The Lean Years
I was a burnt stick, and a handful of paraffin: an empty house, the yard at the back; a winnowing shed.
I remember the deliciousness of No, my whittled body, flesh an outsider, the cult of bird-bones.
I gathered shells and stones. The aching in my belly became a song I’d known forever and I sang it loudly to myself.
It was the world seen through church glass. I was bloodless and smooth, an alabaster, useless clock.
I gulped air as if it were a reservoir. My pockets were full of fish and they sparkled: you could see them through my clothes.
I remember blank days, blackouts. Days I forgot names, forgot what names were for. The revelation of a sweet clean drop.
Then a small bright pill – Gone, the chest of snakes. Gone, the restless doors, the plastic anchor.
A friend speaks of her violent ex, the relief of her new man, gentle as a dog but sometimes she misses that electrifying yoyo.
I left my shadow in Sicily, draped across a chair. I was eating swordfish and the last words of an argument with my daughter.
My shadow didn’t flinch as I stood and turned and left it there. Sometimes I night-walk under streetlamps to remember its feet hobnailed to mine
and I wonder if someone else is wearing it or if it’s folded in a cupboard, or gathering dust, beyond the orange orchards, the high Sicilian sun.
Winner of the Poetry Prize 2018