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2 poems by Philip Gross


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)


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