Archive for June, 2011

Poem from Dan Wyke

Dan Wyke

I’ve seen a number of Dan Wyke’s poems online and in magazines, including the ever-impressive New Walk where this poem first appeared, and I’ve moved from being intrigued by his work to somewhat fascinated. He’s got a great knack for compression and his poems always pack a punch. His debut collection Waiting For The Sky To Fall is out from Waterloo Press, and he blogs at http://otherlivespoetry.blogspot.com/

Summer Fête

It’s a beautiful day…
white clouds and blue sky.

A microphone screeches.
The leader of the local branch of the British Legion
is pleased the weather
has been kind to us,

and would like to welcome
Lance-Corporal Hodgkins
of the Mercian Regiment –
tragically wounded,
honourably discharged –
to kick off this afternoon’s entertainment.

Lance-Corporal Hodgkins
is a colossal eighteen-year-old
squeezed into a wheelchair.

He is determined, apparently,
not to let the loss of a limb
prevent him from leading a normal life.

Perhaps we’ll hear from him later.

*

A brass band starts playing.

Hoops are thrown and toy rats are hit with a mallet.

The smell of sausages cooking
drifts across the village green.

Bell’s whisky is first prize for the raffle.
A basket of pink bath products
awaits the runner-up.

A crowd swarms around the cake stall.
Within seconds it is stripped bare.

Dick Francis and Wilbur Smith
are once again best sellers
over at the book stall.

Someone has thoughtfully donated
‘Microwave Cookery’
and ‘The Sayings of Jesus Christ’.
And which radical, I wonder,
decided to get rid of
the selected poems of Andrei Voznesensky,
published by Grove Press, New York, in 1963?

With all books priced at 20p
there are bound to be
some bruised ribs in the morning.

*

Outside The Tiger Inn,
the wife of a former Brigadier
is standing talking to Lance-Corporal Hodgkins,
who is holding his third pint of Stella…

They have been on holiday somewhere warm,
in the Caribbean.
Her mottled brown hands
are weighed down by gold rings
like a pianist’s.

Two Thai women in purple kimonos
circulate with a large Tupperware container
of complimentary prawn crackers.

The grand finale
features a troupe of under-fives
in green lederhosen,
dancing to songs from ‘The Sound of Music’.

It has been a wonderful afternoon,
the master of ceremonies announces.
And he hopes that now
the church roof will be able to receive
the attention it deserves.

*

In the car park,
Lance-Corporal Hodgkins is helped
by his mother, or an older girlfriend,
up a ramp and into the back
of a high-roofed vehicle.

As it passes, we can see him, chin on chest,
stuck there
like an exhibit in a glass case.

Read more from Dan here and here

Four poems from Jacqueline Saphra’s The Kitchen Of Lovely Contraptions

Saphra cover



Jacqueline’s first collection The Kitchen Of Lovely Contraptions is out now from Flipped Eye, and is full of intrigue, invention, love and even a little Leonard Cohen. Good things, all. Here are my four favourites (after a few reads at least) which I’m delighted to be able to post – Lambskin won the Ledbury Poetry Competition and The Lives of Neighbours was placed in the Ver Poets Competition.



Look, No Lines

Katie was gone all summer, off with Danish relatives to a place
where everyone was naked all the time even in the cinema

or launderette. The day she came home I was at the door
carrying my usual kit: pink pyjamas, favourite doll, and bag

of pick’n’mix, but Katie had acquired a tan, a mini skirt,
a turntable in a grey box. She flipped the silver catch,

lifted the lid, demonstrated the cleaning brush, speed settings,
diamond stylus. She had a new LP, the one with that photo

on the front: a man’s crotch, a real fly you could open and close
if you wanted. She showed me how to unsheath the shiny vinyl,

lower the record onto its bed and set it spinning. Hiss and crackle,
then the sound I’d only ever heard from older brothers’ rooms

or through the window of some squat down Haverstock Hill:
deafening, electric, immense. Katie took off her T shirt, unzipped

and lowered the mini skirt  in one slick move, stepped out
of her knickers. Look, no lines.  Her body was still smooth

and flat as the doll I pushed down to the bottom of my bag,
but when Katie danced I knew something was over.

I met her Mum in Sainsbury’s a few years later and she told me
Katie was working in a strip club in LA. Suddenly behind my eyes

an unexpected slide show: grey box, silver catch, man’s crotch
with real zip, white knickers on a parquet floor, a girl who danced.



The Lives of Neighbours

I have never been intimate with them, even when their frogs
invaded my garden or their dog ate my fence. I know only

that they sometimes argue but I can’t hear what about,
make love silently if at all, often cook with garlic,

frequently receive packages. Just today my doorbell
rang three times. The postman knows my habits.

Each delivery a larger parcel, each an interruption.
It was time to take a look. Inside, I found their lives:

an orchestra that played songs from Oklahoma,
two seats for an obscure Hungarian play, a tupperware

filled with frogspawn. I found his nervous breakdown,
her facelift, two mortarboards, a broken love-seat.

I’ve wrapped the parcels up again. Nobody will know.
Soon the neighbours will come knocking and I’ll smile,

hand over what’s theirs, not mentioning all I’ve stashed away:
one box of milk teeth, a grand piano, their forgotten moon.



Lambskin

Spring child, you turned up late
and restless, for weeks you wouldn’t sleep
without a nipple in your mouth.

Stupidly, I thought there could be nothing worse,
prop-eyed for nights on end, tethered to you,
wakened hourly, at the edge of madness.

The lambskin rescued both of us.
Your cries would muffle, comfort in its fluff,
the scent of talcum, sweat and baby-sick,

the simplified, miraculous outline
of a small animal at rest, replete
with mother’s milk, too new for grass,

a safe lining for your speechless dreams.
This was your first turn away, my first longed-for
hint of freedom from the tug and suck.

I thought of it last March, lambskin,
when we drove across the Severn Bridge
past green pastures, your long limbs cramping

in the back, the crunch of crisps, the crackled
beat of ipod. I reached behind to bother you,
touched your warm cheek, just checking,

on the way to the wake. No hurry now to let you go.
There was the boy who shared your birthday,
ashes scattered to the wind; his mother, father,

knowing truly what the worst can be, knee-deep
in sodden earth, distant in rising mist.
There were lambs in the next field, brazen

in the innocence of nudge and suckle,
their stupid-eyed, impatient mothers
feeding at the very edge of spring.



On the Road

Today you find you’re crying at old photographs
like your mother did: the slim trunk of that willow
propped against a bamboo stick in the wind,
your downy babies moulded to their father’s side,
the boy you loved who died under a speeding car.
Suddenly you drive just like your fledgling daughter
with her L plates, wary of potholes, speed bumps,
boys who lie in wait to dart in front of you and bend
tomorrow out of joint. Those yesterdays you shelved away
nudge at you like that boy in his souped-up cabriolet
who hovers inches from your bumper till you let him pass,
watch him speed towards a future he can’t yet countenance:
blind curves, lost decades, and if luck is on his side,
an album full of photographs to make him cry.



Visit Jacqueline’s site here

Four poems from Julian Stannard’s The Parrots of Villa Gruber Discover Lapis Lazuli





I first heard Julian’s work when I read with him at The Shuffle a couple of years back, and I’ve been a big fan since. His latest collection, the wonderfully titled The Parrots Of Villa Gruber Discover Lapus Lazuli, is out from Salmon. Inventive, witty and surprising, his poems are always a pleasure to read – as these four amply demonstrate…



Cosimo’s Gift

1

Cosimo’s given another bulk-buy book of photographs
full of orange crevices and weird geological formations
and thinks This is my gift to England.
He likes to say he’s got a friend in what he calls Titanic City.
Most people think That doesn’t sound so good
and when no-one’s looking they give their testicles a pat.
All those orange crevices and crazy rock formations.
Is Cosimo hinting at suicide?

Cosimo gets another bulk-buy book of glossy photographs.
He walks to the Post Office in Kroton
and says, I’m sending this to my friend in Southampton.
The woman who handles packages nods – Molto bene.
It’s a heavy book and the postage comes to thirteen euros.
The woman glances at Cosimo’s groin.
Eventually the book leaves that forgotten city of the south
and fetches up, almost mystically, in another.

The book’s at the sorting office in Shirley.
Without reason a postman picks it up and chucks it to a mate
who chucks it to another who shimmies and sells a dummy
and breaches the Welsh defence to score a useful try.
Cosimo’s book of geological weirdness is already a success.
The fever of the moment over, it’s placed back in the basket
of Urgent Deliveries where it sinks down to the bottom.

A few days later the package is prepared for the outside world.
A corner of the book has punctured the yellow envelope.
A postman puts it into a red bag and climbs onto a bicycle.
A cobweb of grey is folding over the city, the postman’s whistling.
He slips past the Pig N’ Whistle and coasts down Landguard Road.
An inchoate melancholy drifts out of the Bail Hostel.
It’s now twelve thirty, the perfect time to deliver a parcel.
The parcel too wide for the letter box, he rings the bell.

And being a postman he rings twice:
still no answer so he places his ear against the glass
and listens rapturously to the gift of silence.
Ah well, he says, back to the farm my rooster
and he pats Cosimo’s book before lobbing it into his bag.
Cobweb of grey’s folding over the city, postman’s whistling.
He slips past the Pig N’Whistle and back to Shirley.
Melancholy winks at the Monkey Puzzle Tree.

2

I sit on the sofa and thank God for England
I sleep and wake and work I sleep I work I work I wake.
I seem to be walking along the Rio Grande.
Weeks pass. I ring in sick and that’s because I am sick.
As Marlow was sucked into his quest for Kurtz
I begin my journey down Shirley High Street.
The tat, tat, tat’s turning into a burst of gunfire.
The church of Saint Boniface takes no prisoners.

Cosimo’s book of monstrosities isn’t in my thoughts.
This type of communication comes from a wife or a lawyer.
If it’s the lawyer I’m addressed as Egregious Doctor
and invited to present myself in a foreign court
to answer charges of a vaguely nuptial nature.
If it’s a wife she writes in the style of a ransom note:
a weird macaronic display of languages and letters
whose refrain is constant  Sei Un Pezzo Di Merda.

A light wind’s rattling my bones and tossing my hair.
The temptations of the Polish shop are resistible.
Will I get my Bourbon lily?
Twelve-thirty at the sorting office: my life has bobbed,
my life has bobbed, I’ve lit my candle for Lycidas.
I’m in the queue for minor prophets
and my passport photo suggests The Red Brigade.
The postman sighs Cosimo!, Oh Cosimo!

When I see the package he crashes into reality.
I should’ve realised my collection of photographic books
was inadequate, that the wonders of the rock are infinite:
Wonders of the New World, Wonders of Our Planet
Wonders of the Appalachians, Wonders of the Gannet.
Whatever the focus of the wonder there’s a vast canyon
and a subliminal message, Don’t jump, don’t jump, Ok, just do it!

I could buy some synthetic hair, I could visit the pornographer.
The temptations of the Polish shop are resistible.
Cosimo’s book’s my shield, my root, my sticking place.
I’ve been spared the obiter dicta of a crazed wife.
It’s still a while before I reach the outer hub of decency
so I walk with Cosimo into the Forest of Calabria.
He’s brought a tripod, several meatballs, a bottle of carrot juice.
He has an astonishing vocabulary when it comes to trees.

After meatballs and a morning of tree talk
I’m rather hoping a lone wolf might slink into the frame
partly because it would be more interesting than a tree
and partly because it  might bite Cosimo in the foot.
When we’re not talking about trees we’re talking about fish
and when we’re not talking about fish we’re talking about
LA VIA DOLOROSA . Cosimo’s crackling with Weltschmerz.
He’s thinking of building a hut in the forest and living in it.

Oh Cosimo, what did you do yesterday? I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo what have you done today? I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo what will you do tomorrow?, I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo, Cosimo, what will you ever do, ever do?
Fish, fish, fish. Have you never seen La Dolce Vita?
And the photographs, when will you take the photographs?

When I’m not cooking the fish,  I suppose.
It’s easier to die than to remember but I am remembering.
He’s got a car, we’re in it, driving past the Temple of Hera.
There’s the light of the moon in the swoon of the waves.
If we travel further we’ll reach the city of Sybarus.
The afternoon is upon me but there’s no evidence of heat.
Aargh, I think there’s an arrow sticking in my head.
When I get back to the flat I rip open the package.

It’s not orange or brown or red, it’s blue.
It says To my dearest friend, a hug of joy!
If you love the sea, you’ll love this book.



A Post-Modern City In The Fog Which Is Now A Modernist City
          And Therefore Unreal

How wonderfully mashed-up and serene a fog-bound city is.
The anomie of bourgeois glitter, a metropolis of piano-tuners
now that the grand piano has turned into a coffin.
A city of fugues and Schubert’s fantasy of corpses:
Ich liebe, Ich liebe  the gothic spasms of the soup kitchen
whose stock is made from the bones of elegant boutiques!
The cobbled streets of immigrant quarters and Liverpool Street.
Buildings of glass like ships at sea carrying the money curse
and the helmsman lashed to the tiller, the albatross more bat than bird.
These shirts are beautifully pressed and scented
ready to wrap themselves around the torsos of the rich
but now the rich are a little less rich and the shirts
are resting under the blue light of a sleeping shop which declares
Reductions of 50% and even 80% and Buy Two Quality Shirts
and you can swagger up Brick Lane and visit the studio
of Tracy Emin who’s forsaken Margate’s heart-stopping beaches.
How riveting to stand on the rooftop of Das Kapital
and see the world as we’ve come to know it disappearing under
a whirr of blades and hysterical faces…
Someone’s written KEEP WARM  – BURN THE BANKERS
but I think a guillotine might be quicker.
You buy a ½ price suit and walk through the city
but the city doesn’t see it because the city’s only a shape in the fog,
the brothel-meat thrown out with the brothel.
Unreal city’s wounded like a real dog and I follow it
down Folgate Street to The Poet, where we drown ourselves.



Villa Giovanna

Welcome to the Sailors Chapel and Reading Room
where there’s an array of bibles
& evangelical currents are blowing down the corridor.
We could talk about the spirituality of seafaring
or we could lie down and sleep, our beds now still.
When I wake I’ll put on those red slacks
& walk to Principe and then onto Via Balbi
where I’m sure to meet Signora Balbi:
Salve Signora Balbi, salve!  Salve Giulio!
I’ll step into the Faculty of Foreign Literature
& walk up to the loggia which is holding off the sun:
I’m going to talk at length with carissimo Sertoli
because he’s turning into Marcello Mastroianni.
Look, he’s getting out those lethal cigarettes.
But I’ve not smokèd for two whole years!, he says
(now rather sadly putting them away). He pats my arm:
Giulio, I have a strategy & he takes out an elegant stick
of liquorice & begins to chew & he takes out another
which he hands to me and says, It’s not so bad,  is it?
not  – mind you  – as good as the camel
but something nevertheless to put in the mouth.
We are chewing liquorice on the loggia
casting into the past, our cloud of disbelief
& now when there’s a hiatus in our liquorice talk
I notice a shadow throwing itself across the loggia
& see the illustrious Bacigalupo striding forwards,
an expert on Wallace Stevens, he too is wearing slacks!
Liquorice and comity. Elegance and intelligence.
Ho preso due piccioni con una fava!
I continue past the Church of Annunziata
next to the Liceo Classico where my son learnt Latin
but stumbled over Greek. And Via Lomellini, Via San Luca,
Piazza Banchi, Piazza Campetto (ah the shop that made
my wedding rings…) & the church of San Matteo,
church of christenings & bonbonniere.
The old lean priest is standing in the piazza.
Sin is beautiful, he says, sin has many gaudy wings
& without it I would be out of a job and he winks
placing a hand on my shoulder and pointing up
to The Miracle of the Ethiopian Dragons by Luca Cambiaso.
I push up through the Salita Archivescavato
Migone the wine shop is there on the corner!
& onto the Questura in Piazza San Matteotti.
City of sweat and city of debt.
I’m looking at the left flank of the Doge’s Palace
the white hips of the Doge’s Palace
& I’m climbing the stairwell of denouncements
to greet the carabiniero who arrested me
for  crimes in Villa Gruber.
It’s hot now – caldo, caldo, caldissimo.
See how the sweat leaps from one onto the other
see how the ragazzi are wearing their occhiali scuri
the swinging cocks of the vicoli:
the Duomo and Via San Lorenzo. Left Bank of the city:
Salita Fava Greca, Piazza Sarzano. Oil tankers,
Via San Bernardo, kiff and marocchini:
my back to the tower, eyes seawards like Poisedon
why not ascend to San Nicolò, the quickened air beyond?
I take the funicular to Via Preve
& walk down to Villa Giovanna.
I’m in the shower, the blue-tiled shower room
I’m scrubbing the sweat off myself
Oh listen! My liver’s playing a little tune
& there’s a white towel, almost a beatitude
& the city’s turning into Havana with Scottish castles
& Ruth’s on the terrace holding a melon
I’ve never seen such a voluptuous thing!
Come, eat, she says, I have cooked.



Do You Have To Live In Paris To Be A Flâneur?

I’m walking down Shirley High Street.
Could someone come and get me now?



Read more from Julian here

Three poems from Mark Waldron’s The Itchy Sea

The Itchy Sea



Mark Waldron’s new book The Itchy Sea is out soon and is sure to be one of the highlights of 2011. His first collection, The Brand New Dark, is mesmerising and he’s one of the most engaging performers of his own work I’ve seen. As he writes in Everything, what’s not to like?



Lion

Though a lion may appear to be strokeable,
its fur is, in fact, a lure, a seducement

developed in half-lit rooms by geeks,
a ruse with which they mean to charm our children

before stripping them of their edibleness with no regard
for the agony and shock

which that will cause them. And should they, one day,
find the means to give the lion speech,

then the beast will shed, as suddenly as if from shock,
its henceforth superfluous fur,

and then will take a little breath and lean across
the playground’s fence, in its blue-grey skin, to talk.



Everything

The inside, as I recall, is furnished, wallpapered –
any smallish pattern.

The admirable day (though the pale blue sky is imbecilic)
is shown through the windows.

Above the flowers, honey bees
are in any number of positions again and again,

and the trees, though wooden, though peachy,
can’t help but display their leaves, each one of which

is like, though unlike, a hand. Everything throngs on her tongue
as she throngs on mine. What’s not to like?



The Bead

It was on a business trip in Hungary
that I happened upon something particular:
the plainest mundanity protruding
from the shell it usually inhabits,
as the fleshy foot of a razor clam
may stick, tongue-like, from it’s brittle tube
when it is unafraid, or as rude marrow
might extrude from a blown bone.
(That is always how the everyday
is caught unmasked, not, as one might expect,
teaming rampantly underneath its stone,
or squeaking clean like a shaven bear
stood shivering on the forest’s uncertain fringe.)
A few of us were sitting in the hotel bar,
when Ray remarked he’d eaten minestrone
for his supper, and told us he’d discovered,
sitting in the bottom of his bowl,
a blue bead. Caitlin said, in that dry,
ironic tone that comes upon a people
in a time of deathly peace, Well,
you’re definitely the winner of something, Raymond.
And Ray muttered that he’d pushed it
down the back of the sofa.
Some six months later I resolved
to go back for that bead. For when our work
in Hungary was done, and we’d returned
to our homes and reversed ourselves
back inside our callous lives, I found
I couldn’t forget it. I pictured it, as you do now,
at first pale grey to the touch, among
the brittle bits of dirt and dust
in the lightless gutter of its resting place,
and then bright blue as I brought it, gleaming,
to the surface. And the more I pictured it,
the more the fact of its existence became exquisitely
arousing to me. Yes, certainly that busy seed
had stuck its roots down into my mind
until they would have taken
my whole troubled ego with them had I yanked
that gorgeous portion of the plant
that was now quite visible above the surface
of my dreams, and soon some unfamiliar gumption
began to coalesce around the tickling
irritation of those roots, until I found
I’d formed a plan (a plan which I
will never action): to travel back to Hungary,
to the hotel in the small town where,
pretending I’ve lost a valuable ring
(which I’d describe in some pedantic detail),
I’d ask permission of the inscrutable manager,
before I press my nearly blinded fingers down
the back of the sofa. I’d know for certain then,
what I will never know,
the extent to which I am my own ghost.



Go down the The Itchy Sea here

Three new poems from Philip Gross

A number of the new poems Philip Gross read at the excellent Poetry London launch a couple of weeks back referenced his father’s aphasia. I’ve been reading Philip’s The Son Of The Duke Of Nowhere recently, which also features poems about his father from a different period in his life, and so  I’m especially thrilled to post three new poems from him today. His new collection Deep Field is out in November from Bloodaxe.



Step

Home, after too long
          in hospital, your each
               step hesitant
as if the moment was a shallow stream

to be waded (no
          way round it), maybe
               only inches deep
but too broad, too fast and too loose

with the light,
          its quartzy sand-bed
               patent, magnified,
yet quivering sideways, about to be gone.



Borrowed Light

          Sunup in the financial quarter, sheer
mirrorglass empires lit each by each other’s light

          reflected. Cool moon-brightness, each
transaction stripping some heat out in passing it on:

          value subtracted: that blue-silvery face
to my north-west now, too fiercely pale to look at—

          a snowblinding dazzle, like the brilliance
that a climber as the blizzard eases might think

          has been sent to show him where to go…



Flat Earthers

               Flat earth: how
          could they have thought it?
Where did they imagine that the sail

they watched diminish on a morning clear
as repining sank and yet sometimes
returned? And what
               could he be seeing
          now, my father on his doorstep,
one hand shielding his eyes, one raised

as if I was that sail, or more workaday
funnel (ferry, cruise ship or perhaps
the last boat out)
               that’s gone
          all but its smear on the haze?
Diminishment. You’d think it was the air

not his eyes fogging over — wipe, try
to wipe it with a wave, as I drop
not so much
               out of sight
          as out of question; feel myself
becoming hypothetical, not so much a fable

as that rattling loose-change data off the edge
of a world view, that we have
to dismiss
               for fear the world
          slips off its spindle.
Squinting into his gaze, I see myself

become a visitation, the kind
known by the vague
cool space
               it leaves behind it,
          as empty and charged
with a flavour, a heft, as the place

in which another word that he had
yesterday persists
in being,
               almost ruthlessly…



Philip’s last collection The Water Table won the 2009 TS Eliot Prize, find out more and buy it here

Besieged – a short story by Miryam Sivan

Miryam is from New York City, and now lives in the Galilee. She teaches writing and literature at the University of Haifa. Several of Miryam’s short stories have appeared in Lilith, Arts and Letters, and Wasafiri. She has completed a novel, Concrete.

This piece was originally published in Lovers: Stories by Women in 1992 and in 2010, it was dramatized by the playwright and director Barbara Khan in the Lower East Sides Arts Festival in New York. It’s good to have it here – 2011 marks 20 years since the end of the Gulf War, when this story is set. Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait and was threatening to go into Saudi Arabia as well. The US and around 30 other countries landed troops in the Gulf; when they went into Kuwait to push the Iraqis out, Saddam Hussein made good on his threat and starting pounding the troops there and in Israel with Scud missiles. People were afraid that chemical weapons might be contained in some of the Scud missile heads coming from Iraq. So that’s the background – here’s the story – enjoy!

Besieged

The sirens are sounding. Everyone is running. The longer she waits for him, the more she endangers herself. She is standing by the old movie house on Allenby Street and the sirens are screaming death is coming. The night before a Scud fell and destroyed homes less than a mile away. What about Molly and Shira, her daughters, and Ezra, her husband? Everyone around her is running. She should run to a sealed room. She should belt the ugly porcine mask around her face and prepare for the gas. But she doesn’t. She stays on that corner, as if there is no danger, no crisis, ready to absorb violence, even death, she thinks, just to be with him one more time.

The sirens keep sounding. Two streets away the sea is licking the shore like a fat cat in a butcher shop. Cars are nearly flying. Will she able to describe to her daughters the thrill of touching death’s approach without fear? They would not understand. How could they? They will be frightened: she (willingly) jeopardized her life and theirs. Were she to die, killed by a collapsed building or by debris from the sky following an American Patriot’s impact on an Iraqi Scud, were she to become newsprint, they would forever ask themselves, why didn’t she protect herself and what was she really doing on that corner? But she and he have always met in Tel Aviv and neither mentioned meeting somewhere else when America’s war with Iraq began. In this congested metropolis, they experience equity. Here they can get lost together. Guilt for her children’s loss grows as the seconds pass.

Nadav is divorced and his children live with their mother on a kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley. Were he not meeting her, he would be studying for his classes at the Technion. Were she not married, she could be with him in his small apartment while he studied, or in the courtyard surrounded by a wall with blue tile and olive trees.

But the fact is they are meeting one another, and even though the highway is practically empty, he is half an hour late. Even on ordinary days, when the traffic from Nadav’s village north of Haifa moves freely, he is sometimes late. Like when they met. He had come to interview her for his school newspaper. He was expected at noon but showed up at six in the evening. She asked him why he had not called – his delay had interrupted her work schedule. He did not have a good answer, and hung his head like a scolded schoolboy. She laughed at that and then he asked her to tell him about the differences in light.

They walked outside her studio, a converted chicken coop, and around to where they could see the Judean hills and the remaining daylight. She said light fades by the coast and disappears in the mountains. She said space and light are married. Light is the source of everything and space the vessel which molds it. They returned to the studio and he stayed for some wine. When asked, she showed him some of her recent canvases. Nadav wanted to know why she used so many bruise colors. His question was like a dare. A probe. And while she quickly searched for an answer, she felt the stirrings of a sensual curiosity. It startled her, because of its clarity and its surprise. In twelve years of marriage she had never felt the stirring of the sensual outside of her daughters, her painting and Ezra. It excited her. It frightened her. When she drove him to the bus station, he told her he had just come back from reserve duty in Lebanon. She calculated he was ten years her junior. A week later he called and asked if she would like to see a copy of the article. She said yes and then he sent her a number of funny notes to the studio and when she went to visit a friend in Haifa two months later she called him and they had dinner. A day later he called and asked her to meet him in Tel Aviv at the Hotel Barcelona. That was six months ago.

As the sirens press on, she begins to inventory those others beloved to her. Shira and Molly, seven and ten years old, are in school. Right now they are being shepherded into the classroom at the end of the hall whose windows are covered with plastic and where books have made room on the shelves for cans of food and boxes of powdered milk. They are with many responsible adults. As this moment, Ezra is in his spartan office in a municipal building, looking over an American company’s joint venture proposal to manufacture light bulbs in a desert development town. Like her, he is reluctant to shroud himself in a sealed room, but not because he is unafraid of death. He is not sharing her almost transcendent moment of freedom. Ezra is terrified. She can easily picture him sitting at his desk holding papers firmly in a hand trying to steady itself. He stares at the hand and is defiant. Not of death, but of the gas. Two weeks earlier he put his concentration camp surviving parents on a plane to Eilat and the threat of gas out of his mind.

Her parents are in the sealed room of their Jerusalem apartment. Twenty years in Israel, they have learned to remain calm in crises and are probably watching the news and eating her mother’s freshly baked chocolate cake. They have each gained three kilos since the start of the war.

And when in turn each family member does her and his own accounting and asks where she is, it will be noted that she is in her studio in the hills south of Jerusalem, working long hours to complete a series of canvases she intends to take with her to New York. Her annual pilgrimage to the money mecca is only two weeks away. And since she has prepared a ‘sealed room’ in the low dark shed where extra supplies are kept, she is most likely to be in that dark shed now, reading the morning’s paper with a candle or flashlight.

She has been so busy preparing for this year’s trip to New York and now on top of everything, the war, that what little time she had to spare, precious time to see him, has been eclipsed. Twice she cancelled and once she simply didn’t show up. This afternoon is to be the first time in a month they will be together. Everything in her bursting life is organized. She is determined to exercise some control, at least for one afternoon. To hell with the missiles.

A policeman runs past her and tells her to seek shelter. She hesitates. She cannot give up just yet. The sirens whip around her and she pushes back against them. They taunt her with her recklessness, her compromising desire. The wail pulls harder at her, like a troubled prayer, and she thinks of her daughters’ slender limbs and her husband’s strong voice and decides she has waited long enough.

“Ilana,” Nadav calls her by her name, grabs her by the shoulders, and they run together as if by instinct. The sirens flail through the empty streets like Lilith seeking retribution. The streets have become wind tunnels of horror.

Nadav and Ilana spin and fall into the doorway of an old house. She wants to put the gas mask on. She wants his face buttoned to hers. He presses his mouth down on her, hard, his teeth grind against her lips. She and he fill a doorway with too much light, and it is still not enough.

He pushes her up against the stone wall. He stares into her eyes, daring her to speak, daring her to protest, while his hand moves through her skirt and cups her between the legs. His thumb jabs into her clitoris. It is okay that it hurts a little. They lean into one another, swaying like the piercing siren, buckling into a reprieve. He reaches under her skirt and thrusts his index finger into her. She can feel she is burning inside through his finger and catches herself before she falls. She opens his pants and takes out his erect penis, and she doesn’t rub it, she doesn’t move her hand, she just holds him firmly, and closes her eyes. He sucks on her lip and she says Nadav over and over and cries when the missile strikes, not far away, loud and compact.

They remain folded into the doorway until people begin to emerge, having listened for the all clear message on the radio. Ambulances take up the wail just as the air sirens die down. Again, everyone is running. Blue lights whip around wildly in police cars. The red lights of medical teams follow. And passenger vehicles of the Civil Defense take up the rear. Ilana holds Nadav to her. When a young man wearing a day glow orange civil defense vest stops and asks them if they are okay, Ilana hides her face in Nadav’s chest, and listens to his heart beating loudly when he says they are catching their breath.

More than ever, as the area is flooded with residents and then journalists, Ilana wishes to disappear. She wants to ask someone if Jerusalem’s been hit. For a moment, she is afraid. Ilana and Nadav run four blocks to the Hotel Barcelona. In the lobby, all the employees and guests are huddled around the television set. A foreign news correspondent broadcasts from his sealed room in a Jerusalem hotel. With the gas mask on it is difficult to understand what he is saying. He is interrupted by an Israeli anchor who says houses in the Ramat Gan area have been hit and one Scud overshot Tel Aviv.

Ilana feels unburdened. She and her family are safe. Nadav takes her hand and they walk up two flights to their room. It is painted light blue and has a small balcony looking out over the Mediterranean.

*

“Ilana.” Nadav stretches out on the bed beside her.
“I have a surprise, Ilana.” He holds a bottle of Russian vodka over her head. “A very special, perfect surprise.” He rolls the bottle down her back and props it between her thighs. It is still cold from the freezer.
“Is it open?” she asks.
“It’s been opened.”
Nadav lifts the bottle high enough for Ilana to roll on to her back and she grabs and drinks from it.
“I want to call.” She shoves the bottle away from her.
“Who?” he asks.
“Ezra.” She falls back on the soft bed and stares at the plaster patches on the ceiling.
“No, it’s not necessary. You heard already. Jerusalem’s safe.”

Ilana rolls off the bed and walks outside to the balcony. By now her children have returned to their classrooms where they will spend the rest of the afternoon decorating their gas mask boxes. Last night Shira cut out images and shapes from old art magazines. And Molly asked if she should use the watercolor or gouache to paint her cardboard box. Ilana said the watercolor would be easier and asked her what she wanted to draw. Molly said many of the kids were drawing missiles and ugly portraits of Saddam Hussein. But she wanted something beautiful, even glorious, on her box. She wanted to show a little girl sitting in a field of flowers, waving to her mother and father and younger sister who were walking towards her. She wanted a lot of colors and butterflies and a hot sun. Later in bed Ezra asked Ilana how someone draws a hot sun and Ilana drew a circle around his penis with her tongue.

Ilana watches the soft waves console the land, as they have through millennia of invasions. She sees herself dive into them and emerge, dive into them and emerge, like a thread basting two pieces of material together. She imagines Ezra in his office. His hand has not stopped shaking, his rage at the man who boasted he would turn Tel Aviv into a crematorium, has not died out. It has not yet fully surfaced.

“Ilana,” Nadav calls her. “Come here, sweetheart.”
His voice corrals her. She steps back from the balcony and resists him, just for a moment more. She sees herself dive and emerge one more time and the garment being created is made up of one half her and the other half Ezra.
“Ilana,” Nadav croons to her.

She used to share everything with Ezra. But over time, less and less. Now they mostly speak about the practical details of their lives: their growing daughters, their aging parents, the outstanding bills, politics, where to go in the summer, what to have for dinner.

“Ilana.” Nadav knows that at least for the time being nothing is more attractive to her than his insistence, his urgency to touch her. What she once had with Ezra. A primitive, almost carnivorous sensuality. When they were naked together she would feel most alive, all fractures of her self integrated, like colors into white. And then out of this implosion, Molly, and then Shira.

“Ilana,” Nadav sings to her like Solomon to Shulamith, and as Ilana backs away from the sea, she closes the curtain on one world and dramatically pulls it open to reveal another.
“Sweetheart.” Ilana falls on top of Nadav’s naked body and sucks his nipples. She licks his inner thighs and the soft skin behind his knees.

He undresses her quickly, with little grace, and twists around to mount her from behind. And then he waits. And she waits, impatiently. He wants her to want him more than she already does. He wants to obliterate her daughters, her husband, her studio and canvases, her trip to New York. He wants her to think of nothing but him. She is restless. He waits some more. His hand is pinching her nipple, it is stroking her breasts, soft and thin from nursing her daughters.

She thinks she’s never wanted any man as much as she wants him. On good days, she thanks the stars that when Nadav came to interview her, she was feeling unusually lonely. Ezra kept himself busy shaping the dream of Israel: meeting with foreign businessmen, going out with political dignitaries, conjuring up profitable schemes. She suggested a trip to Italy. Ezra responded diplomatically. He agreed enthusiastically and then could not find time to make the plans. She suggested he surprise her in the studio one afternoon. He said he would love to and never came. She had been replaced in his passion by his entrepreneurial ambitions, and not being able to compete, she withdrew. By the time Ilana met Nadav for the first time in this Tel Aviv hotel room, she have given up any hope of resurrecting the aura of sexual anarchy in her marriage. There were too many lists, too many details, too much safety between her and Ezra.

On bad days, she feels intrinsically flawed to be able to so easily love more than one man. She sits on the cold stone floor in her studio pounding her fists against her thighs. She wants to protect her marriage and still spends hours in front of a canvas, on the bus, while cooking, picturing Nadav: the way he hunches over his clipboard when he scribbles notes to himself; the way he gently lays his large callused hand on the small of her back; his spicy smell; the peace he brings to the frenetic space inside her when she is with him. And in the end she is left with the unfinished canvases for the New York show, the horrors of duplicity, and an aggravated ache for the safety and the rapture.

A man is screaming on the street to his wife to bring the children into the house. The air is suddenly heavy. Suddenly quiet. Ilana lifts her head to listen. Air raid sirens crash into the silence beating out their war cries. Scud missiles are on their way to Israel from western Iraq. Nadav is still. He does not let go of her. Ilana lowers her head to the bed. Again, chaos breaks loose on the streets. People are running. Cars are almost flying along the beach. She closes her eyes and sees Shira and Molly being shepherded back into a sealed room, taking with them their half decorated gas mask boxes. She sees her parents watching the world watch them on live broadcast, a bowl of sunflower seeds between them. She sees Ezra running to the window, his fists clenched, crying out in frustration. He is helpless to protect what he knows as his. A dog is barking down by the waters. Sirens rock the country. Danger reeks. Everyone is waiting.

Ilana reaches between her legs and guides Nadav into her. They surge one against the other, until there is no other, and first she and then he survive their own little deaths.

New poem from Lydia Macpherson

Lydia is one of my favourite poets currently writing and one of the stars of the Days of Roses anthology. This poem would have been third prize winner in last year’s Poetry London Competition but for some administrative… unpleasantness. Over and above such trophies it is, as always with Lydia’s work, surprising, finely crafted and seriously nifty. Her first collection, when it comes, may not be fair to other first collections.



The Winter Outing of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club, December 1870

The ladies of the party are helped over the stile
by whiskered botanists fond of a well turned ankle.
Miss Taylor draws a notebook from her beaded reticule
and writes “The bunch of mistletoe was so large
that it could be exceedingly well seen from the lane.”

The Reverend Johnson climbs the ladder
“placed with thoughtful consideration” amid banter
from the men about Druids, golden sickles
and garlanded white yearling bulls.

The Reverend drops the felted sticky bundle
and “small sprays of the heaven born plant
unpolluted by any touch of earth” are given out
to “all the ladies present”. Miss Taylor holds
the wishbone sprig with its smeary fruit.
Her whalebone stays are biting, her chilblains
ache, her hem is iced with mud.  She smiles
(Mama says she must always smile).
In the dwindling light the botanists are advancing.



Read more from Lydia here