Stay in the loop and register for email updates about events, competitions and all things poetry.
sign up now
Open Tue 12 – 6pm, Wed – Sun 12 – 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday 12 noon - 6 pm, Wednesday to Sunday 12 noon – 8 pm
Artwork by Paul Peter Piech, 1993. Words by Katherine Mansfield. © the Estate of Paul Peter Piech
He's in his element, finding his stride
for every two of hers, beating the boot-worn
path to England's roof. She gave her word
to go along this once, to climb her mountain,
but hardly warms to the "hard pulse of walking",
the pace with which they poach their bird's eye view.
Surely this unexpected tarn will win
the town girl round, this startled blink of blue
from sleeping green. Surely she'll love heath.
But she's short sighted, short legged, short of breath
and when at dusk they round the clouded peak
his heart drops. Her empty gaze brings back
that reason she once gave for falling for
and still obliging him. Because he's there.
By the well of Thalmi, Ino my bride
come out of your house, come out in the night
with ship gods as well as land gods,
with bronze statues on the island
in the open air of Pephnos,
with the whiter than usual ants.
See the owls swoop down from the tower
on dark wires sure as death,
hunting in pairs back and forth
threading the night.
My mind empties around the tower
of Kapetanios Christeas and into the sea;
my old neighbour sings at night,
her imperfect beautiful voice
rises for no-one or the moon, Ino, for no-one
or the dark ocean wrapped around the world.
Long before we tie the knot, Divorce moves in.
He sits on the naughty step, patting his knees.
Crowned in towel, I step out the shower
and he’s there, handing me a raffle ticket.
He plays kick-about with the neighbourhood kids,
chalks crosses on their doors and buys them Big Macs.
Socking his fist into the bowl of his hat,
he’d kicked the gate wide, that sunny day in Leeds.
My mum was incredulous, “she’s only ten,
she can’t possibly have made contact with you.”
He clocked my young face and handed me his card.
‘Call me when you fall in love, I’m here to help.’
Perhaps he smelt something in my pheromones,
a cynicism rising from my milk-teeth.
With gum, he stuck notes on Valentine’s flowers:
tiny life-letters in factual grey ink.
The future cut two keys for a new couple.
On my twenty-first, Divorce took the spare room.
He loves to breathe down the spout of the kettle,
make our morning coffee taste mature and sad.
He waits by the car, slowing tapping Tic-tacs
down his throat. We’ve thought about stabbing him,
but he’s such a talented calligrapher:
our wedding invitations look posh as pearl.
He bought us this novelty fridge-magnet set,
a naked doll with stick-on wedding dresses.
Divorce and I sometimes sit in the kitchen,
chucking odd magnetic outfits at the fridge.
He does the cooking, guarding over the soup,
dipping his ladle like a spectral butler.
He picks me daisies, makes me mix-tapes, whispers
‘call me D,’ next thing he’ll be lifting the veil.
After the honeymoon, we’ll do up the loft,
give Divorce his own studio apartment.
We must keep him sweet, my fiancée agrees,
look him in the eye, subtly hide matches,
remember we’ve an arsonist in the house.
The neighbours think we’re crazy, pampering him
like a treasured child, warming his freezing feet,
but we sing Divorce to sleep with long love songs.