Featured

Mummified Cat

by Katie McCloskey

Advertisements

 

When you awake, you stretch
your cracked trunk legs. You rise
to split a brown pomegranate,
wet your parched tongue on its pips.

You behead the gold baboon,
dip into his canopic stomach,
dig between your bandages and find
a new shelf for those old lungs.

You pace in dark, ribs rattling
with amulets. You sit, touching
the abacus beads at your neck. Read,
re-read the only book of the dead.

I am propped against your wall,
my fur a prism of criss-crossed
orange linen. I smell of cedar oil
and bitumen. I will bring you:

love, joy, perfume, the mewling litter
you never had. If I find my lioness
mask, I will hack off all thieving arms.
I will heave the sun into the sky for you.

Could you just scratch me – right there,
right between the ears?
That’s the spot.

 

This poem was written in the library of Liverpool John Moores Uni in 2015 where I was studying Creative Writing. I’d been taking research notes in the nearby World Museum for a spooky short story, so my brain and my notebooks were overflowing with strange facts about snakes and dinosaurs and canopic jars.

I did a little further research online that afternoon into mummification and (being a cat lover) was perturbed by the massive amount of animals the Ancient Egyptians killed for sacrificial purposes. And there was no sanctity for the dead bodies, either – in 1890, 19.5 tonnes of ancient cat mummies were sold in Liverpool to be used as fertiliser. Grim.

One particularly nicely wrapped cat looked more like a treasured companion to me, and I pictured the tomb that it might’ve lain in. I was interested in the relationship between owner and pet, and how the cat might have felt about its deification (knowing cats, I figured it would probably milk the situation.) I have also been fascinated for many years by the Ancient Egyptian belief that you re-use your earthly body in the afterlife. Sometimes I picture those swaddled bodies waking up, far from home, in a dark museum case…but that’s a poem for another time.

Mummified Cat is one of the few pieces of work I enjoy reading over without feeling too critical. It was a joyful poem, both written and edited with pleasure, as if the words wanted to be out in the world, and my mind was only the boat they had sailed here in.

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/collections/antiquities/ancient-egypt/index.aspx

 

Magic

This is another poem written from a great prompt on dVerse.

The real Mister Benny was a pervy magician from a holiday resort my family used to go to in Menorca when I was a kid. He would have my younger brother and I in hysterics whenever we saw him. Here I’ve decided to turn him into someone’s unfortunate childhood party memory instead 😉

 

Mister Benny

Mister Benny turns up in a puff of ciggy smoke. ‘He’s here!’,
your mother calls. He pats her arse, and pulls a tenner from her ear.

Mister Benny’s batwing sleeves are velvet-lined to match his cape,
he pulls out coils of apple peel to decorate your birthday cake.

Mister Benny flicks his wrist and pulls the ribbons from your hair.
His hat is full of orange birds that turn to glitter in the air.

Mister Benny calls your aunt (who’s blushing like you won’t believe)
on stage, to kiss him on the cheek, then pulls three bras out of her sleeve.

Mister Benny tells you all to close your eyes and count to ten,
and when you open them – he’s gone! And so begins your taste in men.

Robin

Robin

We were in the playground,
ruining the polish
on our leather buckle shoes.
Kitty Fisher found it.

Round as a dropped peach
by the chain-link fence.
Soft little red breast
shrinking and blooming.

Tell the dinner lady!
No, now shh shhh,
watch it’s little marble eyes
fade to scuffed buttons.

I put it in my pocket.
As light as a penny,
the lump in my cardigan.
Ran back to classes.

By the ice-cream van,
cider apple lolly ice,
Lucy said I’m telling!
So we took it to the flower beds.

Butter yellow dahlias
and mother’s precious violets
laid their ratty root-tails
beside the dug grave.

I rolled out the body,
little bone bundle, tumbling
from it’s cotton swaddling
like a spilled salt pot.

We didn’t have a coffin.
I pulled out my scrunchy.
Wrapped in red gingham
it lay in it’s grave-bed.

Kitty did a reading
from her Illustrated Bible.
Lucy poured the earth back,
we washed our hands for supper,

sat at the table
eating chips and fish fingers.
Every day a love poem
with a ribbon round it.

This is a poem I wrote in 2014 for my second year at LJMU. The challenge was to take inspiration from a nursery rhyme and start a poem that way. In case you’ve never read it, the nursery rhyme goes like this:

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it.
Not a penny was there in it,
but a ribbon round it.

You can see I kept parts of the original rhyme, including the girls’ names and the gingham hair scrunchy for a ribbon. It also inspired both the rhythm and shape of the poem, as I liked its prettiness and simplicity.

I have tried to capture a sense of the children’s fascination with death not as something morbid but as something beautiful. They approach the dying robin with curiosity, tenderness and awe, and treat it as a sort of magical secret. They understand the ceremonies that accompany death.

I remember experiences like this from my own childhood – insect funerals were common, especially for bumblebees. One of my friends once found a dying bird beneath a tree and wrapped it in her cardigan. We all accompanied her, in solemn procession, back to her house to show her parents (who I’m sure were very impressed.)

The days were all snipped into shape back then, with the routine of school, home-time, play out, tea and bed. And yes, I think they were like little poems, full of discovery and magic. And those lolly-ices, which were delicious.

Girl

Girl

You slid from water into water,
floated up to me like a splayed frog,
so I dressed you in yellow flippers.
But of course you were re-done
in froth for the grand entrance.

Once you had been assigned,
they built us a raft of pink cards
painted in beribboned, sleeping angels,
to float us, screaming
through those hot milk days.

While I bounced on the gym ball,
crying, in the shuttered room,
clutching your fretting head to the sweat
collecting in my collarbone, they said
that boys were so much easier.

When you were old enough to think
you couldn’t fight your own dragons,
I suggested that you run instead.
Watched you trip on the torn yellow hem
of your second hand Disney dress.

When you requested a strawberry-scented,
glitter-encrusted plastic telephone
in the shape of a high-heeled shoe,
I asked you if you’d been brainwashed
by advertisers. You nodded, solemnly.

I have armed you, my love,
with a cardboard shield and a cheap sword.
But they are coming for you
with their eight foot, big-budgeted blondes,
and I no longer fancy your chances.

This poem must’ve been written in 2013, because my daughter was about four at the time. I remember she was harbouring a deep desire to dress up as the knight from a cartoon she liked, and I bought her a plastic sword and shield, which kicked off the idea for the poem.

I wanted to capture the way gender-branding comes at a new parent from all sides and can feel very hard to resist.

I also tried to show the transition of ‘ownership’ of the baby’s gender identity, from parent, to friends/relatives, to advertisers and finally to culture/society in general. The pink moves from the softness of froth and angels to the hard plastic shoe-phone (an actual thing, by the way) and Barbie, as the identity of ‘girl’, and everything it supposedly means, solidifies around the child.

I was reminded of this poem yesterday, when my daughter flipped the whole issue on me by insisting it would be 100% fine to wear pink sequins at a funeral. When I suggested you probably ought to think of the bereaved, she triumphantly cried, ‘But you always say it doesn’t matter what people think! And you can wear any colour you like!!’ Nice to know it’s sunk in, anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The image is a Tiny Tears doll, in case you wondered)

Hansel & Gretel

Another plate lost.
I brush the pieces
into a corner, touch
my freezing hand
to my face, flinch.
A tiny blue splinter
like a petal comes
away in my fingers.
Over my jaw slides
a bead of blood,
hot as an angry tear.

Hunched over his own
blanket stink of dried
sweat and woodbines,
he clatters bony thumbs
together and together
we ache with cold.
A last twig splits,
sputters on the stone.
The room dims.
He struggles through
a long, dry cough.

In the sawdusty corner,
they squirm under their rugs
like fat little mice.
I brush hard, scrape
the dry floor. Scatter
dusty straw. Tiny chips
of crockery still gleam,
all glaze and no gravy.
The open cupboard
is echoing. Inside,
my stomach eats itself.

Outside, trees hunch
under the pregnant
and yellow moon. Howls
tremble through the forest.
The children wriggle
like maggots in a
flour sack. Scritch, scritch,
the broom goes,
as the blood dries
to a tight pinch
against my cheek.

This was written in 2014 as part of the myths & fairy tales module of my creative writing degree. I was reminded of it by a comment on Granted so thought I would publish it here.

It became a running joke with my friends that I had something of an obsession with Hansel & Gretel. I wrote a number of poems and short stories based on the tale, even after the module had finished. I think some are still waiting for my epic Hansel & Gretel trilogy.

I originally wanted to find sympathy for the children’s stepmother and explore her motives by writing in her P.O.V. This didn’t really happen, but when I wrote, it wasn’t cruelty I found, but poverty in her soul.

That poverty is personified by this tight, skinny poem. Its meanness, fear, pain and desperation eat away at her, fueling her worries about her husband’s health, and her jealousy toward the children. You feel poverty working away at her just as she works at sweeping, her soul being parched of everything but need.

In my opinion, the real villain of Hansel & Gretel is Hunger. Hunger drives the stepmother to evict the children, it drives the children to the witches house, and it drives the witch to attempt to kill the children.

(You can see I’m still a little bit obsessed.)

Granted

They all want to know the same thing: how could you?
Its slimy little mouth…disgusting! But kissing
is a slimy sort of thing, anyway. I’d seen them at it.
Many times I’d sat on the pond-side bench (my favourite)
sketching waterlilies, and through the reeds had spied
them with their faces pressed together. Had my own
reservations about the whole business. Till you,

rising through the algae, webbed hand offering up to me
my dripping, thought-lost-forever ring. And promises,
connection. My loneliness written in your yellow eyes.
It’s funny how, when you were a frog, I suffered
such great pain. Such longing for your transformation.
Disgusting! And yet, here we sit, pond-side, your dry hand
clutching mine, my wishes granted, and all I remember

is how your slick thighs once thrust you through your green heaven,
is how evening once brought me honeyed love songs from the bulrushes.

 

This poem was written to a great prompt by imaginary garden with real toads. The challenge was to write a poem using the 13th line of the 7th page of a nearby book.

The book I used was Philip Pullman’s fairy story collection ‘Grim Tales’, and the line was ‘when you were a frog, I suffered such great pain’.

Borders

This is my attempt at writing a poem to a prompt for dVerse, so I just hope I’m doing it right! The challenge is to write a poem with the theme of ‘borders’.

Our Borders

Once you were suspended in a personal ocean
that I could not cross. You were close to the beat

of my heart, but then I was the border, my skin
taut between my palm and your sharp feet.

The pain when you washed up on these shores
was nothing. I was breaking to be built anew.

Real pain is this new world: the locked doors,
the diaries, the secrets. The border being you.

Cupboard Love

Your mother loves the kids
who only come for the larder:
the 5p jar, the jelly rings
worn like knuckledusters.

There’s no telling her.
Molten treacle for Halloween.
At Christmas the table folds out
under vast flaps of pastry.
Snowballs roll,
heavenly in coconut.

She’s stood at the oven now,
shaking the chip pan basket.
Drizzle turns the garden dark
as her too-sweet yellow tea
sends steam curling around
your damp, wool blend overcoat.

She lifts a batch of penny chips,
greasy golden coins to pay

your father, stood
at the temporary bus stop by the market.
His soaked gloves jiggling thin blue bags –
Red Leicester, chocolate limes, a pound of ham –

the scarf she knitted for him
getting heavier and heavier.

This poem was written in 2013/14 as a submission for one of my earlier writing workshops at university. It was well received, although a little adjective heavy (as usual.) I remember having particular trouble with the snowballs, although that’s one of my favourite lines. I feel hungry just reading it.

I have written a number of poems about my nan since she died in 2009. My lovely memories of her, and the part she played in my growing up – as well as small details about her little council house and immaculate garden – often seep into my poetry and prose.

The atmosphere and the characters here are heavily based on my maternal grandparents, although the themes are transposed. I was thinking of the claustrophobia of being held closely by love, as well as the debt which generosity creates.

I see that a shopping list has crept into this poem. I am absolutely a list poem person – I take great pleasure in the preservation of small details. I think of the masters – Philip Larkin capturing the ‘farthings and sovereigns’, and the ‘tin advertisements / for cocoa and twist’ of the pre-WWI era in MCMXIV. And also my favourite novelist, Kate Atkinson, whose eye for telling detail is superb and whose books often feel like treasure troves of precious, half-forgotten things.

I have a fondness for small remembrances which perfectly evoke a time, a place, a person, a feeling. And also, as my nan could’ve told you, for sweets.