Ubi Sunt

Where are they now, the transparent walkways,
office to office, tear-shaped desks,
the turning necks of chairs, head rests?

Sand blows through the levels. At night,
the corners are penetrated with floodlight.
The high cheekbones of the Place de Dome,

the Comfort Hotel, glint. Bodies move
like smoke on granite mirrors. Not my storey.
That’s empty, panes broken, its eery

insides deny I ever started there,
young, skipping up the run of stair;
deny I worked my whole life behind glass.

first published in the Times Literary Supplement
TLS Poem of the Week

Published by Nine Arches Press

Captured women

And in that house there was a room
That was hung with many drawings
Of women with their mouths tight
Shut, lips making a point:
‘Why do you stand in front of us?
Why stand there? Why not go?’

One dipped her curls forward
Thoughtfully: ‘Why don’t you hang?
When will you go?’ Their hair, serious
Expansion of each, upwards, sideways,
A boundary against the questions:
‘Why are we on the brink of you?’

The pencil asked what hair weighs
And drew it to cover the tucked-away
Technology of ear. Listen:
The captured women ask: ‘Why
Do we hang in front of you?
Why hang here? Why don’t we go?’

The jib of them, their hissing sound,
Like woodpeckers or worried finches
Considering a swing at the seeds
Before flight from the sparrowhawk:
‘Why do we hang here while you stand?
Why don’t we go? Why don’t we go?’

Mollicle Nine Arches Press



Examine yourself, river.
Wind, you have collapsed
from your adrenalin rush.
Sun, you’ve flooded the vertical,
splashing reeds and palming
planes. Damaged oak,
you have no heart or gut.
Your only organ, skin.

I cling to you tighter
than a striped shell
on a fennel stalk.

Mollicle Nine Arches Press


The woman let off Death Row walked through a gorge
of chaotic limestone left by meltwater
and saw men everywhere.

They were climbing the steep and overhung sides.
Their feet flexed in thin shoes, toeing
crevice after crevice.

Their hands pried the split crag for brokenness.
They hung
and carefully worked out each nodule of rock

rejecting the frailty of this or that stone,
clicking in the knot
that would hold them from falling back to the passage.

She ignored arrows, made her own path
through tall-stalked, small-

headed ferns and young ash,
past a feral goat, newish horns knuckling up,

across cinquefoil-buttered grass, near-invisible swellings
of bluebell seed, a memory of leaving home–
or maybe a promise.

The climbers weren’t enjoying the view.
They climbed for the sake of the stone. One stopped
in a patch of sun, refusing to carry on

trusting the handshake of rock and rope
though below each man another looked up
holding a thin string.

She was looking for innocence
like an older woman standing over her young husband
allowing an undoing of long hair.

first published in Poetry Wales, 2008 and featured as poem of the day on Poetry Daily, August 26th 2008


Once Troublesome

‘Let them call her a wicked old woman! she knew she was no such thing.’ Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent

It isn’t New Year yet so Happy What?
Till then, it’s Boxing Day every morning.
Empty bags hang off the radiators.
Chilly: hot
                                  Cordelia position.

                     Did it mean
we didn’t love each other
that morning he gave me up
though that same night he said, Let’s marry?
            My striped dress hung
                  along my body
my abdomen as I walked, a balloon
                      sinking back down
                         its own string
                   after the decision.
The baby would have had to sleep in a drawer.
(not you who refuse to believe improbable notions)
        the smallest cell refuses to die
        in its everness.
Now I live in an attic
garden is the chewed melon skin of sky.
Old bins, old books. Death’s hardly ethical
in the light of such continuity. Last week,
the CEO of a charity named in my will
wrote to suggest ways to retrieve what I’ve lost.
Look, Christmas photos
          of others’ other
                     children. After
                                  Pocoyo, Juggling Balls.

First published in The London Review of Books, 1 Nov 2007

Published by Shearsman Press

Investigating the Easter issue

A featured fish leaps in the air, its frail
snow-white flesh encased in a monument
of salt then resurrected. The picture editor
described the cookery shoot: how trains shook

the assembled towers of lights behind Waterloo.
But I was interested in the serious section,
Trad Stuff, especially that box where the subs list
reader-martyrs who have died for the Word

(whatever it happened to say). A double-page spread
full-bleed picture of gorgeous Roman streets
showed the ancient marble kerbs worn
into dips. Perhaps by wagons of animals

going to circuses? We start you thinking,
the editor beamed. Flora, Lucy, Felicity.
Did they run home for orechietti first,
little pasta ears, rehearsing the final

no to sacrificed meat? Were those flashes
of exquisite clothing, the miraculous
makeovers of martyrdom, a living
sign of faith in handpainted words?

Stretch of Closures Shearsman Press

© Claire Crowther 2024