• BOY WITH A KNIFE

    He was standing in the middle
    of the field, throwing a knife
    from hand to hand: the boy

    Mr Marshall brought down
    at weekends - whispered
    to be let out from a Borstal.

    We heard thumps and squeals
    coming from their caravan.
    I was told to keep away from him.

    But I liked wounded things:
    a baby rabbit the cat brought in;
    birds with broken wings.

    As I got closer, he aimed the knife
    into a clump of Lady's Smock,
    spearing a frog.

    ‘Present,' he said,
    dangling it by the leg.
    He looked down at my feet:

    at sandals I'd woven from reeds
    to look like the Roman sandals
    in my history book;

    at bare toes like a row
    of tiny bald creatures
    pleading for their lives.... more »

  • Forgetfulness

    When my memory
    was a film library
    with a keen curator

    who knew precisely
    where to find clips
    of every word

    I wished unsaid,
    or deed undone,
    to play back to me

    on sleepless nights,
    I'd have welcomed her
    muddling the reels.

    But now the curator's
    retired, the ordered
    shelves are in chaos.

    I roam the racks
    without a guide
    searching for scenes

    I've lost. Sometimes,
    unable to remember
    what I'm searching for,

    I find Forgetfulness
    kneeling on the floor -
    an old woman, pale

    and worried as a ghost,
    rummaging in a tangle
    of shiny black ribbons.... more »

  • Glow-worm

    Talking about the chemical changes
    that make a body in love shine,
    or even, for months, immune to illness,
    you pick a grub from the lawn
    and let it lie on your palm - glowing
    like the emerald-burning butt
    of a cigarette.

    (We still haven't touched,
    only lain side by side
    the half stories of our half lives.)

    You call them lightning bugs
    from the way the males gather in clouds
    and simultaneously flash.

    This is the female, fat from a diet
    of liquefied snails, at the stage in her cycle
    when she hardly eats; when all her energy's
    directed to drawing water and oxygen
    to a layer of luciferin.

    Wingless, wordless,
    in a flagrant and luminous bid
    to resist the pull to death, she lifts
    her shining green abdomen
    to signal yes, yes.... more »

  • Sloes

    He was in Paris for the weekend:
    on his own - she was mad
    to think otherwise.

    She took the children
    on an expedition with friends
    to pick sloes - small bitter plums
    from the spiky twigs
    of the blackthorn; best picked
    after the first frosts
    have loosened the stones.

    Her friends were going to soak them in gin
    ready for Christmas.

    She couldn't think that far.
    She couldn't even think
    as far as next weekend;
    or the stallion, black as a sloe,
    galloping above her
    down a sloping field.... more »

  • SNOW QUEEN

    I'd melt in your houses.
    I hide in blue shadows -
    appearing only at night:

    a bride in a glittering veil,
    pale and shining
    as if lit from inside.

    You offer me a snowman:
    a frozen dummy
    with eyes of coal.

    But I want a husband
    with a heart in my bed,
    who'll lie with me

    where the snow's blown
    layer on layer like petals,
    drifting to sleep in a heat

    like hot sand, like ashes,
    the water in his blood
    turning to crystals of ice.... more »

  • The Blue Wave

    ‘Do it now, say it now, don't be afraid.'
    Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham

    Your house with its lovely
    light studio overlooking the sea
    is sold, you work dispersed.

    But in my head there's a painting
    done in your nineties
    when just to lift your arm

    was an effort: a single brave
    upwards sweep with a wide
    distemper brush so loaded

    with paint the canvas filled
    with the glistening blue wall
    of a wave before it falls.... more »

  • The God of Sugar (Sugar Shed, Greenock)

    Cavernous - and empty now -
    no shouts of dockers,
    no barefoot women shovelling
    molasses - it has the chill
    and hush of a cathedral.

    Like a pilgrim arrived at a shrine,
    wanting something to touch
    for a vision or sign
    that a saint or god is there,
    I rub the tip of my finger

    against the rough bricks
    of the wall and lick, tasting
    sweet dirt, seeing, shining
    in the gloom, an obese boy¬
    like Elvis in a sequin suit.

    What prayers should I offer
    to this god of sugar?
    Most fitting and proper,
    prayers for the slaves
    drowned in leaking holds;

    or for those who survived
    the voyage to the Caribbean
    to cut the cane, lashed
    until their backs were striped
    with festering wounds.

    Or prayers for the child
    who spooned golden syrup
    from the green lion tin, dribbling it
    in spirals to form amber pools
    in her porridge; who stole

    from her mother's purse
    to buy red-tipped sugar cigarettes;
    who ruined her teeth
    on lollipops and seaside rock?
    Prayers for the woman

    who still craves sweetness:
    savouring strawberries dipped
    in the sugar dish, gobbets
    of crystallised ginger, figs
    almost rotten with ripeness?... more »

  • The Larder

    Turned seventy, and not wanting
    to waste the years left, half-asleep,
    I'm stocking the shelves of a larder.

    Each day is an empty jar to fill:
    yesterday, with the silvery teeth
    on a leaf-lichen; the day before,

    with a thin mist rolling slowly
    across the valley, fading a line
    of beeches to pencilled ghosts.

    Today it's the powdery bloom
    on the skin of a blueberry;
    turning it, cold from the fridge,

    between my thumb and finger;
    noting the petal-shaped crater
    where the flower shrivelled,

    a small hole where it was pulled
    from the stalk, crushing
    its tangy pulp on my tongue.... more »

  • The Mower

    When I was young and miserable,
    a misfit and a rebel,
    almost never out of trouble,
    desperate to escape school,
    time dawdled.
    But now I'm older
    and happier and want it to go slower,
    time's an out of control mower
    careering through the borders
    decapitating all the flowers.... more »

  • The Witches

    My sister's screams
    brought Mummy running:
    Did you push her?
    They drove to the hospital
    leaving me alone in the house.

    I read a book by the window
    until I couldn't see the words.
    Too scared to turn on the light,
    I watched ghostly white roses
    disappear into the dark.

    Once, in a fever, I'd dreamed
    of witches who lived in the loft
    flying through the hatch.
    Now they crouched
    behind the wings of my chair.

    I tried not to breathe,
    pretending to be dead
    like the stone girl in the churchyard
    or my sister if all her blood
    rolled out of her leg.

    If she died, people
    would think I was sad.
    The witches knew the truth -
    smelling my wickedness
    with huge hooked noses.... more »

  • The Witches

    My sister's screams
    brought Mummy running:
    Did you push her?
    They drove to the hospital
    leaving me alone in the house.

    I read a book by the window.
    until I couldn't see the words.
    Too scared to turn on the light,
    I watched ghostly white roses
    disappear into the dark.

    Once, in a fever, I'd dreamed
    of the witches who lived in the loft
    flying through the hatch.
    Now they were crouched
    behind the wings of my chair.

    I tried not to breathe,
    pretending to be dead
    like the stone girl in the churchyard
    or my sister if all the blood
    rolled out of her leg.

    If she died, people
    would think I was sad.
    The witches knew the truth -
    smelling my wickedness
    with huge hooked noses.

    (both poems from Vicki Feaver's forthcoming (2015) collection from Cape Poetry, provisionally titled I Want! I Want!)... more »

  • You are not

    You are not in the tulips,
    not in their flailing stems
    or shrivelled yellow petals
    that alive you'd have painted;
    not in the pearly wintry sky
    or the scarred slopes of the hill
    that before your legs failed
    you'd have climbed;
    not in the spiky firs
    or eddies and swirls of the river
    or in its still sandy pools
    where in your youth
    you'd have swum;
    not in the beginning drizzle of snow,
    or in the deer that hangs
    in the larder with black hooves
    and long delicate legs,
    not in its heart or liver
    that we ate last night for supper
    and you would have relished.

    I don't know where you are
    who loved all the things I love
    and who I remember hauling
    out of the bath - tugging
    on arms that I was afraid
    of pulling from their sockets -
    then drying and helping to dress
    and guiding down slippery stone steps
    to watch flycatcher chicks
    leaving the nest, hearing
    the peep peep peep
    of their mother's warning call.... more »