And are you gone from me?
And are you dead?
Who loved me always
and now prefer the wind.
And is it spring
with an untimely frost?
And are the bushes sticks?
And berry-flowers dew?
And do I waking wake?
And is this floor the earth?
And do I breathe in smoke?
And is this wind?
Oh are you not alive?
Who loved me as your own
and gave me seasons
buttered with the sun.
Song For Sleep
I sleep and hold your hand
and hold your hand in sleep.
A shrunken moon slides in.
The eucalyptus breathes.
The garden shed grows tall,
taller than the hedge.
And years roll on, roll on
until we have no years
Then like blossom floats
an alphabet of dust.
I hold in sleep your hand.
In sleep I hold your hand.
When they had done with her and her mother
she climbed a tree and hung herself – a girl
in a red sweater that her mother had knitted.
This is one front page image I remember
from the Srebrenica massacre.
If we could live inside the memory of ‘Once
there was a village that was undisturbed’,
by now she’d be a mother knitting sweaters
for her own daughter. My fingers unbuckle
the woven belt she slung around a branch.
Her slim bare legs are swinging down.
Feet on earth again, up she springs and runs.
The monkey cry, forbidden by Saul’s father
through the years in hiding, stunned Saul’s guests
and he himself, a man of sixty, dressed
in his best suit. It was the Leichenschmaus,
the funeral lunch, for his father. The family,
Saul and his one son, were seated
at the head table. Embossed white linen,
heavy silver, glassware. But the monkey cry,
as if repressed for fifty years, exploded
from within Saul’s throat. Down he slid,
a bulk onto the floor, knees pulled up,
fists against his eyes. Three years
they’d lived in the Ape House storage room
inside the Royal Artis Zoo. The keeper,
the only man they saw. His chimp, Kosheeba,
the worker, who delivered their monkey mash.
Saul’s world – the concrete floor, the straw
in which they lay, the wire cage in front
with climbing ropes and branches, and his mama
and his papa in matching matted mink,
long coats that papa stitched by hand.
Saul knew the feel of lining silk and fur,
and how it smelled, and to be small
against his father’s chest and feel the warmth
and hear the muffled lub-dub of the heart.
But how his family had ‘disappeared’;
who’d colluded; how it was condoned;
and the survival of several hundred Jews
inside the Royal Artis Zoo was fogged history.
It would be called up after Saul
shook himself to take his place again
beside his son and passed around a photo
found on Thursday when he’d found
his father dead. Dead and covered
with the coat he’d worn in hiding, the mink
in the photo from Liberation Day. To think
that his father had kept that coat to die
beneath it. To die with his hands stiff
against his ears as if he heard the cry,
a sound like a howl or a beseeching;
or that inside the worn-out wartime coat
the monkey cry lived on. Returned to self,
Saul looked around Restaurant Basaal.
No one met his gaze. The room, strangely
still, was loud with nothing to be heard.
Joan Michelson won first prize in the Bristol Poetry Competition, UK, 2015, first prize in the Torriano Competition, UK, 2014, and she received the Hamish Canham prize from the Poetry Society of England, 2012 and her poem ‘Self-Portrait with Secret’ was a Poetry Society newsletter selection Dec 2016. Her writing has been selected for several British Council and Arts Council anthologies of New Writing. Her first collection, Toward the Heliopause was published by Poetic Matrix Press, CA, USA, 2011. Her chapbook, Bloomvale Home, portraits of residents in a care home, by Original Plus Books, UK, 2016. Forthcoming, 2017, from Sentinel Books, UK, a new collection, Landing Stage. Forthcoming 2018, from The Finishing Line Press, KY, chapbook, ‘The Family Kitchen’. Originally from New England, USA, Joan lives in London, England.