Speed of Exchange
Aisling Fahey, Young Poet Laureate for London 2014-2015
Maybe the quiet summers in your grandmother’s house
were there to teach you the different speeds of your body.
I know you want to go further than the women in your past
had means to go.
When you stand still for too long
you feel the silence creeping in like an unwelcome hand.
You ask for a blueprint of your body so you can leave it on a train
and have something certain to search for.
We keep going to the same shop, on neutral ground, to buy love.
Our words are the currencies of opposing countries. We know this.
The cashier holds our notes, worthless to all here but us.
Holding our notes, which might as well be origami swans,
he wants to tell us all he’s learnt of exchange.
The days he watched his father barter as the sun charred his arms.
This world will make memory of our shatterable bones.
I’ll be straight with you, I found your story down the back of the couch
and made music without asking. You don’t play your old tapes. It is not
Sunday. When the myths you convinced yourself weren’t real
reared themselves in your home – dragon at the dining table –
saviour in the bathtub – what was it you said?
Know that this week I remembered that this Earth
doesn’t let the good walk through unscathed.
I looked at my father and did not want his skull as artefact.
It is time to lay in the shadow of your mother and sleep.
We know what we meant to say –
I love you because in an x-ray of my body you would show up in my bones.
The child points at the redacted areas of his parents’ lives,
plucking organs from their body as if weeds from overgrown gardens.
Teach us something new of this old burden called time.
You move as if the answers called, said they’re on their way.
Rachel Long, London Laureate 2014-2015
Tiff’s pressing me against school railings,
doing my eyeliner. This is how we meet proper.
I whisper in class, ‘Your eyes.
Can you make mine like that?’
Like graphic novel knives.
Against make-up rules and railings – the diamonds
we chat with our fingers inside. We want
engagement rings this big, so big
we can see freedom on the other side
Her weight against me is solid and soft, a bomb
before, then after, it goes off. A weight inclusive
of the glitter on her lids, the oil spill on her lips, the sandwiches
padding her bra. Yes, the sandwiches; unbuttered, no filling
– this is their purpose, not privilege.
See, by now, the boys know the difference
between tissue and tit, a sock and a tit,
but not yet a tit and a slice of bread.
Tiff’s so smart
my new eyes weep.
Clare Mulley, London Laureate 2014-2015
Outside my window, there is a tree
pregnant with horse chestnut –
shoals of tiny puffer fish
crowded against the glass.
Above them, night’s black belly
looms and rolls, sowing behind
its phosphorescent trails of craft
to will o’ wisp. I never used to watch
or wonder at the journey’s end
till now; each lone flare heralding
just one more risk, one more arrival
in the gathering dark. Against the afterglow
the netted branches bulge with promises.
Soon I will split them open,
polished, swelling to the touch
like piano keys before a note,
and in their unborn reverie
try to forget the sound of fallen leaves.
Laurie Bolger, London Laureate 2014-2015
I’m leaning at the kitchen door
of your mishmash city garden,
watching you puff and pace
and potter with the plants.
Your face is a scribble in the sun,
hands grubby, your jumper a mess
you are frayed around the edges.
I want to tell you that I think our shoelaces are tied together, that we’re falling all over each other
in a great big disaster. That whatever this is it weighs a ton, this travel and drizzle and not enough room.
The mugs in your kitchen
all have handles missing,
so you drain your tea –
half look at me – picking
at the buddleia by the wall,
stubborn little thing, familiar
with the city, pushing it’s way
through the concrete.
We make our best awkward morning conversation, wait for the kettle to click, kicking kitchen cupboards with our heels. I’ll have to get my train soon –
and I’ll walk the platform tonight
I’ll read your station on my ticket,
Waterloo will tell me to forget you
when I throw my paper coffee cup
in the bin, and I’ll try to press
that same unsteady feeling I get
every time that I pull in.
Ella Frears, London Laureate 2014-2015
An apparition of an aproned man:
the television refuses to mute.
In a dark bar Harry presses his crotch
against a girl he does not yet realise is his sister.
A bottle cracks in a canvas bag, wine
blooms under the armpit of a woman walking home.
Mary is on the sofa. Soft tick
of the heater, the shuffle of papers.
Were those bells or a belt
undone with one hand?
She sniffs –
His silence slips into her
ear like the air after sound.
Was that it? The tiny thud thud
repeat: fly against glass.
Or the yellow lamp-light,
was that how it sunk in?
For a moment Songs of Praise
plays only the descant,
a coin is pushed into a slot, a ring is slipped onto a finger,
the sliver of hot orange sun is nearly gone;
we’ve forgotten how to look for signs,
maybe there were none.