And if you saw her hiding in the air ducts of Parliament
it was only to listen to the speeches.
And if she set fire to post boxes and burnt letters,
it was only certain envelopes she put pepper in.
And if she threw a rock or two, at one carriage
or another, they were, at least, wrapped in words:
rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.
And if, being imprisoned, her and a thousand like her
went on hunger strike, at least no one died –
the Cat and Mouse Act of 1913
sent the starving women out on licence,
and brought them back when they were well again.
And if an angry guard forced a hose inside her cell
and filled it with water, at least she didn’t drown.
And if she hid in a cupboard in the House of Commons
the night of the Census it was only to claim it
as her official residence. And if her friends delivered
themselves as human letters to Downing Street,
but were sent back, unopened, at least they made
the news. And, not knowing whether she chose
to die or whether in her dreams, she saw the king’s horse
flying through the line, her sash around its neck,
at least we know of the bruised shins of the horse,
of the jockey, ‘haunted by that woman’s face.’
I”m Thinking Of My Father
I’m thinking of my father in the backyard
throwing more and more wood on the fire
as the slow dusk of summer descends
he’s throwing more wood on the fire
as his brother lies dying, but then I think
aren’t we all dying, but he knows,
my uncle, he knows what will kill him,
a tumour the size of a fist and growing
and still my father throws wood on the fire
as the new cherry blossom tree waits
to be planted, he throws wood on the fire
while my mother sits and watches TV
and outside the fire gets higher. My father
cuts wood with a saw that screams as if someone
is dying and he doesn’t care about splinters
or safety as long as the fire gets higher.
And all the stone lions and grave little gnomes
in their cheerful red breeches are waiting
for the fire to falter, and the lamp that’s addicted
to heat flickers on, flickers off and the lawn sits
in its shadows and dark and its falsehoods
and the ending begins with its terrible face,
its strange way of being, its short way of living
and my father stops throwing wood on the fire.
Teaching The Trumpet
I say: imagine you are drinking a glass of air.
Let the coldness hit the back of your throat.
Raise your shoulders to your ears, now let
them be. Get your cheeks to grip your teeth.
Imagine you are spitting tea leaves
from your tongue to start each note
so each one becomes the beginning of a word.
Sing the note inside your head then match it.
At home lie on the floor and pile books
on your stomach to check your breathing.
Or try and pin paper to the wall just by blowing.
I say: remember the man who played so loud
he burst a blood vessel in his eye? This was
because he was drunk, although I don’t tell
them that. I say it was because he was young,
and full of himself, and far away from home.
If We Could Speak Like Wolves
if I could wait for weeks for the slightest change
in you, then each day hurt you in a dozen
different ways, bite heart-shaped chunks
of flesh from your thighs to test if you flinch
or if you could be trusted to endure,
if I could rub my scent along your shins to make
you mine, if a mistake could be followed
by instant retribution and end with you
rolling over to expose the stubble and grace
of your throat, if it could be forgotten
the moment the wind changed, if my eyes
could sharpen to yellow, if we journeyed
each night for miles, taking it in turns
to lead, if we could know by smell
what we are born to, if before we met
we sent our lonely howls across the estuary
where in the fading light wader birds stiffen
and take to the air, then we could agree
a role for each of us, more complicated
than alpha, more simple than marriage,