Stephanie Powell ~ Poems

heat wave

heat wave day. a mar­riage pro­pos­al between the moth and the win­dowsill. it hov­ers an inch in the air. trapped between peel­ing ledge and rigid wall of blinds — a suf­fo­cat­ing union.

he, humanoid, top­less, wilts in the hot cen­tre of the room. like the brown­ing fox­gloves in the vase, pale-skinned, light fuzz of hair over chest and nip­ples. out­side the sun ripens the con­crete like a fur­nace. inside, where it is close and still, he low­ers his mouth to kiss the sur­face of an ice lol­ly.

we exer­cise love through our will to per­se­vere through these qui­et days. the stern coun­te­nance of a room with no tick­ing clock. yet time pass­es, well beyond first kiss­es to sag­ging under­wear pegged on the clothes horse and bills stuck to the fridge with junk mail mag­nets.

the ket­tle makes a fatal­is­tic rat­tle as it reach­es its boil­ing-point com­ple­tion, it shakes in its base — we should buy a new one, i think. he groans as though it were lift­ing his tem­per­a­ture, break­ing apart mol­e­cules until he too would rise like steam and drift away.

~

Surrey

First taste — the tongue does som­er­saults — light bulbs trem­ble in their fit­tings — I point towards you like an arrow — a crisp, bril­liant flavour — my tongue rat­tles against my teeth for more — we have mouth­fuls and mouth­fuls — greedy stom­achs have their fill — now, I know you will wake up on your side — and reach up to scratch the hard­ened sleep from your eyes — then turn to me — I will fold into you like a place — like step­ping through a door.

~

dawn (morden, surrey)

roost­er crow-crow­ing – as light gath­ers at the
skirts of the coun­cil build­ing. erect, cool

con­crete, behind: wisps of cloud like bro­ken
bones stretch out of over the tableau of

sleep­ing bus­es in mor­den court. near dawn
roost­er crow-crow­ing under dis­lo­cat­ed arm

of oak tree. hemmed away from fox­es by wire.
a row of back­yards, like half-opened

match­box­es. roost­er crow-crow­ing – deep in
the gut of morn­ing. you’d hear it’s proud

squall and imag­ine you’d wok­en up some­where
entire­ly dif­fer­ent. before the first thread of

traf­fic weaves it’s way over the round-a-bout -
a con­quer­ing army to rouse the heav­i­est of sleep­er.

~

Dress up

The sub­urbs, con­stel­la­tion-like sprawl that rimmed the high­ways of Melbourne. Its arter­ies led to the tidy mid­dle-class hous­es our par­ents owned.

Driveways proud­ly man­i­cured with peb­bly grav­el and rose bush­es. The hiss-thud-click of the auto­mat­ic sprin­klers jerk­ing to life and drench­ing the lawn.

Long Saturday after­noons cap­ping hot days we bloomed wom­an­ly, if still dis­tinct­ly teenage fea­tures, behind closed bed­room doors.

Hair irons grew hot on pol­ished floor-boards. We’d paint our faces and con­sole each oth­er over the shape of our noses. The stout curve of chin under lips or the fine hairs plant­ed between eye­brows. Young breasts pushed togeth­er in stiff, tor­tur­ous bras. A val­ley of flesh cra­dled where the two orbs were forced to meet. Scanty fab­ric lay­ered on cleansed, per­fumed skin. Fresh-fruity spray thick­ened the air.

Little sis­ters hov­ered in hall­ways. Exiled Mums kept an ear out, Dads hid in com­put­er rooms and behind tele­vi­sion screens, grate­ful to play only the role of taxi dri­ver. Hoping they’d be back in time to watch the foot­ball.

Until we’d emerge, ready, like gid­dy but­ter­flies, tot­ter­ing ner­vous­ly towards first flight.

~

Helen nicked her Dad’s car (and went to the beach)

With a force that rang like a great col­li­sion
she was the Helen of Troy of South-West London,
the night she nicked her Dad’s car
and drove to the sea.

Sluicing like a cat­a­clysmic mis­sile
through the web of sub­urbs, the colour of lime
under street-lights, mock Tudor hous­es with
their silent door­ways and wis­te­ria.

Empty cans of soft drink and an old-fash­ioned
road map book tan­go-ed soft­ly in back seat
foot wells. The radio heavy with after-mid­night voic­es,
she kept the vol­ume on low.

No army to march up her path­way, but what
hope to be sought in the pound­ing dark of the ocean?
The stones of the beach fled beneath her feet.
Like stand­ing on tec­ton­ic plates.

Each step like falling through the world’s
sur­face. The cranky squall of sleep­ing gull
dis­turbed by night-time tres­pass. The rude
slap of the wind on her cheek.

The water pulsed like a trans­la­tion. But
there was noth­ing to be pulled from it’s
tur­bu­lent veneer that she didn’t already
know.

~

Kenya

Touch the earth with wheels like a wet tongue. A mouth full of chok­ing dust behind a truck that is speed­ing past child shep­herds. Cows poke their skin­ny haunch­es against a low hori­zon. Grass-mulling mouths held briefly in the view of the wing mir­ror as we fly down dec­i­mat­ed roads. Sun haze, scrub stuck to sky, hands gripped to our seats. Our bones rum­ble against mus­cle and organ. A young goatherd waves and smiles pure ivory.

~

Hong Kong

Hong Kong, neon encrust­ed penin­su­la split by a glassy body of water. I look across at the island. Milky tea, milky hot night air, breath like pow­dered sug­ar. Electric eel-like sky­scrap­ers reach towards the heav­ens. Advertisements for Samsung like skin.

Later – near Kowloon Park, a wait­er with a crew­cut crush­es a cig­a­rette beneath a flip flop. She calls out orders to the kitchen. Red and white plas­tic chairs and tables spill-over onto the street. Try the tur­tle soup, fresh, says a sign above exposed cable. Embrace me, the alley­ways sim­per to the con­crete backs of mul­ti-storey apart­ment blocks. The build­ings turn away and salute the bright lights of Nathan Road. Anything to just go up, up, up. I am doing my best to dis­ap­pear for a few hours. Pay the bill, leave, sink into the ground. Cigarette smoke with­draws into the humid night. High-ris­es crowd in from all angles until the city could just fall into the sea.

~

Montréal

The bus moves off down Sherbrooke Street. Easter Saturday crowds labour along choked foot­paths. Christ rests; they shop and meet for brunch. In the city’s back­drop, Mont Royal still looks dressed for win­ter. Stubble-like clus­ters of brown trees shiv­er on its flanks. Four teenage boys in black track­suits com­pare phone screens, talk­ing with head­phone buds jammed in ears. A woman braces her­self against a yel­low pole as the bus pulls into the next stop. The mate­r­i­al of her green jack­et crushed against the cool steel rod.

~

20p

This morn­ing is already a short-change cur­ren­cy of its own.
Out of bed and dressed by eleven-thir­ty-two,
I check the pock­ets of my jeans for coins
and find a 20p piece from 1997.
It’s in per­fect con­di­tion apart from a small chip
on the Queen’s neck.
She is unaware of the imper­fec­tion
as I slip the coin into my purse.

~

Dead Bird

Song thrush has bro­ken its spine and stares up at tree branch­es. The bird’s dead eye cast with­out sore­ness, unlid­ded, unmov­ing. It yields only a swish of feath­ers to the wind gust­ing across the play­ing field. Waiting for the meal the cats will make of it. Near dusk when they slink hun­gri­ly from mock-Tudor hous­es. After — the ten­der decay by the earth. Not yet, not yet, but almost.

~

Summer in the long grass.

By noon the back­yard is a hot dish. Oppressive licks of sun­light
leave no shade, even lying flat beneath the long-stemmed grass.

In Tottenham there is no beach. We are land­locked amongst rows
of ter­races. A wave would send them falling into each oth­er – one by one.

The Drag Queen and I put on our swim­ming cos­tumes any­way. We spread out
old blan­kets and sofa cush­ions. A pile of books and a near­ly full ash­tray

sta­tioned on the pink foot­stool I’ve tak­en from my room. A jug of water sweats
by the Drag Queen’s small ringed hand. I am halfway through a page and stop to

look at the sky, shad­ing my eyes with one hand. It is blue,
unbro­ken by clouds. It looks like a sheet does, thrown up to straight­en

before land­ing on a bed. Our neigh­bour low­ers a bag of apples
over the fence. They are small and leave a tart taste in my mouth.

A spi­der weaves a web through the tall stalks around us, as if to sew us up,
until the sun slips over the roof and sets fire to the win­dows and bins out front.

Leaving us to pack up every­thing in heat struck stu­por,
con­tem­plat­ing lazi­ly what to do with the rest of the day.

~

Nil by mouth

Nil by mouth, these house­plants fam­ish through a fast-mov­ing June. The leaves crum­ble and drop, they fall in ash­trays and are caught by crys­talline spi­der webs in cor­ners of the room. Hot as a green­house in sum­mer.

I watch you roll up the spliff, sat cross-legged on the sofa like a high-priest­ess. Small, ringed fin­gers work quick­ly on the paper. Half a pot of tea cools on a table. Forgotten after the first cup. You roll like but­ter­ing a piece of toast. Bringing the knife to lips to final­ly lick off the crumbs.

Smoke blos­soms across the room in translu­cent blue ten­drils. Hazy trac­ing-paper waves float­ing towards the cracked-open win­dow. Delicious pulls of hot fil­ter to our lips. You unfold bare legs to lie flat. Eyes, deep black stones, wide and fixed on the ceil­ing.

~

Moving out

Give thought; to this room, as you are stand­ing in it, emp­tied once again. It is November, brit­tle and sun­less, but you are warm from climb­ing up and down the stairs.

So, you stand at the win­dow, look­ing down at the street. Time for one last cig­a­rette, lean­ing out into the cold, count­ing parked cars and watch­ing the neigh­bours take out the bins, like always.

Your lover sweeps the floor. But you can­not move, as if you were made of stone, like a new­ly made stat­ue. How many times like this before? Because you nev­er tal­ly up the sum of love until you leave;

paint­ing a room in your brain with the like­ness of where the fur­ni­ture once stood, com­mit­ting it to mem­o­ry, fil­ing it away and stub­bing out the cig­a­rette; flick­ing away bits of ash and final­ly clos­ing the door.

~

Stephanie Powell’s debut col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Strange Seasons, was pub­lished in 2019 by Enthusiastic Press. She grew up in Melbourne, Australia and cur­rent­ly lives in London, United Kingdom. In addi­tion to poet­ry she works in doc­u­men­tary tele­vi­sion.