Every morning she’s down there
on the verge, barefoot and swaying her weight
like her holy soles are slow-burning
The light here is an old violin, cracked
scratching bars through the watcher’s window
and her grey head bows angel time while she dances
if that’s what this is
By the eighth morning I’ve composed her life
from scraps, quilting her song
with real wild bright minors
I toast her with coffee
and sing her down ribbons
The day I leave she treadles the gutter
stormwater, kicks up sticks and feathers
cursing the rain
cursing the pigeons, the windows, the watcher
wearing a whole different heart
and the light is more hammer than strings
Ankh Spice is a poet from Aotearoa (New Zealand), who has an abiding love of the sea, and story-songs that include small mysteries. His poetry has been recently published in Black Bough Poetry, Burning House Press, and Pixel Heart Magazine, and has recently completed his first chapbook. @SeaGoatWhoScreamsPoetry on Facebook.
*From the Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020*
All of the poems that follow first appeared in their original, unedited forms on the WombwellRainbow blog. Thank you to Paul Brookes for curating with such care, and the artists (MaryFrances Ness, James Knight, and Sue Harpham) who provided images for the month-long ekphrastic challenge which inspired them
Sun’s first sleep-breath sweets the dropped shoulder
of Te Puia o Whakaari, her bones in early mistlight all grace
and delicate pickings, gulled clavicles of a hard dancer, stilled
Coiled tension is resting. It is hard to recognise a haunting
in the rose-gilt of a sunrise. Do you know her name, when you recognised it
did you forget to exhale? Release your living now to cloud
the pane we do not see – deep scratches creep across this vision.
The guardians are always here to remind you – this light, it may change any moment.
*(In memory of those lost in the eruption of Whakaari on 9 December 2019. One translation of the te reo Māori name of this volcano forms the title of this poem)
Hold the river
You told me you haven’t been outside in 57 days and tonight the river is a dropped ribbon, limp and lost and the sharp stones of the trail as I begin to run become the sound of something chewing. The faster we go, the faster we’re eaten. You are moving, in the lines of your confinement, so slowly now you’ve become a painting in my head – static – existing never to be touched. And in the guilty, lucky air down here we’re starting up the engines and on my knees in the soft mud I can hear the first plane for months, idling beyond the water. I’d wish you were here, but the wind is whipping up cold, and the coming dark is frantic with sudden birds, woken startled from their neat new nests along the runway.
Feeding the koi
You save the crusts from the good brown loaf, not truly stale, but tired. On your early walk
through the city gardens, there is a patient round mirror to crumble them into, and in it an unfamiliar creature,
folded and loose in his aspect. He watches you from the water. You have never met his eyes, although you sense they are kind.
This morning, autumn has nodded last orders at the trees and the ember of the squalling sun catches
a plume at his throat, and his blur blushes bright — young with reborn flame. In the dry world the wind arrives
to spread the blaze outwards in ripples from the man standing, the man lying, with his hands full
of burning bread, and when the fish surface their mouths make round holes in his body.
In one tiny circle after another the fire goes out. Cool water — O O O —
welling dark and smooth from the gut. It was always the truth.
What feeds on us that steals our fire. What we feed to remember what we are.
Act like you were never for sale
On those days we were flutter and varnish. Time blown on the tradewinds — toys for the updraft, downdraft, too hard
and brittle-bright for any landing but the spurt and gasp of applause. And on those days we painted the unspeakable
feelings, the ones that never made it into the script, on hot ripe faces with palmed-
palm-sugar and unguent-of-anthers, and on those days those same faces slipslid their gaudied eyes and touched their cheeks
together intimately, brief and baked electric with proper unsaids, and on and on arced those spat-out days when the electric that moved us
moved us wet with big colour in that little pond of footlights all thrashing pick me from the swirl of young eels, him so slender, her good
bright needle-teeth, and on those days company meant only that we played together well, that even the most badly bitten didn’t drop
a word or miss a step, or when they did the faces they’d loved-by-painting bled laughter tainted kindly, and not yet like they smelled a life dripping away
into the water or as if they’d finally bumped against the glass, seen the strings of our dangling tags, and some of that last part
is a lie. But who doesn’t want to lie just as pretty as something made to end up in a prettier box, for now
sticky with the ghosts of fertile anthers, and so we bite into recall again and again, this cake now invisible on the pink plastic
saucer so sweet, so sweet and fallen to bits in the grass. And these days we know the magic
poured out of that flimsy doll’s teapot’s more real than you’ve been in your life. Don’t ever act
like it didn’t — like it doesn’t — make you sick.
Last night you called me from the bottom of a well and I pictured the signal between us as a rope ladder woven from a bunch of old strings attached. A bit frayed, this connection, and this wry analogy, but both holding together just enough for you to see the ladder a little bit more clearly than you were seeing the rope. And I don’t care if we’ve not spoken since before the world cracked its lid, I’m just grateful I still look like some kind of stick when the alligators find the ass. Often it’s hard to respect the tree in someone who’s fallen in an indifferent swamp, over and over, they think that makes you soft wood. But it was you who told me Hathor kicked out the crocodile god even though she was at least partly a cow. I bet they underestimated just how fierce a prey animal waxes when her herd is in the dark and feeling the closing teeth. I bet they underestimated her even after she teamed up with the sun itself and gored the darkness threatening her loved ones on the tips of her kind, soft horns. Stabbed it until it was striped with secondhand light, then drowned it in her milk of most inhuman kindness.
Ankh Spice is a queer-identified, sea-obsessed poet from Aotearoa (New Zealand). Almost 100 of his poems have been published internationally, online and in printed anthologies, over the last 18 months. He’s been incredibly grateful and a bit astounded to have four poems nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and two for Best of the Net. His poem ‘New Cloth’ was selected as a winner of the World View 2020 competition run by the Poetry Archive, and he’s really delighted that the video recording of him reading this work now appears in the archive in perpetuity, along with readings from other winners from all over the globe. He’s also very proud that audio recordings of his work are held in the first wave of Iambapoet, an audio archive of poets reading their own work, created and curated by Mark Antony Owen. It’s been a very busy year — Ankh accepted roles as a Poetry Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine, and as co-editor at Ice Floe Press. He was also a guest reader/editor on EIC Matthew M.C. Smith’s team for Black Bough Poetry’s Amazon best-seller, ‘Deep Time’ — two volumes of poetry from hundreds of poets inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland’, and was part of the early editing team for ‘Black Dogs, Black Tales’, a horror anthology produced in Aotearoa by EIC T Wood, to raise money for a local mental health charity. He’s also found time to edit innumerable stories for popular dark-fantasy author C.M. Scandreth (aka his incredibly talented author spouse, Caitlin Spice) for the NoSleep Podcast, and is grateful to have appeared (in virtual guise) as headline poet at two sold-out sessions of Cheltenham Poetry Festival. At the time of writing this, Ankh is also working on several collections of his own poems. One of these is a collection of his shorter ekphrastic and vividly imagistic work and photography — Ankh calls these ‘gift poems’ as most of them are uploaded to social media rather than being held for traditional publication — that’s been picked up by a small indie press as a two-volume deal for print. Further details will be released in early 2021. He’s also working on a very short volume of poems for Hedgehog Press’s ‘Stickleback’ series. His larger collection, which was picked up by an independent press earlier in 2020, but which he withdrew when behaviour damaging to the poetry community by person/s working for that press was uncovered, is being reworked for re-submission elsewhere. He very much hopes that 2021 will be the year for this book to make its way into the world. Ankh’s poetry explores a wide range of themes close to his heart – environmental/climate change, mental health, identity, queerness, body politics, mythology, natural science, spirituality, ‘the persistent briefness of being human’, the landscape and environs of Aotearoa and of course, the ocean. His poetic lens, which often employs strong derealisation and very flexible language that purposely opens up multiple interpretations, has been described as oracular, reverent, and visionary, and his poetry has been most often compared to G.M Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. Ankh’s favourite recent compliment about his work is that it feels like walking a tightrope over the abyss between two worlds — being forced to look down into the dark but with an awareness that balance is possible, and that there’s a new place on the other side, beckoning us on. Ankh’s favourite recent compliment about himself is that he’s a walking Mary Ruefle poem. (With great thanks to Sarah-Jane Crowson and Julia Beach). If he’s not out running the coast of Te Whanganui-a-Tara sporting alarming neon and sparkly cat ears, you’ll find him and his work at: Twitter: @SeaGoatScreamsPoetry Facebook: @AnkhSpiceSeaGoatScreamsPoetry Linktree: https://linktr.ee/SeaGoatScreamsPoetry Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-448322296 Iambapoet: https://www.iambapoet.com/ankh-spice Poetry Archive: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wordview-2020-new-cloth/