The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XXXVI, Lost and Found


I love the warm reassurance
of nested limbs.
Each point of contact
reminding me that we are here
in all our skin,
all our bodies’ coiled potential
for delicious collision.

But for now we’re simply spoons,
content with slipping occasionally
from the waters of sleep
and knowing at once
that we are here.

Love, let’s not spend the night
touching spines. Don’t you know
that we fit perfectly?
We should be living just like cutlery.



You commented on my love
of odd body parts – you knew
I’d written of your navel,
declared open-mic affection for it.

How can I help but find poetry
written into your skin, when in the lamplight
you glow like a god.
The scars flitting across your back
small mole beneath the lip of your jeans
silk-stroke of your legs
are more lovely
because I never knew to look for them.

That night I welcomed you back to your home
between my legs, clasped
the sweet swell of your thighs.

The next day I wrote “HIPS” in my notebook.
Underlined it.



Sex and Vegetables

You return from the grocer’s
with straining bags, flushed and content
as though we’d just made love.

I wonder if you’ll ever undress me
with as much relish as you ease an onion
from its papery skin,
or hold me as tenderly as you hold
an extra large mushroom.

You sigh with pleasure as you slice,
loving the silhouette’s swell.
I suspect my figure will never compare,
and I probably can’t satisfy you
like a hearty lentil casserole,
or spice your eyes with tears
the way a good onion does (I wonder,
is it the pain, or the beauty?).

But I am set on your artichoke heart, love,
so I steal a can of your beloved kidney beans,
take a wet, forbidden fistful
and leave a trail
from the kitchen,
up the stairs,
into your bedroom.
Sprawl naked on the bed, a red jewel
in my mouth, my navel.

I read somewhere that vegetarians
make better lovers, so leave your bags by the door
and come make me a believer.



The Day I Learned How to be Jealous

I found myself face-to-face with the toilet bowl,
spitting uselessly into the water.
I couldn’t throw up so I went to school instead,
watched the “V” of their held hands.
The act seemed pornographic
beside my freshly-peeled heart.

I could tell she was one of those freaks
who flourished in high school. Her hair
was a golden cliché, taller than me.
She wore skinny jeans
and they didn’t make her thighs look fat.
I heard she was the star of drama class
and imagined she was the one at primary school
who was picked to be Mary in the nativity play,
when I was always a shepherd.

I never knew there were so many things wrong with me
until her.



The Tin Man

I didn’t want to meet you for fear that you’d turn out
to be a can of worms.
That I would fail to find any resemblance to myself
in your ribbed aluminium.

We’d sit awkwardly on a coffee-shop couch,
your worm-juice leaking onto the faux leather.
I wouldn’t know where to look at you,
worried you’d be offended if I chose can over worms,
or vice versa, so I’d pretend to be fascinated
by the view out the window, remark upon the weather.

You’d say nothing.
Your worms would squelch and squick and I’d know
from their writhing that you disapproved of me,
my agnosticism, my allergy to physical activity.
After our goodbyes I’d feel embarrassed with myself,
wonder how I’d imagined a can of worms could be a father,
that cold metal could feel like arms around me.



The Lost

Lost things are never truly lost.
They wait patiently in your blindspot
all day. In the evening
as your blinks lengthen
their breathing quickens,
until you can no longer push your lids up
over the little planets of your eyes
and you fold yourself into bed.
Then they hurry forwards
and clamber onto your chest
where they sit all night
listening to your breath draw in and out,
slow as salt waves.
Each morning when you wake you feel more tired
than you did the night before.



God Might Be The Great Father, But Anyone Who Left Him To Babysit Their Kids Would Be Accused Of Neglect

My mum gave me a new dad before I understood
what happened to the first.
She called the new guy God, told me
he would always love me,
would never beat anyone or walk out.
He was a dad to be proud of –
better than a firefighter or astronaut,
he had saved the whole world
and created space, without breaking a sweat.
And because he was everywhere at once
he’d never miss a prizegiving or sports’ day.

But he couldn’t pick me up from school
or carry me around on his shoulders.
On fathers’ day while the other kids made cards
I burrowed into my teacher’s chest,
left snot like snail-trails on her jumper.



You’re smug, safely ensconced
in your new marriage,
framed wedding photo and cute
inconsequential disputes.

But you’re a bigamist,
your real husband is grief,
and always will be.
You haven’t taken off your wedding dress
since the blessed day.
You were nineteen and pregnant;
no wonder your life stopped lying before you
and made a run for it.
Yet you kept grief close,
committed yourself to him and his ways.
You wear your veil to keep good opportunities at bay,
trail white lace through the house.

So now someone has lifted back the veil
and they think that because they’ve given you their gold
you’ll give up your lace.
But eventually the love of your life
will find his way back into your bed.
You won’t be satisfied by lovers’ tiffs
and the headache of bills, you need pain
with more depth, the touch
of his cold hands.



I fell in love with you when I saw myself
cradled in your hazel eyes.

You were mirror-perfect.
I could make myself out so easily in your glass
I gave up my silver,
its dark girl pretending to be me.

You were a kinder sweetheart.
Wherever I was, I was loveliest –
no need for assassins or apples.
All I had to do was turn your head away from the light
and you’d give me back to myself,
whole and smooth.

When we made love
I’d watch myself in your eyes,
whisper I love you til your surface spawned fog
and every girl with winter skin
put down her powder brush.




The Land of Laundry

I have to stop myself from doing my washing more than once a week.
I don’t always manage it; there’s always damp towels
to pad out the hamper, sheets and duvet covers that have begun to smell
all too human.

I watch it fill a little more each day,
a record of my week in soiled fabric.
The dress with the pink spots I wore to dance in a bare club.
The leopard-print shirt in which I viewed a flat, now signed for.
The pajama set I wore
when the weather was still good, and I declined cuddling
for a cool sweep of empty sheet.

I feed the washing machine with memories,
carefully measure the liquid, twist the dial.
One press of a button and chronology goes to hell,
submits to the law of spin and bubble.

Hanging washing is a precise art
which can soothe the most blistered mind.
But the best part is collecting the dry clothes:
fragrant, a little stiff, and beautifully clean.
The sweat and stains of the past days
are nowhere to be seen in the land of laundry.
I pile up a brightly-coloured mountain on the bed.
Reunite each sock with its partner,
crease pajamas into perfect squares.
Hang each t-shirt and pair of jeans.

Now my wardrobe and chest of drawers are rejuvenated
and I’ll be safe for another week from the panic of no clean socks,
the sin of mis-matching outfits. This is the stuff
of religion. Don’t look for God in churches –
he’s sitting in a laundro-mat somewhere,
spell-bound by the eternal tumble,
taking deep breaths of the air.        





I pass the days attaching tags
to overpriced clothing for elderly women.
Cursing the needles of kimble guns
and tenacious glue on plastic garment bags.

On the phone you tell me
you spent another night in the pub.
Dutifully list the names of old school friends.
Sound puzzled when I tell you I miss you.

You are no good on the phone; your voice is too simple,
too focused on its destination. It has none
of the flamboyant flourishes of my own.
To you, language is signs, not poems.

I’m distracted by boys with silly hair
who know the names of the bands I like.
At night I dream I’m a vampire
protecting my lover from other vampires.
I suffer from a lack of drama.

I imagine all the things I’d photograph
if I took my camera everywhere I went.
Sharpen my pencils into empty coffee cups
and tell myself, he massages my back,
he bakes bread. The way his back looks
when he’s asleep, turned away from me.





He’s seen such carnage: hundreds upon hundreds
of marinated steaks decimated
within minutes, trays of veg lost
to never-ceasing jaws.
Profiteroles don’t stand a chance.

He’s been doing this too long.
He still warbles along
to the kitchen radio,
still grins in the annual staff photo.
But he doesn’t put his soul into the food any more;
he’s learned that’s the quickest way to lose it.

During breaks he cracks dirty jokes,
talks holiday plans.  A couple of weeks in Majorca
makes it worthwhile, for a bit.
One day he tells me how he used to cook for soldiers;
men who marched for eight hours a day.
They didn’t eat like this lot,  he murmurs,
his eyes all cling-film, apron smeared.

The young staff come and go, but he’s a permanent fixture.
His laugh is the boom
of the dishwasher, his belly round
as the industrial mixer.
His heart
is an iced bun, waiting until it too is served up
and eaten.