Who Knew and other poems

Who Knew and other poems
Five poems by London-based poet and short story writer, under World Poetry/Prose Portfolio, curated by Sudeep Sen

Who Knew

Who knew when
two pigeons
down the nave
of St Paul’s Cathedral
in Kolkata
while a Bengali Choir
sang Auld Lang Syne
that flying could become an art in which we can all partake.

That an egret with his wooden feet
can curve down
a shivering river,
that parents,
married for 51 years
can grow feathers,
and swoop above
a congregation
of disbelievers.

Loquats for the South Circular

After ‘A Kumquat for John Keats’, Tony Harrison

Between the satellite dishes and pink hydrangeas 
of Stanyhurst low-rise grows a tree; 
leathery leaves reach out to lumbering buses
and ranks of council marigolds.

It fruits at the end of spindle fingers — 
soft yellow plums, chuckling from 
the highest branches.
It’s July. 

In China it would not show it’s hand till winter 
when days have deep darkness on each side.
If you ask what gives me joy I’d say 
this man from Guangdong, 

who opens his door to a stranger,
takes a ladder to his tree 
and passes handfuls of his ochre orbs to me.
He gestures I should taste,

shakes his head when my teeth pierce the skin —
he shows me the way.
Back home, the skin peels willingly in strips,
it’s obvious where the sweetness starts — 

the pale flesh is soporific, juicy-dry;
the wet stone falls neatly in the bowl.
I take small bites, 
then learn to eat each loquat whole. 

My Agent Sings Me a Donizetti Aria from Il Pigmalione as I Slice Carrots and Red Onion

We come from the same hills,
from an education lodged between pink sandstone
and Accrington red brick.

As he leans across the doorway
his cavatina slides along the kitchen surface.
He wants to re-cast me in the image of a novelist.

I would bring forth paragraphs,
a welter of well-thumbed pages,
he need never look back.

His vibrato fills the teapot,
the light is being chased from the windows.
My eyes sting, I slice my finger and the carrot.

He’s grown impatient with triolets and sonnets — 
if only I would sit at my desk day after day
so he can dream with impunity of turquoise seas,

cashmere suits, sleek wooden steamers.
Monthly he presents me with posies —
primrose, bluebell, peony, sweet pea.

He’s been slipping sachets of Oregon Peppermint Tea
through my letterbox for weeks.
He’s asked me in six different languages.

His smooth legato wraps around my etched water glasses.
The next morning there’s an orange light 
across the garden. 

I pick up my pen — it writes itself.
‘Chapter One’.

Last Flight, Temporary Captain Eric Ravilious

As you flew over craters filled with deep shadows
did you think of your cup of trees 
greening the Downs? Or the bones of a hedge 
stroked by rods of soft grey rain?

Tirzah, would you like a pair of gloves —
sealskin with fur on the back —
but what size shall I buy?
Draw your hand on the writing paper.

Were you meaning to cross hatch the skies 
of Iceland, zig zagging the snow 
on the mountains, repeating 
the angles over the sea? 

I am promised an expedition to see the geysers next week.
They seem to need soap to start them off.

Searching for a missing aircraft
your aircraft went missing.
Four days of searching found nothing.
Hope was given away.

You would like the country, especially the flowers and the seals.

When you were over the rutted ocean
black and swirling in the futile wind,
did you remember the curves of Cuckmere —
its deft meanders across a yielding plain?

I might collect some flowers for you.

[A week after Tirzah Ravilious learned of her husband’s death she received the first and only letter Eric wrote to her from Iceland, written in pencil. Quotes from ‘Eric Ravilious: Memoir of an artist’, Helen Binyon, Lutterworth Press, 1983.]

My Niece’s Boyfriend Couldn’t Attend Their Wedding Because He Had a Shift at the Holiday Inn

Sybil stood, taffeta drifting across her Doc Martens, 
peering from the stone window.
The rain fell, the sun shone, the rain fell.

Siegfried was polishing the tea urn,
hoovering the carpet in Room 24.
Determined to wipe the smears
off all the windows on the ground floor
his fingers had started to wrinkle.

Sybil started to pace. She wore a track
from the front pew to the back.
Her curls began to droop.

Siegfried remembered he’d seen a dead wasp
on the second floor landing.
He dropped his wash leather and
ran towards the lift.
As he picked up the wasp
he had a vision of Sybil.
She was looking at cake tins.
Different sizes.
He popped the wasp in his bucket
and went back to his windows.

Sybil lifted her skirts
and climbed the church tower.
She leaned over the thick sill and shouted
over the attentive town — 

I do, I do, I do!

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