Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 19 October 2015

  • Esther Alone


    I remember my birth as a dream,
    Voices beyond the give and wrench
    Of my mother’s bone-tunnel,
    Pulled, pulled into the world,

    The reddening, vein-thin last look,
    Drench of fluid and air the length
    Of my body as it fell feet first
    To hang by the umbilical.

    When I was two I found the company
    Of cupboards, made friends
    With dust in corners, a hidey hole
    Between two rooms

    Where I learned to sing
    In the first language: mammal clicks
    And growls, mouth pictures,
    Before there was speaking.

    On my fifth birthday I made a peg doll,
    Crayon eyes and nipples, pink tissue skirt,
    Married her to another peg,
    Jammed their legs until they split.

    I’d seen my father to my mother do it
    And after, her thigh’s black marble.
    By forty she was papering folds
    Of her face where the powder gathered.

    When I was seven I changed: thing
    To girl back to thing; then a doubling,
    One skin inside another.
    At fourteen, my baby girl

    By my father still-born in the woods,
    Her eyes one long stitch in linen,
    White as milk, white as the cut
    That opened then sealed.

    I grew into stone that could stand
    The rain, the cold, the driven wind,
    That would be an age in the weathering,
    Speck of me a fossil eye watching

    In the heart for the time to waken.
    The train made the first crack, but deep,
    Inaudible, then a fissure from that kiss
    It’s taken three months to notice.

    I grew out from there with every touch,
    Eyelash reaching into leg then pubis,
    The spine’s knuckling a whip
    All the way to the pads of my fingers.

    Now there is Iain I bend him to me.
    We are tightening, we are softening,
    Our bodies muscle of the other
    Until we are more alike than different.

    I stand in the wardrobe mirror,
    My silvered scar, my silvered belly.
    I look for where he has entered me,
    And a slit opens an eye in my rib.


    by Sarah Corbett

    This is the second poem drawn from the new collections of Eleanor Rees and Sarah Corbett and published by Pavilion Poetry. We featured Eleanor Rees’s poem ‘The Cruel Mother’ last week, and you can read it on the Centre’s website. Both Sarah and Eleanor will be visiting Oxford this Friday 23 October – a super opportunity to hear two of the most exciting voices in contemporary poetry. The reading will take place at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Jericho from 7.30pm, and all are very welcome! You can get more details on our Facebook events page or by e-mailing us.

    ‘Esther Alone’ is copyright © Sarah Corbett, 2015. It is reprinted from And She Was: A Verse-Novel (Liverpool University Press, 2015) by permission of Liverpool University Press.

    Sarah Corbett has published three collections of poetry with Seren Books: The Red Wardrobe (1998), The Witch Bag (2002) and Other Beasts (2008). She received an Eric Gregory award in 1997 and her work has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize, as well as being widely anthologised and translated. Her new book, And She Was: A Verse-Novel, was published in April by Pavilion Poetry. Sarah has a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing from Manchester University and teaches on Lancaster University’s Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing. She regularly collaborates with other artists, writers and filmmakers, and runs the monthly poetry reading series in Hebden Bridge, poetrynites@thebookcase. You can read more about And She Was on the LUP website, and more about Sarah’s work on her own site.

    Pavilion Poetry is a new contemporary poetry series from Liverpool University Press, edited by Deryn Rees-Jones, which seeks to publish the very best in contemporary poetry. Always international in its reach, Pavilion Poetry is poetry that takes a risk. Whether by new or established and award-winning writers, this is poetry sure to challenge and delight. Launched in 2015, Pavilion’s first three books are by three exciting voices: Sarah Corbett, Eleanor Rees, and Mona Arshi. Pavilion has already enjoyed considerable success, with Mona Arshi’s book, Small Hands, winning the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection at this year’s Forward Prizes. You can read more about the series on the Liverpool University Press website.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.