Mrs Darling

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She’s a dangerous woman. It won’t be easy
for any man who picks a fight with her
to think she’s beaten and he’s triumphed.
They would sit there in the empty nursery,
recalling fondly every smallest detail
of that dreadful evening.
She had always thought children important, however,
and he would see her in the yard occasionally,
or in Kensington Gardens, where she spent
most of her spare time peeping into perambulators.
The breathing was gone;
only teeth were left. When the heat got hot
she might walk about the house naked
or wrapped in a sheet,
her belly protruding like a winning watermelon.
That’s when life is most secure and safe,
when woman and her husband stand as one.
But that marriage changed. Now they’re enemies.

Mr Darling had beat the spirit away the very day
he entered her house. He couldn’t deny it.
“No, no,” Mr. Darling always said,
“I am responsible for it all.
I, George Darling, did it. MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA.”

One more wail would go the round in that wind by night.
“He’s dishonored me, the wife he used to love.”
She enclosed her left nipple with two fingers
of her right hand, so light was the touch,
childlike almost, more finger kiss
than kneading, and with this hand she fixed
across her lovely yellow hair the jewelry of death.
She let her hand play in the hair of the tragic boy.

“My hand will never lack the strength for this.”
She squeezed her eyes tight to see what it was
but all she could make out was high-topped
shoes she didn’t like the look of, a red ribbon
knotted around a curl of woolly hair,
clinging still to its bit of scalp.
She sat down in the chair by the fire,
where in the old days she had nursed them.
Roses of blood blossomed in the blanket.
By the time she faced him, looked him
dead in the eye, she had something in her arms.
“She’s awfully fond of Wendy,” he said to himself.
He was angry with her now for not seeing
why she could not have Wendy.
The reason was so simple: “I’m fond of her too.
We can’t both have her, lady.”
“Well, your children are gone.”

There was no tremor in her voice, no tears,
and instead of the children, pictures of babies
without faces, autumn with its bottles of blood and gold
and fingering a ribbon, smelling skin,
something inside him
cried Woman, Woman, let go of me.

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The Burglary

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We purr in cool leather boots,
slip on gloves, our double skins.
We are seen in the first garden
by not my mother but an anxious lookalike,
hair blowing the wrong way,
streaked across one eye like brandy-butter
on the other side of the street.
We move through the garden like nightfall,
panther-slick, with daggers in our pockets.
I wave with one dark hand.
Hush, listen, crouched at the mouth
of the letterbox– how the red pulse thrashes,
minnows slapping in blood-nets.
Even the moon has a bloodshot eye.

A hot night, the windows widen–
astonished eyes, doors gasping in frames
where sodium lights boil bright
in the secret hours, every home a prisoner
numbered with brass. We spit ourselves
in through the windows, cats on leathered pads,
and ransack the house–
uprooting shadows and LCD,
pocketing jewels, our smooth green eggs.

Somewhere, deep in the bedroom,
a woman dressed in aching silk
lies awake next to the bookcase,
watching over the things no one takes:
a couple of crinkled paperbacks,
crushed lipsticks.
Alarmed by the shape of her shadow,
I pocket her pearls and run.

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Egyptian Sand

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Every wall was Egyptian Sand. On Monday mornings
you would cross each other, scarved with anger
across a desert of Egyptian Sand,
make yourselves gritty mugs of coffee
and, out of sugar, Egyptian Sand
heaped by the savage spoonful. Your silence
blew over us, like Egyptian Sand,
whistling back from the walls.

Not yellow, ‘Egyptian Sand,’ you announced,
popping the lids from the cans, swirling
bubble-gold paint with your finger.
Dad dipped his brush, face stiff , the looming sphinx
stretched on Egyptian Sand–
swearing, stamping and roaring
on scraps of yesterday’s news
scattered across the skirting.
Magnolia swept out with sandstorms,
the paint creeping down like the asp.

Shaving in rivers of Egyptian Sand,
your hungover pharaoh, foam-faced, out all night
and smelling like death, slides you a look from the sink.
You will not go there. The brass-tapped,
bone-cold catacomb terrifies you,
the underworld freshly-painted
and the dirty King Cobra, rising and dancing
heaps himself out of a wicker basket.
Scattering towels, the mummified rags.

We spend the day clearing lungs and eyes
from the dust of Egyptian Sand. We come home
to dine in the desert: me, my sister, dog-jackal
panting black from the floor
and you, the Maternal Goddess, haloed–
your aura not gold, but Egyptian Sand.
Zephyrs flap their dust-tongues down the stairwell,
hissing Book-of-Dead secrets, that the paint is dry
and that our Fatherly God has slithered away
down the spine of the Nile. He flees
from the curse of the mummy, her Wadjet-eye
and the paint still kissing his fingers,
hating every yellow-speckle
of Egyptian-sodding-Sand.

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Vultures

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You threaten me with your ice-white
plates, your slavery. My cadaverous ingratitude
moans from my belly, home at last and clutching
a bunch of ragged carnations
white as cartilage. I bought them
reduced from a water-bucket,
recognized their wasting.
I hand them to you, an apology
you barely sniff at, mashing spuds like ritual,
pale clods stiff in the pan.

Slaved away, you said, heaping your heart,
your crimson vessels, like spaghetti-ribbons
onto a plate. This is what I do to you,
blood-gravy, drain you over the sink
every time I put myself out with the waste,
the giveaway fragrant steam
of a buried, dust-binned dinner–
your daughter, bird-bones, legs like starlings,
the jagged vulture beating cool rings
of resistance, circling the brain
and lipid-white moon.
The night-beams sicken and shake
as you look on in horror at him
picking me clean from the bone.
Anatomical medals of war.

I try to smile in the mirror
but the mirror hates me, spits out my image
like bad meat. I lift my hand from my hair,
remove a fistful of scribbles. Mother,
do I haunt you? You have called me a ghost
for weeks now, tried to put a stop
to my flirtations with the sallow-faced skull
and his slim black hood
feeding the starving vultures.
They crack and burst from their fragile eggs,
a basket of crying skulls.
I decline dessert as they flap and peck
and ask to leave the table.

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First Kiss

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He kissed me quite by surprise.
I could feel his mean little smile
as he turned from the passenger window,
swung his face to mine,
a half-moon hooked in his hair.
The streetlights fluttered,
his reptile tongue
shot out like an arrow
and everywhere, I felt him–

my stomach sucked in
below a staircase of rib
rising to meet full flesh, these breasts
the colour of yesterday’s milk.
His hands, I remember, were warm,
having already trapped them
beneath denimed thighs
for the whole small-talking journey
and outside through the still window
the shadow of somebody’s childhood
ran laughing away to the moon.
Turning slyly, adder-eyed,
his palm coasted my pelvic bone,
pressed his thumbs to the hipped sockets.
Kissing me for the first time,
even the stars were nothing more
than a flicker you just got used to.

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Come to Me

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Come to me, soaked with sleep
when the yellow morning comes
to claim the windows.
Come to me when the butter-clouds
smear themselves on the seascape
of my tumbling, hissing town–
your hand white-flattened
against the glass. Come to me
sea-sprayed and quiet
as the swan’s foot peddling
the summer lake
in a park washed green with sleep–
you in a vision,
you as a ghost,
not bones, but skin and sky

from the carbon night, mined
of its wall of stars
over mumbling shore
and mermaid’s rock,
the honeying pearls of dawn.
Come to me, quick–
the crazy birds
have risen in clouds from the sand–
they come to me singing
their visions.
Out of their shadows, dod yma,
rolled from the vowelling sea.

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Siren

siren2

As though she had slipped from oyster-moon,
pearled star and Homeric myth
    she emerges, full-sized, non-fictional
     out of Odysseus’ bathtub. She catches his eye
while he shaves, reeling him back
    with her smiling hooks, bare breasts
     bobbing and clotted with suds.
A siren instead of a seabass,
   his trophy girl with a tail.

She is no clean little mermaid.
    Some days, her mind is so full of filth
     she insists he fill up the bathtub, blows him
off course, bubble-blasted,
    white-fizzing, thick as seafoam below deck–
     the scalloping pump of dangerous scales,
armed with sailor bones and shackles,
    and her hair dragged back
     at a thousand knots.
Grinning below her skeleton boys,
    the man overboard sucked
down,
    down
     to the frothy gulp
of washing her mouth out with soap.
Odysseus quakes in his towel.
  She rolls back, singing a siren’s words
and smiling, sinks him whole.

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