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.
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.
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.