• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 07
Image by

Ghost

for so long
I was afraid of ghosts
even saying the word
sent me running inside
sick and terrified

now the ghost is in the bath
shaving her skinny legs
her ghost-face clear and rubbed
with myrtle soap
she will suck dick in a tram car
she will rip the spines of books
she will open packets of coffee with her teeth

nothing that is real is bad
the bad ghosts are the ones that don’t exist
hovering round tv sets and fairgrounds and at dusk
sinking the last desperate flicks of sun into the black ground

this real ghost has a hollow golden mouth
fatted with foam and glass
pinpricked moon cusp teeth
wide jellied-eel eyeballs
pink sandals and a blue silk dressing gown

in the kitchen are the ghost’s dirty plates
her grey ceramic cooking pots
her glinting mirrors and jars of gone off tapenade
her cups full of green effluvia
her lemon rinds
which she rubs into stiff peach gums

Read more >
1

Gloss

if you remove colour do you sharpen memory?

Zoom In

a shimmering constellation of utensils
(that’s not a word that’s not everywhere)
an entitlement workshop

Zoom Out

a tendency to indoctrinate
clutching at certainties
a disposition we’re devoting generations to expel

if you remove memory do you sharpen colour?

2

Keepings

Pictured is the past in grey-scale, the present as silver, through an elliptical mirror to crowded shelves of the hand-thrown, the time-thrown, the mind-thrown. Three-quarters of a picture, framing an image: the white of the sun. Rows and ranks of pots and vases, slender and big bellied, jars and containers for tea and salt, spices and condiments, teapots and milk jugs, mugs and cups, nameless statues and two sheep stood nose-to-nose.

Mud, cold and wet, pulled out of the earth and handled with the idea of shape and purpose. Mass dropped and spun, added and taken away, and, finally, cut loose from the wheel, its home. Forms taken to the kiln to harden in heat, to make their boundaries fixed and resistant to touch. Slips, are to make surfaces for the eyes and fingers; some bright, some dark, some matt, some shiny; the ordinary properties of the touched, the held and the seen.

We choose and hold our belongings, fill them up and empty them out, live with what we live with, and, in time and mostly, cease to notice the things that exist in a relation to us of repeated utility. But there are moments when familiarity passes, pauses, and the object returns to us, perhaps entirely new, alien presences, more alive than we are, or shapes of pathos, freighted with all we have done through and with them. Objects that carry the mass of our selfhood: heavy and evanescent, permanent and fragile, transparent and opaque.

The potter has a name, not to be known here, that calls them to duty or leisure or love. Her hands might be his hands, and this might matter or not. Other aspects of the body will exert gravity on that form and on other bodies, as it rises into life as a historical being among others: changing, saming, becoming, belonging, relating. So much narrative is consequent on the human form and how it is read, and self-read, how much it is missed, how much it is unread, unmade.

Read more >
3

To Eternal Creation

The earth is round,
If not absolute then
Almost. So is creation, the
Integer zero, the root cause
Of many an invention,
And recreation too
As you merry-go-round
Around a potter’s disc
Turning it around to unfold the
Magic of various shapes and
Sizes that you can preserve,
Play with or eat out of
And all the creativity mirrored
In the oval of an eye that
Bears testimony to it, the
Creator’s masterpiece, decorated
To the tee and transcending
The time’s clutches to embrace eternity.

4

Grandmother’s Kitchen.

I see in reverse,
all the little pots, pans, jugs
pitchers, that made Grandmother’s
kitchen so complete.

She is no longer there,
basting, cutting, carving,
preparing our food.

But given the chance,
she would return,
ringed fingers restless,
playing with potatoes
mashing parsnips

5

Our Multiverse

The world inside the mirror
doesn’t see me, know I’m here
peering in at its place in life –
it’s dead, receding even from me.
Nothing remains of that moment;
time is mashed together, frozen
so we can glance back at the décor
we chose, lived with, talked to
when everything slipped.
Pockets, jars and baskets hold
picnics, nightmares... special days
and particular food – one of mine
serves fresh dates with Marscapone cheese,
another, children running through
the house, back and front doors open
me deep in a book on a sofa.
Actions have front covers
like DVDs stacked on shelves.
We are libraries and everything
depends on the librarian…
what lives again and again
what’s lost because there’s no assistant
or volunteer with a key or password
or hammer to break into our self.

6

Looking Glass Alice

O, my Looking Glass Alice
Tell me what do you see?
Tweedledee jars of powdered dreams
Ashes of life from cabbaged kings
Sit next to the urns
Of redundant queens

Each a trophy prized
From deadheading walks
When we carved Cheshire smiles
On the flesh torn
Before the burning fire
In our furnaced cell
Ground them down, destroyed their shell

O Alice, don’t run
You always knew
What it is I’ve had to do
And in the mirror you will see
The space where you are meant to be
I have the jar, I have your measure
Yours is the dust that I will treasure
So close your eyes against the light
Let me gift to you the longest night

7

Mamaw’s Kitchen

We woke up to the smell of coffee, breakfast and burning wood — her kitchen super-heated twelve months of the year.

Buttermilk biscuits, never burned on those hot, hot pans. Eggs a perfect over easy and bacon crisp as only Mamaw's iron skillet could produce.

Her daughter bought her an electric range; had it installed as a present. That "newfangled, useless piece of metal" sat in a corner, unwelcome and unused until one of the grand-kids finally trucked it to their house.

Multi-colored, handmade jelly pots, salt and pepper shakers, knickknacks of brightly designed porcelain from local artists sat next to dented, darkened metal pieces that were just as special to her.
Everything in place, and reached almost without thought.

Her busy life now grayed into a memory — kitchen shelves remind us, her gnarled hands are at rest.

8

totem world

you get the past wrong
it’s the particular way you get it wrong
as history
with a single horizon lined
with earthen relics crusted dust
and the smell of mothballs
through a deep shadow
plotted carefully little ordered pots
and figurines on level ground
inventing tradition and inventing revolution
and my ghosted body roaming a great distance
locked in a frontal immovable pose
sopped with rain squinting like I can’t see
always other to myself my skin opens easily
split into two distinct worlds pushing down
varnished with fact and your mouth open
with a language that calls me home
this mix of memory and salvaged
belief in order over loud singing
pronouncing your nostalgia

9

Feet of Clay

The porthole that opened into Giovanni Caravaggio's world was round, clear and made of glass — new options and exciting new possibilities stored for a rainy day. Every shelf held assorted hand-thrown pots — a scintillating cacophony of shapes, sizes and colours; glazes and slip ware decorations vying with each other for dominance. He sang as the wheel turned, the heat from the back room kiln giving a rosy glow that matched the broken veins in his nose. The collection recalled the pottery techniques of several different continents and cultures, but no visitors ever came to his tiny backstreet studio. Every once in a while a tourist stumbled into the warm, cluttered space, looking for something else. Giovanni smiled at them with a friendly indifference, not surprised when they made their excuses and left without once putting hands in their pockets. As long as he made enough to cover the rent and enough money for a few bottles of Chianti, he was happy. Selling his work did not matter, the creative process would always be the main thing — the one thing that got him out of bed in the morning. He put his heart and soul into every individual pot, a fragment of himself locked into the clay. Each bowl, vase, platter, beaker and trinket dish insured his legacy — for as long as even a fragment remained — he would ensure his immortality: a legacy given form and substance. Shards persisted for centuries, a lasting feature of the archaeological record; even if a pot broke into a thousand and one pieces, his essence would still be there. What more could any true craftsman worthy of the name want in life?

10

Infinite Potentials

Infinite potentials cries out for release
Endless possibilities plead to be exposed
But still —
You press and splay
Gather and draw
Pump fast and smooth
Until that moment of proposed supposed perfection
Then you stop, garrote and shimmy free
One more for the oven —
Done

You gain satisfaction from control...
Really?

Give me a more slippery satisfaction any time!
It pulls me back — that smell...
That thick and sticky, earthy scent
Heaven is not pristine tidy white
It is filled with pots of red-brown
Treasure finely dusted
Terracotta satin skinned
Don’t hold tight —
Let’s lose control
Knead it? Free it —
All the potential infinites.

11

Pot shot

She didn’t mean to buy up all the pots. But,
in trout-rich Lake Taupo’s reach, that's what
she did. Of course, there’s more to it than that.

She also took a mug, a vase, another
mug, some tiny sheep and an oval mirror.
How the boiler-suited potter charmed my mother,

whose great summer escape was going well,
now she’d ditched the hill-heaped city, and Bill,
for a loaned car and freedom to enthrall

the first dead ringer for Stewart Granger
who came her way. This dishy, clay-baked flinger
of shapes, this pot-thrower with whom to linger

longer than planned: he’d do...They and their shop
panned out. And lately this reflective snap
came to light. It shows things looking up.

12

The Shelf

Every home has a Shelf. It is invariably dusty with the accumulated skin cells of mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and children and that odd cousin who is determined to handle every object in the home at least once.

[This habit began aged four, when she emerged from a bedroom clutching a ‘magic wand’ which was indeed a magic wand but not in the sense that she had imagined. Although now aged twenty one, and firm in the knowledge as to what that magic wand really does, she has still not stopped examining, stroking, handling.]

The Shelf tends to be a hodge-podge collection of things which, stripped of their sentimental value, could be aptly described as ‘absolute crap’. The odds of appearing on ‘Antiques Roadshow’ with a papier-mâché turtle, unless the creator grows up to be a Great Artist or Musician or Prime Minister, although if they grew up to be a reality dating show contestant or hamster breeder then the parents would still be happy. It is impossible to date anything, because who ever heard of a shelf being dated chronologically? Things are not placed left-to-right, but are at first thoughtfully arranged, with the collection growing until there is a push and a shove and after the first smashed champagne flute another shelf is built underneath it.

The eye isn’t drawn to any particular object, because glass distorts and heaven forbid you move anything; Nothing’s been touched for months, years, and even the dust has become part of the family. But because this is my shelf [ownership, a piece of my heart made material], I know that there are four small vases, bought from an artisan potter in Cornwall at the price of forty-eight pasties, and these are the most valuable.

[sounds of the sea, a long summer, warm hands and warmer hearts]

Read more >
13

Plaster of Paris

In the Sicilian pottery shop
squat rows of unglazed vases
harden like skulls

plaster of Paris texture
reminds me of bones
the summer my brother’s hand
flattened like a ray
in the electric mangle.

The hospital nurses
were starched neat as dolls

and afterwards we sat
on a low garden wall
in the dying sun

plucked leaves
from the Escallonia hedge
crayoned our names
on the white cast.

14

Snap

I disappeared once in a mirror
its oval mouth swallowed me whole
no reflection escaped its icy maw

I stood not far not close but
the smooth edge of its body
so tempted my eye I rode
the clock-like rim picked
up speed winding the minute
then the hour until
the coils in my mind
squeezed the day tight
I held my breath and when
time did not fling free
nor snap back I sighed
and let my gaze fall
to the center of the glass

I stood not far not close
rather to one side ever
a polite child
no you first
please no
after you
I insist
and as light
rebounded

snap

Read more >
15

The Reflection

As a kid I loved to look in the backroom
mirror, small and round, surrounded by keys
and other mysterious tokens Grandma
wielded in the shop and the studio.
It was halfway up the wall: From my small
vantage point it looked like the porthole
in a cruise ship’s cabin in an old Forties flick.

I liked to look at myself in that mirror
but also to angle my chair or milk carton
so that I could see the image of the shop—
its shelves and rows and rows of bowls,
pitchers, plates, cups, stewpots, and teapots—
minus the reflection of my self-conscious face.
I preferred losing myself in the variegated rows
of pottery, in the glow of their glazed surfaces.

Their hollows held me—the many selves I might
become or could imagine. I was so young
that numbers overwhelmed me. The sheer
abundance in that reflection stayed the fear
I felt in the shop itself. There I worried
that I would jostle—or, worse, handle—a cup
or bowl or teapot and break it. I imagined
the floor littered with teapot spouts
and my own shattering in the face of adult
anger and the ravage of self-mortification.

Read more >
16

Reflect what you are

living in idleness
tremble with night sweats
wake up in sunny afternoon
no sign of lives in the room
on the dining table

Tax bills

Maple syrup
coloured hair
coiling around
comb

Tea Pot

Framed pictures of lovers laughing innocently

Faded

In

Brown

Bandits are stealing the sunset
Goblins are cutting the Zelkova treetop
in the backyard with chainsaws

I will know soon
The sky is always blue
Blue even up the clouds
You know the world getting upside down

17

Merchandise 7X

"OK — I think we have it." A blurry picture fizzed into the air; an image torn from the mind of an ancient relic. The Boss moved closer to look. "Can you focus it?" The assistant nodded eagerly. The humanoid in the chair groaned, her eyes rolling upwards. "Clean her up-we might need her again," the Boss barked. Several cleaning machines set to work with lasers; the humanoid arched her back in pain. Grinning wildly, the assistant focused the picture into sharpness. "Zoom in, right hand corner." The Boss peered closer. "I think that says cinnamon, would you agree?" The assistant craned its neck before nodding. "Swing to the left, down a bit — what's that?"

"I think that says allspice, Sir." The Boss grabbed the assistant's metal shoulders and shook it with glee. "Yes! We have it! The missing spice! Merchandise 7X. At last!" Looking over at the exhausted humanoid, he sneered. "We don't need her any more. Disposals — to work. Now we have the secret, after 2,000 years we can recreate what was lost!" The assistant punched the air. "Calm down. We have work to do," the Boss said calmly. "Coca-cola will once again be the nectar of Zirus 4 — the people will crave the dark juice of the Ancients and I will be rich, rich, rich!" Moving forward, the assistant added bravely: "You will be as a God, Sir."

18

The Bowls We Hold

Alexandra leans forward at her wheel. Her hands cradle and centre a wet mound of clay, a slippery brown hill, a rough form. “This is the beginning of making a pot, this is turning,” she tells me. We’ve only just met as she is teaching my husband pottery, yet here I am as she explains how things are made, how they turn from what we imagine into what we get. I only came here to drop off his check.

“The touch must be subtle but steady," Alexandra says. Her little fingers are perfectly poised, moving in rhythm with the rotations, the revolutions, the turning of her wheel. Everything spinning.

Then she digs two fingers into the clay’s middle. All at once, there is a hole, a cavity, a slippery dip. I look away.

Around us are shelves are piled high with unglazed pots, bowls, vases, cups, plates and jars. Row upon row of fragile, unfinished things. They lean, and teeter. I want to give her the check, get out of here.

But now Alexandra pulls the clay up. She makes it rise, it looks like it will fall, but it thins and holds, and holds and thins. Suddenly I remember a dream I had, I want to tell Alexandra, but it would seem odd. It was a dream about being inside a Roman amphora, trapped in the smooth interior, unable to escape, because the neck was too narrow.

“You must feel the shape coming” Alexandra says. The wheel buzzes. She holds her pot. It seems to have grown from nowhere. I shift from one foot to another, wanting to tell Alexandra that I know something about her. Yesterday, after his pottery class, my husband told me, fingernails caked with brown clay, “Alexandra is like you, Venezuelan but living in France. You should talk.” The check is in my bag.

Read more >
19

Vessel

The vessel is not a container
it is a body
or a fallow surface

The body is not a vessel
it is an object
or a signal of resistance

The object is not extended
it is flat as information
it is the law of consumption

Information in not significance
it is the breath of arid motion
it is every relative motion

Existence is not an attribute
it is an old curse
it is perpetual newness

The curse is not a form of magic
it is a suicide
it is a vessel

Nothing is a vessel
quiet is a vessel
beyond the body is silence

20

Sneak Peek

My first attempt at throwing a pot
was not successful.
My large lump of clay twisted and turned
on the wheel
till it became cup size
then egg cup size.
I rather liked my egg cup in the end,
well, not quite the end,
its final end came in the kiln
with a bang.

Who would have thought then that potting
would become my trade,
my living,
certainly not me.
But that’s what happened for a while.
Look, here’s a sneak peek
into my studio
the grainy black and white
showing its age.
It’s all gathering dust now
so a sneak peek is all I can offer,
just a glimpse of how things were
a long time ago.

21

Portrait of a Young Man as Canopic Jars

These days
it is not the viscera
we store in jars
but the mind,

each memory
carefully excised,
lovingly embalmed,
patiently preserved,

then laid to rest,
one on top
of another,
until the jar is full.

Some are
no more
than a
phial,

others a cup,
a honey pot,
a stoppered flask,
with space enough.

But you,
you are a cauldron
overflowing into
saucepans, vases,

Read more >
22

Come to Bury

Tom-tom was full of life,
too full, sadly, you could say.
Nobody knew the details,
but at some point in the process
he had received a sharp blow
that left a crack in his head
which meant he could not hold back,
he would just pour and pour words out,
every trivial sherd and dun thought.
I don't think he even enjoyed it
his eyes as glazed over as yours.
I suppose there's a stop to him now
but I feel he's still spinning, mouth wide.
When his logorrhea got too bad
he was banished to the muddy end
of the garden and the outermost shed.
There he used part of his insides
to smooth something from clay,
and you could hear him circling
as he tried to make his hands say
what his leaky lip could not.
Now he is looking good in ash
and has left behind shelves
groaning with collections of pots
ready to bury him in the earth.

23

THE IMPERFECT IN THE WORLD OF HORTENSE KILPER

Hortense Kilper collects cups and bowls in all shapes and sizes. She visits 'seconds' shops. Asks if they have anything cracked — it doesn't hurt to ask. The lady in the shop lets her have those imperfect cups and bowls at no charge, wraps them double in tissue and bubble-wrap and hands them over as though they are a greater treasure than the uncracked cups or bowls.

Hortense Kilper, sitting on the bus home, cradles those cups and bowls in her lap. And when she's back in her own kitchen she makes a big reveal of what she has bought, tapping the sides of those cups and bowls with a silver teaspoon; I can hear then how they speak with the voices of bad gear changes or old frogs or unoiled doors. They don't hold water so she keeps eggs or paperclips or pennies in those cups and bowls.

I look at her funny, as though she is the one who is cracked.

'It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be enough,' says Hortense Kilper.

The same whether it's kisses or sex or hearts. That's what she thinks.

Hortense Kilper collects kisses, too. Lipstick kisses pressed to torn scraps of paper, smudged and imperfect and taped to the door of the fridge. A hundred misshaped pouting hungry mouths in pinks and reds and one that is blue.

Read more >
24

The Ceramist

I liked the smell: I think it was the smell
which lured me into her workshop. She was
sitting in a corner, surrounded by
a myriad of mono- or bi-coloured
artifacts, pottery of all sorts, jugs,
pans, containers and trays, and all simple,
essential in their shapes, yet beautiful,
their quantity doubled by a mirror
containing them all, but for the little
figurines on a shelf right beneath it.
She was beautiful, intent as she was
on her work and oblivious of the world
outside, of a little walled town busy
as ever atop a green Tuscan hill,
seemingly so, at least, for she replied
even before I finished my question:
Sorry, my dear, those sheep are not on sale;
they were made for another boy, and they
are waiting for him to take them away.

25

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

Aunt Nelly, God rest her soul, wasn’t my real aunt, nor anyone else’s for that matter. It’s how she was called by everyone I knew who apparently knew her. And everyone I knew who knew her could tell you she was a kitchen witch per se, by which they didn’t mean a Hansel and Gretel kind, snatching up children to fatten up and eventually eat.

How do you tell a witch? – I asked my older friend Mark, looking at the photo of her kitchen reflected in the mirror we had taken one day in secret.

There’s no need for a coven, goat’s skull and full moon – he replied confidently. Have you ever wondered why anyone would have a mirror on the kitchen wall? Of course you haven’t – he shook his head in disbelief.

But how do you know? – I insisted. She’s into batwing pullovers. And? She likes the flickering light of candles. Who doesn’t? She enjoys pottery. What does that prove?

H-e-l-l-o? – Mark said, stretching out the question, and a hand that landed on my forehead and made me blink. Use your head, dummy, that’s what it’s for!

We agreed that day she must be 140 years old. What I learned at very young age was that you can look like yourself, have a perfect-looking altar and still be able to cast spells (no spider webs or eating children required). Aunt Nelly’s whole world, drab and grey, fit a mirror which was strong enough to hold the high-ceilinged kitchen with crystal white floor tiles and countless vases, magic potion bottles, tea and coffee sets on the shelves and who knows what else.

Mark and I have whirled down the hallways, attics and basements in the blink of an eye. The whirling winds of Aunt Nelly’s kitchen are fast asleep in the pots and jars behind the mirror.

26

An Old Photo Reminded Me That —

Mama loved her bedtime stories, back when
I was small enough to get lost in my bed.
She’d tell me tales of the pottery woman
who, all day, all night, turned out pottery
in a pin-prick-small corner of her room.

She’s in there, somewhere, behind silvered
layers of glass. Look in a mirror, Mama'd say,
and you might see her, sitting there making
squat jars. Tall jugs. Fat shapes. Never people —
no, no, she didn’t like them so very much.

She didn’t like what they said — people shapes
that misbehave. They whisper and tease her
wilting ears. She was like a chameleon, there
amongst black, there amongst white, sitting
with shadows that spat at her heart.

And that old woman, Mama said, smelled like
the long passing of time. Smelled like over-ripe
plums, or autumn’s spiderweb ghosts, or colours
drained, and dripping thick from tree limbs.

The pottery woman’s life was a glacial affliction
of silvery black on white. Even red terra cotta
lost colour in her hands — it gave up on hope,
on her heart, and just left her behind one day.

There, behind layers in a silvery mirror.
Left her there, dying like a grey stone.

27

A kiln (/kɪln/ or /kɪl/, originally pronounced “kill”, with the “n” silent)

It was her kitchen; well she liked to think it was
where she could glaze her days away.
Pretend it was a studio. A clay pot could hold a roast
and two veg. A roast and two veg could be warmed
at high heat in a kiln. A kiln could be a ‘thermally insulated
chamber, a type of oven, that produces temperatures
sufficient to complete some process, such as hardening,
drying, or chemical changes’. Changes that could take
the dissonance out of kitchen / studio / studio kitchen / cook /
potter / potter wife / mother / other / as in another language
any other language, languages. As in this kitchen she calls
studio. As in this studio she calls kitchen, where she can
glaze the days away / a roasted pot, two veg.

Title and quote taken from ‘Kiln- Wikipedia’.

28

All Is Not As It Might Seem

You don’t care what I think or say — It is not a mirror,
you insist. It’s a porthole into another life, the very one
you’ve always dreamed of, the one you crawled into
despite all the rejecting head shakes, the belittling stares.
A secret life, shaped by your hands, a ceramic room
wherein you brought to life a variety of shapes
with varying utility, bowls, pots, pitchers, mugs, and more.
Under each a trite ominous little saying, the kind
one might find in a fortune cookie, “Don’t pull
the tiger’s tale,” or “waiting patiently will enhance
the tea,” or “until she nods, make no advance.”
Voiceless clay mythological beings look down
on the crock pots, accusing them of being precisely
what they are — I argue back, trying to engage,
to bring you back to your senses. Look around you,
I say, clearly it is a reflection of where we stand.
He approaches the opening to gesticulate
with his hand. Perplexed was I when, true enough,
no matter where we stood inside the room,
we threw no reflection. As I glare through
the opening, objects appear to be moving.
I feel faint when I witness the porcelain cup
laugh aloud to a joke told by an earthenware vase.
The big brown crockpots will have none of it,
cursing under their breath. It was just at this juncture
I realized, perhaps for the first time, how narrow a space
I had allowed my imagination, how thin my willingness
to believe. I knew beyond all doubt I was wrong.
Read more >

29

Shaping Clay

It turns on central axis as hands shape earthenware.
Wheel becomes circle, then mirror as reflections

echo rotations. Here, a potter displays bowls,
jars, vases, where vessels were formed, spun,

created from clay—as if the Lord God, Hippolyta,
or Prometheus worked their miracles, sculpted

life into existence as Earth rotated about its axis,
tilted, produced seasons, revolved around sun,

interacted with moon where gravity stirred oceans,
commanded tides, as if power and gentleness

rose from otherworldly architects, whispered zest
into human vessels, into hearts—the embodiment
of love.

30

Brittle

Bodies arranged on shelves
await their use.

Await owners to lift them up,
hold their curves carefully
as if coddling something precious,
something they cannot drop.

Perhaps a freshly shaped container
ready to be filled with memories,
a fleeting life of flowers or food,
gently burn liquid into perfumed air,
placed particularly on a table
or another shelf as a focus.

Breakable as bone, handle with care
Stationary newborns. Look carefully
along these shelves find two sheep locked
in a gaze, overseen by a ram. Zoom
In to see the detail of this still confrontation
In a place of delicate ceramics.

31

Perfectly Whole

                                                There is a world
                                    in any circular shape, even one
                                made oval by viewing from one side.
                         As I look through this circular looking glass
                     into my love's kitchen wonderland, I cannot help
                   but wonder at the high proportion of culinary items
                  that are also circular. There are not any perfect circles
                 here, or indeed anywhere, although her tidy shelves of
                 jars, dishes and bottles give reasonable approximations.
                 This ancient geometry   –   the curvaceous shape of our
                   solar system’s planets   –   draws my eyes right round
                     the circumference and from radius   to   diameter
                      until I feel as imperfectly whole and sunny as a
                        silver supermoon rising high over suburbia.
                              As I wonder, she comes up beside me
                                  and leans right into me, making
                                             me perfectly whole.

32

SHOWROOM

If you need reminding of how to remember
then catch me concave or convex in sepia
tones. Learn to watch yourself with candour
in the glass of a kiln, lit only by the blush
of a forgotten moon; the stuff of the past
composed in the style of a different tongue.
Listen carefully for the abject spark, a stray
cough crackling amid the sullen order of lunar
shelves. It’s the lesson of habitation: to hear
the lumpen silence of familiar milieus, shuffling
about in the breathed-on foreground of domestic
mockery. At least you’ll be schooled in proper
shapes; will know what it is to hold, or was.

33

Landfill/lovefill

And in this one I keep all the glowering skies that became corsets when you left
And in this one I keep the essence of corazon azul that was the only worthwhile thing we made
And in this one I keep the synaptic Polaroid of you waiting on the marmalade chaise long, hands open to pleasure
And in this one I keep all the shoulda coulda wouldas, the maybes that we extracted from the three flickering dots of the messages that never sent, arrived
And in this one I keep a train ticket of longing, clipped and clipped and clipped, as I kept trying to take this journey again
And in this one I keep the better me, the version 5.74 that left meat behind, that went to the gym five times a week, that cried when you needed him to, that gave you a gin and tonic two seconds before you knew you needed it
And in this one I keep the wheezing knife that you cut us apart with
And in this one I keep all the stupid old shit that we keep pretending won’t become landfill
And in this one I keep eau de regret, parfum de failure, the endless waterfall that love could be
And in this one I keep the kick drum pattern and sine wave curve that arched your back into mine
And in this one I keep the last tracemark of your first kiss on my lips
And in this one I keep our once and present future, as it disappears again

34

Who’s Counting?

OK, here’s the story; it’s been seventeen weeks since I was let go, seventy-nine job applications, fifteen rejections, two follow-up calls, one bad interview, and sixty-one great big nothings.

I’ve painted the apartment, shifted the furniture around to fill the gaps Maureen left when she took her stuff, hocked anything hockable, followed four online courses: Get That Job, Cooking for One, Mindful Thinking and Makeover Money. Makeover Money was the reason I pulled out the Jigsaw Maureen gave me last Christmas — not the 1000-piece variety — the circular saw, Jigsaw.

Maureen had it all worked out; after a stressful day at the office, I could come home, do a bit of ‘crafting’, making beautiful wooden toys that, one day, the baby we were trying to have, would play with.

That was five months, one week and three days ago. Now there is not only no baby but also no Maureen, and no job (when troubles come…), instead only long days thinking about LIFE: the life I had, the life I have now and then, OK — I admit, it’s a bit of an obsession — the life of the perpetually humming female occupant living next-door, on the other side of the shoddy partition wall of my negative equity flat.

And that’s how it came about. Last Tuesday, after finishing my thirty-first wooden chopping board with rope handle (and no, the plan to sell them on-line hasn’t quite worked out) I used the Jigsaw to cut a porthole from my living room, though to the other side. A perfect job, if you want my opinion; but who does? A kitchen of sorts I thought at first. But no, the layout of the flat mirrored mine, this, was also the living room inhabited by a woman with a thing for ceramics — pots, bowls, vases, teapots; there were hundreds of them, crowded on bookshelves.

Read more >
35

Vessels

Are we all not carriers
made of clay?
Jostling each other on our formerly
empty shelves?

Every round bellied pot
a moon mother glazed with love.
Every straight sided vase
an offered bloom.

Milk of human kindness
from the curvy jug.
Honey lips, bee kissed
from pots dipped in slip.

Pouring the salt, black ink
of soy from raku bowls, hot kiln
into saucers of fiery peppers
to dip your dumplings in.

Take the lid off the amphora,
sweet oil from the orchards
on the desert hills,
holy nourishment flooding our senses.

What do you see
in the reflection?
Hidden scent giving us
the clue to our universe?

36

This, right here

yes, here,
beneath the magnifier,
in sepia,
is their small life —
a mishmash of pots,
pans,
facsimiles the husbands get
from local fairs
once a year.
This small life, small grief,
small joy,
tempered in mustard oil
with a dash of paprika,
is gentle hope,
is gentle pain too
of confessions
swirling
round the dark cavern of the cauldron,
of testimonies
gushing
like a whole sea
spilling
when the bowl is cupped to the ear —
its small silver abyss,
a confused hubbub
of many a sigh, a sob, a tired gasp.
But in this small space
the women keep humming,
chittering
Read more >

37

Le Nouveau Potier

La Poterie Française off Rue de la Somme
been here for ever, it seems
créations uniques from dessins originaux
forme traditionnelle yet prix Paris.

Produits monochrome like nuages overhead
from the sweat of l’emploi, dripping
into le biscuit en route to le tour
around le studio but l’artisan est mort.

Mort; la porte securely locked now
le sanctuaire for la grande araignée
spinning le toiles de gossamer
for it is le nouveau potier.

38

CLAY POTS AND NO PLASTIC

I grew up in a place like this
pacific in black and white
a glow from clay glaze in greys
light and dark shades as they should
                    do not remember any in colour
                    no plastic imitators pressed
                    into shapes — thrown by hand
                    pots — bottles — what they contained
embossed on — no transparency
being part of the temporary secret —
defied the label too
                    humanity respond still
                    to rounds and curves
                    close copies of nature
ceramic teapot and steam spout
cork tops on pots
where smells of preserves seeped out
gone now except for the monochrome memories

39

The Curio Shop

Knick-knacks and vases sparkle with glee
I’m sure there is hidden treasure in here for me.
Dusted and cared for
to bring out the shine
one could get lost in this store
imagination running wild in your mind.

The older it gets staying pristine
The more value it has with joy to gleam

Some little sheep to start a flock
upon the wall a hand carved cuckoo clock.
Mugs that were once filled with ale
a frog napkin holder just for the fun
air tight jars to keep your rice from getting stale
silver that glistens in the polished sun.

Afraid to touch for fear it might break
Be careful with that piece for Heaven’s sake

A sugar bowl to be filled with sweet cane
Most items have a function no matter how mundane.
Small statues of gnomes with wily eyes
Dr. Boyd’s cure all still unopened
porcelain from grandma’s home, her only prize
An 1820 train ticket, fortune’s passage a token.

Read more >
40

Seen Through a National Trust Window

So here they stand quite silent on their shelves
This standing army of selected crocks,
Shiny in their pot-bellied pomp,
Recalling once they served a vital role.
These jugs and mugs and casseroles
Cooked up the finest food around,
And wafted hints of joy to come
Throughout the hungry, happy house.
Such memories might all be lost
As are the names of those who ate,
If not for these in their proud ranks
Like Chinese warriors? No, much greater,
Since they recall the living life that was,
Not death.

41

Chai

The room smelled like chai.

Of course it smelled like chai.

For she had spent the days and months that followed partition stumbling through ruins, collecting every last teapot or matli she could find. Why, she could not say. She collected them in the same way some people collect coins or stamps. A memento, she supposed. A tiny snapshot of a large time.

From the outside, it was laughable. How boring. How odd. Why do you collect these clay pots?

And it was true — she knew that much; from the outside, the pots were mundane. They showed nothing but dirt and a question as to whether she still retained her marbles.

But she also knew, that when you opened the matli’s and teapots — that was where the magic was held.

For inside each pot, of long discarded chai, was a story. A story of the owners who had once brewed and sipped a concoction of leaves and spices. At first, the stories were not easy to see, but as she looked closer she could seek them out in colours and crevices.

Perhaps the inner walls of one pot would be stained a little yellow. A sign that its long gone owners were able to afford the delicate and fragrant luxury of saffron.

Read more >
42

children see/hear

remember all those telly programmes
watched while the grown-ups drank
talked about things hushed and loud
Mummy things and Daddy things

remember the noises and rattles
the freezing breath on rectangles
cold, hard, glass and the smell
of fresh putty after it broke.

remember a round window
wafts of steam and roasting
potato scents, serving hatch,
tureens and best napkins.

remember a round window
looked through on tip toe
something framed up close
tulips and remains of cake

43

How they meet their end

One, its daily fill of milk
a staple at the servants’ breakfast table –
thick cream rising slowly as they bolt
cold eggs and sausage – gathers chips
along its rim for years, until one final crack
splits it, and it’s tossed out back.

Two sits lonely on the shelf
in the unused room. Its thin neck’s
snapped by the housemaid,
whose duster slips. She’s thinking
of the cook. It was meant to hold nasturtiums,
or whatever in the garden is in bloom.

Three, honey-trails inching down
its ridged sides, gets too close
to the cast-iron pan, fat splattering
as johnny-cakes are flipped
high by the cook, showing off
on Pancake Day. Lent’s a long season.

A harder crash for number four.
Pease porridge on the cold tile floor,
lid cracked in two, pot smashed, and
cold fish for tonight’s supper instead.
Crevices streaked with blackened stews,
richness for tomorrow’s meals no more.

Read more >
44

Dream of Mine

Here is the studio of
The mother I wished I had
But whose character was not such
As to make such remarkable permanent
Projects.
My mother delved into the souls
Of others to sap and suck up
Energy and peacefulness
Leaving the host dry and apathetic
Without knowledge of why this should be.
She wrote beautifully.
Her poetry rhyming melodically
About love and love and love
Which she did not understand.
But, ah, to be a potter!
That would take a steady hand
And patience she did not possess.
Always moving towards a troubled past
In her present and future.
But, in my mind, my mother is
A potter and she owns this studio
Of beautiful, permanent memories
Made with steady hands
And an open heart.

45

Pottering

I don’t remember the year exactly, but I was still living in Scotland, in Edinburgh, so it must have been the early nineties, ‘91 or ‘92 maybe. I was just turned twenty, only a year or two since I’d first begun to… Well, you know.

Like so many who shared my affliction, my illness, some would say, I’d felt the first stirrings in my late teens and, so far so cliché, these had within a short time been confirmed following a brief but intense experience with a teacher thirty years my senior. Of him, the man, I remember little. Time’s rendered him no more than a shadow of threadbare tweed and stale tobacco, looming over me while outside, in the schoolyard, the voices of my friends oblivious as they larked their way homeward. Why he chose me I couldn’t say. ‘Suppose they just know, don’t they, from experience. For I was under no illusions that I was his first, nor that what he had done was as new and as momentous to him as it had been for me.

Nevertheless, he’d done it. Without shame he’d revealed to me his passion. Turned me from a healthy minded schoolboy into what I had always suspected I was, deep inside, yet hoped might be no more than a passing phase, just plain adolescent confusion. But soon I was harbouring a fleet of shameful fantasies, about men mostly, though gradually women would sometimes creep in too. It didn’t matter whether they were old or young, or even dead. I was for so long ashamed to admit such a thing, but often it was the dead ones that excited me most. I couldn’t get enough of them, would sneak them into my bed where, captivated by their ghostly voices, I’d bury myself deep within their embrace till the small hours forced sleep.

Read more >
46

For the Many

FREE — Please take one

An open door, stairs to guide
into the catacombs of the once loved.

Stored here is a dilettante
and a failed diligence; some samples of
a single life; chased perfection.

Some will pass by with a snigger.
Some will descend and grab armfuls
because of the F word then smash them
on wasteland.

Some will rush to look then rush away
seeking other. Some may linger asking
— what do they do — what are they for?
some will count furiously seeking facts.

There are some that will make a morning
of it, naming it an exhibition. There is one
who will choose the smallest pot, with a lid

for her treasure under the bed
— a shell — a feather and a stone with
a hole in the middle.

47

DIVISION OF DESIRE

Sometimes it was tears, others spit
sometimes she pricked her finger
added a few drops to the water she mixed with earth
before throwing it all on the wheel and
shaping it into kitchenware.

We ate and drank from them, but didn't know
the table was laid with division of desire
hardened by fire.

She served sadness in her plates, anger in her cups;
fear and guilt in her bowls and jugs;
we sipped her loneliness from her coffee mugs.

She used to say, “The best thing for women is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.”
A man must have told her.

Her flower vases were for a love that never came.

In her home she spent her days
as a god
playing with clay
or a little girl
playing with mud
but never looked inside a mirror
without seeing that place
where everything was neatly kept and left unspoken.

48

The Potter’s Muse

You'll never find me. Some days you'll even forget that I'm there. Then a recipe will call for something and you'll hunt among the shelves and there it will be again. That feeling. So you'll put your head on one side and narrow your eyes and wonder if I'm in the casserole, the salt pig, the rum topf. You'll run a finger along the rows of earthen brown and grey and green and linger, now here, now there, waiting on a vibration. You'll lift a lid and frown at the emptiness within. You'll wander into the living room and look out of the french windows and down to the road. In your peripheral vision, a vase or two, a pair of silent sheep. You won't look out across the yard, where the door stays closed and all within sleeps, dust covered, clay-smeared, glaze-splattered. You'll keep your arms crossed and your hands tucked tight into elbow and armpit. You'll look at a bowl, so intricate and beautiful that your eyes will sting. You'll wonder how you ever managed to create such perfection. You'll wonder how you'll ever find me again.

49

Window onto My Mother’s Work

Through the oval opening into the shop
From our back room, I see her work,
The artistry that feeds and clothes me.
Pots, urns, plates, fill the room, all turned
On the big wheel,
Powered by her strong legs,
Shaped by her rough fingers, same
That caress me at night after the clay
With the sandpaper touch of a cats tongue.
When she wields her clay knife to carve
Patterns, scrape mistakes from the wheel,
I’m invited to try my hand at working with the slip wet stuff. Early on, I decided
The wheel is not for me.
Instead, I work with ruler, knife, pinching off, bits, I shape by hand
Making perfect squares, transforming those into necklaces, earrings, key holders.
Mother offers glazes.
Occasionally, I accept.
Through the oval, I see her work. When she comes into the back room, she admires mine hanging, waiting to be taken into her studio, also to be sold.
But she never tries to push me to the wheel, instead praising my
way with the clay, squares instead of rounds,
Hand building instead of wheel,
Creating unique beauty with the same material, each in our own way.

50

Past Shattered

Mum's in the kitchen, just out of view,
as me from her,
as the smell of overcooked stew floats
over from the oven,

I'm. not. hungry.
Even if I've been out all day playing footy
with the boys in the street,
I stay hidden even though I know in fifteen minutes she'll be shouting
"time to eat!"
and reluctantly we'll all sit around the table,
so I watch her through the mirrored window,
Trying her best to keep together a family that's failing its final test,
we know it, but no one says anything,
just silently discuss the same things we discussed yesterday,

A strange feeling at thirteen to know everything's changing,
As bad for my sister, still maybe just too young to
understand the long-lasting effects of what's about to hit us.

But it's coming, I can feel it,
so I do my best to distract
from what we all know to be the facts,

I take the plate of shoe tough stew, screaming bloody murder as I do,
and smash the bastard mirror that offered me that hidden view of my mother,

And that was the beginning of the rest of all of our forevers.

51

Uncontained

We mold ourselves to accommodate —
to fit the shelves —
to fit in.
What our curves, our flawed feet,
our watering mouths crave
is freedom —
to be uncontained —
to spill out of the top,
and to allow a steamy aroma of ginger root
and licorice to escape.
We could fill the room —
expand our energy
and dance on the dusty, pebble-filled road.

We cannot fathom why a blue swirl glaze
is preferred over our red jasper, earthy authenticity.
So, we cram ourselves into too-tight jeans.
We apply salicylic acid creams to blemished skin.
We cover up and tidy up.
We conform.

Now is the time to turn away from the mirror —
to embrace the cracks and the burnished patina.
Now is the time to wander back into the forest of self.
Only the self knows your true worth —
your glory.
Take the cluttered tools and utensils
off of the wall.
Disembark
and then soar.

52

Potshots

Come on take a potshot
Hotshot, like you’re the kettle,
Gleaming new on the stove.

Kettles are the stylish homegoods;
Bauhaus in their formality
But pots? Piss or get off.

Form does not follow
Function, round squat
And ambiguously used.

I said take it, hotshot,
Like you’re an F-18
Pilot, a snot-faced youth

Ensnared in derring-do
With some imagined
Soviet antithesis.

Do a barrel roll,
Get an attaboy,
Callout the commander,

As stout as a saltshaker,
And his moustache!
Groomed carefully in the mirror,

His moustache borderline
Intrusive caterpillar-like,
His superiority, the worm

Read more >
53