Lucie Vovk

Updated: Sep 13, 2021


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.

I’m nineteen

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

hung weightless

a loosed puppet

eyes wide open

despite the sun

that tried to love him

into blindness

and when he saw

he couldn’t find

the line that cut

the sea from sky

then the world became

a marble

and his the hand

that aimed it

winking as it spun

still further

away from him

and he felt the air


with the hours

or was it just

the feathers

he was shedding

like a swallow’s

first moult

caught in the wax

running down

his little body

as if making

a statue of him already

to remember

his shape before

it flowed

off his toes

and rained

onto the face

of his father


then the body

that had been

a son


as solid things do

on the surface

of the ocean

that holds

the shore

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

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