Lavinia Greenlaw Poems

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1980, I was returned to the city exposed
in black and white as the lights went on and on.
A back-alley neon sign, the first I'd seen,


A dance between movement and space,
between image and imperative.
Each step, an arrival

The End of Marriage

Night was and they swayed into it:
a pair of scissors, of sails
turning only into themselves
more other than become.

The End of Marriage

Night was and they swayed into it:
a pair of scissors, of sails
turning only into themselves
more other than become.

It is often five o'clock.
Her husband has contracted not
to speak of her and she has forgotten
where to go. Where does everyone go?


Those buried lidless eyes can see
the infra-red heat of my blood.

I feel the crack, the whisper
as vertebrae ripple and curve.

Days of absolute stillness.
I sleep early and well.

His rare violent hunger,
a passion for the impossible.

He will dislocate his jaw
to hold it.

My fingers trace the realignment
as things fall back into place.

Each season, a sloughed skin
intensifies the colours that fuse

with mineral delicacy at his throat.

Beautiful, simple,
he will come between us.

Last night you found his tooth
on your pillow.


The revelations of ice, exactly:
each leaf carries itself in glass,
each stem is a fuse in a transparent flex,

each blade, for once, truly metallic.
Trees on the hill explode like fireworks
for the minute the sun hits.

Fields hover: bleached sheets in the afternoon,
ghosts as the light goes.
The landscape shivers but holds.

Ice floes cruise the Delaware,
force it under in unnatural silence;
clarification I watch as I watch

the road - nothing but the grind of the plough
as it banks snow, drops salt and grit.
By dark these are just settled hills,

grains embedded in the new fall.
We, too, make little impression
walking back from town at midnight

on bird's feet - duck's feet on the ramp
where we inch and scrabble our way to the door,
too numb to mind the slapstick.

How did you cross
those unlit, reinvented streets
with your fear of traffic and your broken shoe?

There are mornings when it drips and cracks.
We pull glass bars from railings,
chip at the car's shadow.


The city is baked and blown by incontinent, sudden weather.
The trees are luminous or racing. It changes,
it is not something we can predict.
The catch of pollen, ozone, exhaust in my throat

is unbreathable, secret, and for this same reason,
my tears are yellow and viscous, and cannot cool
the shot capillaries of my eyes. You are waiting to fly.
Even the airport has its airport gods. I pray

they urge you return to your lover. A princess,
it has been said, but one somewhat lacking in courage.
Whatever. My teeth in your shoulder, my salt on your fingers,
a hayseed in your heel...


It could take from Monday to Thursday
and three horses. The ink was unstable,
the characters cramped, the paper tore where it creased.
Stained with the leather and sweat of its journey,
the envelope absorbed each climatic shift,
as well as the salt and grease of the rider
who handed it over with a four-day chance
that by now things were different and while the head
had to listen, the heart could wait.

Semaphore was invented at a time of revolution;
the judgement of swing in a vertical arm.
News travelled letter by letter, along a chain of towers,
each built within telescopic distance of the next.
The clattering mechanics of the six-shutter telegraph
still took three men with all their variables
added to those of light and weather,
to read, record and pass the message on.

Now words are faster, smaller, harder
...we're almost talking in one another's arms.
Coded and squeezed, what chance has my voice
to reach your voice unaltered and to leave no trace?
Nets tighten across the sky and the sea bed.
When London made contact with New York,
there were such fireworks, City Hall caught light.
It could have burned to the ground.

The Spirit of the Staircase

In our game of flight, half-way down
was as near mid-air as it got: a point
of no return we'd fling ourselves at
over and over, riding pillows or trays.
We were quick to smooth the edge
of every step, grinding the carpet to glass
on which we'd lose our grip.
The new stairs were our new toy,
the descent to an odd extension,
four new rooms at flood level
in a sunken garden — a wing
dislocated from a hive. Young bees
with soft stripes and borderless nights,
we'd so far been squared away
in a twin-set of bunkbeds, so tight-knit,
my brother and I once woke up finishing
a conversation begun in a dream.
It had been the simplest exchange,
one I'd give much to return to:
the greetings of shadows unsurprised
at having met beneath the trees
and happy to set off again, alone,
back into the dark.

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