Too young to take his measure, I learned early
to disappear, when he wore his ogre mask
to yell through. My mother long ago
had seen through his charms. He enchanted me
with the Ark he carved, the three sons of Noah,
yellow, red, blue with peg-top heads,
eyes black as currants. When he came home
from whatever it was, he’d bring me a book.
That was magic too, and his snatches of song
Oh little brown jug, a wandering minstrel I,
as he stirred his special soup – three days
to get it right. Master of ceremonies
at all our festivals, his rules were never
questioned. He knew how to do things,
didn’t he? I remember him standing
square at a trestle, driving a saw
through sheets of asbestos, the dust
snowing round him. Quiet, drawn into
the rhythm of the task. An August day.
Wasps were licking the sweet brown rot
of windfalls. There would have been
words that morning. I’d have hidden myself
as usual in a story. Now, as the saw
rasped back and forth in heartbeat time
and lupins shook out their pepper scent,
for a few moments I saw him lifesize.
On New Year’s Day
The sky has cried itself out, though the trees
still wring their branches like a Greek chorus.
The world is asleep. A bevy of pigeons wheels
suddenly away, returns bird by bird.
A whirr of wings then silence, not even
a low pigeon purr. They’ve blended
their sooty wings into the crevices
of chimneystacks, folded their pink-beaked heads
down over their throats, hiding that one
dash of colour, petrol in dingy water,
which would give them away. I imagine them
praying in silence to the great Pigeon God.
I see her leaning from a sky many-greyed
as her wings, clutching a clawful of eggs
which she tucks into a nest with infinite
tenderness, leaving no feather.
I look at my body in the mirror: my friend.
We’ve seen seven decades together, grown
into each other. The body is simple to write on,
logs everything, from seamed temple
to crooked toe. I look out from its mended
eyes. They look back.
Here you are they say, here is your truth.
Body, you have been kind to me, but
you tie me to your needs. I want to go AWOL.
I want to be freer than the freest particle
to be in the world and out of it
at the same time. I want to be unwritten.
For I too am scribbled with scars.
They are not like yours
with their clear beginning, their definite end.
I cannot say, on this date or that
a vein of trust was gashed, a bone of contention
snapped. The injuries infect each other,
harden to keloid tissue, break afresh.
Some days I am all pain, while you flash
your dental history to answering smiles.
Some days I draw on a wellspring
which has nothing to do
with your fluid intake and excretion,
cannot be read
from the lines mapping your forehead
Body, let me go, this once.
Let me know lightness beyond place or time.
I’ll be back.
We’ve a tryst we both have to keep.
A C Clarke is a poet living in Glasgow and a member of Scottish PEN. She was longlisted in this year’s National Poetry Competition, which had 13,000 entries.
She was one of seventeen poets commissioned to write a poem for the Mirrorball Commonwealth Poetry Anthology The Laws of the Game and her fourth collection, In The Margin, is due out from Cinnamon Press in November.