fishes that waken;
swim themselves fabulous among the estuaries of a body.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Driftwood

The waves whisper, wend her forwards. Somewhere behind her, the harbour wall holds her parents together before the disintegration can tide, crest as screams.

“It’s a mermaid, a humpback whale. No, it’s Neverland, under the waves!” 

She says the words aloud to the slinkying gulls that try to tumble through the strands of her hair, imagine her treasure. 

In the estuary, ghosts of monks ankle about, ignore the girl and her going away. 

The sea tastes like memory on her tongue. In her lungs it lays itself out, becomes a moat of Barbie dolls that swaddle a castle of Lego. The drowning doesn’t disturb her, it welcomes her. Raises itself like a grandmother, a rocking chair surety of water that nuzzles her closer. 

On the horizon, silhouettes of oil rigs puncture black holes into undeciding clouds. The seabirds wail, on and on. 

Then hands nets her. Fingers of foam hook her limbs, hold her flesh like a balloon string. Water succumbs to air, retreats, and she’s back on the beach. Her chest heaves, her tummy loosens. She pants as her mother dances over, all smiles as she swings the girl’s yellow bucket higher than a Ferris wheel. 

“Look, Melia, look what one of the gulls just dropped into your bucket! It’s a starfish!” 

“Second star to the right…” she whispers softly as she takes the handle in her left hand, lets herself gaze in at the five fingered creature immersed in its bucket overbrimming with water. Sighs.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Unzipping

The Unzipping
(originally published in 'The Interpreter's House')

I know it’s over when the previous version of myself asks to be strung from the lowest branch of the big, old oak at the bottom of the park instead of remaining with me.  I have trouble unzipping her of course.  The years of being stuck in one place have made her hinges rust.  The one behind my left knee is so corroded I think we’ll never be able to be separated, but she urges me on.
    
“Just yank it.  Seriously, put the edge between your teeth and pull.  If that doesn’t work, maul it off.  I don’t mind if I’m left here a little holed.”
    
I feel sorry for her, this previous version of myself.  Already she’s so tattered there’s more air than sentience holding her together.  Her brain is a sponge left in the freezer among the forgotten spilled peas and carrots that have rolled behind the miniature mountains of frost I hoard for when the little Robber Girl comes to visit, which isn’t often these days.  And her heart, well it’s become a cobweb.  A dusty thing hanging limply in the cavity of her chest that occasionally flutters if the north wind blows hard enough and she allows it a passage through.  Although she isn’t a ghost, aspects of her have already become a haunted thing.
    
“Remember when you thought we’d go to the moon, to live?  What happened to that version of us, do you remember?”
    
She says this to distract us both from the pain.  I can see it on her face, how the creases by her eyes deepen as I pull at the pieces of us that don’t want to let go.  The way she billows inwards again, trying to cling to me even though she is the one that has asked to be left behind.  I have to stop before I can answer.  The segment of skin I have in my teeth falls away, floats for a moment like a jellyfish rising to the surface of the ocean, then pings back onto her.  Onto us.
    
“She turned to glass, I think.  We left her in that wheat field where those clumps of dog daisies were still growing, even though it was November.”
    
“Ah, yes.  In the frost, wasn’t it?  She said she wanted to glisten like that forever as well, even though she’d always hated the cold.  How easy was she to peel off?”
    
Not easy at all.  Parts of her are still snagged in my stomach like spelks.  I feel her sometimes when I’m in the bath, or waiting for a bus.  When my thoughts disconnect and float off into the sky, I can sometimes still hear her.  The way she had of dreaming big, dreaming hard.  I miss her, the girl we lost to the daisies and frost.
    
“Easy enough.”
    
The lie hurts me.  Hurts us both, but she pretends she doesn’t know what I’m doing.  She just goes on trying to shake herself off me, even though that piece behind my left knee is bleeding now.  I can feel the warmth of it, the stickiness.  I can taste it too, on my tongue.  The sharp, metallic twang of it, filling my mouth with an urgency.  Filling my head with memories. 
    
“Did you love her more than me?  Did she fit us better?”
    
I can’t answer.  The questions she asks, they’re briars, we both know that.  If I allow my thoughts the voice she expects, the words once uttered, they will tangle us.  Keep us in place as they creep and creep over the surface of us, over our flaws.  And the berries those briars would grow, they would be bitter.  More metallic than blood, more poisonous than departures.  We’d both end up stuck here, dying.  But she knows though, she can feel it.  And because she’s leaving, she doesn’t hold back.
    
“Do you know what they do to her, in the dark?  Do you know the monsters that torment her.  Throw clods of mud at her, trying to shatter her?  Do you know how often she cries for us?  Cries for you?  Do you even care?”
    
I bite her then, hard.  I think I even snarl as I rip at that segment of skin behind our knees, shaking it the way next door’s dog shook the hare it caught last summer in the woods.  Shook it until it broke its wild neck.  And even though it squealed, it never stopped.  Not until the blood filled its mouth and sent it mad.  The previous version of myself winces, but doesn’t stop.
    
“You are heartless.  You don’t know it because you try ever so hard not to look inwards, but I see it.  That space in your chest where the organ is supposed to sit, it’s full of darkness in there, full of shadows.  All the doors are locked of course, from the inside.  Because you’ve always been so afraid to open them.  Not for what would come in, but what would slither out.  You are a stain, a watermark that can’t be washed out.  And if the sunlight got in, if life got in, you’d die.  I’m being serious, you’d die.”
    
It’s free, the skin of her.  The ache of her, it’s free.  She falls away from me; a bundle of leaves, a lungful of dandelion seeds, a bitten apple gowk already turning brown as the rot sets in.  And before I know it, an army of tears march from my eyes, attack my cheeks until they sting with them, until they ache under the conquering spread of them.
    
I bend down, put my fingers under her armpits, lift her up onto her feet.  She’s so wispy now, this previous version of myself.  So see-through.  She’s like a sheet that’s been washed and washed so often it’s all but forgotten how to be a sheet any more.  Halfway towards being a rag, halfway towards being a ghost.  Still though, she manages a smile.
    
“You look different, from this side of the separation.  You look more solid somehow, more yourself.  Although I am surprised at the size of you.  I always imagined us to be a little thing, a cowering creature.  From this side now that I’m away from you, you look big.  You look like you could fight a wolf, and win if you wanted to.”
    
The tears ease.  I wind a few stray sobs back inside before they’re able to escape.  This anchors me, keeps me from wafting away on the breeze.  I don’t feel big.  I don’t feel fierce.  I feel diminished.  Lost.  As though by allowing this previous version of myself the ending it so very much wants, I have given away a piece of myself that I need.  An essential part of my psyche, discarded as if it’s a pasty packet carrying little more than useless crumbs for the birds, for the wind.
    
“I’ll miss you.”
    
When I say the words, they fall out of my mouth as though they’re marbles, roll towards her.  Three scolded puppies in need of a stroke.  She takes a few steps backwards, towards the oak.  Once the tree was struck by lightning.  A winter that no-one wants to remember, where many things burned and were turned into remnants of themselves, into ghosts with teeth.  The trunk is charred.  It’s a soft blackness that smudges at the edges of the park, at the beginning of the woods.  Blurring the boundaries of what is cultivated, what is wild.
    
She gasps as the first antler bursts from her head.  Screams once as the twigs twist from the tips of her fingers before covering themselves with a fur of moss.  I want to help her, take some of the pain back into myself, but I know it’s not allowed, not now we’re properly at the border and it’s opening for her.  I watch as she begins to stroke the lowest branch of the oak, the one that hangs in an arch down to the floor.  A few stray foxgloves sit at the base of it, wrapping their green leaves over the burned bark.  The purple flowers look like tongues of fire turned eerie as they sway in the breeze.
   
“Will you haunt me?”
    
Already she’s sitting on the branch, adjusting her limbs so they curl around the wood, become one with it. 
    
“Unlikely.  You’ll forget me, you see.  Like you did with the girl we lost to the daisies and frost.  Like you did with the woman we abandoned to the whales the time before last.  Like you will again and again before the hour arrives when you will lie your bones back down with the clarts.  With the furrows of memories that helped build you, helped root you.  And then, you will remember us all.  Every abandoned wish, every decision that raked one of us from you, all the pathways that brought you more into this skin you walk in now.  You will remember, and you will be glad.”
    
I’m crying again.  This time the tears don’t sting, don’t hurt.  They wash me clean, revealing this hidden layer of skin. One that feels the air again; how the breeze kisses it as it passes, how the spaces it inhabits have inflated, become fresh.  I feel light, like sunbeams through gaps in clouds.  Like fingers of air, pulling strings on the puppets of birds.
    
“Remember, don’t look back.  Like that time in the wheat field when you heard glass shatter as if it was a scream and you were afraid for a moment that it was her.  When you hear a bellow and you wonder if it is the shadow of a reindeer on your pillow with an arrow stuck in its chest, don’t look back.  We endure, always.  Every previous version of you does.  We’re the knots that collect in your hair as you dance.  We are the ache in your muscles after you have been thoroughly loved.  We are you, always.  But your present self needs to move on.”
    
I raise the cuff of my jumper to my face, rub the tears away.  And when I look back at the oak, the previous version of myself has already gone.  Untethered herself back to the woods, back to the wildness.  Where she’ll wait until I’m ready for her again.  When I’m brave enough to return.  Brave enough and ready enough to put on the vixen skin that’s been calling from the forest for me since the day I was born.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Declaration

The Declaration

The sound spools out, snags.
I watch the rowan bend down, frown
under the weight of it, the intent.

'I could love her, I'm sure...'
Six soft syllables as fierce as wolves.
My head becomes an armoured bear.

It's the shape of them too, as they hang
in the air. A battalion of thunderclouds caught
in the filtered light of your beautiful face.

A halo of mumbling exits my throat,
weaves a shield into the silence, clangs.
I think of swords buried with kings under fells.

Your brother told us of the myth of Endingsia.
How her tears were so salty the oceans claimed her
and the sky never got over her absence

so it fished the sinews of her from the depths,
yarned them into clouds. Knitted the first snow storm
from the memory of her, froze the world.

The seven year old girl that still flames
in my stomach opens her mouth, roars a blizzard
of ash over the embers of us, ignites.

For a second, I see the could-have-been-happy
shadow of our future selves walking the hallways
of abandoned libraries in other countries.

Feel the weight of the jetsam we would have salvaged
from the wreck of other people's lives, lost loves.
It sinks now, anchors down among the tides

of your breath, whirlpools inside those five words.
And then it's gone. Just one more dream gnawed
in the jaws of a voracious and unsettled world.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fox Girl & the ancient art of Hackles

She sparks in, promises lightning.
Like the shock of electricity to your tongue
is enough of a storm to bolt me from your heart.
I would feel sorry for her, but don't.
She is a new tower block built in the city
while the marrow of us is a temple in Japan
held together without screws or mortar
out in a forest born from a mountain.

It’s the pendulum swing that defies earthquakes,
pure tectonics down to our foundations.
This is the religion of the laws of attraction
that prowl the back alleyways, turn wild -
and the moral? Never bring a blown light bulb
to a samurai fight with a creature raised feral.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Berry Picking

Berry Picking

I watch her pick the faces of the siblings I never had from a blackberry bush at the bottom of the beck. The briars ride the water like kite strings. My mother has a gas mask on, but her eyes have fallen from her face and are growing from her palms.

“This is David, he would have been my favourite.”

The words come out all wrong. They skim the water as midges before dissipating among the dying back daffodils that bully the banks. My thoughts fill with bluebells and empty jam jars.

“Here, which one do you want to eat first?”

She climbs out of the water, lugging the huge waltzer cart of her skirt in her lips that have somehow slipped off her face and are buddhaing around her belly button. I want to run away but my feet have become two clumps of dandelions going off to seed.

“You can’t have David though, he’s going in a crumble for supper, he can be my very own Custard Boy that way. How about Emily? She isn’t ripe yet but your stomach is strong, she shouldn’t kill you, not if you chew her properly.”

Next door has let the wolves out early again. I can hear them among the trees, sniffing for fallen comets and half-empty sausage roll packets. I tuck the hem of my red jumper into my knickers, check my pockets to see if there’s a forgotten woodcutter in one of the corners. There isn’t.

“Agatha would suit you best. But she’s hairy and I’m afraid she might stick in your throat, end up haunting you as you choke.”

She’s standing in front of me now. She has brought half the beck up with her. I watch three pike swim up her left thigh and there’s five families of water snails hibernating between her toes. She doesn’t notice of course, her hands are too full of berries with all the faces of the siblings I never had on them.

“Don’t tell your grandmother about this. She thinks all my babies need to be left to grow feral. But how can I allow my David the horror of ending up in the guts of some river rat that doesn’t even know what it’s nibbling on? I can’t have that, not for my very favourite never-arrived son.”

A shoal of jellyfish start breaching in my stomach. As her fingers minnow closer, my throat closes up. I imagine a bear on my tongue, wonder whether its claws can save me from the torture that’s approaching. I wish she’d at least take the gas mask off, let me look into her empty eye sockets as she poisons me, the only daughter that made it into flesh, remembered to breathe.

“Open your mouth, show me your teeth. When was the last time you were at the dentist, my love? Did they file your canines again? Now, my child, promise not to bite. I think Freddie might wriggle some, when you swallow him down.”

And then, before I can stop myself, I’m running. Down on all fours I go. I feel my hips dislocate, my spine elongate. The bones in my shins, they fracture before knitting themselves back together. Then my belly is furred and I’m hugging the ground with a badger skull stuck between my shoulder blades.

“Daughter! Don’t do this! Don’t go animal on me, not now!”

Foxgloves start raining from my fingers as I’m running. The flowers barricade the pathway as I scarper over it. My toes leave trails of wasps as they press into the clarts. The air is whispering in guttural buzzes and growls. I feel the pure animal strength of myself, and I’m awed.

In a moment, I’m in the meadow. I see a curlew with the head of a woman sitting in one of the hawthorn bushes. She nods as I pass, starts crocheting clouds from the feathers on her breast. A boy with dragonflies for eyes tries to snatch me in his teeth as he sits on the fence but I’m too fast. I’m all gusts and weather fronts now, a creature carved from air.

The landscape laughs under my feet. I feel the very bones of it giving in to the giggles.
And then I’m over the gate, soaring over it actually. My heart has imagined itself a swift, grown its very own wings. And then I take off. Up, up I go. Higher than the chimney pots, higher than the mast.

“Daughter! Daughter! Please come back!”

But the threads of Arianrhod embroidered through our DNA mean before the words can reach me, before the blackberries can bleed me, I’ve already flown myself away.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Ode to Lurpak

Ode to Lurpak.
(day 28 of NaPoWriMo challenge)

Ah, butter!
Couldya be better?
Even in batter
never a quitter.
Dieters stutter,
grow fatter.
But your taste
It’s just ace.
Stuffing a face,
bursting lace.
If this is a race
you’re the winner.
Slavered on dinner,
hours grow thinner,
daylight does a runner.
When you’re spread
thick on good bread,
hunger will nod.
Properly fed.