Sentinel Poetry (Online) #37

3rd Anniversary Issue – December 2005

ISSN 1479-425X







Time Running Across the Night


To watch Sitti Hoca set

her mouth and write her name

in a new script, to see

her comb wool sheared

from a sheep in Kurdistan, washed

five times, on metal teeth, then take

a wooden stick capped

with a metal hook, fit

one piece of the soft mass

to the hook and pull

with the fingers a thinning strand, rub

the long stick upwards

along her thigh and release

it to twirl the thinning mass

into thread, is to see

time made by hand.


With the fingers she counts

the steps back

to the beginnings of things,

the sheep on dry hills

while war wages over names

and borders.  And despite that,

the shearing and spinning and weaving -

in nomadic lives, all the names

for time and permanence.


On the mats beneath her feet weave

patterns named

stalk of grain,

throat of the wolf,

the evil eye,

love’s hook.


I meet her in the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm.

Europe made its certainties through leaving

and bringing back its coffers full of evidence.

Sitti Hoca is a refugee.

Europe has brought its losses home.


The patterns from the north of Sweden look

like those from the Kurdish hills, evidence

not of one consciousness flowing

through us all but, in a mat

that takes a month to weave, time running

across the night while the wolves come

over the horizon.  In the plane of thread, catching

love’s brief solace

in the permanence of the fingers.



The Opening Minutes of a Film


I look at you

like the opening minutes of a film,

when you don’t yet know

what to focus on.


In the long corridor on the way to the station

you are walking away from me

against the adverts in the subway


I must be following you.

You are a long shot that never recedes.


I want you to look at me.

You look back, maybe to see

if we’re going in the same direction


You slow down so much

your hair seems liquid.


I don’t know where we’re going

I want to touch the side of your neck,

this slows you in the electric light


We both know something is about to happen.

I don’t want to talk.


Keep walking, but look back

So we know we are together.


All the Stories Come True


The Algerian flower-seller beaten,

petals strewn on the French street -

always there is beauty to mark the blood in Paris.


She  arrives at Gare du Nord on her way

somewhere else.

Before her next train, she sits

among the people in the Luxembourg gardens

in the shadow of the trees and Flaubert’s bust,

eating a peach on a bench, slowly making

the afternoon hers.


She washes her hands and mouth, the hollow

of her throat and, on impulse, pours

the rest of the water over her feet.

A man comes running toward her

to make all the stories come true

and, looming, bends down.


With cool hands, he takes

the bottom of her foot and kisses

her ankle, the whole city pausing

for an instant.  Then he runs away again

between the people, the gates, the trees.


Traffic Accident


Under my fingers I felt

The small rustle of disturbed bone

Where there should be silence

Knitted together


Fanon’s Secret


The grape-picker holds out

his hand full of fruit but turns

his face, the slight, unavailable cast

of his head his most precious possession.


The woman who cleans your house

all day is in the places you can’t be,

touches your sheets.


You hate

what is held back,

not known to you,

kept, stolen, enchanted.


How Not to Stop


Pa came to collect us from school

in his white Valiant, the stern drive home.

Pa sat at the head of the table,

not talking at supper.

Pa stood in the driveway

with his back to us, throwing

seed into the wind with quick slings

of the hand, drawing the pigeons

as though he’d called them.

Pa carved his own domino set;

on weekend games sly as chess, slapped

the final piece on the wood table.

Pa drove us home past the house

he built, from which his family was removed

in 1968, never looking again

in its direction.

Pa bought his leaf tea and hard cheddar

from Queen Bess supermarket and bread

at Protea bakery, the same shops

down the street from their old house.

Pa rehearsed how not to stop, not to get out

and walk to the front door he had made.


We are Always too Close


The taste of blood never too far

the metallic salt of it

grit in the mouth

eyes watchful

heavy as bruises.


The Sound of My Name


To step into another language

direct the breath

swell the mouth with vowels

feel the jaw configure itself around the word

write another script on the tongue



A woman learning Russian describes

the new inclination of her head,

her chest, her hands,

the muscular changes in the tongue

the way sibilance tightens

the upper lip

like bee stings around the jaw

the movement of air over her throat

a subtle invasion

taking possession of her mouth



I teach you to say the first letter of my name,

a sound between g and h,

for which there is no letter in English.


Breathe in,

take a sip of water,

make a flat oval of the lips,

breathe out.

Remember the sound of the exhalation.


Clear the throat.


Between the two is the start of my name.

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