Three poems from Madeline Cross
Settled with one elbow on the bar late in August and one hand
holding a full pint, they told me about Jack again;
how he spent his days on the cliff in a blue and green striped deckchair,
the last of his hair standing upright in the wind.
They had their theories,
Jack with his hairbrush moustache who once made the best
jam tarts they’d ever tasted and grew runner beans.
At one time he could tell a whisky from just a taste and he had tasted a few,
wobbling back to Nancy along the beach road.
Jack, who after Nancy died claimed the clifftop like a bird,
but a bird that had forgotten what wings were for.
He became a fixture of the landscape, like the telephone box
or the scarecrow, or the electricity mast, and yet
not like any of these things at all.
We looked down into the brown depths of our glasses
and thought about how he died,
not on the retreating cliff top but in his own bed,
one window of square sky with peach curtains fanning in the salty sea.
Only white froth left, I slide the glass away
and take the beach road home.
Leaving the warm tarmac for the watermark
I look up to where the cliff pours
over my head,
mimicking a curving wave,
its chalky surface
bouncing back the light
of a moon just full.
In a room where words are protected
like children, she talks to us about our father.
She tells me that I am the peace-maker,
and from where you sit you stare me down.
(When other sisters pull each other’s hair
do they hope they’ll tear the scalp?)
We know what she has left out –
You are white-faced and ferocious at
the injustice of it. You want to pick
me up by the neck and shake
me like a dead bird.
The Age of Ash
The Ash Tree grew in a field of alpacas,
bark like broken skin and slender spearhead
leaves arranged in stacks of winged pairs.
It had grown tall and bent, modestly bowing
over the sleeping alpacas’ heads, the kind of
bow that allows for a child to swing and rise
and feed themselves through the branches,
where within the two split trunks
years of hiding bodies had worn away
the wooden flesh into a snug bowl.
When I was tall and the top of my head
skimmed the lowest branch the farmer came
with outstretched arms and saw its youth
still blooming. And after he had cut it down
I stayed and counted the rings that lay
face up, on the sawdust covered ground.