Monday 12 October 2009

Zoë Brigley - Two Poems After Anne Brontë

Anne of the Opening Hand

In the overgrown garden, the winter days pass
like the long black column of a funeral train:
the hands of the mourners sheathed in white gloves,
their blank fingers pale and missing the nail.

Beside the blighted Scotch firs, the boxwood swan,
and the castellated towers of the bleeding laurels,
he considers the risk of encounter, whether
it is safer to admire me from this distance.

Out there in the wilderness, his hands strike poses.
Like trees and shrubs under a gardener’s shears,
they readily assume the shapes I give them:
the swallow and warrior, the lion or goblin.

He reaches the garden gate never saying a word,
though the branches against the window sound
a round of applause. All that is left
is a hand waning, reaching across this parting hour.


“Were an alteration to take place while she was far from home and alone with you – it would be too terrible – the idea of it distresses me inextricably, and I tremble whenever she alludes to the project of a journey. In short I wish we could gain time and see how she gets on”
-Charlotte Brontë writing in a letter about her sister Anne’s proposed trip to Scarborough

During the long night, I write my desires:
a letter for help that longs for a glass-flat sea.

But she cannot bear me to leave and by morning,
she has drowned my letter with words of her own.

I rise at dawn and chalk the streets with pledges
to walk the narrow edge of cliff-top verges.

She stands below my window and above I listen
for donkey carts that rumble on a faraway beach.

I drink the bland nectar of dandelion tea
with oranges sweet enough to eat on the sand.

I fill up the silence with a long caress
that makes little impression on her safe footing.

Still the water rises, the gulf will fill:
I float like a boat out of landlock.


Zoë Brigley's first collection, The Secret, was published by Bloodaxe in 2007. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Manhattan Review, and Horizon.

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