Translating the Unspeakable

The poet’s job is to translate unspeakable things on to the page…” 

“Poets don’t get into poetry for money, they do it for vocation – I feel like that anyway. Poets can touch hearts and minds; they can translate trauma into something people can face. Sometimes there’s a cost for the poet to do that as it takes looking at the trauma right in the face and then allowing others to bear the idea of trauma safely. That’s why I write poetry. Poems are empathy machines.

Racism is a system that keeps propagating itself. It wasn’t the bankers, millionaires or computer magnates we turned to in the crisis – it was the nurses, garbage cleaners, supermarket workers; I hope those people will be valued more.”

Words by Roger Robinson

Photo by the author

Down Below

She has never seen so many of them, diving
in ribbons, mercurial as the heart of a virgin.
She opens her mouth to cry out, joyful
her hot mouth expects a fierce Atlantic roar.

She taps an elegant rhythm as the rocks tease.
Not surprised, they reflect the enduring
equivalence of a human. Five liquid bodies
hurl into the waves. She’s eager to slip

a knot around her waist, slide into the silver
gaping mouth. She believes she will fly
underwater, melding like angler fish, one
into a luminous other. Love lingers

under the scalloped tongue and her smile
disappears into a cave. Words are the agony
of a different folly, wafer thin, hankering
for the heavenly parts of this world.

Photo by the author

Shoots

My therapist’s room has lofty ceilings
and a view across rooftops to the sea.
A row of potted geraniums line the sill
and a tribal mask hangs over his desk.
My therapist says I must remember.

My therapist likes to shop. He’s a snappy
dresser. Today he wears orange trousers
with a button down shirt in lemon. He sips
tea from a turquoise mug. My therapist
says I remind him of his dead grandfather.

My therapist composes poetry in his head
as he walks along the seafront. He recites
a poem about a man sleeping rough
outside Habitat. My therapist suggests
a poem about planting a seed of anger.

My therapist has green fingers growing
houseplants with pink flowers. He displays
a cactus with fuschia spikes that remind
me of my dead mother. My therapist
says I am a rose without thorns.

My therapist has cold sores and doesn’t feel
like talking. He missed his train, feels stressed.
I suggest homeopathy. He asks how I feel
about him. I say he is amazing. We are both
wearing yellow jumpers. My therapist says

we are synchronised and sends photos of tulips.
My therapist suggests letting go, forgiveness
and voluntary work. He says my perception
is flawed like rippled glass in a old window pane.
My therapist asks, are they out to get you?

Our last session he complains of food poisoning
and a dodgy meal in Chinatown. I suggest ginger.
My therapist says I have too much empty space
in my head, sniggers at my leopard print hoodie.
Perhaps you’ve shot yourself in the foot?

Photo by the author

Mortality

We follow the signs, white on blue
autumn clouds shifting. Slings
and arrows show one way to exit.
We follow the twisted pitted road
down the line. We avoid potholes,
broken tarmac, pines felled by storms
littering the verge. We drive slowly
around those tight bends. The road
south unspools an old home movie.
In Golspie the doors burst open,
the sun breaks gilding the moss,
the dry stone walls, the sycamores.
The paramedic with kind eyes
wishes you breath. Magic
moss crumbles gold dust
between your fingers until
only the scent of earth remains.

photographic image created by the author

The Runner


rose from the sea at dawn as sun
funnelled across Burrigill Bay.
Her long black hair trailed a seine net
slack from her fisherman’s cap.
In the shadows of the stacks
she bore down on the eastern shore
casting off wrack and bilge water.
Her feet, bloodless as starfish, spiked the shingle.
The life of the sea spilled
from her oilskins. She ran dead
ahead up the hill through meadows
glazed with dew and sheep,
passing the busted creel boat
aslant and hulled with bog myrtle.
Clouds frothed on the horizon
in a herringbone breeze as she ran
to the crest
where an old hen waited by the gate
and one wall of a ruined croft pointed
skywards like a prayer.

Artwork by the author

On Visiting John O’Groats

(This poem was published in Northwords Now some time ago.)

It can take most of your life to see
the large car park at the end of the line.
There are no instructions on arrival.
You circulate widdershins and search

the large car park at the end of the line
for a space that suits your personality.
You circulate widdershins and search
a familiar face in the day-glow crowds

for a space that suits your personality.
Some of them are smiling and holding
a familiar face in the day-glow crowds.
How many coffee beans in the jar?

Some of them are smiling and holding
hands. It’s important to guess
how many coffee beans in the jar.
Green sunglasses are optional, reflective

hands. It’s important to guess
how many miles to Land’s End?
Green sunglasses are optional, reflective
blisters on the soles of your feet.

How many miles to Land’s End?
You might travel naked and grateful for
blisters on the soles of your feet.
It can take most of your life to see.

NB:- John O’Groats is a popular tourist destination in the UK. It is located on the north coast of Scotland and is wrongly believed by some people to be mainland Britain’s most northerly point.

Photo by the author

History

Everything is more beautiful in retrospect.
Sometime between the sepia past,
the grey today and the flash of tomorrow
truth slips away unseen, a tangle of electric
eels squirming in an underground stream.

We look back and see only clear skies
and carefree picnics but never the cold.
We look back and feel only tender kisses
and the soft caress but never the blows.
We look back and remember nothing.

The Wounded

There was nothing but the hunt,
the pain, the struggle, the dark.
She had to keep running. Run!
She could barely recall a time
before the breaking of branches.
She could barely recall her time
of being human, of skin
touching skin and naked picnics
when she gazed boldly at the sun.
In her upright days moss and wild
flowers sprang from her every
footstep, birds sang her every word.

Now she ran on all fours. Run, run!
Her cloven hooves were raw, spiked
by thorns. She was pierced by nine
arrows, fur rank with pus. Venomous.
Calculating. The forest was silent,
a lifeless zodiac of roots and branches.
She could no longer recall her name
or why she had to run. Her lungs failed
and she fell in the shadow of a crippled
tree. As she waited for her joyful exit,
forked lightning unravelled silver
threads of hope across the night sky.

 

Note:- this is an ekphrastic poem based on Frida Kahlo’s painting shown below.

 

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The Wounded Deer painting by Frida Kahlo

Salon

Here’s a poem for those of us suffering bad hair days in lockdown and missing our mask-less trips to the local salon:-

 

Asymmetric is the new black, she purred
into the forest of mirrors, a rainbow
Janus, her two faces receding into infinity.
Kate was so blown away by herself, it hurt

in the forest of mirrors. A rainbow
beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a January sky, the crumbling walls and
For Sale boards of a deserted Main Street.

Beyond the rain-tumbled glass arched
a customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
against the wind like tumble weed rolling
towards a make-over with 15 percent off.

A customer, bobble-hatted and doubled
in need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
please height-riser mega-sleek moisture
me rich airy-builder with no yellow matrix.

In need of a break-fix miracle-treat curl
Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered
her combs and twizzled her natural bristles.
On hearing of Sue’s new marble jacuzzi

Kate unholstered her scissors, quivered,
chopped, snipped and razored Sue’s golden
locks to the floor and with a chameleon smile
Asymmetric is the new black, she purred.

 

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Photo by the author