1. Birthday in Emily Court
Hip hip Noreen,
Now we have sung, and made our toasts with pop and beer
through the leaves, through the window, light like water
we gather round tables with friends and strangers, making time
for the old folk, letting small-talk darn us in for the afternoon.
And Grace, Noreen’s friend, who’d been sitting alone, light like water
running over her tells me she’d been left by her husband, her children’s father
at the age of seventy one. She went out she said, and bought sand
trowel, gravel, bags of cement, running leaves making patterns
like light on water and transported slab after slab of sandstone (Indian,
similar to Yorkshire but with a rosy tinge) and with ungloved hands
laid down flags – he’d always promised a patio – shuffling stones
over the yard one by one, to show she was not done yet, no, she could learn,
with a spirit-level she could do this on her own. Cheekbones, sandbars,
her face a delta, patterns of light through leaves through windows,
and far in the distance what does she see, riverbeds running to a river mouth,
shadow, light, sand, streaming towards the sea. A bank of old men sit, half-couth,
listening to the band warm up, as if to ignore something within, a fluttering
like babies growing, or tumours, pains of the heart or lung, blown bellies pushing
up at their chests so it’s hard to breathe or sing, all except Kenneth that is,
light little Kenneth, the slippers of an acrobat flitting beneath him as he runs in,
and out, and in with smiles and plates, keeping plates spinning for Noreen’s sake,
washing pots, making jokes, and for a kiss from the women, giving out birthday cake.
The women are feathered,
shamans of the afternoon.
Have you ever seen such food
they say, sandwiches, meat, fruit,
a feast of love and sacrifice
laid out on trestles. Oh Noreen!
It could be heads with apples,
served out there in the dappled
spring, in the almost-summer
woods, outside outside,
in the speckled afternoon.
Noreen’s in pain, but keeping it hidden
with make-up, lies, and derivatives of opium.
____Between smiles and belly-laughs she teeters
____with fun, following the twists of her tri-walker
and welcoming us in, weave weave
the shadow the sunlight, aglitter with sarcasm
____when Kenneth sits down, though she melts
____for the band, remembering herself
singing Summertime, and A Nightingale
Sang before her voice was ruined.
____No-one is looking, so she disappears
____to the bathroom to breathe, and hold on
to the basin. Lass, lift up thine eyes! She repairs
her slap, winks at the mirror, and reels
____out again, jangling bangles like a tambourine
____and humming the band’s next show-tune.
A girl, perhaps eighteen, brings gifts
and birthday greetings. Lean,
in her rumple-clean clothes, we notice the ease
of her black-and-grey clothes,
thrown on, designed,
Isn’t she gorgeous Noreen!
She’s got your eyes. Remember your Dusty
ash-blonde beehive? Fashion,
out and in, high, low,
bootcut jeans, small
Outside the leaves shake,
patterns of light and shadow
sweeping the lawn
And the old women say oh
love to each other,
in their cerises and peacock green.
Joyce introduces me to Sybil,
asks me to take Sybil’s arm and smile
into her eyes. Sybil says Elsie
is it you? Are we
all right, love?
Where did you go?
Look, here come the young ones –
their skin, their hair!
Could I have been beautiful once Elsie?
Could I ? I don’t know now.
Outside the slow
coming to perfection and Spring
streams through the window.
Joyce takes Sybil by the hand
and sits her down.
Cynthia is up. She is pointing with her manicure
at the copse, she is Boadicea in the sun.
With her carmine lips she is oracle, priestess.
Grace she says, look, the leaves!
Look Grace! The running light.
Irene too has her glamour on, her white teeth in.
With her sisters she has come to honour
one of their own, Noreen, almost intact,
and eighty today. They could be peacocks
calling over a lake, peacocks scrying
the past, the future, vivify, vivify!
They see flitterings in the trees outside,
the stippled leaves, the freckled light,
and delve the wood. Gazers, warriors, Cassandras
they hold the secrets of oldwomanhoood
Suffering quietly, the men sit,
light running like water through leaves through windows
and over their eyes.
They could be shelves of amphorae,
unmoving, full of regret,
all except Kenneth that is, who won’t let himself think,
what’s the point for heaven’s sake?
He wheels in and out, serving cake
till Donald’s cadenza stops him in his tracks.
Oh sweet Orpheus!
Part-time member of the concert-band,
Donald has come to play the lady’s birthday tunes.
Today he feels at one
with his trombone, plays solo, swoops
holds a note, holds it, ecstasy
blowing away his years,
all eighty nine of them,
all eighty bleeding nine and
Grace breathes, and rises,
bright nails flickering
over her perm.
Here’s to Noreen! she cries,
crying the cry of a peregrine falcon.
Here’s to you my friend, Empress
in all your sequins
To Noreen, Queen
our Queen… …
2. After the flood
their plastic___________________________________._like animals
______________________________________________the troopship left
Carola Luther’s first poetry collection, Walking the Animals, was published by Carcanet Press in 2004 and shortlisted that year for the Forward Prize for First Collection. Her second collection, Arguing with Malarchy, was published by Carcanet Press in 2011. Herd, a pamphlet of poems, was published in 2012 by The Wordsworth Trust where Carola was poet-in-residence. She has also written text for theatre and mixed media performance. The most recent of these was the libretto for Lilith, (composer, Dimitar Bodurov) a piece commissioned and conceived by Claron McFadden.
Note: Altered after publication to correct a production error. —Ed.