The lift opens for the security guard.
She walks into a room as empty as the sky.
It's still dark; she sees only herself in the glass.
Here she is: bottle-blonde, and fat as a plum.
The cool green penumbra of the alarm
glows around her like the memory of forest.
Where ancient history says there was forest
there is now this building. Finished, it will guard
invisible fortunes. It aspires to alarm
the clouds, with its blunt head to set the sky
on edge, to bruise the congested air the colour of a plum.
The security guard peers through the glass,
through her plump ghost-self at the slick-glass,
morning city. In front of her, a forest
of girders, hungry to grow glass wings and plumb
the earth with pipes. The security guard
is lonely. So, patrolling, forgetting the existence of sky
and sun, she eats, which is her way of sounding an alarm
at the turn of her life. But she feels no alarm
at the sight of her high-vis roundness in the glass.
Twice a day, she ventures out under the sky
to Pret or Eat; Costa or Nero. There's a forest
of packaging she tears through, fork en garde,
to get at her stash. Today's elevenses: pickled plum
and chicken salad granary sandwich. September plums
used to grow riotous and heavy, to summer's alarm,
on the tree at her grandma's house, which stood guard
over the garden with its poppy heads like blown glass
and bound sweet-peas and raspberries: a child's forest.
Now, the builders' cranes are rocking the sky;
this building is growing so high. Subduing the sky
is its ambition. But look. Holding a bag of plums,
juice on his chin and on his bicep a forest
of tattoos, a builder extends a phenomenal arm.
On his break, sweaty back against the glass
he offers a plum to the security guard.
For the rest of her life, she'll remember her trembling alarm:
It's like he's offering her the sky, in the flesh of this plum.
Suddenly, she doesn't want to guard, but shatter, the glass.
Reporter's Snow Globe
You shook it, and snow fell on Big Ben. A present
from an uncle from London. What that snow – globe meant…
Agitating the ungravitational snow,
I laughed with what everything in that snow-globe meant.
I grew up and out of the chattering garden
the snow painted. I wanted what the snow-globe meant.
London wound round my neck its evening wreathes of noise
and hustle. I was making what that snow-globe meant.
I sang in the tar and rubber scent of morning
in the rain; wrote in papers what the snow-globe meant.
To agitated viewers, I spoke pithily
in front of Big Ben. Was this what the snow-globe meant?
I wrote, then, about the ascent of the FTSE;
Now, its decline. I feared what the snow-globe meant.
I have loved the crescent moon over Westminster;
my hands recall the feel of all the snow-globe meant.
At midnight, I have questioned the speaking river
to try and find out exactly what the snow-globe meant.
I have started to resent this city's present:
It should return the gift of what that snow-globe meant.
Growing older, I long for the garden that kissed
the snow. There, I understood what the snow-globe meant.
I have never been as much in love with London
as when with small hands, I touched what the snow-globe meant.
Two Pound Coin
You were the one who said you couldn't take it
first. My heart dropped like an old tennis ball:
it didn't bounce. I howled, made a racket.
Your mother smiled on the other side of the wall.
No. I beat you to it. I said I couldn't take it any more.
You cried. I had never believed you could, before.
It was as if you'd fallen out of a myth: weird
as a unicorn in chinos. I almost loved those tears.
Wait. I remember I dealt it you over cappuccinos;
I heard you on the phone: Baby, I think she knows…
Yes – you threw my phone against the wall;
No: I sent you a novella, in recriminating scrawl.
You swore you'd never do it again;
I told you I'd fallen in love with other men. No no no.
I can't remember if any of it's true, but
what I do remember more vividly than you
is emerging onto the street, bag stuffed
with the unequal product of our hasty division.
The sun was blinding (I walked sloughing
mementos into public bins); the spring was lissom.
I had no cash for the bus; black bags splitting,
I howled into someone's azaleas. Then a man
passed me. The sun behind his back was well-fitting.
What's up, darlin'? He stuck his hand
into his pocket. Brought out a two-pound coin. Enough
for the bus, he said. The sun shone on the coin
in my hand. I couldn't see where sky and city joined.
The memory of his kindness still takes me by the scruff.
Yanks me up.
Alice Malin has been a Foyle Young Poet of the Year, come second in the Christopher Tower poetry
competition, had her poetry and prose published in The Mays and Acumen, and been invited to read
her poems at events in Cambridge and London. She is twenty-three.