|CAROL ANN DUFFY
Small Female Skull
With some surprise, I balance my small female skull in my hands.
What is it like? an ocarina? Blow in its eye.
I cannot cry, hold my breath only as long as I exhale,
mildly alarmed now, into the hole where the nose was,
press my ear to its grin. A vanishing sigh.
For some time, I sit on the lavatory seat with my head
in my hands, appalled. It feels much lighter than I'd thought,
the weight of a deck of cards, a slim volume of verse,
but with something else, as though it could levitate. Disturbing.
So why do I kiss it on the brow, my warm lips to its papery bone,
and take it to the mirror to ask for a gottle of geer?
rinse it under the tap, watch dust run away, like sand
from a swimming-cap, then dry it — firstborn — gently
with a towel. I see the scar where I fell for sheer love
down treacherous stairs, and read that shattering day like braille.
Love, I murmur to my skull, then, louder, other grand words,
shouting the hollow nouns in a white tiled room.
Downstairs they will think I have lost my mind. No, I only weep
into these two holes here, or I'm grinning back at the joke, this is
a friend of mine. See, I hold her face in trembling passionate hands.1
TRANSLATING THE ENGLISH, 1989
`...and much of the poetry, alas, is lost in translation...'
Welcome to my country! We have here Edwina Currie
and The Sun newspaper. Much excitement.
Also the weather has been most improving
even in February. Daffodils. (Wordsworth. Up North.) If
Shakespeare or even Opera we have too the Black Market.
For two hundred quids we are talking Les Miserables,
nods being as good as winks. Don't eat the eggs.
Wheel-clamp. Dogs. Vagrants. A tour of our wonderful
capital city is not to be missed. The Fergie,
The Princess Di and the football hooligan, truly you will
like it here, Squire. Also we can be talking crack, smack
and Carling Black Label if we are so inclined. Don't
drink the H2O. All very proud we now have
a green Prime Minister. What colour yours? Binbags.
You will be knowing of Charles Dickens and Terry Wogan
and Scotland. All this can be arranged for cash no questions.
Ireland not on. Fish and chips and the Official Secrets Act
second to none. Here we go. We are liking
a smashing good time like estate agents and Neighbours,
also Brookside for we are allowed four Channels.
How many you have? Last night of Proms. Andrew
Lloyd-Webber. Jeffrey Archer. Plenty culture you will be
Also history and buildings. The Houses of Lords. Docklands.
Many thrills and high interest rates for own good. Muggers.
Much lead in petrol. Filth. Rule Britannia and child abuse.
Electronic tagging, Boss, ten pints and plenty rape. Queen
Channel Tunnel. You get here fast no problem to my country
my country my country welcome welcome welcome.2
THE WAY MY MOTHER SPEAKS
I say her phrases to myself
in my head
or under the shallows of my breath,
restful shapes moving.
The day and ever. The day and ever.
The train this slow evening
goes down England
browsing for the right sky,
too blue swapped for a cool grey.
For miles I have been saying
What like is it
the way I say things when 1 think.
Nothing is silent. Nothing is not silent.
What like is it.
I am happy and sad
like a child
who stood at the end of summer
and dipped a net
in a green, erotic pond. The day
and ever. The day and ever.
I am homesick, free, in love
with the way my mother speaks.3