First published in The London Magazine, October/November 1989
Deep in the Scented House
Deep in the scented house,
a herring merchant
is parting his wife’s buttocks
with cold hands;
while she has buried her face
into the pillows
to watch the zebras
passing gently by:
they seem to float
like swollen butterflies,
their rhythmically-cantering bodies
striped and hot.
These are the things one hides,
calmly and quietly trying
to go to sleep.
A high-pitched woman’s voice is shouting Basil!
and then a spotty dog comes whizzing past;
and then a little ball of dried-up seaweed
comes rolling and hopping casually along
with that serenely happy air about it
that Mary’s naked bush used to have:
Mary, I can see you now so vividly
doing handstands with no knickers on!
And you used to call your nipples Jane and Rosie,
or Basil and Rosie, I think — one was a boy.
Is that the little dog back again?
It’s really hot out here on the dunes.
Snowdrops in the Light of the Blaze
His breathing had always been bad —
there was something wrong with his tubes —
so he often went out to the Art Shed:
it’s nice to get out in the air
the snowdrops so white in the darkness —
but tonight he isn’t alone —
a girl in a nightie runs past
and into the rhododendrons;
and as he looks up at the building
crackling among the pines
he’s seen by the old headmaster
who naturally thinks it was him,
the asthmatic snowdrop collector.
The ride to the station proceeds
like someone drying their toes —
slow, as if something important
were happening to somebody else,
and will soon happen here, and to you.
I don’t think he’ll ever be normal,
but he draws very well, when he wants to.
Selima Hill has been lauded by Fiona Sampson as ‘arguably the most distinctive truth-teller to emerge in British poetry since Sylvia Plath’. Her most recent collection Jutland was published by Bloodaxe and was shortlisted for the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize.