Ann Pilling

Novelist and Poet

Today’s Paper

Today’s Paper
(June 17 th 2017)

Inside, two pages mirror one another.
Was this clever
or was it pasted up without thinking?
On the left a charred facade, a fretwork
of long black oblongs, on the right
a lattice of photos, some blanks.

It is too soon, too cashing-in,
to write about the fire so here I sit
in a London park with pigeons round my feet.

Someone said once, avoid big themes
don’t do the Holocaust, but if you must
pluck from the Alps of hair
a single ribbon on a child’s pigtail.

Money keeps pouring in, nappies and blankets,
No more donations please, we have no storage,
it will all rot when it rains, but everyone prays
in their own way. I sit here on scorched grass
with pigeons round my feet, not writing about the fire.

Ann Pilling, June 2017

Practising

That dent in your pillow is the book
that slipped from my fingers when I fell asleep;
you were in the next room, coughing your way through the small hours.

I am tidier on my own with my clock and my radio
my nightly pills, and I have all the bed;
if the cat comes I can sleep at a diagonal

feel it curl up behind my knees, picture its perfect oval.
I’d like a tail of my own to wrap round me,
thread under my forepaws, end at an ear.

Those in utero scans of babies show perfect enclosures
of frog-like shadows slowly firming up
to exit as homo sapiens. I’m practising going inwards.

But you can’t practise for someone you love dying.
I’m glad I’m awake, my dreams last night
were too filled with people crying

and it’s good that today is not bright,
that the house shakes under the wind.
I can practise curling up while rain bashes the glass
and the sea rules off the horizon with a steel blade.

Ann Pilling, May 2015, Spittal. Commended in the Bridport Poetry Competition 2016.

Marble Boy

The grave clothes
flow over him like water , after nine years
his colours drained away,
he is a fine-boned boat
alone on a shore.

His tomb
lies uneasily with the rest , its high gloss
jars with the flaking Tudor faces.
His mother smoothed the folds so sheer
his body shows through.

First a death mask,
face oiled, nostrils strawed, then plaster
smoothed on the Botticelli lips;
when peeled away, she started shaping
her parfait, gentil knight.

I run my fingers
down the flowings of his shroud
trace the lines of his feet, crossed like a crusader’s,
and I kiss his face.

It is no colder
than others I have kissed, less shocking;
and the body is perfect, no one has carved their name.
In the glow of evening it is flesh coloured,
making death easier.

Ann Pilling, October 2015. Commended in the Teignmouth Poetry Competition 2017.

On Achill

(at a time of the breaking of nations)

Surfers in black skins
wait in the waves like dolmens
a soft tide creams the sand.

These pure white pebbles could,
in a full moon, light a path for babes
out of the murderous wood.

Here is the sea,
somewhere is land. Our journeys
are many, and various.

A child sends paper boats
across a pool. My car
gets ferried home on a flat belt of water.

At Calais a boy
black-skinned like the surfers
stands by his tent, its blazon
‘London, my dream’.

Ann Pilling, June 2016. Prizewinner in Torbay Poetry Competition 2016.

Starlings

The new birds glitter
crusted with gold and silver beads
sprayed over wings and breast
and fight for fat-filled shells and wrest
pickings from thrush and finch
and claim the battleground
inch by cantankerous inch.

The first years strut in rosy leggings,
bead patterns soften as they grow
to a full starling finish, sheeny purple
and green like oil on water; unimaginable
that these will ever get tired or old,
take on the full, dull black
of priestliness, or widowhood.

Ann Pilling,  May 2013. Prizewinner in Torbay Poetry Competition 2015.

Breasts

They have done the state some service
and they know itsuckled my boys, pleasured my man,
now they have to go under the knife.

I’m being good to them I’ve bought
fine cottons pricked with little flowers
I bathe them in sweet oils and I no longer
sit like a hunchback cramming them from sight.

Why in my fat-girl days did I wear bags
to hide their succulent roundness? Why did I
mound them with cushions on our old settee?

In water they float out like lily pads
nippled with dark pink buds as this old river
creeps silently to its weir. Sad I’ve denied them, sad
how love, released, runs wild when it is too late.

Ann Pilling. Yorkshire Prize, Smith/Doorstep 2016.

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