Two poems by Polly Atkin


We can’t say for certain how long it had been there
before we found it, masked by the hulk
of the wardrobe, our own poor perception, its creeping
rapidity, the weak radiation of winter
light – its circular messages breaching
the paper that glossed its scribblings over
so many blinkered moons. It lived
in our midst, clandestine. We slept together.
It breathed in the cavities of our dreams.

Scanned in the ray of the torch, the flash
of the camera, it was there then everywhere, catching
from its image – bruiseish weals erupting
in thorns, furling around the skirting,
enforcing its dominant logic – proliferating
code consuming the walls, the ceiling.
No way to stem it. Sporing from my tremulous
body. It meant us ill. Today
lain on my back on the motorized table,

I met its whorling motion in the dark
sinus revealed by the whirring wheels
with each clicking cycle I held my breath through.
Someone is already reconstructing me
slice by slice with it inside.
Nothing makes sense without contrast. I turned
my eyes from the beam while they fed me in
the doughnut ring – like the mouth of a black
hole – and we stretched out forever.

(from Basic Nest Architecture, Seren: 2017)

Slitting the vein

A said it sounded
everyone knows
the letter v
and a woman the letter
v and blood
the letter v
is vaginal. I’ve seen
The Vagina Monologues.
I know just shouting
V is vaginal.
V! I think
of mediaeval wound men.
The slit in the side
of Christ. Disciples
sticking their hands in,
how it is drawn
as a cervix, the slip
from womb to wound.
I think of how
I need to be bled
because I don’t
bleed enough
because I need
to be bled. That women
are meant to bleed.
I think of the locum
who shrugged women
when all
my blood was falling
out at once
in shiny clots
like pastilles. Women
should not need inter
vention by which
read venesection,
cutting, slitting
the vein, split
ting the vein, opening
veins like portals.
It sounds more bloody
than it needs to. I have to
explain over
and over the word
the meaning the thing
in itself, why
we call it v/s

but I’m a quick study,
naturalised the needle
like a quill in the elbow
in no time really –
the abbrev.
the sharp
the split
the cu( )t.

(from a new sequence, V/S, exploring experiences of diagnosis with and treatment for haemochromatosis. See The Haemochromatosis Society. V/S will be included in a Wellcome Trust funded project called Books of Blood)

Polly Atkin’s debut poetry pamphlet bone song (Clitheroe: Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, 2009. Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. An extract from her 2017 first collection, Basic Nest Architecture, (Seren) was awarded New Writing North’s 2014 Andrew Waterhouse Prize for ‘reflect[ing] a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria.