Abegail Morley’s latest collection of poems is The Skin Diary, published by Nine Arches Press in June 2016. Her debut collection, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize Best First Collection. Her previous collections, Snow Child and an ekphrastic collection based on the work of the German satirical painter, George Grosz, Eva and George: Sketches in Pen and Brush are published by Pindrop Press. She collaborated with artist Karen Dennison on The Memory of Water (Indigo Dreams Publishing) based on a residency at Scotney Castle. She was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2015 and Poet in Residence at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Kent 2015-2016. Abegail is a co-founder of EKPHRASIS commissioning poets for ekphrastic events, most recently at The Royal Academy of Arts and the British Library. Her website is The Poetry Shed.
Before you write off your imaginary sister
remember how she didn’t take her blunt playschool scissors
to your Tiny Tears doll, didn’t lop off a curl,
how it didn’t make you cry for three nights in a row,
your only consolation, not inviting a mantra to your lips:
You are not my sister, you are not my sister.
Think of that night she wasn’t at the tap-end
of the bath, not blowing bubbles through her fingers,
not sloshing them over your face, how water didn’t slop
over the bath’s rim, how you didn’t slip
when your mother hugged you out in a towel.
Memorise how she didn’t cuddle close for those stories,
clap when they escaped the Gingerbread House. Learn how
she didn’t travel with you on the school bus, wasn’t there
when you rubbed your fingers over the invisible bruise
that couldn’t yellow on your thigh, wasn’t bashed by her bag.
Before you know it, she’s not at your wedding,
taking the posy from your nervous hands, doesn’t smile
when she doesn’t do it. Bear in mind she didn’t
have that look in her eyes when she didn’t hold your son
in her arms in amazement. Learn by heart those miles
she couldn’t take because you couldn’t call her at two a.m.
thinking he might die from colic. Remember how
she doesn’t say she loves you more now than ever, and how
desperate that cannot make you feel. And know now
all you can say is, I miss you, I miss you.
The carrier bag
I empty myself like quicksilver, pour
an ankle-deep pool on the kitchen floor,
take up two seats on the bus –
one for me and one for the pool.
I call it Heartbreak, carry it with me,
sometimes in a Waitrose bag, latterly
in one from Aldi; it’s firmer,
contains the liquid better.
I take it to a church in Holt,
have it blessed by the priest, show
it to a window cleaner outside M&S,
raise it aloft to the waves
at Holkham Beach so they get a good view.
At home, by an electric fire, I watch
it steam, mist the windows, write
Heartbreak was here – then wait
until all the bulges in the bag
turn in on themselves, collapse.
Heartbreak was here dries slowly.
I clinch its heart-shaped body with both hands, hands that cooked
his supper, washed his dishes, held my own mouth when we laughed
too loudly and for far too long. I forgot to tell you the postman
made me sign for this package and I looped a hooped bundle
of letters with his pen on a string, took the thing
to the front room. I didn’t know something so small could change
my day, so opened the gift without ceremony, didn’t expect
his dried-out soused diary to unhug itself from the envelope.
No letter from the coroner, just river-rippled A5 pages.
I store the potato, peeled, covered in polythene.
When I open the fridge the motion of the door rocks it
to and fro like a skull. Tonight on my way home,
I nod to the grocer who, drenched in electric light,
sprouts wings like Phanes. His hands are grubby, old.
I wonder how they’d feel on my body, what he’d say
about the empty fruit bowl, how he’d bend to kiss
the top of my head while checking my kitchen:
cafetière, wine, bread. I know in the morning
those fingers will plunge down coffee
and I’ll smell it here at the top of the house, hope
he doesn’t take milk, pray he doesn’t open the fridge;
I know he’ll fan out his fat hands, hold the hollows
of the fontanelles, cradle it like a baby’s head.
About The Skin Diary:
The Skin Diary: Here are alert and lyrical poems that hunt out imperfect hiding places, conjure up imaginary sisters and try to contain near-impossible sorrows that spill out of carrier bags and fill up archives. New skins and old disguises are stitched together, the fabric of life tries to hold fast whilst all else unravels and comes apart at the seams. The Skin Diary documents the sometimes fragile and strange windfalls of our days and months; through hard times and thin ice, this journal is bleakly wry, brilliantly focused and brimming with uncanny and discomforting turns of event.
Praise for The Skin Diary:
‘...ghostly, visceral, and unflinching poems.’ – Penelope Shuttle
‘The Skin Diary somehow finds words for the ineffable in its search for hope and understanding.’
– Martin Figura
‘A life can be held within the construct of one person’s poetic contribution, and here is a poet who can hold her nerve and her entire psychological landscape within each multifariously conceived and consciously humane line.’ – Melissa Lee-Houghton
‘This careful lexicon Morley offers us here is nothing but essential.’ – Graham Clifford