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3 poems by Angela Cleland

The Devastating

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.


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