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From Reverse | Inverse


Five Prose Poems.


Crossings and critical points


Window on Paris. I peered through the bars down to the cobbles five floors below. I could only interpret the event in retrospect. Transfer my perspective into my young cousin’s shoes. But she didn’t see it happen. She was in that room with her brother but hadn’t the years to configure relationships between the wriggling toddler and the spaces between bars. Two years later we were both in the room. My seventeen to her seven. I could only improvise. I saw how she sucked at the brass door-knob. But I couldn’t salvage that critical point when a fluctuation crosses the equilibrium and determines that a boy will fall. Window on Paris.

One that lingers long on the retina of memory. In my mother’s 90th year she began to repeat a childhood story. A tale I hadn’t heard before. Collecting garden rose-petals with her brother Henri in Wargrave England. They’d invented a formula for invisible ink. But subversive instincts can lead to suspicion in a specific time of war. Think forties Paris. Decades later in Toulouse no one mentioned Henri and I pictured him vanishing between canopies of trees on a wave of whispering branches. Who testified treachery in la ville rose. I reflect on his decades in prison. The broken symmetry. One that lingers long on the retina of memory.

Because my little dog

Which I was I to recognise. Who was the I who saw our mother at the back door in tears. The vacuum-cleaner stiff at her feet like Psyche the sausage-dog as we piled into the car for a day’s sailing. Who was the I of our mother in the front seat singing O les fraises et les framboises et le bon vin que nous avons bu turning to smile at us with her radiant Mediterranean face. Or the I singing with a mischievous expression Oh look mamma what is that  mess it looks like strawberry jam and our father’s ears pricking-up like the little dog’s on the covers of His Master’s Voice. Hush hush my dear it is papa run over by a tram. Which I was I to recognise.

My eyes see ten thousand twins. Sunny buzzes me on WeChat. Happy Easter my dearest twin and sister. Now she texts from her Sichuan hometown and embedded in emojis I picture Chinese characters. I am luck my city is safe and the life is normal. There are two moons in the word for twins. One carries awe the other luck. So appreciate that! Eyes scan the horizon. I miss you very much! So many twins to love and already I’m falling for a Senegalese author’s fictional twins. Outside in the sunshine script sweeps through grass in a surge while my birth twin runs the overblown Cam river tow-paths. My eyes see ten thousand twins.

Inventories and labels

What’s in a label. Christmas Day. Two deckchairs on four little wheels. In each a doll. One dressed in pink the other in blue. Our mother’s handicraft hand-knitted hand-sewed. Tiny plastic shoes with strap and button. Pink and blue. Secondhand furniture our father painted pale green. Double bed. Two armchairs. Wardrobe with a brass rail. Pink and blue clothes on tiny hangers. Is it a family scene. My twin rockabyes her doll inside the manger of her two small arms. Her bare legs are crossed. She gazes with all of her feeling at her baby. I grasp my doll by the neck in a flop armlock. Stare out at the viewer with a dumb expression. What’s in a label.

Inside the wrapping. We were in a Karen Millen store on Oxford Street rifling the rails of jackets. At the desk the young assistant smiled. Are you twins she asked. We looked at each other aghast. My shoulder-length brunette to my twin’s cropped arc-en-ciel. Well she well said I’m a twin too. It was music. Echoed articles we exchanged. Mothers recognising differences in their identical babies from birth. Mothers affirming fraternal twins are not ordinary siblings. Now of course I’m reading Mariama Bâ. Twins are always serendipitous. Awa and Aminita. Collections Motifs. Page No138. Letters languages perspectives. Inside the wrapping.

Paradoxical breathing

For a perfect fit. When our mother spoke she told me and my twin. Said our organs were small. Smaller than those of our siblings since there were two in one womb. It all seemed to fit. My twin agreed. Now she’s expanding her businesses creating makeup bags to match the shoe pouches and shower caps. Meanwhile I’m obsessed by my Hanzi dictionary. Inside an imagined box the calligrapher optimizes space and aesthetics by fluid positioning of strokes and dots. The more complex the more compound. Sometimes my writing pockets begin to bulge. I try to justify actions. Jettison objects. Widen seams. For a perfect fit.

When confinement is tighter. I’m reading Mariama Bâ and Ramatoulaye goes to the cinema for an inexpensive distraction. I went to Birmingham Rep under New Street Station to watch Richard III for sixpence. The paradox of contract to expand. I immerse myself in these texts and the change is visceral. I escape my margins. Feel my pulse. Readjust my lens. Reposition myself in this perspective. Ramatoulaye leaves her house to watch films. Ils approfondissaient et élargissaient ma vision du monde, grâce à leur apport culturel. She deepens and widens her vision. And what about Awa and Amanita. When confinement is tighter.

What’s a container anyway

A question of vista. The fourth-born Whatsapps from Paris miffed by failed calls to his sisters. Sarcasm cuts through his humour. He re-tunes. Asks if I ever get nostalgic and we’re into ambience. Stoer Point northwest Scotland. Me and my twin’s first camping. Does he remember the toilet Dad made from a tea chest with a loo seat nailed on top and a curtain of sacking for privacy. How it seemed to be about attentiveness. If I focused on the jute I could see strands fibres knots. Distinctions in brown ochre green. Then I’d change scene. Zooming through the interstices a whole meadow of yellow buttercups and kingcups leapt into view. A question of vista.

So said Klee and he had the key. It’s okay he said to his critics. It’s correct to compare red and yellow. Me and my twin contained chalk and cheese. It’s okay we said growing up incrementally. We with our fast saccadic eyes and small size saw the lay of the land. So I’m not surprised when Ramatoulaye says Mes jumelles sont si semblables que je les confonds parfois. How they ran rings. Can’t you see them radiating outwards as they draw themselves in. When they play tricks they are still salt and sugar. Si semblables physiquement, pourquoi ont-elles des caractères différents? It’s okay to compare bitter and sweet. So said Klee and he had the key.

LUCY HAMILTON co-edited Long Poem Magazine from 2008 to 2018. Her two Shearsman collections of prose poems are Stalker, shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection (2012), and Of Heads & Hearts. Her collection of handmade photomontages and ekphrastic poems is Viewer | Viewed (Shearsman, 2023). Work from ‘Reverse | Inverse’ is featured in Dreaming Awake: New Contemporary Prose Poetry from the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom (Madhat Press, Vermont 2023). She works freelance for Cam Rivers Publishing, a partnership between the UK and China based at King’s College Cambridge and Fuzhou City Cultural Centre, Jiangxi province. Poems from ‘Travelling with the I Ching’ appeared previously in The Fortnightly Review. She was awarded the Xu Zhimo Lifelong Achievement Award 2023.

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