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.
DEATH BY LIGHTNING
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.