THREE POEMS by Michelle Penn


Three poems by Michelle Penn



after Dorothea Tanning



birds haunt the train tracks


                        and the doors beyond doors


urban birds, a necklace worn by trees that haven’t yet been slashed back,

while the ones that have stand sheepishly, apologising

for all that sky exposed


                           spray-painted on a wall in red: FRESH


                           spray-painted on a wall in green: EAT DA RICH


the twitter-birds and big storks know how to tease


a door opens to a book, you wear a paper dress, stare into a mirror

               that’s a sunflower

                                       a frenzy

                                                   a frame of rage 


                           something thin pushes into morning


faith creeping from its field, leaking its words in scraps



newsreader \ sibyl


hands \ hands \ my hands \ slashing

air to symbol \ shuddering invisible words \

the gods \ riding my lips \ as river \


how do you dress \ a vessel \ i wear

no scent \ carry \ the stink \ of prophecy \

wrap myself \ in stolen cloth \ the stammers \

of a savage \


people \ dip their eyes \ pass in fear \

in awe \ as though this messenger \ makes

her message \ as though flowers \ don’t

revolt me \ with decay \


someday \ every memory \ will be drowned \

this place \ will be my sole name \ i will sleep \

while priests \ read my riddles \ the gods \

work up \ new and more terrible \ thirsts




the gift


the ladder-god hands me a cherry

says it’s an apple

assures me it’s been an apple

all along


all signs

point cherry

the swollen bulb of it

dark heart

planet in my palm


the ladder-god says, apple


rungs hover in air


I bite through the cherry

to prove I’m right

my chin drips with juice


the ladder-god says, apple


the garden turns to pulp


Michelle Penn’s debut pamphlet, Self-portrait as a diviner, failing (2018), won the Paper Swans Prize. Recent poetry has appeared in The Rialto, Nimrod, B O D Y, 192 and Poetry Birmingham. New work is forthcoming in Perverse, Stand and the visual poetry anthology, The Mouth of a Lion. Michelle plans innovative poetry/art/music events in London as part of Corrupted Poetry. She’s also a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.

7 April 2021