William Stephenson – three poems

Maria’s

You don’t say Mar-rears. This isn’t
The Sound of Music. You say Marriers
to make a rhyme with barriers, Asif
at work told me. So I weigh down
the first syllable when the wife asks
where I’m going. Harriers? she says.

Maria’s is where I learned curry leaves
pinch your tongue like lime, but methi
bristle on the palate like sawdust ground
into Marmite. Cumin seeds taste best
toasted till they crackle. Don’t use oil,
the bag said, in English and Punjabi.

On the PA a bloke wails like toothache
over hand-drums and a pump organ.
Spiky red cucumbers out of Star Wars
jostle aubergines fat as black puddings
and okra rough as sandpaper to the touch.
I’d buy chillies but the wife hates the burn.

The till girl says, Samosas on offer today
and because she’s smiling I take two.
I cook korma with cream but the wife
bites into her pastry and snaps, Jesus.
You’ve got to stop going to that Maria’s.
No, love, I say. It rhymes with barriers.


The Lion

God, did you feel that? The whole deck shook.
We’ve hit something. A rock? I’m getting up.
I’m going to find out. I am going past the door
studded with numbers, hashtag and plastic eye.
Everyone quick we’ve run aground, I shout.

Japhet slinks up smiling and says, Easy now.
I’ve been waiting seven fucking years to set
paw on land, I reply. He says, This is Leeds,
mate. The sea’s miles away. Don’t make me
restrain you. I blurt, you wouldn’t do that.

So Japhet does that. And as my good arm’s
popping out its socket I’m screaming,
I am the Lion of Judah. Noah chose me
to propagate my species on the reborn Earth.
Until Ham stalks across holding a needle

and the waters peel away like cling film.
The pissy fibres of the carpet spring up
Serengeti grass. I’m bounding, paws out,
mane back, watching the God-delivered
herds of juicy wildebeeste flurry like fish.


Wild Rocket

Strong, shout the letters on the bag.
A dark green leaf with a distinctive
peppery flavour. This pack provides
two servings. But the plastic’s pearled
with droplets from your breath. Rocket,
you’ve lasted ten days in your oxygen tent.

Your topmost leaves are green. Promising.
But you’re black as slurry at the bottom
where leaves and stalks soften into slime.
I open the bag and dare to breathe in,
hoping I can snip your top, eat the shoots
to honour the cadaver that shoves them up.

You reek of brambles and bracken sagging
with damp, the smoker’s lung of autumn.
Old mushrooms, wilted ferns. Can I bear
to bin you? Definitely. Try Me Love Me,
wheedles your pack, moist and shrunken,
as appealing as a second-hand condom.

I shake you into an old margarine tub
to join a lemon scrofulous with penicillin,
an apple wrinkled as a goblin’s scrotum.
Bitter leaf, you are compost to me now.
Watch me unscrew the lid on the garden bin,
deciding where to dump you among the worms.


William Stephenson’s poems have appeared in Envoi, Iota, Magma, Orbis, The North and The Rialto. His first collection, Travellers and Avatars, was shortlisted for the Live Canon First Collection Prize and will appear in 2017. His pamphlets are Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar, 2012) and Source Code (Ravenglass, 2013).