Three poems by Allison McVety

 
Going back to Charlotte Street

I clock them often on the stairs,
in the space between lost and borrowed.
They’re flanked by a parlour – reserved

for the dead, where only the boy
with the telegram dares to knock –
and a scullery alive with black-market crops.

She stops on the half-landing, buffs
her neck, scoops a victory wave under the net
with a grip. Their first meeting is sand
through an hourglass, running from her

to him. And I am there too, ghosting the wall,
a smudged image pressed flat on paper,
sifting the grains, watching time and again
the atoms of my own clock forming.
 
(from The Night Trotsky Came to Stay, smith|doorstop, 2007)
 
 
Finlandia

What I know about death is Sibelius
on the high-fidelity music centre, dad
listening in the dark, gas off, still
in his wind cheater with corduroy trim;
Sibelius so high it distorts the angles of the day;
Sibelius until the street light’s eye
is replaced by a cold sun’s watch,
by which time my dad has remade my mother
into a living woman, so that we are
not driving the three hundred miles north –
through a slurry of questions with two dogs,
no answers and the wrong clothes for the weather –
just to be with him, and, my sisters similarly,
are not made small again by her absence –
not lost on a day out in Cleethorpes,
waiting at school gates or serving endless
PG Tips and fig biscuits that no one’s
going to touch; no, my dad plays Sibelius
with the windows wide, so unfathomably loud
that the neighbours hear it the length of the street;
unaware of this remaking of the day’s events
they don’t hammer the walls with their shoes
or come to the door to reason or try even
to blot it out with Nat King Cole,
Deanna Durban or Manuel’s Music of the Mountains,
instead they listen, mourn in their living rooms,
perhaps with a small port or Mackeson’s,
so that Coronation Street, The Bill,
News at Ten, all have this soundtrack
behind them . . . and across town
in Arthur Gresty’s chapel, my mother
might also feel the thud, her blue lips
warming, parting, and for a moment
breathing again; so what I know is the strength
of my mother’s love, the volume of my father’s.
 
(from Lighthouses (smith|doorstop, 2014) and first published in Poetry London) 
 
 
Making a Show

My mother wore a nightdress under her shroud
in the way I had once worn a vest
to school under a chrisom of blouse.

Gauze over new-born breasts, a membrane
of cotton that covered the render, that covered
the clench of ribs that covered my heart. I imagine

these skins of ours slipping away, the coral chambers
suddenly close to the surface, neither of us
wanting to show too much.
 
(from Miming Happiness, smith|doorstop, 2010)
 
 
Allison McVety’s first collection The Night Trotsky Came to Stay (smith|doorstop) was shortlisted for a Forward Prize and her poems have appeared in The Times , The Guardian, The Forward Poems of the Decade anthology and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2011 she won the National Poetry competition and Lighthouses, her third collection, is published in March 2014 by smith|doorstop, details here.