The Gift, poems by Angela Topping
Angela Topping is the author of eight full collections of poetry, and four pamphlets, with a fifth forthcoming, all from reputable publishers. Her most recent is The Five Petals of Elderflower (Red Squirrel 2016). Her poems have featured in a range of magazines internationally, including The Poetry Review, The Dark Horse and The North. They have featured on BBC Radio’s Poetry Please on several occasions, and in over 100 anthologies, and been placed in several competitions. She is a former Writer in Residence at Gladstone’s Library, Harwarden, Wales. Based in Cheshire, UK, she works as a freelance poet and author. She blogs at angelatopping.wordpress.com
Missing the Point
My tutor in American Studies
punished me with a B+
for showing excessive enthusiasm
for Emily Dickinson.
Told her, I’d come to university
to enjoy myself. Oh, parties,
Nope, reading and lectures.
All I’d ever wanted –
The freedom of vast libraries,
excited conversations about books
finding new authors to love.
I showed her my poem.
about my friend Celia
who’d come from Trinidad
to Liverpool on her own,
half a world away
to The Blind School
for A levels and degree.
The tutor whose name I forget
rewrote my poem to show me.
Hers was about an old man
tapping across concrete
with his white stick.
That wasn’t my Celia
who was always laughing
who’d take your arm
as a good friend, pass unnoticed
ask me if the two shades
of red were a good match.
When I think of her, I think
of bright turquoises, oranges.
No white man with white stick
tapping his disability on concrete
could replace my Celia.
No-one ever could.
Answer a cliché with a cliché. Last train home,
me at 17 and a man, persuading.
Get off at my stop, come back to my place,
see my etchings. Schoolgirls like me
didn’t go near men like him, so much older,
only one thing on his mind.
His feet on the seat cutting off the exit
showed me he meant every word.
Had I refused he could have done
anything to me, right there in the carriage,
thrown my raped body out on to the track
when he’d finished with it.
I answered his etchings with my own artifice:
a boyfriend so jealous he would kill him
for even speaking to me. Six foot six,
a Widnes prop-forward, meeting me
at the station, would come and look for me
if I didn’t get off safely.
Half an hour on a screaming diesel to hell
talking fast to save my life, my stop,
another man getting off at another door.
He must have heard it all but kept silent,
asked me if I was ok. Too little, too late.
I am now! I threw at him.
And there on the station was my truth,
my dad, solid as wood, ready to strangle
a dragon for me, though old and infirm.
My dad, who’d taught me my worth,
come a tired mile to walk me home.
The last last train I ever caught alone.
I was lost in a deep snow-filled valley.
You lowered baskets of food on a blue rope.
Stories unfurled in my brain, swelling my skull,
grew to fill shelves and libraries.
In the twilight of a forest you showed me
where to find hazelnuts and raspberries.
I danced in summer meadows, made wine
from primroses, fell in love with the beast.
In our shelter I gave birth to his whelps.
In time, they built their own huts and left us.
Snowflakes in my hair, flames in my eyes,
the sun on my face. Every yeartime brings happy.
You presented me with poems on a wooden tray
written in lemon juice on brown paper.
I have everything I need. So what do you
bring me now, wrapped in white tissue, tied with a red ribbon?
The Collecting Dolls
The sisterhood of six-inch dolls,
lined up in national dress as if for
an endless Miss World competition,
stuffed themselves into my box bedroom:
Extravagant Miss Spain all ready to flamenco
in frills and pinned bun, glued castanets;
Miss India, pretty in pink sari and bindi;
a Manx doll my dad encouraged me to buy.
Best of all, the Native American dolls
with real leather dresses, cute papooses,
beads and quiverfuls of arrows.
I loved to stroke the calfskin of their skirts.
These are the few among the many,
intaglio or painted eyes, legs standing
to attention like a rainbow guard,
all those eyes watching over me.
Most were packed off to the loft,
remained, stifled in a suitcase,
when the house was sold, their little
plastic hands beating a tattoo on the lid,
trying to get out, reclaim their passports.