Skating out of the House, Anna Crowe's first collection, was published by Peterloo Poets in 1997. It contains work written over the previous twelve years, including her Peterloo prize-winning poems Visiting the Home of the Brave (1993) and Alice and the Birds (1997). One of the earliest poems in the book, Sunflowers was a runner up in the National Poetry Competition in 1986.
Your face shines, grave
and charming as a small moon.
I hear you holding your breath
while finger and thumb encompass
each neat striped seed,
setting it clean in its peat-pot
damp with earth, each hole
dibbed by your finger as deep
as one pink nail until,
with crumbs of earth nudged
over each one, we breathe out,
our relief sounding strangely
loud, like a wave breaking.
As pairs of leaves begin thrusting
clear of the earth, we run
with gifts of water; they thrive,
wheeling sunwards on green
wings; the sun draws them
to itself, as the moon the sea,
and the great heads curl and flame.
At night they hang fire, sinking
with the sun, and know nothing
of the moon's rising; as the tide
turns in the bay, rocks
push through the sea. Sun
stirs the slow coronas.
Grown almost twice your height
they are galleons breasting the upper air,
and you, like a small cartographer,
busy with charts and rule,
plot their upsurge upon a graph.
In my dream you stand among masts,
your face to the moon in the shrouds,
while towards you black rocks are edging
and crawling, and I, helpless
upon a headland, signalling, signalling . . .
The garden lies gale-wrecked,
and we thresh among broken masts
and wet flower-heads for salvage.
Columbus took their gentleness
for cowardice, and ear-marked
them and their caciques for slaves.
A note on the wall tells us,
when they were weaving, they always left
a small, deliberate mistake,
as though they understood
how the heart, bent on perfection, ends
trapped in its own web.
Red/black chevrons stutter
from sleeve to outstretched sleeve,
but somewhere, I tell myself,
will be the invisible blip, one
stitch through which
the weaver’s soul
may yet escape.
2.DAKOTA GHOST-SHIRT FROM WOUNDED KNEE
The Cheyenne and Dakota wove
raw muslin into shirts: these were
the shirts for the Ghost-Dance, which,
duly performed, conferred
invisibility on the wearer.
We still believe some form of words
or ritual will come between
us and another’s anger. Not seeing
that our invisibility’s what’s required,
nor that it will be some sudden
memory of past delight that pierces,
leaving this small scorched hole.
after Interior with a Lady Playing at the Virginal
by Emanuel de Witte
When I lost the fourth child
the only thing that pleased me, lying there,
was seeing how the chandelier's branches
turned up at the ends,
in just the way that new twigs on the ash
outside the window curl in winter,
bearing buds like black flames.
This was Franciscus' gesture, I remember,
after my Uncle Willem had beaten him
for skating all the way to Harlingen.
Franciscus could not have stopped,
the wind and ice were carrying him, he said.
Of course, they never let me skate like that,
but when he laughed
I felt the wind stinging my cheek.
Our floors are cold, and sometimes I dream
I'm skating on gleaming tiles form room to room.
Successive doorways frame me,
a mise-en-abyme, and then
It will be Pentecost before
Bartheld comes home from the Caucasus
with soft, soft rugs for Delft or s'Hertogenbosch.
They say I will not bear him any more children.
These days I often play the courante
Father liked so much.
Its final passage fractures
in dazzling splinters.
But when I stand and close the lid
the mirror is frozen over,
the girl I knew
long since gone under the ice.
For Jessica Crowe and Janet Cornfoot
To reach the beach the child likes best
Down to the shore they dragged you
I cradle her, rung over rung, to the shingle
To be swum and stoned at a rope’s end
To plowter along the tide-line
For no belief or crime of yours, but rumour
Scouring the ground for bits of china:
Of witchcraft. You were one of the crazed
Throw-outs, shards, crazed like the faces
Refusing to die, at the mercy of men’s hands
Of very old women, broken on stones:
That pressed you beneath a door, weighted with stones
Fragments she finds, of vanished lives, lifting
“For a quarter of an hour or so”
Sea-weed, unearthing a piece of sky
And then they must fetch a horse and plough
With two birds flying, some writing
And drive it over what they have made
Rubbed, made smooth by the sea
As though to efface it.
And this, we say, we will keep.
Note: “For a quarter of an hour or so”: a line from (Margaret Clitheroe), an unfinished poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Already she knows the robin, of course;
the blackbirds— Mr Black and Mrs Brown;
the bossy, glossy starlings and jabbing thrush;
but she hasn’t quite got the hang of — bluetit or great-tit?
Bending over to get them the right way up.
Grandmother, never one to miss
an educational opportunity, finds her
the Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Northern Europe.
Alice stares through her fringe and sifts
bewilderments of ducks and waders.
She thumbs through buntings, passerines, accentors.
Her gaze hops from page to garden,
and pecks at kitchen-table, bird-table, kitchen-table until
her eyes glaze and she finds her thumb.
Questioned, three-year-old wisdom flies to her aid,
and she opens a page at random—
hoopoe, cuckoo, bee-eater, kingfisher;
declares, she’ll wait till this bird comes.
And they are coming, Alice:
bee-eaters zithering the air to honey; kingfisher
dropping his gift of a weft of fishbones; hoopoe
to show you how to find buried treasure,
even in a dung-hill; and cuckoo
to teach you (before June) her perfect thirds.
The black-eared wheatear is practising in your ear
his schwer-schwee-schwee-oo irregular verbs;
and fan-tailed warbler has sewn you a purse
of carex sedges with cobweb stitches,
to keep your dinner-money in.
In flocks and skeins they’re travelling, Alice,
in charm and chattering, murder, muster and siege;
gorgeously-plumed nouns of assemblage
deserting Atlas’ snowy fastnesses
and even blanker eleven-plus papers.
Exaltations of larks that rise with the sun;
of plovers, whole congregations; a fall
of woodcock, upon Surrey, of all places.
And just when you thought it was over, and time for bed,
here come flamingos like a flying sunset.
Moonrise; a watch of nightingales.