At the bus stop, a dishevelled woman
in drab clothing much too big for her,
is blowing a bright pink descant recorder.
Beside her, on the ground, a hopeful hat.
Staring straight ahead, she blows ‘toot toot’,
child-like, flat, a mournful open note
over and over, the sound short as her breath.
I pass her several times across the morning.
The smug Victorian clock tower marks the quarters.
Still she blows ‘toot toot’, the dreary, stubborn
single note, dying as her breath fails.
The hat holds few coins. I think to speak to her,
ask how it has come to this, standing here
beside her hopeful hat; and could she not
manage at least one tune, like the gypsy
near Tesco – even if the rhythm’s wrong?
I don’t of course, restrained by that endemic
English malady, embarrassment.
Her one hopeless note follows me home,
and here I write my shabby conscience out.
How to Wash Dishes on the Eightfold Path
Stack the plates, the graceful spoons,
each perfect for its purpose. Notice
the music of clatter and jingle
never quite like this before, ever.
Relish gleaming surfaces
rescued from smears and encrustation;
the alchemy of matter out of place
as food becomes rubbish.
You are enacting the changefulness
of all things, the swing between order
and chaos. A broken bowl becoming
a charged fragment in your hand
invites you to consider now, and now,
the quiddity of all that is.
Tongue is truncated, thickened.
It’s forked, like a serpent’s,
but it can still move, still articulate,
still, with difficulty, shift a gobbet
from one cheek to the other.
A drunkard or a prisoner would be glad
to utter words as compromised as these.
What prudent torture it was,
to cut out dissident tongues,
knowing that the subtlest manoeuvres
of this most potent sixty grams of flesh –
this truth-teller, this incendiary organ,
this evolutionary achievement
as vital to the human core of us
as the heart is – can shift the world.
With a hole where voice used to be
there’s no more singing, calling,
blowing candles out. No natural speech.
I mouth words as if you were a foreigner,
ration them to crude essentials.
How redundant most words are.
Prosthetic voice is the sound of daleks,
rusty locks and serious bronchitics.
No choice of register, no expressiveness.
I’m not complaining. As the saying goes,
‘Worse things happen at sea.’
Speaking of which…
…if I drew up a list of losses
I’d add the sea.
I was amphibian once,
the sea my other natural element,
shouting as waves curled above me,
diving through, not knowing
when I’d breathe again.
Now, my neck pierced like an organ pipe,
the sea would pour in as an anthem
from the beginning of the world –
a roar, reclaiming me.
Necklace of Wasps
Not long since ordinary days
when neck was just neck
and chin was becoming double.
Now chin juts from its stalk
as if asserting something
like survival. Like keeping on.
‘Like a necklace of wasps,’
I tell the doctor. It’s obvious
she doesn’t know what I mean.
Sometimes I feel their soft feet
brushing my clavicle. Exploring
the limits of their territory.
More often, they sting,
malicious. Plenty more venom
where that comes from.
Voice is capricious,
strangled, or a repertoire
of frog-like utterance
but wasps won’t eat my words,
even if I must chop up my sentences
to spit them out.
Let this be my last word on the subject.
The wasps sting and stab
but, ignoring them, I speak.
7 Foreword by Emma Satyamurti
13 The Hopeful Hat
15 How to Wash Dishes on the Eightfold Path
16 You Could Say
20 Wednesday Again
21 New York
23 All that Is Solid Melts into Air
27 Voicing the Void
28 New Year on T14
30 Sea Change
31 Necklace of Wasps
32 Mother Tongue
37 Requiem for a Death Foretold
38 Small Change
39 Paper Boat
40 Vyasa’s Gift
41 Hold On
42 The Climate Game
43 War Rhyme
49 Sight Reading
54 Le moment juste
55 It Turns Out
57 Less than Beautiful
59 Memento Mori
‘No matter how compelling her themes, with their demands of compassion and political conscience, Satyamurti never loses hold of her main topic: the capacity of language.’ – Bernard O’Donoghue, Poetry London.
‘Carole Satyamurti’s poems look to be stations on a road map of psychological discoveries, sometimes personal, sometimes objective and scientific. Her best poems are not so much confessions as meditations.’ – Anne Stevenson, London Magazine
‘Her unobtrusive approach is deceptive – these poems have unexpected stings in their tails.’ – Penelope Shuttle
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