‘Bring me at my close to the Water Dogs’,
my father would say.
‘When I’m tired, waning, take me to play
with those who ward the cusp of this earth –
the Asrais. You know them, my Love? Like most,
I want to meet my end surrounded by friends;
my ancestors, my clansmen –
leading me low to the world’s bed.
I trust they’ll show me where to rest my head.’
So in his last days, skin yellow and soft,
body wasted from the fight with his own particles,
I brought him to the loch, at dusk,
the air dense with a salty musk, and speckled
with the dance of wind-swept haar and dappled wings
refracting the sun like fragments of glass.
We decanted some vintage scotch
at the lapping edge of the firth, and settled –
waiting for the shore to break,
for the leap of a fish or a tail, for the rise of his pack.
How to be Alone
Flicking the needle up by its eye
fashions a tighter stitch
(you don’t want loose threads),
so start at the ankles of oversized pants
and back-stitch sleeves from benign insides –
snapping off the cord on the wrist.
You’ll need assistance to hem yourself in
so make pleasantries, (you don’t need
to mean it), then tuck down head;
passing red thread through rubbery lip
and all of your chins – all of them.
Leave one survival nostril spare.
Weave spare threads through hair, Viking-style,
then seek a hand to loop what’s left
around lashes. Plait them if preferred.
Gather love notes and stuff them
in all hearing holes, block all empty spaces
(you don’t want ghosts getting in).
But this is only a solution until you’re
unearthed. Your choice of corner
will determine the depth of solitude solicited.
Once recovered, you’ll either be found
softened, dreaming foetal bean-like dreams,
or when unzipped
there’ll just be empty clothes
and unbroken seams.
The Paper Woman
Who is she, sir?
She tilts on her rocker, a brittle wooden frame –
hair all thinning, like fibreglass, tipping back and forward
shifting the dust
and once an hour dropping crepe lids
over ochre corneas, crusted, dry,
more to shut off the world than moisten eyes.
And no-one’s to touch her?
She’s always said so – even when supple
she brushed away stray fingers like matches
ablaze with danger. Only once did she stutter –
but stopped by God she ran, chin aloft
and quivering, lace skin shimmering.
All restraint gone to waste – smudged
by a Coalman’s dark. The event is etched on her skin
with a sharpened stave, leaving bitter rivets which
itch to a depth she can’t scratch.
And now she’s cold, centuries old (though in truth, fewer in years)
and any slight is a mortal wound. She was told
to wear her story like links in chainmail, or bold tattoos
like the Bayeux Tapestry, but her skin got too thin,
it let the lead in, and the clumps glitter in the blood
like little blackened geodes.
And is there respite in sight?
Who’s to know?
Perhaps there’s a friend to erase those hurts
with salted bread, a warm, soft cloth – melting slack
the paper to expose her raw insides, the fragrant lush within;
the child who danced the Coalman’s dance,
if there’s still time. She’s waiting for the One who’ll try
Marriage & Black Holes
Remember my face, when you look up in bed
through the skylight, the net lace –
I’m the sucking goop between galaxies there,
spread thin like emollient blackcurrant jam
feeding seeds to our stellar satellites.
You could try to finger me,
I’m soft and flighted, wider than the night
and inset with the sparkling stars of life.
And yet you chose her, and strife,
and all the unknowns of a broken life,
a twister from our warren, that dense space
I’ve been compacting with memories just your size,
honeys, jams, and a wife the size of the sky.
A-top the crag at Clynnog Fawr –
a rook, a rock, and an ancient well.
Here, it’s said the naiads dance and dwell.
The slap of water on stone is echoed clapping,
their skipping the trickle, the murmur – a tune
rang by a treacled bell, a call to announce
the happening of a water spell.
To visit with a wish is tradition.
A word for love, or to a poison repel will
cause the water to rise, to heave, to swell
above the etched stick figures on the shingle.
Be sure to drop a penny in the well
as you kneel to dip a finger in the golden flow,
ample like caramel. This is their impish elixir;
ready for bottling in a horn or a clam-shell.
But do be wary of the potions the water-sprites sell;
the eldermen tell of possessions, a reckless wanderlust
biting at the toes like shoes lined with stones.
It’s said that once the road is met, lips wetted with the brew,
you’re theirs, ill-witted, ever enslaved to the well.
A newborn, a bud,
a button, sheathed by leaves
and balanced in arms barbed with thorns.
A little lot of love.
weeks in wait –
each little petal layer
revealing another layer beneath.
The outer defence steadies but shows through laths
the inner petals seasoning, each a speckled shade of blush;
and the older the rose,
the more layers it shows.
See now, the intricacies of her folding-out,
and how the fronting petals wrinkle?
The inner parts stay the softest silk.
So many waning stratums
but still – a bright bud within.
Caroline Hardaker lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her husband, a giant cat, a betta fish with attitude, and a forest of houseplants. Her poetry has been published widely, most recently or forthcoming by Magma, The Emma Press, The Interpreter’s House, and Shoreline of Infinity. She is a guest editor for Three Drops Press, and the in-house blogger for Mud Press. Her debut chapbook Bone Ovation was published by Valley Press in October 2017. Visit her online at carolinehardakerwrites.com.