A sleety April shower drives me in,
past the soldiers on the wet street,
the bag searchers at the doors.
I escalate up six floors of opulence,
order a jug of chocolat onctueux
under a stained glass dome
higher than I can tilt my head.
It reminds me of Kirsten Dunst
in Marie Antoinette — surrounded
by pyramids of shoes like sugared almonds,
halls of mirrors reflecting an infinite catwalk,
cascades of champagne, and cake,
layered and extravagant as wigs.
This is how it began confides Marie as I take another sip
shopping lists get longer, longer
than the sum of my days…
The solace of silk and velvet, the heartflutter
of new shoes, the best pastries rotting
my weak-willed teeth, my play kingdom
spreading like mould at the end of Louis’ careful gardens,
unfinished, a whole age lost under a falling blade.
And perhaps this is how it will end for me,
a sudden shattering,
high heels whirling past like multi-coloured spines,
silk tearing and fluttering in a rainbow of rags;
the glass, royal blue, gold, terracotta, peacock,
raining down on my pretty neck.
(first published in The French Literary Review, Issue 26, October 2016)
It’s not an obsession, she assures her friends,
bedroom wallpaper sagging under the weight of his face.
She has never seen him in colour, pictures
hay blonde hair, eyes as blue as her new spring dress.
His face has lived a hundred lives; collar open,
jaunty casquette, worn trousers pulling at his lean bones.
She wants him to kill for her, lost in love’s whirlpool
like in Le Jour Se Leve as Arletty looks on.
None of his stories end well. One day she sees him
buying gauloises on the Rue de Charonne,
follows him back to a shuttered and geraniumed
apartment block; all day she remembers
how he smiled as she passed, how he was
both more and less than she imagined,
her body glowing like a miracle.
Occupation, Liberation, her bones surfacing,
blue dress at least a decade out of fashion,
she waits for him to return to the city
that gives him his only true voice.
The day he dies she cries herself to madness,
his funeral stately as a president’s,
his beautiful ashes, sinking.
Now she walks the streets, shows the world
his photo, creased and cracked to anonymity.
Perched on Hadrian’s Wall I arc
an apple core towards Scotland
to be picked to pips
by barbarian hordes
of rooks and crows.
At night, the rain on my tent
is the tramping feet
of long ago legionaries
marching in a Babel
of tongues, cosmopolitan
as any London street.
They carried dried cherries —
wrinkled, burgundy bursts
of southern sunshine,
spitting the stones
turned into a game of chance:
closest, highest, furthest.
I dream of an avenue
of blossom stretching
as far as Dover;
scenting their way home.
(first published in The North — Issue 52 Spring 2014)
says Judy the week before she dies
as she pulls on her carnival mask,
clicks her heels night after night,
but home is never where she expects it to be
and she smokes till that voice, that whisky voice,
catches and gags, catches and gags,
her pitted lungs simmering with unsung songs,
her skinny arms,
zithered with old scars,
crawl their last as
she finds a corner
she can call her own,
to drink a final rainbow,
silencing all her somewheres
(first published in The Cannon’s Mouth — Issue 50 December 2013)