The Hummingbird Case

The design is elegant, the birds beautiful, delicate.
But their beaks should be knitting notes,
wings strumming light, not pinned unhumming
to a broken twig frame. Still.

Surely, anyone can see the holes in the filigree,
this lacework tree of feather and claws.
Only from a distance, death’s plumage
doesn’t seem so brittle, so torn.

Light plucks the feathers like strings
as they catch dreams from the sun,
shimmer with oceans, forests, skies…
What’s done is done. Yet,

even as I reach for the gleam
of these half-kiss scissor tails,
I feel its silence cut me.
I seize the beaks, tug them like pins. One pull and…

my stillness snaps their wings.

Sarah James, first published in Magma 48, November 2010, and in plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015)

 
 

The je ne sais quoi of it

It’s almost a kaleidoscoped dream: that year
lazing on the brasserie terrace, breathing after
his Gauloise, Pascal Obispo on the headphones.

But one word; say oui, a non, maybe a peut-être,
and I’m back in Prévert’s Déjeuner du Matin,
replayed slowly in monochrome footage.

His lips on the rim of my white expresso cup;
his long fingers stirring; the black
of his coated back, leaving; the silence afterwards –

a scene that certain intonations still invoke now,
just as the p, b, m of his voice nuzzle
into my sleep, no matter how hard I try to keep

the hiss of fricatives memorised in the mouth,
to push that tongue from the back of my throat.

Sarah James first published in britmag 50, Jan/Feb 2012 , and in plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015)

 
 
Bottled

What it is to be lifted:
glass in hand, a tilt of chin
before the throat’s swallow.

The mouths known
by each bottle raised,
downed, but never left

quite empty. Always a drop
more, always a shape
filled with floating light;

a story waiting to be found.
Here, warm lips brushed a rim,
fingers stroked a neck.

Over half our flesh is aqua:
our bodies a boned bottle,
with silken skin.

Lift me then, my love,
and drink.

Highly commended in Lancaster LICA and Litfest
‘Museum of Water’ Literature Competition 2015

 
 

my lif pic
 
Sarah James (from The Magnetic Diaries, Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2015, Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes)

 
 

Secrets
 
Sarah James (from The Magnetic Diaries, Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2015, Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes)

Unfoldings

He passes her the world’s largest moth:
the Attacus Atlas, continents spanned
in its wings.
                      Their mappings laid bare.
The wonder of paper shapes in his grasp.
That first origami! All the folded
light since. Dexterous hands revealed
humming birds, lilies, snakes’ heads…

So many years from this here now.
He spins his globe, pinpoints origins,
then unstrings
                      her spine again, twists loose
bones, plies skin to feathers, strips
flitting thoughts. His fingers coax her
past the white of duckling to swan.
Beyond the patterns of flight.

Sarah James (from Be[yond], Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2013)

 
 




Un(Synchronised)

Loneliness greets me at the Ericeira shell’s mouth. My mock
fisherman’s shack empty, I rattle in its stone vastness; too small
to raise a lasting echo.

Down from the cliffdrop,
surf hurls noise at the rocks, breaks its own scalloped
mosaics, as it contours shoreline ridges.

Linked-hand, two strangers on the sand’s ebbing heat. Their feet
pattern makeshift paths ahead of the tide.

A child runs after.

No sign of the rivers which sourced this palette.

Evening light folds to night ocean. Leaving my portholed
outlook to stand alone on the beach, my brittle-boned frame
shrinks in its soft enamel, and colder black left by the blue’s
wake. My stars here set so far asunder – last splashes of light in
a sky that’s dried-up.

I skim a shell at the waves.
Darkness engulfs it. I imagine its echoes, drowning, as the sea
reclaims its emptiness.

Sarah James (from Be[yond] Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2013)



 
From Archaeological Digs (Be[yond])



Unmown grass arches over an autumn leaf;
its serrated wafer edges, points softening
into an unfinished rainbow of browns.
This diseased mottling to hen feathers,
a fortune teller’s tea blend for the future.
How does this ageing work:
the next Neuropteris hollandica
preserved from these Renoir patterns?
Our child’s play caught in foxy words
or written into fern seed fossils!

                                                                  Living remembrance ungardened,
                                                  I grasp its wet stalk. History blades
                                  my hand, as I lift this not-yet-earth
                 from green skies. Into the chill
shadowing my world now.

Air dries the leaf. Dullness pinched
between flesh and nail, I return it
new to old soil. The rain’s stilled
acidic glass taints my fingers
with its changing transparency.

Which fragments – metal skin,
white teeth – will future’s children pull
from the ground while neoprene
grass whistles on their lips?
Past vibrations beyond them

 
 
Cumulus

Even before they met, Thomas collected clouds;
he could taste rain on his tongue
simply by looking at the right sky.

He’d greet each formation like his sheep,
whistling as he recognised its unique shape and mix
of white, grey, black; individual as every new lamb.

Cirrus, altocumulus, cumulonimbus…Betsy, Pippa, Lou…
He’d recite names, munching syllables like marshmallows,
while his sheep munched methodically

through mud-stained grass, only stopping
to collect under trees by the gate
when a nimbostratus threatened rain.

They’d huddle there as if hoping,
like her, for a cumulus
big enough to carry them far away.

Instead, spring lambs gave birth to winter ewes
and the weather brought more woolly skies.
Rain collected regularly in buckets, overflowing

across the farm’s loose-tiled kitchen,
where the air tasted of mildew,
and she grew tired of waiting.

First prize in writelink Spring Fever contest 2008 and in Into the Yell, 2010

 
 

Through the Kitchen Window

March sunshine catches my eye.
A black smear marks her kitchen window but
normally I wouldn’t notice.
Today, I’m forced to see things
Mother’s way.
Outside, flowers dance
brightly but I can’t shrug off my winter greyness.
The furnished rooms echo
a familiar emptiness.
I remember it starting every year:
her own obsessive behaviour.
She’d iron curtains, spring-clean
the corner of the corner of cupboards.
I look at the kitchen window,
for signs of her presence.
My heart searches
for her handprint on the glass.
I reach out and feel
March sunshine warming my fingers,
I see a sand martin sing daffodil yellow.

I see a sand martin sing daffodil yellow.
March sunshine warming my fingers,
I reach out and feel
for her handprint on the glass.
My heart searches
for signs of her presence.
I look at the kitchen window,
the corner of the corner of cupboards.
She’d iron curtains, spring-clean
her own obsessive behaviour.
I remember it starting every year:
a familiar emptiness.
The furnished rooms echo
brightly but I can’t shrug off my winter greyness.
Outside, flowers dance
Mother’s way.
Today, I’m forced to see things
normally I wouldn’t notice.
A black mark smears her kitchen window but
March sunshine catches my eye.

First published in The New Writer, 2007 and in Into the Yell, 2010

 
 

Poem In Which Mouse Is Seen Not He(a)rd

Three visual representations of this poem from Be[yond]. In the collection, certain words within the main poem are in bold to highlight the actual message being passed on, in contrast to the surface message.