Weekend Poetry: Two Praise Songs, and other poems
I am new to this – six am, dark and rain,
the train an illuminated cabinet
for the half-awake, half-out-of-dream –
initiate to the ritual of ear-bud and book,
coffee held like an offering to the tunnel
that consumes us, eyes bruised pods
consulting the oracle of a discarded Metro.
Gun-fire, bomb-blast, kick of bullet so far off
we have to reach with our minds for the turn
of the planet, her colours in that black expanse
tilted and blurred like a child’s spinning top,
all the people clinging to it; and you, child,
in your sarcophagus of grit and dirt,
the lid just lifted in some wrecked street
of Aleppo, the centerfold, centrifuge of my gaze,
clay white, your face an effigy, the death mask
of a poet, a flour-dusted prophet waving
one free hand to say: here, I am here; I am alive.
How carefully now they must unbury you –
the bulbs of your eyes, the flowers of your lips –
unsealing your mouth’s preserved terracotta
to take your first clear breath for days.
How you must have dreamt, in your cave
of rubble, to be the boy king resurrected
into daylight’s lapis lazuli, air’s fluid metal.
But who am I to write this? In a few minutes
I will step from the train when it pulls into the station,
blink in the sun gracing the platform, my destination.
I write in praise of the junior doctor who, at four am or some time
thereabouts, pale, sweating, swaying foot to foot at the tale-end of a double
shift, put his fingers into my uterus and swept the last blood- thickened scraps
into a metal dish, what was left of the placenta that hours previously held the faulty
but still beating heart of the fourteen week fetus that was never going to, was never
meant to make it. He did this because I asked him to, begged, pleaded with him to be
spared the mask, the plummet, the counting back into the abyss, anesthetic, the
D and C procedure that recalled that other time, that other loss, the one I had
chosen. He did this because he could, because in the lemon-walled room with the
Peter Rabbit curtains at four in the morning there was just me and him and the small
break the baby made in the fabric of things as it slipped away. There he was –
younger than me, too young maybe to have suffered much personal loss –
pale, sweating, swaying foot to foot, dark blond hair, baby-face, hands deft,
making this pact I now break; somehow by chance or fate assigned to me that
night when he should have been in bed dreaming, his school jumper rolled for
a goal post, tendons primed, arms out-stretched, fingers splayed for the ball as
it was kicked his way.
We walked home this way every school day
for seven years, across the field, the grass
in summer long and wet wetting hems
and cuffs or pulled seeding in our hands;
along the lane, cow parsley greeting us
like old men. There were nettles to be skirted,
an abundance of red and purple admirals
not seen this last wet decade, skip of wren
from wall nook to nook, rare start of hare
or stoat and by July the one white foxglove.
In winter the path frosted with sugared lace
and you marveled at the iced puddles as if
the intricate carvings were a miracle never
before seen. After dark we walked hand
in hand under constellations – Orion,
Cassiopeia, Little Bear – turning in the sky
as the months turned us towards spring;
the moon we saw through full and quarter,
sometimes rising like a huge white balloon,
sometimes ringed with clouds like bruises.
We walked in rain and snow and sun, talked,
talked about what now I don’t remember
only see the movement of your hands, two small
kites pulling on the strings of your thoughts.
You were never lost and only ever once afraid:
when I got drunk at New Year and fell
in the ditch. Home was always there, waiting
at the end of the muddy drop to the road.
Praise Song I.M. Jo Cox, MP
I write in praise of the taxi driver who takes me home with my shopping. He
is a large man, moon-faced, soft-voiced, lambent against the car window. He
leans over to let me in and there is that moment – a fissure of uncertainty.
It’s Christmas Eve, and he asks are you ready for the celebration? We talk of Eid, this
year in December, the Winter Solstice, of ritual and bringing together. He offers me
an image of his family – aunties, uncles, cousins, kids – seated on a big carpet,
feasting for days, candles lit and scattered through the house throwing their light
amongst the shadows; his father at home in exile. The day before, or that week,
some week or other a bombing or street massacre. It crouches between us, a burnt thing
smacking its lips, audible enough for him to raise it like a dais we both lift off
from. I offer that photograph – you know the one – Trump and his cronies
incumbent at The White House – a dozen ugly old white men, the only
woman an aide half-seen adjusting the lamp behind them, and the space between us
comes down to this: how those that govern work for power alone; we are the ordinary
people of the earth, defined by what we have in common. At the gate he
unloads my bags, shuts the boot, takes my fare, returns to the car and lifts a hand
farewell, his every movement fluid, measured.
- Sarah Corbett’s next collection of poetry will be available from Pavillion Press (Liverpool University Press) in April.
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