With you here, I had a zoological
At the sink I slobbered your nape
with bloodhound kisses, paw on each
Was all meerkat for your key in the door.
In the shower I'd be robin,
my heart out from a steam-basted chest.
Under dawn duvets I was
fossicked and dug you, all scratchy-toed.
Cold evenings, iguana, I'd
lips, all-foured around your trunk.
And when you said I was your man
I brayed so they heard it in Bosotoland.
Now you're gone, they cower under
lock and key.
Come back. Bring out the animals in me.
IS LUST TO SAY
(A Spellcheck Poem)
I have eaten
hats were on
the vice box
you de reprobate
for breast fast
Cor give me
Hey we’re delicious
and so sweaty
Startle-eyed, me and she, in the
where fourth-formers tried on cool
like over-sized blazers, lipsticked
with doughnut sugar and jam, and girls
gave little swivels in checked
dipping liquorice in lemon sherbet.
I peered into the deep-pile of her
saw white crumbs of scalp. Smelt sulphur.
First detention ever, for using
to singe her initials in benchwood.
Mr Grant: pissy lab-coat, jaundiced
coot, grimace in a dough of face, thread
of custard forever stranded between
dummy lips – Use your loaf boy.
Too late. Hovering behind the
each night: her marooned complexion, those
small white teeth. That sulphurous
End of term. Her hand in my pocket
my éclair in the other, I blew it.
Three stupid words. I'm a Catholic.
The shop – a delicatessen now.
long since converted. Yet, hanging round
the drains, something still of Mr
and her – that whiff of coconut mat
in her blouse, his nicotined lard
and thumb, the spatula pinched between
dipped in the tart yellow of that
Make a note boys. Sulphur. Flowers of.
Easy for me, your son,
youthful lungs trawling in one sweep –
cigar smoke, omelette,
the girl next door.
One day I told you
how in physics we'd calculated a cough holds
billions of atoms Galileo
inhaled. It took a full
week for your retort –
as always, off the nail. Must be I've used it
all then. From Siberia
to Antarctica – from slack-
pit to spire. That's
why each draw's so, so bloody hard.
Your drenched face was me,
silenced. Had to catch you
last thing, at the foot
of your Jacob's Ladder, ascending to the one
bulb of the landing
toilet, to tell you
I'd checked with sir.
You can't use it all, I piped, not in a hundred
million years. You'll get
better. Just wait and see.
Mouth bluish, a slur
suspended over your chest. Fist white
on the rail. You said –
Don't hold your breath.
Afternoons in his study I squat
at the mahogany cabinet, fix eyes
on its rows of plump bodies – one
like a bruised grape, another
a spotted sultana engorged in
– or those that are a meeting of legs
and little else. Bristled
light as bird-bone, diamond-backs,
the Widow's orange hourglass.
Once, I caught him. Late with a woman –
eight limbs akimbo. Two upturned
Otherwise days just spiral out
from each morning's brown-paper
India, Indonesia, Australia, Tasmania.
I run scissors round their edges,
plop the drowsy knots into glass.
Then the muff of asphyxiant.
Chloroform. Formaldehyde. Sulfide
of hydrogen. The choice is vital
how he winces if the legs claw, snap.
He can't bear to touch. Gawped
ashen-faced when one slipped up my skirt
bit a leech of milk into his lips
at my giggle. I kept it alive a week.
But he's going. Only takes liquids,
semi-solids – like those sots of hair
that toboggan the bathtub yet
for air between my palms.
Each day his lips are laid
with more purple eggs. Bloat fat.
Tonight his jaws dribble
and botch at what I bring him. Whey,
soft balls of curd. But he can't
eat – says the pain, the pain
is sucking him out. I put the glass
to his lips. Patience, he whispers.
It is time. I take the largest
wad of cotton, step up
to the bottle. Twist the stopper
from its slender brown neck.
In the water of his eyes my hair
is a clot of spiders.
(Leicester Square, London)
All afternoon that methylated blue
pulled into tight loops about her –
a trenchcoat of effort she sweats
Each gasoline skittle is a rotor
constrained by her law: there
in her mouth, under each pit, between
the legs, the slap slop of metal
against palm, wrists peppered with soot, eyes
returning the flicker like tossed
those pewter and copper moons drawn
to her sun – that hat on the
its crushed rim stinking of gas.
A life of parabolas where nothing
must collide, countless childhoods lost
in the spin of a baton. She drops
only once, trying the impossible –
all four abandoned to the air,
in utter trust of trajectories.
I wish she'd come home. I'd bathe
the stink, watch her slick spread into suds,
froth annihilated to deep dark
I'd ointment her wrists, forearms, those
liquid hands – but she's still
on a roll. And all at one with herself.
I razored the tip off the tube of
like a zit, that first spurt of goo
whitening in air across my fingers.
Those millimetre men came in boxes,
sprouted in rows from plastic stems.
Had to be twisted off at the heel,
attached to their bases using pegs.
Horses at full stretch – stuck down
by one thermoplastic hoof, their riders
anally inserted by a stud at the
Thought nothing of it, the heavy-sweet
perfume of glue galloping through my brain.
Looking at my men I knew something
right, but couldn't make anything stick
for good, except the cap to its tube
though I rewrote history each
Cherokee scalping the 1st Panzer Division,
cowpokes stampeding Boer English. Once
I repelled a Roman Empire from the
of our pond, with a single Spitfire.
I left snipers overnight in the throats
of nasturtiums, secreted
in petalled explosions of zinnia
just to keep the garden on edge.
It took ages to array them, seconds
annihilate. But glue was all I needed then
after a double-handed mine, and broken men
were dabbed together, stood between
two books by the fire until morning
returned them, upright and true.
(after Bertolt Brecht, ‘Spring
There’d been dew. Maybe light
And a blot drew my eye to that plot of light
through my kitchen window. Closer. I saw
pincer legs measure out each wire.
pause of the abdomen before it dipped
to spot-weld each link. I took a chair outside
to stand on. Craned. I wanted to
It let me brush a fingertip across the velvet
brown of its back, against the nap, and again
till it froze mid-air, eight legs
still as a child roused from a trance of play.
There – the same creature I’d raise my slipper to,
hunt across carpet to end in a
I wouldn’t have it in my hand. In my hair.
Yet it – she – went to all that length to snare
mosquito and bluebottle, those who’d
a soup, or blood. Hours. For once I took
the time. Saw the target complete, her radii
strung high between window and
I thought of the twist of cells that can work
such wonder. I thought of poets whose words
don’t reach. Spider just does.
Reads angles –
but not this freak thunder, its blown-up tongues
of birds. Everywhere. Birds swooping for spiders.
I feared something might skim,
through that hard-earned web. A swift perhaps,
impossibly late. I saw spider prey. Hung there
in her patch of unsafe sky.
There was that time, two women were
in a field.
One was taken, the other left.
That moment in midday heat, when
your hoe hooked
a grenade, froze a clan of faces mid-air.
In the woods, the white soap-bars
the trip-wire beneath them, fine as your eye.
The bayonet through the haystack,
your mother's earring, clipped your ear;
the copper saucepan punctured,
your aunt's leg clean off as you sat together –
the brass shells stowed in the
ditch you ducked
into as the earth erupted all around.
Forty years on, as he whispered you
from your station by father's bed,
it was the young doctor finally ran
when he would not meet your eyes.
IF YOU WERE TO
I'd stand at the door like one
Aghast and breathless,
With silence stretched between us
For a second
Before it snapped -
And my heart burst its banks
Then I'd draw you in by both hands
I'd kiss you on the mouth, on the face
Wear out your name
with soft saying
I'd kiss you more than you would want
Until you'd have to draw back, breathless
As one wounded
To try to speak, to tell me
Why it was you came.
(© Mario Petrucci)