There were no clouds where I grew up
for all good fairytales take place in the forest
between the shapeshifting shadows.
When I hear the word for the first time
it is too close to “clout” and “loud”.
I ask my unborn brother what it means,
instantly forgetting his answer.
One day a low cloud catches on a dead tree,
light as a cottonboll, as a wig.
This is the day my mother begins to die,
it takes her a lifetime to do so.
Gradually, I get to know them better.
Now I sleepwalk in the encyclopaedia of clouds –
full of moonshadows and ravens
defecating in the blackness.
I used to dream of being a weathergirl,
envying their power to move clouds
over land and sea.
Sometimes clouds appear like speech-bubbles,
broadcasting my untold thoughts.
I realise that each one is unique as a thumbprint,
though many are clichés.
Some are like sex, rumpled and knowing,
sashaying across the sky with sassy curves;
often they shadow my white clothes in passing
with an unbleachable darkness.
At day’s end the clouds look like bruises,
smell like vanilla.
You could be three times older than me, or more,
but I like to think you are the echo of that glass
I smashed when the world was too bitter to swallow.
Sea glass, you hold the answers to unasked questions
in your salty heart. I want to cleave you, hang you
from my ears, catch the chink of your pasts as I turn my head.
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.