In The Sanctuary of Mercy, poems by Julia Deakin
Julia Deakin was born in Nuneaton and meandered north to Yorkshire where she taught, married, did a poetry MA and took up ice skating. Her work is praised by leading UK poets. ‘Crafted, tender poems, written with passion and purpose,’ said Simon Armitage of Without a Dog (Graft, 2008). Anne Stevenson enjoyed its ‘mature wit and wisdom’. ‘Real linguistic inventiveness’ said Ian McMillan. ‘Bold, irreverent and wickedly funny,’ said Alison Brackenbury of her Poetry Business Competition winner The Half-Mile-High-Club. Eleven Wonders (Graft 2012) Michael Symmons Roberts judged ‘powerful, assured, elegant. Her formal skill and inventiveness make this a rich and eclectic collection. Those who, like me, have admired her individual poems in the past, will be struck by their cumulative strength and range.’ A compelling reader, she has featured twice on Poetry Please and won numerous prizes – none of them for skating. Sleepless (Valley Press) is published this October. www.juliadeakin.co.uk www.graftpoetry.co.uk for ‘Without a Dog’ and ‘Eleven Wonders’ www.poetrybusiness.co.uk for ‘The Half-Mile-High Club’.
Though you almost didn’t bother
with that stone arch in the corner of the square
which only seemed to frame another wall your head still full
of Wells Cathedral’s wavy steps and hidden octagons and saints
and bosses and misericords and ogives and the thought
of all those Jude the Obscures underpinning every church
you’ve ever sniffed around and the religious mummery and wars
and Larkin’s Arundel and can you see a tomb without his glasses
looming mappa mundi cloistered monks and nuns and Dawkins’
God Delusion yes your mind’s still full of all that dark dark dark
as you step through the archway
and the place you saw once in a dream is there that aisle
of silver stretching off beside a long sheer castellated wall
enclosing someone’s secret garden trees above a single round door
only boats or swans can reach and two are nesting on a strip of grass
and six brown cygnets like big balls of wool watch families strolling
in the shade between the sycamores and lichened coping stones
receding towards meadows cows a wooded hill an idyll
your computer has fished up for you and now dissolves
into another banks of purple heather
over Langsett Reservoir
In The Sanctuary of Mercy
They crowed, all those reporters – tore in
to my good work as if I was a criminal.
The priest disowned me, but I’ve made him rich –
packed in the crowds like his mass never did.
He just prayed – for the damp to stop, for cash,
a miracle – but we know who God helps.
Worn out, His face was – eighty years
stuck in a doorway takes it out of you.
Who knows what Our Lord looks like anyway?
Why not bad hair or shapeless clothes, if He
was poor like us? Lovingly I patched His coat
a warm brown from Brico King. That eye
took hours. The nose I’m quite proud of, too –
that’s how Picasso does them. Had a few goes
at the mouth, but when you get inspired
where do you stop? He looks more – manly –
somehow. As if he might put up a fight.
Much thanks I got so yes, I’m suing –
and He’s on my side, I reckon. Smiling, look.
Poorhouse, workhouse, hospital – guise after guise –
females and males processed on opposite sides;
under the floor a lock-up for troublemakers.
Wind in the central archway shivers.
Concealed in the leaves of its carved Corinthian pillars
a vagina on one side, a penis on the other.
A mason’s snigger, missed by Inspectors,
Guardians, city fathers? This was their entrance.
Inmates were brought to the back. Or
a warren of conduits, links and signs
for those in the know? A dark web, centuries old?
Jersey’s Haut la Garenne means ‘top of the warren’:
well-stocked hunting grounds, reserved for the king.
Deeper and darker the pit, when spade hits bone.
Deeper and darker the silence, closer to home.
think of lakes. Lakes you have known
and great ones, the size of countries, known
only of. Of how you can – if you can – know
a body of water. Waters you’ve skirted
as they kept pace and held their peace.
Lakes whose hems you have touched.
Under the same more silent dark, find
all the lakes of the nightside hemisphere –
reach beneath their skin. The Cumbrians
flooring the fells – prone but restless,
acres and acres of eyes, out staring
the livelong night, reflecting nothing in parts
but moonless sky, drowning its negligible stars;
then all the lochs and lochans of Scotland
in the colder dark, under the same sky
ticking, lapping, breathing, systole/diastole:
dive to take that wild arhythmic pulse,
taste that deep indifference.
For the Record
He tours my jaw with a prong, a spike and a speculum, gauging
each tooth’s return on investment, murmuring numbers to his wife.
Much between this pair goes unsaid, who long ago put the dental world to rights,
drawn to each other’s immaculate incisors. Just close a bit for me now.
So I sit guessing at their overview of my sub-cranial furniture.
I wouldn’t know myself from my teeth – my last-ditch forensic ID.
Presciently he hands me a mirror to point out a minuscule crack
I’m not sure I can see because I need an eye test: I’m at that stage
when all your appliances go at once. I squint. It’s the nearest I’ll get
to inspecting my personal cave of stalagmites, stalactites, clints and grikes.
Three, distal palatal. There’s a gold filling up there I’d forgotten –
some bruising transaction I must have stumbled numbly from
and shoved to the back of my mind. Two, occlusal. What kind of person
does that gold bling imply? Flash? Shifty? Status perhaps
for my grandparents, who swapped their own teeth on their twenty-firsts
for film star dentures. I pass back the mirror and drift off to Malham,
Treak Cliff Cavern and assorted school trips where I tried to learn
to smoke but gave up. It ages the skin. Bite down now please. Deep overbite.
Those Calais children’s teeth would surely tell the truth
behind their tired eyes. Now stick your tongue out to the right.
My blind tongue lives with this chorus line and lets me envisage them
all white when they’re yellowing, black and grey. Pricier porcelain,
I remember, I thought then a needless expense for one hidden molar. But
if I am rendered ‘unknown human remains’ this handful of clinker
will speak for me. Have a good rinse now. What will survive of us is teeth.
Sometimes, digging, a fleck of glaze
bright as a postage stamp winks up from its cast
and you, benign god, lift it
from how many centuries
to fragmentary afterlife.
No true god, though, you cannot project
its curve to cup or plate,
grow its flowers, restore its entity.
Whose food it bore, whose lips it touched –
what tunes they hummed,
which wars and despots ruled their lives –
are in that ditched letter.
Each of the vessel’s unfound parts
and their scattered kin – tea-set
or dinner service – churn
in slow soil currents
further and further from home,
deep in soil’s space – clay
that once wheeled through air, a butterfly –
turning, if earth spins long enough, to clay again.
© Julia Deakin