The shorthand test.

Ben Verinder lives in rural Hertfordshire. His work has featured in Brittle Star, South, Obsessed with Pipework, Lighthouse, Ink Sweat and Tears, among others and he was recently shortlisted for the international Plough Prize (short poem). He runs a reputation research agency and is the biographer of the adventurer and writer Mary Burkett.

Dark energy requires that the speed at which the universe expands is not a constant

The female human foetus
is born carrying three million eggs
says the leaflet I find it hard to read
as we wait on the soft lip of a blue sofa
for your twelve-week scan.
And why not? Suns spawn planetary cells.
Futures pack into each other like Russian dolls.

The ultrasound suite smells of lemon drops and thyme.
A bright afternoon peaks under lowered blinds
like an over-excited relative relegated to the car park.
Egg production ends at birth
and by puberty half of them have died.
As if it were ketchup or a scream
the sonographer smacks gel out of a bottle.
From the corridor a surprise of male voices
and jangling of keys. As the screen comes to life
the ice-cold pulse of fear
that where we expect to find you will be dark space,
a star supposed before the advent of light. 

A couple kissing 

on the corner of Woburn Place and Russell Square
meet with such force
that each kiss 
                       cuts a piece of them away

a lobe
           his blue eye
her hand

still stroking as it slaps
onto the pavement between Café Nero
and the red post box

                                 a knee rolls out
from his trouser leg like a

with her remaining fingers
she soothes a single hair from his collapsing face
the crowd of pedestrians at the traffic lights
don’t seem to notice as they topple
          own parts

but the pigeons do. 

The shorthand test

at the stroke of one
I want you to burn your writing wrists
against my spoken word
evaporate the vowels
crush consonants to the raw pigment of idea
shrink your favourite film to a single line
your childhood to the fizzing smell of grass
a continent the pinch of spice
or the way a fly moves up a baby’s face
the incomprehensible to God
ourselves this exercise


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