Two poems by Polly Atkin

In the Stairwell

In the stairwell the air is wood where wood
is a dark mass hungry for memory and dust.
It is shiny with taking, with touch. In the garden
wall, a door, half-way up. In the door,
fifteen etched lenses. Twelve steps to the top.

The shutters are open. Cold light slips in
where the rail does not meet the slate floor – white horizon –
through the keyhole – a heft of green.

In the stairwell a clock is always ticking.
There is always the white-noise of water running
and the chipchipchip of small birds talking.

The clock is hanging on a different wall.
It is no more here than the grey air cast
into streaks by the old glass panels, than the nesting
birds, than the thin grey flies, ghosts
on strings, trapped in the vertical, dandled
over the grey gravel path.

And by here, of course, you mean now –
where you are no more than a slight indentation,
a scuff on the blackened top stair.
FIRE the last century screams in capitals –
FIRE. Break Glass. Press Here.

For 11 years they have only spoken
of the first time you tasted them, how it felt
to prize their thick lids open and find
that green eye staring dully. The lick
of salt on lips. The music. It meant
the lies you’d told to get there, that white
space between Christmas and New Year, where
you talked till you couldn’t and woke to sunsets
painting the walls implausible colours
his parents would never have allowed. Here’s
a new trick of tumbling to add: the thud
as you drop, strings-cut, to the pavement, percussion
of nuts like hailstones on icy tarmac.
How you cry out. How nobody comes.
How you pick yourself up like you’ve always done,
rub the worst dirt from your bloody knee,
and set about gathering the scattered pistachios
until you’ve almost reversed the fall.
Now you kneel by the fire, cracking
these cases and eating their hearts out, throwing
the empty husks on the flames. Watch
them blaze and fade, blaze and fade.
Polly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her poetry has been published widely, most recently in Pilot Pocket Book 9, Magma 53, Rialto 76, and 1110/5. Her debut pamphlet bone song Aussteiger, 2008 was shortlisted for the 2009 Michael Marks Pamphlet Award. Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches Seren, 2013 won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize 2012.