Updated: Sep 13
I write this all in the present tense
because every time I make risotto I am seventeen, hungry,
and she is immortal.
Crowded around the saucepan, like two witches
at the brew, Heather tells me not to stir anti-clockwise
because that’s how the devil gets in.
At fourteen she teaches me to love cooked fruit.
She lets me reckon with the yield of it, makes my mouth see
it is witnessing what it feels like to ferment and return to the earth
after summer has had its way with us.
In the penultimate December
she shows me which fruits are in season.
Oranges, lemons, persimmons, all
sharp as a needle on the bed of my tongue.
We make suns of satsumas studded with cloves:
some things can be kept long after they are gone.
It is fitting that she should be named for a flower
as hardy as the thing that killed her.
Far from home
at twenty-two—and three years to the day
since the Friday that we lost her—I am making food for twelve
and overcook four kilos of pasta, which my friends, laughing,
help turn into dough for bread:
time stretches and folds, Heather at my shoulder,
watching us eat.
The summer after she died I walked into the sea and
tried to forget how to need breath.
and in the passenger seat. Between us hang
the days I have just learned are numbered, in my lap
the box of gingerbread we made that afternoon.
We face forwards to watch the sun running out of wick.
She breaks a biscuit in two, gives me the bigger half, and
I ask her if she is afraid. She turns to look at me, and tells me ‘no’.
The party wall
That slice of moon—a quartered orange
sucked dry and thrown
from the window of a passing car—
peers through the dusking room,
a yellow witness to my peeled shoulder,
my clothes pooled on the floor.
Its light curls cold around me as,
next door, the lover shuts the blinds,
reaches for the figure that waits in the lamplight;
they dip into familiar shadows, throwing
formless imaginings against our shared wall.
Their whisper and bite do not stay on their side.
A headlight sails across my room.
It lies down in the middle of the bed.
After the melting
but before the falling
when the boy
a loosed puppet
eyes wide open
despite the sun
that tried to love him
and when he saw
he couldn’t find
the line that cut
the sea from sky
then the world became
and his the hand
that aimed it
winking as it spun
away from him
and he felt the air
with the hours
or was it just
he was shedding
like a swallow’s
caught in the wax
his little body
as if making
a statue of him already
his shape before
off his toes
onto the face
of his father
then the body
that had been
as solid things do
on the surface
of the ocean
where Daedalus will
for the rest of his days
keep doves in a cage
by the window.
The Buddha at Leshan
One among the many swarming at his feet,
I am carrying my weight in language
and set it down by his ordered toes.
At once my French evaporates and joins
the water hanging in the air. All my viens voir,
c’est beau, and fait chaud, become just sound
without its sense; they blur
into my neighbour’s zhēnměi, her kàn
nà and gěi wǒ yī píng shuǐ.
Our words leave us
to condense in the coils of the Buddha’s hair,
to rain down from his earlobes.
I catch a vowel in my mouth:
it tastes of star anise and the gleaming cobbles
of a hometown I’ve never seen.
The crowd swells and presses in.
All language turns to storm
and beats against the cliff above us,
carving out the shape of him who smiles
to see himself thus created.
The clouds empty themselves over the forest.
A deer raises its head, speaks a single word and flees.
We scramble for our mother tongues
and fit them into our mouths.
I bend to give a woman back
the míng she dropped behind her.
viens voir—come and see; c’est beau—it’s beautiful; fait chaud—it’s hot; zhēnměi—it’s beautiful; kàn nà—look; gěi wǒ yī píng shuǐ—bring the water; míng—name