More often than not, truth is a thrush
thrashing a toy snail against a rock,
a stranger bearing your name,
an unexpected mirror in a familiar corridor,
a well-dressed man dropping a bottle
of vodka on the pavement, his despair,
fresh footage of an ice-shelf’s collapse,
a child about to speak, a moth larva
crafting itself a cocoon of sequins,
a slow drip eroding the enamel
that fends the iron, an increment,
an advance, not the good kind,
a shoebox of century-old headlines
slithering out all over the attic floor.
I am tasked with finding the source of the music
and do not refuse, though it’s true I doubt
the Ministry of Hope’s intentions.
The concern is that it may be birdsong,
but I don’t buy that. I’ve heard a bird
recorded - it was high and clear.
Following the sung trail, I’m a bead
sailing down a length of thread,
round with purpose, toes barely
skiffing tarmac, light as I pass
above the smudged, upturned faces
of the children of the reclamation.
They pause their vital work to watch me
from beneath the pavement grates.
It feels good to work.
The sky is a rusty tin can lid, painted
fairly convincingly, I think,
to look like a long-lost summers’ day.
Shadows lengthen as I follow
out and on and on out to the suburbs,
the deconstructed suburbs,
past concrete structures brutalised
by muscular plant life,
an entropic paradise.
The repeated phrase of music brings me
here, to what was once a square
akin to those that survive in the nub.
The walls are scaled with ivy, the pillars
become trees circumscribing a glade.
Trolleys gather here for safe grazing.
Semblance. There is no bird. Just the flap
of wet canvas in the breeze and a breathy voice
haunting the ruins of the roofless Co-op,
all the emotion fallen out of it,
enunciation dissolved by its mad repetition:
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.
Looking back on it
They were like horse clippings,
like burning holes in the world.
Snapped pretzels raining from the sky.
I knew what it meant, of course:
they were coming as priests do
to collect our easy meat, to coddle us,
to shave our incredulity, wearing
pretext like a spangled mitre – oh!
they wanted to be frosted tyrants.
Or, it wasn’t that at all,
it was that the lake was all treacle,
was perfectly calm. Not the lake,
the horse. It was nothing to do
with the cold hard nuggets
of freeze-dried wood that sat in our hearts.
Our hearts that were falling -
wait! It was not our hearts,
it was our livers and they were
not falling, but failing so
we sat without bile in the face of it all.
Of course, you could have sharpened swords
on his self-confidence. Of course
those regrets were nothing like any of this.
They were countless empty spindles
turning end-on in the night sky.
Angela Cleland is a poet and novelist. Her third collection Real Cute Danger was published by Broken Sleep Books in 2022.