This being human

This being human is all about telling stories,
it’s travelling in a twisting caravan
across the desert, depending
on each other for flour,
for water, for a soft red blanket,
for bandages and apricots.

What currency do we have,
but stories? The story of “Good morning”
“How’s this for weather?”. The story of
“I love you”, the story of childhood,
the story of how to stay safe,
how to be eat well, how to survive
being lost, how to hold tight
to someone’s hand.

It’s whispering
our stories at night, the stories
of stars — of men, and beasts
and gods, and flaming suns.
It’s singing our stories as we wash our plates,
as we wait for tea to brew,
as we clean our shoes.

It’s shouting our stories in anger,
It’s crooning them in love. It’s sitting, silent,
round the campfire, listening.
We are stories, wrapped and tangled,
offered with love or fear or laughter.

This telling stories is all about being human.

For Kim at dVerse – a poem that begins “This being human is…”

How do I write about war?

All I have is memories of memories –
like feathers, plucked and swirling –
the fires they lit at the end,
in places that had been kept dark
for years. Dancing. My father
handing over hollowed bread,
a telegram that broke a woman.

Bodies in the water.

The horses, being led away,
through the farm gate. Lost.

A city full of women. Children
without fathers, running wild.

A man walking. Feathers

that we grasp and grab. We press them
into wax, make wings of them

knowing that Icarus will fall.

Bjorn is hosting at dVerse, and asks us to write about war. I found this a difficult prompt. As I say, I only have memories of memories about war – my parents’ experience of WWII as small children, stories I’ve heard from that generation and the generation above.

Thirst

You fling it open for the first time/ but I’m gone

M Kahf ~ Wall

Why did you always keep the window closed?
What did you fear? I’m asking – look – she’s
barefoot in the field, she’s dusty,
arms scratched, squinting at the sun.
Didn’t you notice she was always gazing
out of the window? That she itched and twitched
in rhythm with the blackbird, that she sighed.


Was it the sound of sunlight that you hated?
Or the scent of bees? or the blue screaming
of the sky? Tell me. I’m waiting.

For Laura at dVerse. Thinking about how we end poems. Laura gives us lines to springboard from and use as epigraph

A charm against serpents and other dangerous creatures

I wake alone, too early in this pale heat,
the petalled dawn glimmers around me, and I
am fox-curled,
snake coiled,
eyes hawked,
sleepless and dreamless.

What would you have made of me?
Garnets from blood,
sapphires from eyes,
white pearls from tissue,
opals from bones?

I was your diamond mine,
your jewellery box,
I was red velvet, crushed,
I was blue satin,
torn and plundered.

The consumed moon curls like a day-old crust of bread,
and I lean back into my yellow dreams,
my azure slumbers.
I dream of lemons,
nightingales,
of broken glass and
dripping honey.

This is solitude’s wish,
this empty bed,
these smooth, cool sheets,
and these white petals,
morning blossoms
falling, falling, falling,
so tender on my fevered skin.

This is for Laura at dVerse, who asks us to look at the work of Samuel Greenberg, in particular Loose Pages. I’ve taken five of his “charms” and tried to emulate his listing poem – but WordPress isn’t mad keen on fancy formatting. Oh well, I tried.

Nine and nine

Laura’s hosting at dVerse tonight. She always comes up with interesting and challenging prompts – I think of them as architectural. Tonight we’re thinking about nines – nine line poems and nonets. Laura has given us some lines from great poems to use as the basis for our own work. I couldn’t resist having a go at both halves of the prompt.

Here’s my first one. The first line is taken from W.S. Merwin’s “To the Light of September”/

Summer fading

It seems as though you are still summer
clinging to the last pink roses,
but the early morning chill
lasts a little longer
every day. Autumn
is so close now,
cold fingers
sprinkling
gold.

And here’s the second, which is based on this line: Those/ pale /flowers /might /still /have/ time/ to /fruit from Karina Borowicz’s ‘September Tomatoes

Gooseflight

Those geese flying overhead
pale wings spread out, like
flowers on a blue bedspread
might fly on. They are so strong, they
still have miles to go. It’s
time to seek out warmth,
to hunker down. Autumn’s brought
fruit and frost and morning mist.

Re-volution

Evolution stutters.
Stuff banks up, then cartwheels suddenly.
Boys become men. A woman dies.
A red leaf spirals down.
The rain starts – did you feel a drop?
I think I did – and then we’re running
under cover. Apples ripen.

These empty streets –
are they tomorrow
or a week ago? I couldn’t say.
Sculpted skies, birds calling,
spring morphing into summer
morphing into autumn.

How much do memories cost, then?
They sink into the soil,
red ice-pops melting sticky
the ground mouth-gaping,
gulping at ersatz cherry juice.

Stuff banks up. A pushchair and a rainbow dress,
sunshine on water. Piles of books,
things fluttering through my fingers.

Wait. I scribble in a yellow notebook,
tap on a keyboard,
then a typewriter,
I paint my phrases
onto parchment, vellum,
press letters into clay,
I chisel words into the rock.

I draw a horse head
on a half-lit wall.

Tell me a story. I’m all out of words.

It’s Peter’s first night hosting at dVerse, and he’s given us an exercise in editing. You can read the details here: https://dversepoets.com/2020/09/10/mtb-write-like-a-dog-edit-like-a-cat/

I don’t do much editing. I spend a lot of time working a poem out in my head, so I think I edit before I commit anything to paper. However, I regularly write for Brendan’s earthweal prompts and I find those poems tend to be a bit more relaxed and free-form than my dVerse poems. This was originally an earthweal poem. Do check earthweal out.

I don’t look in mirrors any more

I carry my face
like a bowl full of water
fearful of spilling.

The world is full
of broken mirrors,
twisting screens
suncatchers spiralling
so that my face
surprises me
my body
shocks me

with its cold distortion.
Time drops stones
in the still pool
of my reflection.

The prism holds
a rainbow,
fans it out across
the kitchen floor.

I’m hosting at dVerse tonight, and asking for self-portraits. This is mine.

Revolution

The wheel turns. This heavy wheel
that we keep pushing.
Our shoulders bruise and burn,
the strong muscles
in our thighs, our bellies, ache,
but we keep pushing.
Somebody falls beside us,
someone is crushed,
but still we push.
Sometimes, some chancer
scrambles to the top,
pulls up a friend or two,
tells us the view is great.
Sometimes he stays there
for a while,
until he slips and tumbles.
We just push.
The wheel is old. Chips in the paintwork
tell us that it’s been blue,
and red, and gold.
So many colours,
so many designs,
scratched out, or faded,
painted over. It’s been ugly,
it’s been beautiful.
On we push.
The track is steep.
The sharp stones cut our feet,
dust fills our lungs.
It’s hard to look away,
but over there the grass
is green, and stretches down
to a slow flowing river,
and there the woodlands
offer shade and fruit
and the deer watch us,
wondering, but we can’t stop.
We push.

Merril is hosting dVerse poetics, and asks us to write about revolution – in any form – political, celestial, whatever.

Sometimes I wish they hadn’t brought him back to me.

He’s a good husband, yes.

But still.
Sometimes, when he looks at me
I know my strong legs, my feet planted
in this red clay – they’re not enough.
My warm arms hold him,
like a cage of flesh. My hands burn.

I know he longs for something
he can’t hardly name – the pale flicker
of white fingers, never stained
with soil, or mucky from the fireplace,
the glimmering silvery gold
of hair left loose, swayed by the water.

Silence makes a dark pool in our house.

And when the tide turns,
and the wind is right,
and the sea calls him

I know he leaves me
with a happy heart.

De – Whimsygizmo – is hosting at dVerseand we’re looking at sirens, selkies and mermaids – the mysterious creatures of the water. You might also like this: https://soundcloud.com/b5m7/selkie – a lockdown project I did with my friend Dave Hope.

Transformation

One summer we collected caterpillars,
picked them, green and glistening,
off the cabbage leaves.

We kept them in a glass box
in the shed, and fed them
fat and slow
until they built themselves cocoons.

We left them then,
grey chrysalises, dry and dead,
forgot them over winter.
One morning, bright with spring,
I went into the shed
and found it full
of fragile, fluttering wings

so clear
so beautiful

we set them free.

A poem for Anmol’s last dVerse prompt. I’m sorry that this is his last one – his prompts have been challenging and creative, and I will miss them. As a final flourish, he asks us to write in the awareness that this is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the lgbtq+ community in all its shapes and forms. I’ve chosen to write about transformation, about finding freedom through that transformation. This is for anybody who has had to find themselves.