As if it had been just about to speak... the land...
when the suburb came on it, came over it. If
it had words, they were as hard to hold as water.
Not so much a catchment as forgetment of itself,
it woke with frayed threads of its lost connections,
the watershed's embrace dismembered
into drains. The shrunken brook in the dingle
like a vagrant dossing down in too-big cast-off clothes...
Here and there, a clue: the sag, the darkening of brick.
The clag of clay knows something, feels the weight
that's almost a direction. Between fenced and fly-tipped
gardens-ends, some scant stray willows
seem to know each other, but from when,
they can't say... till suddenly, a bramble ditch
beside the main road, secret hidden
in plain sight: a culvert... Listen.
Under the city's dream-sleep, hectic,
to, fro, going nowhere,
it's a ten-yards eavesdropped fragment
of a sentence, from ellipsis to ellipsis,
going on without us. All we really catch,
the words: remember this.
A Feather on the Pillow
Oh, featherbreath, deft
as the touch of 5 a.m., the slight-
est crack, against your eyelids,
breathfeather, not the soft
of down, not a nesthuddle underness,
but mottled, a wing-
feather plucked, shed – not a song-
bird's but a raptor's, splay-wrecked
on the lawn – slim salvaged thing
that you hold to the light
in hopes to catch the soar of it, the soul
in hologram, and the sky at all angles.
With time, which we don't have,
we might decode the formula for flight.
Just the touch, just the tip is enough
on your bare nape to surprise
the lift into flight of a smile
or a shudder, a frisk of the skin.
Who brought it over the threshold?
Or tipped you over one into the echoing
high halls of birdhood, corridors
of keratin? (Make no mistake, we are here
among scales, hooves, horns and claws.)
An almost-weightlessness of bone
possesses you, the need to speak air
unto air, to be it, to finesse
mass, force, velocity: the calculus
that keeps you alive and aloft.
No wonder a quill wants to write,
to scratch a trace in ink
or blood – a cry of the flock
mind failing, of losing its grip
on the seasons, of falling
to a roadkill, whatever
our bins still disclose, or
faltering, the mud tide
of new malaises rising in their veins.
Oh, featherbreath, that whispers
such words, vane, rachis, calamus,
by touch against a lover's cheek,
made of delicate barbs you can stroke
to a sheen. Sweet dreams. Maybe of flight.
Philip Gross’ The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022) was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. He is a keen collaborator, e.g. with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold In The River (2015), with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (2018) and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (2021)