I WAS SO OLD WHEN I WAS NOT A WOMAN
People thought my father drank: he never said
it was my mother
who stuck like moss to dark places.
She gives us wipes for the train
to wash away the sticky fingerprints of strangers.
We descend from Ward 4 in a dark box
without him. Street level
says the final sign.
He is a crane-fly, hurt
and folded. He forgets
he once walked like other fathers.
I can make him strong,
afraid of nothing. That’s not true.
I am ashamed for both of us.
The roads have been closed,
the railway lines pulled up.
We live and die inside these bodies.
I was so old when I was not a woman,
when I weighed nothing.
He thinks he’s unobserved
in his lonely grace
circling the five-acre field
fence to fence –
he is a running cloud,
a fast-flowing river,
ripples of mist or smoke.
I scent him on the wind,
imagine how the nap rises on his spine:
don’t want to bridle
or fetter him, just watch
and watch how life
loves him whole,
muscle and bone.
You began to trouble yourself about death
at nine years old when you would stumble
finger by finger the unlit passage to their closed door,
inch inside their smoke-fumed dark, climb them
lying back to back in bed, deliver yourself
to that scorched plain between volcanoes (one long-spent,
the other simmering): you didn’t know then
being untouched was an affliction; being fed
through bars by knucklebone, you were just
ashamed of this need to return night after night
where you were unwelcome – too old for this,
picked up and taken back to where death muttered
he would get you later from behind the curtain
and you held yourself, stoppered your mouth with your thumb
so the long smouldering-out wouldn’t melt and fuse
your lungs to your spine but it would take years before
you could breathe without hurting.
MEALS YOUR MOTHER MADE
Mangoes ripened and fell
clotting in your tropical garden.
Your mother cut them open
for you to suck their woolly flesh.
You bumbled around the garden leaning on the dog
mouth bright with mango glue and tongue fermenting,
But then in another country, it was cold,
the chair hard, your plate a great moon
with a secret which had to be revealed
by swallowing gristle and muscle and fat.
You’d sit there until you’d swallowed every cold bite
in the darkening room.
Those were different times.
Like the night you hadn’t wanted to come home
from your friend’s sweet and lawless kitchen,
told your mother you wished she wasn’t yours, meaning
you hated her unhappiness,
then found waiting on the table her special
spaghetti, breadcrumbs crunchy in blonde cheese.
You ate it all and wanted more but couldn’t ask.
SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG WITH US
humans are 0.01% of the living, murderers of 83% of wild mammals
this fire and flood summer
it oozes out of the earth
dull throb of knowing
and seventeen days and nights orca has carried her newborn dead
photographed/filmed/followed/ for a thousand miles
I walk back and forth at the edge of this northern sea
can’t leave can’t rest
with no language to say this in any other way
sea calls, repeats the harm/the damage
two lost before this one which she won’t let go
constantly retrieving and lifting its sinking body
pushing against the will of the sea
how her body trembles I dream of the weight the cold throat
closing up in silence again and again
bloodsong bloodcall the hurt/the damage
this evening a report six females circle her
close and slow
she has allowed her young to slip away
fall through the soft layers and threads of the sea
who will mourn in six generations’ time?
I want to be sung to as if everything is all right
Pippa Little is a Scots poet living in North East England. Overwintering (Carcanet) was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Award, Twist (Arc) for The Saltire Society Poetry Book of the year. Her work appears widely in anthologies, online, in print, film, and on radio. Her third collection is forthcoming.