There’s a cunning to books I don’t own.
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Tricks the eye into slipping
from shelves stacked ‘soon’
where old resolutions stagger
parchment pale and haggard
around uncracked spines.
I play a teasing game,
ply their pages with well-meaning,
find an aged acquaintance,
face new with forgetting.
Thumb their successors guiltily
like a child caught, ear at the door,
and smuggle home each new treasure,
slip it into the seams unseen
and whisper ‘no more, no more’
with every book I’ve ever bought.
These gums are splinter strewn with pencil shards
from musing on ideas,
chewing the fat,
picking bones from the meat of a thought
until it sits on the page just right
stripped to sinew,
muscles drawn tight
in a few dangerous words.
There are no hooks or bait.
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The skill is standing barefoot
when the ice water runs across your toes
and the feeling goes thick in your fingers
waiting for the hum in the current.
You can be there for months,
lock-kneed and bent into shapes
you must learn yourself out of.
Still the Poem Fish does not swim
in those waters,
or if it does you sense it slip
smaller than a minnow
through the splayed net of your hands,
watch the words melt and rush
away with the rest of the river current.
Other days the Poem Fish arrive in shoals,
thrash themselves over each other
to leap into your hands.
Those are the days you learn
which Poem Fish to throw back to grow
and which you should take a knife to,
split open along the belly seam
and spill onto the page.
Some will turn before you cut,
a dead thing dead before you thump
its scaled head against the rocks,
and filled with sand.
Those are not Poem Fish,
they will not fill you up.
The birds build nest from found objects
up in the eaves of my house
where I have no place to call a home
Fragile window-frames of splintered straws,
postcard door fluttering off its hinges.
I stack these pieces on top of each other,
ring the patio table in old newspapers,
and build myself something small, contained,
a space to fill up with just me
and leave no part abandoned.
When winter cracks against the garden,
steps up to the windows, climbs the brickwork,
I understand better why the birds all left
when the leaves turned gold.
These nests are skins for the shedding,
a stripping out of last year’s hide,
before the cold can come and take.
Tonight I’m writing for the DVersePoetics Prompt, where we’ve been asked to “write a poem in the first person that compares some trait of ours with something animal”, taking inspiration from Marjorie Saiser’s poem ‘The Print The Whales Make’.
Small Flies and Other Wings
Christine Ay Tjoe
After the breakup:
easing her out of the settee cushions
so we could see the damage you left.
Spaces marked by absence.
Your idea of husbandry,
less obvious than building fences
to keep her tamed.
You took her wings,
kept them between glass,
along with all the others
collected and curated
to remind yourself,
how many birds roosted
in the catch of your palms.
They grew back so different,
translucent to the eye
and always tucked away
from those who might be watching.
You would not return to her
for wings that looked like these.
Not when there were others
much prettier for plucking.