Poetry by Abi Curtis


Abi Curtis lives in Brighton and lectures at Sussex University. Her poetry collection, Unexpected Weather, won Salt Publishing’s Crashaw Prize 2008. The poems below, Death by Lightning and Mandibles, are both from Unexpected Weather (Salt, 2009).

On 10th June 2010 she will be reading with Luke Kennard, Tom Chivers, Mark Waldron, Katy Evans-Bush, and Diana Pooley, at Salt Poets at Lauderdale House, from 8pm, Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, Highgate Hill, London N6 5HG.


I left you in the house, your eyes on me,

suffering from a relative of grief,

took myself from here to the neighbouring village.

I don’t usually walk, preferring donkey or moped

but neither could fare in the weather:

rain slopped from eaves

turning the streets to streams

thin fish lost their bearings and followed

to be found tomorrow, breathless,

heads in the railings.

I doubt they knew anything about it,

sent to sleep by strange air lifting their scales.

Rain was in my neck, my boots were buckets,

sky a marbling of dark and unfamiliar faces,

clouds deep as difficult ideas, luminous at their edges.

Light cleaved the sky. I counted and wasn’t disappointed

by the sound of a giant piano dropped

onto a collection of empty cauldrons.

I smiled: the sky was furious for me

so I might stay inside the cupboard of my head.

But soon the water overcame, tipping

from flat roofs, stabbing from the arms of lampposts.

Paving slabs lifted to expose whole villages

of slugs and toads.

The sea, two miles away, suggested itself on the wind.

Unable to turn back, I searched for shelter.

Light revealed a  shape at the graveyard gate: a woman under

a yew older than landscape. Room for two. I joined her,

politely distant, staring at the knots and carvings in the trunk:

tracks of every death that’s marked elsewhere in stone,

hems of marriages leaving the gate, home for ivy,

sheets of frost and mushrooms shelving out like flesh.

The woman watched the rain as if to concentrate

on just one drop and shuddered when the thunder

spread its voice above the leaves.

She was not beautiful.

She didn’t hold her body supple as an animal.

I could not name her type of smile.

Later, I learned she felt the shock in her foot;

shared what I cannot remember.

I looked up through the branches holding

tight their fists of leaves.

I have that image stencilled in my eyelids.

I smelled the metal in the air and tasted


You know, if you watch anything through flashes

of lightning, it appears suspended

as if life were frame after frame and never moving.

I was senseless: a snapshot of myself under a canopy.

I’m still here, now in the living room

where we question each other.

I didn’t replay memories or gain an answer,

but I’ve read the best stuff has the power

to take off the top of your head.

You’ve changed, though you never left this room.

Every day you run your hands over

the root-system printed red on my chest

and in the dark part of your eye

I detect a storm.


The archaeologists have been in the office again.
You’ve come to work through the night when

you find their shoe-boxes shelved with the books,
then face the other way, try to write, to look

at the dark-glazed view into the quad.
You turn around, fingering the lip of a box.

Nobody said, Don’t Touch. This one’s labelled
‘Mandibles’. As you slide the lid, a smell

of dried mouths and subtle rot.
Each piece of jaw in a plastic pocket

you can feel through to the nubs of bone,
unable to identify symphysis, molar, canine.

You recall Mr Fozard pulling a tooth
to leave a hole for your tongue to search, a taste

of pink, of omnivore. Bridges, dentures,
ivory tusks cross-sectioned

like the rings of an oak;
pulp canals, the roots that bind your mouth

to your thinking head.
Porcelain, amalgam, gold:

offerings to the speech of the soul.
But here, in this box, the bones are small,

herbivorous. At last you see animals,
re-skinned and furred, decay reversed,

their skulls re-clothed:
deer stripping red fruit from the hedge-row,

rabbits, light-headed and wet-eyed,
clipping the green from the fields.


Abi Curtis

Salt Publishing

Lauderdale House

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