Time streaks like thin honey in thin tea,
time wearing wings to grim rags, thinking
I am old
I can wear fat rings which
weighted our fingers from the dressing up box,
which stunned our knuckles silver-black
which we padded away as grandmother’s silly gold,
silly, sunny stumps we rolled in felt –
we can wear them now,
fingers thinned out, the rings loop them
like curtain rails.
We hide in purple florals,
the grey and red of seaside towns,
the grey and orange of seabirds,
the grey on grey on green of those damp fields.
Now, night-time bunches like dark laundry.
It is bunched in my throat and brain
where it will sour and salt and soon
rot me to grey.
No – my fingers still fresh, twitch like whiskers.
I will find you at the station.
We will meet in smoke and flinging,
not odd nods and squinting,
eyelids like sleeves pulled down in winter,
like leaves, like tongues, like blinds that
stamp, stamp the windowsill in the draft,
the draft in your room that still bubbles my blood,
But there are moments to say I will not,
which only come back when I am trying to sleep,
which sit on my chest and nod their heads
and say should have, shouldn’t have.
There are too few snaky trains to escape
But there are some and I will not lose you.
Blinking out again
and again the skin purses with a mouthful of blood,
dribbles like an animal,
blinking back and I am still not leaving
and there is so much left
which I cannot move out and into
because the day before you left, you tripped on the curb
and I think the bruise is still there
like a rancid fingerprint
and I thought I heard the rain
sound like your footbeat
sound like the clock in my parents’ room.
Only that I can’t see you
- there is grey in my hair in this light.
I am buying rubbery shoes from shops that smell of
from women with skin like spilled tea
who are as grey as me.
I am filling spoons with sugar-grit.
I am stirring sugar in my spit,
buying tan-orange tights and
This is what I become.
Not bones and railway cars and thick china,
or even well-spoken and wise.
Only grey and dry and
Half price tealeaves, a ribbon drawer,
a closed door, a closed door,
a closed door.
I think you said you’d found a park near here
which looks like the one you grew up in.
I have walked past it once
or twice –
the swings dip and drag, the slide cracks like an old tongue.
The swings I think are sagging smiles.
I will not tell you this –
I’ll say “I’ll stay in today,” or else
“I love you a bit.”
Or else pack my teeth like hard stones
then pack my tongue.
I will be thorny. My tonsils will budge with breath
but I will be still and thick as flesh.
I am staying in,
in these sheets that curl from the mattress
like boiled tomatoes.
I am staying in cafes alone with you.
There are children everywhere.
They steal sugarcubes from coffee shops,
and grit them in their pockets and there’s a man
behind the counter who talks nonsense
to the waitress
and when pretty girls come in in tears, he leers
and offers coffee and cheap cake.
Cutlery shrieks and disturbs you.
I will have no part in this, no part at all.
But it is difficult –
the children talk about their teachers
and tricky sums and taking away.
And I do not think, had you let her
swell like an egg, biting off a speck of universe
a dribble of luminous prayer, and there, in flesh,
if you had let her,
you would not have brought her here
to talk about Miss and the lights and adding up.
You never would.
So when it is crushed out,
save a fingernail, an eyelash, an eardrum.
Will you, when it scatters, will you save something.
I will keep it in a cradle
or a beehive.
blurt out wool and hair, become one of your monsters
sewn from teabags and glass,
but with the threads popping.
The string strangles at the throat.
You know this
and you are seeing children everywhere,
packed with mittens and piano music
and you see pushchairs like robots with squirming
babies for hearts.
There are these women in coffee shops.
And when you are scrubbed and scoured and
they will have missed one tiny part
which you will hold through your stomach like a cat
and hold the cat against your stomach
and still talk.
While we are speaking, a billion stars are broken,
you say “you know, I’ve spoken and
a thousand stars are broken.”
But maybe still,
when the birds meet at ungodly hours,
the birds in blue blouses and white neckties
the magpies, like their throats and chests
were torn open to show white, white skin.
They will show you stomachs as still and
unbroken as eggs.
Phoebe Nicholson is an 18 year old who grew up in both Devon and Minnesota but now studies English at Oxford University. She has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember, has been a runner-up of The Ted Hughes Young Poets Award, and featured in emagazines such as Ink Sweat & Tears. Besides poetry, she loves cats, exotic tea, and Virginia Woolf.