Poem of the Week

Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Arundhathi Subramaniam’s When God is a Traveller, published by Bloodaxe. When God is a Traveller was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear Arundathi reading from her collection here.

‘Quick-fix Memos for Difficult Days’

1

Clear
clothes, pillows, books, letters
of the germs of need –
the need to have things mean
more than they do.

Claim verticality.

2

Trust only the words that begin
their patter
in the rain-shadow valley
of the mind.

3

Some nights
you’ve seen
enough earth
and sky
for one lifetime

but know you still have unfinished business with both.

Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Kevin Powers’ Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, published by Sceptre. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear a reading from his collection here.

‘Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting’

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Private Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.

Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Ruth Padel’s Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, published by Chatto & Windus. Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear Ruth reading from this collection here.

‘Capoeira Boy’

I saw him on YouTube. He was learning the martial art
that masks fighting as dance; the rocking, foot-
to-foot ginga bracing him for kicks, swipes
and thistle-light acrobalance. He was finding how to spin,

feint, soar with his opponent. You could worry about him,
at least I did, but I saw he was loved. A favourite
perhaps. Enough anyway to give hope a chance
despite his lumbering, faintly victim, stance

as the two circled each other, holding their arms
off their torsos like cormorants drying their wings.
He was seven or eight, wearing glasses. Eagerness
shone out of him inside the ring of boys

chanting to a tambourine. They knew slaves in Brazil
made the rules. Only by dance do you learn how to fight.
Only by fight how to dance. And also that kids like them,
on the West Bank, could learn this in Hebron.

I saw him on YouTube in Jalazoun Refugee Camp.
The teacher, laughing, supervised falls, accidents,
cat’s whisker escapes. I imagined he was telling them
Squat and spin! Flat on your hands! Aim your kick in his face –

let him duck – then cartwheel away. This is all about you
but you’re nothing without him. Let the dance-fight-dance
set you free. Free of the six-lane motorway
shaking the camp with its sorrowful vibrations.

Free of the twenty-foot wall of cement, a stage set for Macbeth.
Grey olives flickered beyond, on hills where I guessed
older men like his grandfather were born
and are forbidden to graze sheep or tend their trees again.

While the boys danced, I pictured the flame of a split aorta
in the chest of a man who has lived all his days in the camps
and will die in one now. Afternoon flowed
through rows of tents like mist coming off black jade

as each became the other’s mirror. They were twin lights
in a sconce, tiger cubs perfecting life skills – pounce timing,
split speed for the roda – each pouring all he was
into the little space between self’s flying heel and other’s face.