Bethany Pope ~ Three Poems

Children’s Game

I want­ed to write about our trip to Paris:
Seventy-two hours, with­out sleep — unless
you count pass­ing out in the Louvre,
against The Borghese Vase, until a guard
nudged us awake with the toe of his well-polished
brogue and again, down in the catacombs,
where we woke with our heads pressed against
a wall of skulls arranged in patterns
of hearts and cross­es; death as a chil­dren’s game,
which, I sup­pose, it was, at the time this wall was made.
When we woke, we broke through a hole
in Av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, and had sex
(of a rough, unpro­tect­ed sort) beneath
some con­ve­nient bush­es. I remem­ber your hot breath
against my neck, at the shiv­er­ing hairline,
the bud­ding bram­bles scrap­ing my ass,
and the baguette and cheese we ate afterwards,
sit­ting on a bench in the sun. There’s a photograph
your par­ents snapped, when we got home.
I’m lean­ing against you: you’ve got me under
the arms. Both pairs of eyes are pouched
and shad­owed, but main­ly we look young.
We were stu­dents togeth­er. Afterwards,
I fell asleep in the bath and woke
with water flood­ing my throat, through my nostrils.
But I’m not going to write about that.
Instead, how about the first time I left you?
We were sit­ting in the Aberystwyth Wetherspoons,
on a brown leather sofa by the win­dow, overlooking
the train tracks and the small cart of used books
just beyond the open bar. You laid your heavy head
between my shoul­der and my neck, in the crook
beneath my ear and I kept on emptying
ketchup pack­ets onto the thick, white plate.
Before your train pulled out, I took you upstairs
and jerked you off, one last time,
in the biggest stall in the Ladies’. I think I knew
that we weren’t over yet, but I need­ed to breathe,
I need­ed to breathe. And you use up
a lot of oxy­gen. You draw it right out of my lungs
and I’m afraid (so afraid) that this time
the water won’t be enough to wake me up.


In The Tall Grass

Lovebirds can move both sides of their beaks
inde­pen­dent­ly, manip­u­lat­ing the top and the bottom
halves at once. They can push them away
from their fat, cheer­ful faces like a grandparent
enter­tain­ing an infant by push­ing their false teeth
halfway out of their mouth with their tongue.
When a love­bird is hap­py, their red beak parts,
slight­ly, so that their hard, bone sick­le curves
into a mim­ic of a grin. When they yawn, the top half
arcs up as the low­er drops and their white-lined eyes
slit shut with plea­sure. They’ll wag­gle their thumb-like,
mucos­al pro­boscis about as though the air were something
deli­cious — to be peeled, crushed, and final­ly drawn
down into their hap­pi­ly churn­ing coils of guts.
I watch them care­ful­ly — my birds — gaug­ing their moods,
their health, the slight­est bright, cut­tle­fish flicker
of emo­tion, with exact­ly the same eye for detail
that I used to save for you, but (I have to say) I do so
with­out the fear. There is no chance that the puffed plumage
of a bird, with ‘love’ right there in the name, could hide
a deep and stone-lined chasm. I watch my birds
with plea­sure. They are not wait­ing for me to slip.
They feel no rel­ish at the prospect of my fall.


Acts of Bondage

My doves bring each oth­er presents, lit­tle gifts
to solid­i­fy their social bond. Hou Yi plucks a straw
from the nest box I bought espe­cial­ly for them
and presents it to Chang’e as she sits, the plumes
at her breasts puffed out against the rim
of their food bowl, and she takes it in her narrow
beak and turns it, this way and that, considering
its mer­it, and his with it, before adding the hon­ey colored
strand to her grow­ing col­lec­tion. Then Hou Yi scrunches
his warm body into the nar­row space beside her,
before lean­ing over to gen­tly groom the feathers
at her crown. My yel­low love birds express their tenderness
by caress­ing each oth­er’s crim­son beaks. They lean in close,
and nuz­zle each oth­er at the neck, pass­ing choice
morsels of fruit (apple, or pear) from mouth to mouth,
bur­bling (between sweet bites) the twin halves of a song
they’ll spend their whole lives writ­ing. My small, damaged
dog brings me mauled stuffed ani­mals, or else the perfect
stick she nosed out from under a bush, and our son
brings me paint­ings he makes in class; the clay sculptures
he formed from flour and water. I brought you things, too:
new socks, clean under­wear, the foods you loved
and nev­er bought for your­self. I brought you book
after book, with your name on the ded­i­ca­tion page,
pil­ing them up at your feet, and you’d have seen it there,
if you’d ever opened them. I brushed and gen­tly braided
your long, thick hair. I wove your tress­es into a crown.
I brought you a warm hand and a thin gold ring,
and I can still hear the small, sad noise it made
when you tore it off, after anoth­er of our innu­mer­able fights,
and sent it fly­ing out the door to clat­ter in the street


Bethany W. Pope has won many lit­er­ary awards and pub­lished sev­er­al nov­els and col­lec­tions of poet­ry. Nicholas Lezard, writ­ing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s lat­est book as ‘poet­ry as salvation’.….‘This har­row­ing col­lec­tion drawn from a youth spent in an orphan­age delights in lan­guage as a place of pri­vate escape.’ Bethany cur­rent­ly lives and works in China.