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Heart of a Deer (Enitharmon, 1998)
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As If I Were Winter Itself
When I enter the hospital where my mother is lying
I will bring a flask of water collected from Lethe
and a flask from the Mnemosyne.
I will sip from each.
This will feel like swallowing shafts of sunlight.
I’ll take deep breaths, hungry for canyon air.
A porter will rub fox-fire on my face
for the ride in the luminous lift.
Corridor walls will be translucent,
I’ll see the trees imprisoned inside –
blue branches with old wounds as leaves,
red trees with raptor-roots.
Are you ready for the truth?
Ward Sister will ask, releasing
lemon-yellow and saffron butterflies.
They are the first flurry of winter
I’ll reply, addressing
Mother’s forgetting eye
and her remembering eye.
Then I’ll say everything I always wanted to say to her.
The butterflies will mass on her bed,
rays streaming through the window
will wash us both.
Her hands will shake but that won’t stop me.
Featured in 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel (Vintage edition, 2004)
To enter the forest
with leaves falling like rain,
wear a veil of many webs,
some so musty you are invisible.
You must smell of mould. Dress
in a patchwork of petals or butterfly scales.
Remove the soles from your store-bought shoes,
replace them with skin from a sloth
so you can hang upside-down
from the ghost-branches,
crawl slowly backwards through time.
Or paint your palms with beetle-blood,
bore to the heartwood
through cracks crooked as lightning.
There is nowhere left to go
but into yourself. You recognise organs
like landmarks, scars between the years.
You are learning to touch the curves
of immense rings, entering the age
when leaves converted air to light,
the forest glowing in the dark
like an X-ray of a lung.
Rest against the buttress of a tree
with its crown in the house of thunder.
Remember rooms lined with pollen
and the down of nestlings,
the nursery where children
tore leaves along their veins,
the fragments kept for birthdays,
games with the magnifying-glass.
To quench your thirst,
drink the mirrored clouds from the rivers.
Then a silence will fall
like soft dust from the stars.
Trans Amazon Highway
After the cloudburst, everything is silver,
flashes under our four-wheel-drive.
I've counted seven corpses of dogs,
one anteater, a jaguar
and a boa threshing across the road,
its head run over by a truck
while we are crushing its lower spine,
as if a cloud-snake had fallen from heaven.
My Mother’s Clothes
The air was full of Gitane Filtre, her reflection
transformed by the spray that lifts from torrents,
the wardrobe door open, her clothes pristine.
Some were in polythene, preserved in the mist
from the day they were worn; a blue and peach suit
striped with Iceland’s primeval landscape
where fire and ice hiss under Northern Lights.
She told me about her year in the Indian Embassy,
unwrapped a sari deep as the Gokak Falls,
charged with rust-red debris. Its many mirrors
retained faces of her admirers.
Right at the back, trailing along the wardrobe floor,
her bridal-dress was a river shot with scales of salmon.
Next were négligés, subterranean springs
cascading down slopes of mountains,
then a dressing-gown which towered in the frosty depths,
its cataract of ice fastening at her throat;
an emerald trouser-suit with matching silk blouse
was a secret chute from the South of France
where she’d tried to make us a home.
I fondled the ruff, its underwood trickle.
After that, there were no more choice materials,
only dull tweeds, sober crêpes for the mature woman,
modest falls in the Welsh hills where she’d settled.