Gaze

The following poem by Lisa Matthews, Gaze, was chosen by poet Andrew McMillan as the winning poem in the Welshpool Poetry Competition 2018.


I.       Dropped shoulder, the cuff halo-gold, boatmen skin and skitter under the forty-watt bulb. Tucked tight beneath the long black shelf the grey river flows, link and switch, watching through the crack in the door, we can’t tear our eyes away from the storm at the heart of the target. By the almanac one cup with its saucer, the outline of your sip, a humming bird glitters the final branch as it pulls across the width of the room. Hooking finger into handle, china and chalk, its balsa and baulk. Don’t ask if we are a body of water; we are born of water and warn. A milk jug spills across the chequered floor, a baby crawls off the edge and falls through space, nextdoor’s dog lowgrowls, the drift of the afternoon v-ing up the wall.

II.       I wanted to tell you this before. It’s a small thing really, but it matters. There was a moment I wondered if I’d stay. I felt a sudden uncertainty, as if I had got out of a lift on the wrong floor. Along the corridors there were tiny flowers. (You would have known if they were weeds.) It was like licking salt from the back of my hand as I watched our lives listed in columns of interest payments, like a clutch of tall buildings. I wondered what it might do to me, to us. And there was a woman waiting at the water fountain. She smiled, and pointed, with a turn of her cheek, toward a small office somewhere along the hall. Her heels made no sound on the carpet, ring on her finger catching the light. For a moment, I lost focus and started to follow. The strip lights always go out here, and then I wake up next to you.

III.       Now you’ve drawn blood, on a new frame stretched and ready. Dead calf, mole frozen half-in and half-out of its hole, the line between the tern in the sky and the rabbit in the earth. Now you’ve taken the charcoal from under your nails. Now you’ve mentioned in an email that you like it the way we do it. Now you have finalised the mix it can be applied. Now you know what to say and when to say it we can go. Now you crack a match between your thumb and forefinger. Now you slide the lime across the edge of the floorboard. Now you are an hour, and then another. Now you think it and it happens. Now the wind is a mouth at the reed of the river and now we are walking, like a family, along the banks in the dark.