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Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Artwork by Paul Peter Piech, 1993. Words by Robert H. Shaffer. © the Estate of Paul Peter Piech
If we put all the
alphabet blocks on
the card table, we could build
a house, instead of playing
this stupid card game.
I was glad to hear that. He
built a Tower of Pisa
and a fake Gothic cathedral
full of leftover sugar
Then he ate one. UGH.
I want to go back now, through the buzzing darkness.
I want to go into that humming hive awake,
wearing the net curtain you called my veil.
I want to walk down childhood’s garden
as that girl who married her mother,
through the marguerite bed
to that nest, where my bee-queen lies
deep in her brood chamber.
I want to see the honeycomb of your mind.
I want to look into your compound eyes
where I’m reflected as an angry swarm.
I want to be that daughter whose mother has stung her
because she’s a rival,
who’s still pumping venom into her.
I want to be that childless worker
who dared to sting back, shreds
of my torn abdomen hanging off you
as I leave my stinger behind.
I have cleaned the window of my self until I gleam.
I want you to see how radiant I am
on this, my wedding day.
With all the love I now know,
I want to brush the halo of your hair
that’s grown into a comet
and mend the delicate rays of your wings.
I’ll place royal jelly in your coffin for your last flight
and close the moonlit petals of your face.
Running after rain and breathing deeply
in the just-splashed streets, I run into a wave
of guava washed over a wall: night-fruit
exhalation, courting moths. Spiralling to child again,
the dusk’s soft tent an outspread tablecloth, lit up
with tiny pin-pricks from a distant grown-up sphere.
Trapped, fidgeting through talk-lulled
dinner times, until – after eternity – we hear
the old familiar glass-on-metal scrape
as some strong-wristed aunt untwists a Consol jar,
so that the scent of heaven, pudding, can escape.
Sweet coffee drained, they tread the stairs to sleep,
full up with own-grown riches and parental cares.
And then the farm – at least as far as dam
and defunct antique tractor, chicken run,
the fence – is ours, keen children’s kingdom.
We, a tribe more certain of our sovereignty
and skill, down in that hopscotch dust –
perfecting aim and balance
with low-centre-of-gravity confidence –
than we will ever be, or have been since.