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2 poems by Mariah Whelan


What I remember most is coolness,

the little bowl of missing skin

holding its shape just below my knee,

pale and bloodless under the bathwater.

I was fourteen, fascinated by all the new hairs

sprouted over my shins and ankles,

by my dad’s razor resting its head on our pink soap,

part of me still held in its teeth.

And then the world came flooding back

over the scooped-out edges—

blood beading skin, bright redness

smoking the hot water

and when the pain arrived half a second later,

it ripped through my ankle bones, knees,

mess of black hair between my legs

and I think that was the beginning of sex for me:

my body opened, a flood of sharp heat

but just before it, still alive inside the pain,

a moment of coolness just for me—

what I could give to my body with my own hands,

now I knew how to begin.

The Tuna Auction, Tsukiji Market

The last tuna lay on a wooden slat, dead.

Silver belly split, cow-heavy curves an arch

corrugated in snow. The meat hissed with cold,

the ridged place where its gills once were

stuffed with tarpaulin, head and lunate tail removed.

Bidding broke like a wave over the hall, the voice

of the auctioneer scouring the concrete floor

thick with venous fish-slurry— my feet disturbing

a hot froth of blood, bleach and steam

escaping from opened bodies. Afterwards,

the ice-cured haunch was almost close enough

to touch— its frost-coat steamed like a prayer,

whispered how the tuna had once swum

chandelier-bright in the Pacific, succumbing

to its hot urges to seed the blue with its sperm or eggs—

who could tell from the bloody absence of its sex?


Mariah is a poet and teacher. Her book the love i do to you came out in 2019 and won the AM Heath Prize. She writes and teaches poetry at UCL and Homerton College, The University of Cambridge. She is a co-founder and co-editor of bath magg.


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