The caryatids

On Athena’s sacred hill, the caryatids
are losing the curl from their hair.
Their intention is to float –
radical, their sense of themselves –

but the melodious principles that raised them
did not make them free
and into the drama of their vertical dimension,
there is a crumbling away.

Suffers and suffers the bright world
they say as they decline,
stoic as maps, though they still balance
on their heads, like women carrying water,

the weight of their suffering.
Should they fall, as they must,
they will sleep like the gods, the sky overhead
shifting blues through its hourglass.

No dreams for those with wildflowers
in their hair: their lucid spines will crack
with the weight of the unmade world,
a world they once raised in their arms.

Forthcoming in The illuminated world (Eyewear, 2014)


A short treatise on a squid

Overhead, yes, the shark hangs
like a Renaissance saint, in whose eyes time
falls like a sediment, and no doubt
the machinations of a moray eel’s jaws
are more dangerous than teeth in a glass
and it is not grief that makes the upward,
filling mass of little bells – the jellyfish –
drop again as a heart does into sorrow,
but it’s in the basement’s deep and damp Atlantic,
among the transparent skins of fish
and the skeletons worn with a monstrous clarity,
that the greatest exaggeration is made
as Vampyroteuthis infernalis heaves into view.

That name. It reminds me of Prudentius
who said the corruption of language
is at the root of sin. Once Satan’s tongue was split,
object and name slid off one another
like function and form in a tumour
or lovers making and remaking their union,
but still remaining alone. What crosses
the divide is not itself, but what has found
itself in another: an ecstasy of mind
where like is like is like… Dear metaphor
– read ‘lover’ – we invented heaven,
imagining sky as a fish might the land:
alien, beautiful on our tongue.

Published in Poetry London, 69 (2011) and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (ed. Todd Swift & Kim Lockwood, Cinnamon Press/Eyewear Publishing, 2012)


The decoration

The walls in the lounge have holes like bullet holes,
but our walls do not have bullet holes.
Over the hallway, the ceiling is down as though bombed,
but our ceilings are not bombed.
The bathroom plumbing is exposed like a wound
in the body, but our body has not been wounded.
You are not in the house or garden,
but you are not dead and your photo on the mantelpiece
is not a memorial. The war does not shake the foundations
of the house, but the house is shaking.
We are not committing acts of which we are ashamed,
but we are ashamed. We have no simple enemies.
What is done in our name is not done in our name
but sullies us, is ours, is ours like our name.

Published in Poetry London 57 (2007)


An entry on flint—

from rods of silica
and the spicules of sponges and the long-dead
in their grave-seams, the veins of flint were formed:
water into stone, in the sea-channels of the earth.

For the jewelled chalcedony of the black flint,
for the prize of its fractures, for its opalescent
edge that blunts more slowly than steel,
the Breckland heath was opened

to the mines’ galleried dark, a trespass
the ancients amended with offerings of pots and shoes
and bodies of deer laid out along the main shafts.
The mines granted their dampness and gloss,

knuckles of flint fell out from the hammered walls.
From the dream in the mind, so to the hand:
an industry of axe-head then musket
across which the blood of enemies was drawn.

When the wars moved elsewhere
as the old weaponry died, only the bats remained
to spark the darkness with their wings.
The mines closed again with mouthfuls of grass

and the flint bedded down
under the pastures like an army of bones.
When we dig, it is through seam on seam of ruin.
The flint-sheen rings into flooded fields.

Published in Mslexia 59 (2013)


The lover of Amazonian catfish

They say it is rational to turn inwards
to your obsession, to wake to it and love it,
but I tell you, when the storms come down
and the rain falls like stones onto the river,
I can’t open my eyes to its sting.
My childless hip

starts up its ache along the beltline
where I hook my thumb. Then the waves come
up over the canoe as if to drown me
within reach of shore, and I have to think
of where to jump to should a caiman
land at my feet.

But it passes. And then, above the cataracts,
where the water eases and takes the rain
like a boiling mirror instead:
always a greater treasure of fish,
and then a greater one still in the tiny creeks
we call igarapés

and into that slow-moving catch
as bizarre as a netted dream, I sink
my heart’s current, the lines of its wonder
tracing the body of my fish
from the promontory of its ancient head
to its long and breakable tail.

Published in Poetry Review 102(4), 2012