Winner : Terrain.org 9th Annual Contest in Poetry
Her eyes bleach the colour
of milk, head coming up blind
Once the fat is risen
we syphon the cooling tallow
into flagons, set them in line,
add beeswax and lye,
stand back from its boiling and hissing,
do not breathe until it stills.
I pour the soap into moulds,
scatter over cranesbill, nibs of lavender
wrap the cooled cakes
in scraps of vellum, stack them
in the drystore.
It’s warm there
and dark enough for owls.
Above shelves of pickled fruit
and bottled juice,
cowls of gut hang like vines.
It is light tonight, cloudless.
We carry her flesh to fire, break bread,
sing her name.
Tomorrow the women will roast the bones,
use the crushed chalk to make buttons
No one speaks of the old days.
We light candles but no one prays.
Each moon has its feast.
She was our chosen one, our beauty.
Exhibit: ‘Song of Lost Species’
O N C A, Brighton, 2016
Bell jar, in a row of bell jars
holding only silence
and a memory of birdsong:
thin wisps of birds, half-remembered
dreams of birds, airborne waifs
pared from wind and reeds
balanced on tines of wire
in gallery light,
their calls the grief of dwindling.
This one labelled Bewick’s wren,
others names we do not recognise.
With their final breath they sing to us:
‘Scoop me up, my bones lighter
than stalks, feathers that fracture
in your fingers; remember.’
On the screen, we see forests
of birds, trees teeming with life,
peep and shriek and trill.
We take home a flutter of wings,
the thinnest piping,
a future emerging from banks of mist.
We tell our children: ‘Watch this.
bound to a curve no spine
by his three pinched feet,
this dusty jungle relic
lies cradled in my palms:
his cockled back,
his quizzical nose stitched to tail
to form a handle,
the carapace lined with old calico
a basket for needles and silks;
his three feet
fisted as if fighting,
he is almost a question mark
but there is no point to this
and no answer
and I wonder where
his fourth foot is lying,
clenched and forgotten
a thread of jungle-light caught
in its stony grip.
Header photo by MIND AND I, courtesy Shutterstock.