Marcella Polain




All men have been traces,

their knees your knees, their fingernails,

shoes, keys, cigarettes.

In their voices, you have called me.


How long will your death stab,

unbalance, rob voice and breath,

leave a small sad part of me alone and begging

(if you love me, Daddy) for just your ghost?


All days have been your last,

even the happy, when I’ve forgotten, run,

lifted my face to sky that I know is only sky,

not a curtain or blue bowl or screen, when I’ve

not looked—there; no, there—for a glimpse of you.


How much time it has taken, dim-witted girl,

to see why you have never come,

to see I have done the haunting.






Some things must remain:

my eyes blank as a consonant; my mouth the bud of an apple.

He will want to hold its greenness in his hands and of course he will,

smiling back at my smiling smile, everything aglow.

It is the night-time terms that have become uncertain.

I hear them fall away like a spell.

I scrabble about on the floor; I cannot find them.

I cannot allow any vowels between us. They are as round as my hips.

I dress myself before bed like a widow, in the hope

he will not recognise me.

If I have to speak, I click my tongue.

He understands: I have become exoskeletoned.

If he clicks back there is nothing to do but fall insect-silent, insect-still,

all eyes closed, all limbs pressed together in prayer.




Bird, Blossom


Bird, last year your mother dug her fingers into our garden,

searching for something she couldn’t reach—order, beauty, reason—

and found a sting that wounded sharp, invisible,

that sent her reeling across the face of the world,

a smiling top, her metallic arms outstretched, glinting.

In China she piled stones to hold back rivers,

worked days and nights to hold back tears.

In Chile she dug tunnels deeper than fault lines,

hooked her fingers in the beards of miners,

yanked them bawling from their graves.

On the Arctic rim she crawled up glaciers,

leaned across volcanic maw and spat,

and her spittle dropped and froze into its brittle, falling shape,

ever falling deeper into Earth.

All this she did, and did for want of you.

Her legs grew thick there, in our rose bed, her

arms tough and wild as tree limbs. And

every morning her eyes rattle, hard green buds

in her head.