Checkout

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She scrunches my hello
like a useless receipt. This is
the well-dressed woman
of razor-smiles, needle-eye
she taps with coral nails
now wrapping the handle
of a plastic supermarket
  basket. I lift each item
with half a smile, hand her
thin breadsticks, complicated desserts
in tiny ramekins, then pretend not
to notice
  own-brand vodka,
  the coral flash of her nails
quick as a fish
to the bottom of a deep
  blue bag.

~

He’s spent twenty years inspecting
the the swell of red tomatoes,
the cool curve of bananas
with greenish nibs, heaped them
in his arms like a baby. Frozen
  meals-for-one pass, sterile
  with their fangs of ice
and block colours, block letters
arranged into simple names
and dusty conversation. He holds
  out his dry palm, lined
as a secret notebook,
holds it out
for the easy clatter of
coinage and nods
in his houndstooth cap,
  waves the hand
that props his head up
at night.

~

The race took place on aisle twenty.
Three small shapes
come tumbling, red-headed,
to the roar of a gummy baby
pumping its fists
  against trolley-wire,
  launches a white shoe
at his mother’s sweaty head.
Fierce, hair raked like the tail
of a snapping rat
she bursts a packet in her fist,
smuggles a cheese curl
to the infant’s mouth
  and orange-fingered, smears
  the front of her vest.
Huffing and barking, the five of them
toss me packets of value fries,
 cut-price ham, mince
  raw as intestines,
 clattering tins
  of baked beans
 and powder
  to wash out the stains.

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Blood Sugar

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A spoonful of sugar with the medicine
and I’m sicker than before.
I feel my way to the bathroom
to drown. It’s a fucking joke—
blood sugar—
my body a barrel of water, still dying
of thirst, squatting skinny-legged
to piss for the twentieth time tonight.
Suck the cold tap before I’ve even
tugged my knickers up my thigh.

I was eight years old and vanishing.
I must have been vanishing, I thought then,
looking back at my own eyes
dark as pansies, knees awkward
as doorknobs in saggy leggings.
That whole Christmas reeked of hospitals.
The tenth door of my advent calendar
swung open to reveal me
bony and awkward on a starched white bed
and learned phlebotomy was a bloody word.
I feared the nurse, her stub-nailed,
soap-smell rub, snapping her rubber fingers.
I writhed in reptilian hands, tourniquets,
as she gently pushed up my sleeve
to expose a thin arm. Broke the news after lunch.

There is a bruise on my leg
like a tiny and squashed violet.
My handbag is a scatter of lipsticks,
receipts with Fruit Pastilles stuck
between them in sticky kisses.
Needle-covers rolling like teeth.

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Dialling Tone

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We were always shouting down telephones
from separate rooms. I press my nose
to the mouthpiece, draw out the stale breath
of small talk. Wait for you to answer.
The red walls shrink down to a telephone box
after every heated conversation. In the debris,
we tug wires across the bed, disconnect the lines
with umbilical precision. Hang up
with a practiced knife-thrust.
Robotic, she tells me to leave a message,
a cluster of awkward words
you will shoulder to your ear whilst you dress.
I hesitate, hold the phone like a gun.
I gather my words. I can’t say one.

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Coup de Foudre

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I suppose this is being adults. Slim candles.
  Oysters, coughed out like clots of phlegm
from filthy shells. Perhaps you think you’ll
seduce me with the float of your brow,
the thin smile above your collar starch
you’ve practiced in the mirror. Tip champagne
down your throat and pretend to like it.
  Swallow a belch. You make some vague comment
about French wine, Provence, Bordeaux,
you might have once seen on a classroom map
or your mother’s trolley, her frizzed hair
drifting like cumulus through the aisles.
  
  The menu purrs, du, de la, like a fly
stuck fast in the laminate, swimming on a plate
of foie gras, bouillabaisse. Look at you,
a connoisseur at last, sticky as boiled ham
in your high street shirt. I swallow a mouthful
and swill it around my tongue. You blush.
  I do not pretend to taste grapefruit, pamplemousse,
crushing in the winepress grapes of Champagne,
the sputtering Veuve-Clicquot.

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Delta of Venus

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He stretched himself alongside her to smoke a cigarette
with all the ceremony of an opium dreamer.
He felt for her heart where her breast seemed to cling to his hand.

He wrung her nose, struck her on the cheeks
and bent her fingers. He held her pulses hard,
a beautiful body so smooth no bones ever showed,
much more like fire than light. He watched her with fascination.

The sun was drying her. His hands touched her rich hair
and braided it, one strand losing itself among the bedclothes
where he found it later, shining, electric.

Venus, fastened in the arms of Adonis, beat his embracements
with her heels. He held her feet in his hands, locked her
with such a force that her bones cracked. She laughed in her chains
and said, ‘You’re suffocating me,’ then fell back, became herself–
sea and sand and moisture in a Chicago apartment.

‘Graze on my lips,’ she commanded, ‘and if those hills be dry stray lower.’
He got impatient with the skirt. He would not put out the light,
his mouth on her throat, kissing the words he could not utter,
each several limb doubled. Twined about her thigh to make her stay.

Now it’s dark and he’s on his knees in the living-room
like a pilgrim before his television, arrested by the sight of a man
trying to pull a nude body from the sea. He cannot take a shower
without remembering the feel of her wet skin, plucking a clean towel,
emerging like that of Venus coming out of the sea.

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Burnt Toast

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The kitchen reeks of stale arguments

and bacon. She glances up, horrified,

rasher dangling like a sock between her fingers

as I show up, half-chewed

in my father’s oversize fleece.

Between us, all you can hear

is the sound of a butter-knife scraping.

Oiled fingers. Burnt toast. She offers,

eggs me on to eat. I say, calmly,

no thank you, it’s burnt

as she stands, arms crossed, watching me

shred cucumber into fifty wet pieces,

slide tomatoes around my plate,

not knowing

 

how I have trembled all night

like a mole in the dark, dug up

my ribs, my pelvic bone, squeezed

the soft bits like clay.

There, I say, and glare at her,

waving my bare fork as evidence.

Swallow a cold frill of lettuce.

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Night Shift

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I have stooped with a dustpan and brush
in the kitchen all night: pooled glittering shards

of beer-bottles, crooked stubs of John Players’ Blue
scattered like amputated fingers. Done everything

I can to stay awake. My mouth reeks of coffee–
sticky-black, glued to the bellies of jars,

stained rings on windowsills, yesterday’s paper.
Knuckle-smudged under my eyes. Piss twenty times

in one night. Stretch, cook in gummy-eyed stupor,
sit crooked at the table. I cry, still holding my mug

and forget to boil the kettle. My shadow moves
from grey to mauve across the kitchen wall

and turns the TV up. Smiling gorgeously
in her crimson shirt, a newsreader tells me

a foreign time, assures me that this is the world
and wishes me good morning, good morning

in the dead of night.

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