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Last Moment, poems by Pippa Little
Pippa Little is an award-winning Scots poet, editor, reviewer, workshop leader and translator who lives in Northumberland in North East England, where she is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University. Overwintering, (Carcanet 2012), was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize, Twist, (Arc 2017), was shortlisted for The Saltire Prize and The Spar Box (Vane Women 2008) was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. She has been widely published in magazines and online across the world including, in the UK, Poetry Review, TLS, New Statesman, New European, and Rialto, and has worked on printmaking collaborations and filmpoems. A reviewer and translator, she has read at many poetry festivals and events including StAnza and Durham, and has won The James McCash Award, the Norman McCaig Centenary Poetry Prize, an Eric Gregory and others. She is a member of Scottish PEN.
A Woman Consoles an Orang-utan on a Cruise Ship
From a black and white 1930s photograph
Past her best but a looker once,
she keeps herself in shape – marcelled wave, no roots,
brows like teardrops. I notice, see.
He’s a matted, sorry lump, a mad professor.
Clutching each other like there’s no tomorrow!
His black banana fingers, her cuticles all
Tallulah Bankhead, in a clinch big as the world
as if The End was about to explode across the screen!
Who’s taking the shot, what’s the angle?
The deck’s bare in midday light
these last moments before we smooch the pier head:
everyone’s starboard, waving.
He’s whooped himself around her neck,
humungous feather boa.
Dribble out of gooey eyes
dries in the scuzz of his chest.
He’ll stink in this heat: I bet she smells him
hours from now, back in Manhattan.
And wherever he’s going, he’s crying Chanel.
She is thinking of tunnels,
how much she hates them
when he melts through the tube train doors
slides into the one free seat opposite
and just before the dark begins,
weird underwater gloom
that turns old women into fiends and children
into moon-faced cats, they look at one another.
She always loved that place in his neck,
a shy dip between too-big collars.
She can’t recall his middle name
but remembers pistachio ice-cream
one night waves reared over the quay
huge green sea dragons
with dripping fangs – and the day
she saw him cry.
What do they do, in these grey
And what is there to forgive?
They have survived, after all.
As the train slows she rears up,
presses her palm the length of his cheek.
Further on, her hand burns white
as a dusty lightbulb
inside her pocket.
I was born on a battleground
son of the slain, my mother laid me
in my father’s butchered arms
I was reared up, raised wild,
none would nestle me, I ripped bairns, hares
and hens when I starved, otherwise
kept low and close
to forest side, fell seam, any outer edge
where humans seldom go
I was the shiver in your hearts
the grave-dirt rubbing in your eye
last star falling
now I am the song you will not sing your children
old as hoar frost, my hoard, from a hard country.
My three stricken men are gone
the dog died of old age
I crouch in a cold pool of light
don’t know what else to do
but this knuckling and scooping
of sea glass, my almost invisible runes
stolen from the endless pour of the sea
at the edge of the world:
I was a girl of peculiar fancies
breaking and mending,
hungry for stones
thirsty for salt
sorrow fattened me
a blackbird’s singing
as dusk outruns us
While you sleep, summer afternoons slip away
as heat from an open door: I am learning being still
the way a horse listens at a skyline, learning to attend
as my hand loses its memory of being empty
and the ache of your hand becomes my own.
Your dreams rise into your mouth, I can almost kiss them
then pain shorts its fuse in mutter of might-be words’
white noise. How long it’s taken me to address my breath to yours,
slow down to calm as best I can, this long to learn
so much no longer matters.
A short while after the shower makes its presence felt
drumming on windowsills, eaves, dustbin lid,
the downcomer clears her throat and begins
as growl, guttural sibilance, a tumbling contralto
of disparate notes – a toy car of red tin,
a fluster of tortoise-shell buttons, my grandmother’s
moonstones – tickety tack, the drainpipe loves them all,
rolls them under like a laundromat
down down down then turns them out
a spray of bubbling grey froth like frogspawn,
like the world the moment it began, before wet or dry,
before the damage.
© Pippa Little