Poems by Elizabeth Allen

After seven long years underground
the crust of mascara starts to crack and flake.
She claws her way up into your kitchen to stand
wiping the cigarette smoke from her eyes.
You have been preparing a lentil salad and
perhaps this has brought her: steam rising with
the scent of nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin and
mustard powder; the bite and tang of salt and sugar.
She is like the neighbour’s cat which sometimes
steals into your kitchen, demanding to be fed.
Two cuts on your finger wince and sting. The
impossible knot of family: tightening and unpicking
it in your chest. Rinsing the metal bowl, you place
it on the draining board decisively, making it
count. The buzzing radio of thoughts: cicadas
screaming in crescendo. A tired muscle twitching
just above your knee. Wanting to be more
than, less than. Still, the constant tug of things
forgotten: a kite string wrapped around your finger.



Walking to Greenwich Baths
for JG
how you have small neat hands
the fingers red when it is cold
and fragile, ungloved, you gave
me a tight bunch of poppies
in a darting action: a handing over
that was a snatching back
how you sat across the table
at the inaugural anniversary
of the mad hatter’s tea party
sunlight fell into our cups
like soft white rain and tasted
like tears of single origin
how after lunch we sat in the grass
nibbling gingerbread biscuits cut out
in the shape of book characters
there were poetry readings;
I watched carefully and learnt the art
of pinning frangipanis in my hair
how even with the closest friends
there are so many rooms you will
never go into —
the voice they speak with still
differing from the sound you cup
within the acoustics of your skull —
what they give up
what they let go of
how hard they try to get there

These poems were first published in
HEAT magazine and included in the collection Body Language (Vagabond Press, 2012).