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Pippa Little – The Cupboard

Pippa profile Dec 2020

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.

Pippa Little is a Scots poet living in the North East of England. She reviews, edits, mentors and is  a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University.  Her most recent full collection, Twist, came out in 2017 from Arc and was shortlisted for The Saltire Society Poetry Collection of the Year. Overwintering, published by OxfordPoets/Carcanet, was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. She is currently working on her next collection. She has a Hawthornden Fellowship, won many awards, been published widely in magazines, anthologies, online, on radio and film and has read across the world.

The Cupboard

I’m always first down
into the cool blue kitchen
bare feet hit the flags
fridge hums at my back
the cat’s saucer eyes
mark my every move:
lately it’s got tougher,
good reasons to uncurl from bed
difficult to muster
old cracks in the heart re-open

I pull wide the cupboard doors, inhale
Earl Grey, lemon, Assam,
ginger, hibiscus – soft and woody,
shade and ease and summer grasses –
from a lower shelf, coffee’s smoky odor
stings orange and grainy, sings  Mexico,
Blue Mountains, that dream of late night
lanterns flickering along the shore,
the world open-armed for a kiss

how it pleases me, these
memories that lift  and circle when I set them free:
enough to set the kettle on the flame,
to say, today I’ll stay alive.

Sole to Instep

Warmth looks for warmth,
even in deepest sleep

my instep finds your sole,
rubs and nudges

in the cold fathoms of our bed
so sparks glimmer and blur –

not extinct, only
fragile now

even a lightest touch is pain
so I half-wake to the graze

your long-boned foot gives mine
and press  back,

I would be a boat
the length of you, perfect

vessel to fit you

Horse Lake, Galway

The day I fed from your hand
like the wild creatures I remembered
coming through the lake shoulder-deep
raising their huge heads over us
so we offered them what we had
and they ate, sweeping their lips across our skin
so my whole arm tingled as if from fever –
then stood a while, looking,
and only an hour later the surface of the lake
was its old grey lilt again
as if those wild souls had never come, or gone:
my hand only, when I pressed my nose in it
remembered them: prickle of  sunflower sleeves
and their own scent, green shade of a new-mown damp:
but the day I fed from your hand
I nipped your skin with my teeth, an animal’s
warning you didn’t notice, the kind of lure
like scraps, rags, anything that gets lost
and catches in fences, but only for a while.

Notes the Death-Mask Maker Left Behind Her

The face falls at the moment of death.
Very slow: the moment itself is
invisible in plain sight but its aftermath
can be seen if you move your eyes away/then back
as if from a glacier about to calve.
Once I used to tie the jowls tight with torn linen:
these days the mandibles are superglued
to smile in the face of gravity. After all,
the head is now merely a sign of itself ,
surface to be made facsimile – so
no disrespect. I am always careful.

Something has gone, yes –
but what I make preserves that absence.
In the process of covering over the planes and angles
of bone and lip I am completing, memorising
‘the spirit beyond the skin’. I press
and mould anew every crease, follicle, blemish:
this negative, turned inside out, becomes the likeness
someone loved once: eerie, they often call it,
wanting to touch. But it is neither warm nor cold,
and I do not tell them of the time it took
to rub the real head clean, to separate each hair,
each eyelash from my sticky alginate.
I have boxes lined with silk to fit.
Better, I think, than a jar of grit and bone.
Centuries I have been making the dead into the sleeping:
nobody owns life, after all, it slips through us.
When you see me, look for someone else.

© Pippa Little