Four New Poems from Polly Atkin
We are drawn by a map of sweet ash winding
through the twilit streets. There should be three fires:
one of clean bones, one wood, one both.
We have only split logs and white wax to offer
and a tithe of furred moths, and a swan’s egg washed
to the shore in a flood, two days earlier.
We pass the sloshing oval from palm
to palm, cold as stone, full
of things that will not happen. We float
wreaths from the candle-lit jetty to the dark
fretful heart of deepest water;
bunches of fox gloves and elder flower;
give ourselves to the lake to slake
the calamitous storms of the future; muttering
moonshine, mid-mid, most inclined,
axial tilt. We drink. We burn
the sickly half-year, leap the flames
solemn, hallooing. Our voices spin
round the dish of the vale, which is also a crater,
which is also a wheel. We want to sing
through the centre but the night is too light here, cloud
confusing the jagged horizon. We try
to feel it. 23.09. Maximum
cant. The exactness anachronistic.
Mid-mid most-inclined we chant
like a hymn or something older.
We will wash our faces with cold grey dew.
We will sleep with flowers pressed under our pillows.
We will run the streets naked at three in the morning,
the sun almost starting to rise.
WAKING THE WELL
It spills itself on tarmac, dressed
00000000000000000000000in weeds. Thinks itself forgotten.
Disproven hydropathic quack.
00000000000000000000000A cross on an antique map. Archived.
Machinery broken up in museums.
It belongs to May. Sugar-water
00000000000000000000000sundays crazed with growth, stone
blessed till it ruptured colour, sweet
00000000000000000000000spring ringing out with the bluebell scent
of long light health, cool wonder.
Before the last I will kneel on the damp
00000000000000000000000grass at its feet, bare-legged, hands
open on knees, palms up – blank
00000000000000000000000mirrors to a surge of sky – drink
in silence. Lick open its liquorice eyes.
Rise. Walk on into the lake.
00000000000000000000000Trust the water to matter.
for JS and MH
They will try to tell you it means ‘thunder of waters’,
Onghiaahra – ‘the strait’ – a channel
or inlet, life on a watershed, critical
junction. Or maybe a line through the neck,
where the neck is a strip of land, split
into two, bisected. Or two distinct bodies
of land converging, not held apart
by their difference but rather, touching, always
touching water touching water
which bonds them together – where water is both
the pledge and the act of pledging, wedded
by its state of being, a troth.
We have gathered here, drawn together
in this place of water, where water finds
a way – gives the lie to notions of nation,
of borders – parts and re-meets where it will.
The source of so much power. A shower
of ringlets in a woman’s hair. A veil.
The limit and the fractured light where selves meet.
We’ve watched you year on year, cascading
into each other, melting shoulder
to shoulder, forehead to forehead, inclining
closer, arms interlocked or reaching
to a touch as certain as falling.
This day has been coming since the glaciers receded.
Before that, an ancient sea here drifted
to its own tidal order. Four million square
feet of sweet green water tumbles
over the crest line every minute.
Water to water, meeting over
a gap that is shrinking with each drop’s effort.
In 50, 000 years it will have
worked the distance away completely –
there will be no fall, just water moving
through water. Impossible then to tell
one stream, one drop from another.
They say you bring rain, a change in pressure.
The barometer clicked by the window – gold-rimmed
eye – as you entered the frame. Wolf-killer
you brought us out, into the open, into
the green and bruise-grey garden, into
the warm and metal scent of summer
from a dream or idea, and left. Then thunder,
the first full drops of water, viscous
with essence of jasmine and yellow azalea,
the kind which poisons honey. One
wet black bee in a flower umbrella
told how you came from above – eyes
suns – their orbits’ static – lightening.
And yes, the clap of your wings became
the crack of the sky splitting open, but
after the flood the clouds lit up
with a vein of gold. Later, it seemed
everything stopped as you strutted across
the emptied pasture, weathered and foxed –
as you turned and stared – as you creaked like a branch
in a high bare tree, and took off.
Polly Atkin’s second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches (Bridgend: Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012, and was shortlisted for the Lakeland Book of the Year, 2014. In June 2014 she was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize, for work in progress which ‘reflects a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. Her poem ‘A short history of the moon’ won the 2014 Wigtown Poetry Prize. She lectures in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow). She is currently completing her first full collection of poetry, and a monograph exploring the connections between Romantic legacies, contemporary creativity, ecopoetics, tourism and place. ‘Solstitial’ was written for an anthology of poems, Solstice: 24 Hours of Poetry from the Longest Day (Thurnam: Beautiful Dragons Press, 2012), in which 24 poets each wrote in and of an hour during that longest day. Polly chose to write about the hour between 11pm and midnight.