Three Poems by Claire Askew

Phone sex


We’re on the phone and he says I just came

hard over you. I’m by the window,

not just clothed but cardiganed – though

he doesn’t know – and I realise

the mug of tea in my hand was a mistake:

this conversation’s bridge

too far. He’s got this voice, see – like treacle

over gravel, like vowels pulled up

at the pit-head and consonants whipped

like the blue sparks under a train. He’s

six foot two, six hundred miles away

and I’m weak for his filthy vocabulary.


The day’s failed. The light’s gone creamy,

smudged – the edges of the glasses dulled

as they dry on the board, my tea

gone cold in its chipped mug – I’ve been holding it

halfway to my face, listening shocked

and still as though to a break-in at the house

next door. But there’s only him saying oh

baby, fuck – and I look up, past the scrubbed

windowsill with its pile of books,

past the drying-green poles, their slung line

beaded with pegs. Above the woods, a flank

of rain is gathering, bruise-black: it draws up

in front of the sun like a limousine.  


In a minute, I’ll watch it take the hill, undo

the road’s chaste sash, the fancy up-dos

of the trees all tossed, all loosed. You’re the

best, he says, in his hot, burned-sugar voice,

and I hear that he’s tired from work – perhaps

he wants a cigarette – yes, he’ll light one when I’ve left

and feel the fist of that old need unclenching,

too. I want to say I love you, but I don’t.

The rain is all around me now, it’s swallowing

the houses whole. It’s really going for it

out here I say, almost without meaning to –

you should see.  It’s really coming down hard.



Dream man

Moniack Mhor, Inverness-shire


In the dream I walk up to you

again and again – always

the same smile, white light

of Waverley Station at noon,

everything diffuse, the bad

patter of the tannoy going

Arbroath. Montrose. Stonehaven.

I wake up wanting

whatever’s next: a fight? A kiss? Perhaps

some nearby room where I

can drop to my knees and thank you

for things you don’t even know

you’ve done, with faltering skill.

But instead it’s daylight

again and you’re just one

more man I’m trying

not to get drunk and phone.

It’s like the world hasn’t noticed

it’s March: hail blasting

loud music at the sanguine hills.

The grass is blown and tongued

with frost: doormat-coarse.

This is the real north, snowflake,

everything seems to say.

Last night, I got as far as

my arms round your neck.

You were tall, like important

people are in dreams, and –

even disappearing – handsome.



The women who’ve loved you


I imagine them lined up at the bar

you used to tend. That was ten years

before I met you – you were

so slim, must have been

so green. They’re drinking

something called a Greta Garbo: sickly

mustard-yellow slush like nightclub doorway

snow, plus sugar and a twist. The first

has got her shit together, just about –

when she says that she’s over you, the others

think it might legit be true, and hate her

stinking blood. They drink like siblings

at a funeral, like jurors who’ve condemned a man

to death. They drink to the memory

of their names rolled on your tongue;

the chest they lay their heads upon

in the hot night; the Valentine’s Days;

your lentil and potato soup, a cure

for anything. When I walk in, they look up

from their neon drinks, their eyes shark-black:

I did this, I’m the reason. They’re all wearing

whatever outfit they got dolled up in

for your first date – all the jewellery

you ever bought – they’re laden

with trinkets, counting loose change

of their jewelled rings against the cocktails’ stems.

And I’m no different – this is that dress,

the polyester seventies floral-printed disaster – 

yes, who knows quite what possessed me,

but it worked alright, you peeled it off

that night the way I hoped you would. I threw it out

years back, but here it is again, a little

tight around me now – my boots pinching,

and my wrists, like theirs, all silvered

and cuffed. It takes a minute, but they know

what I have done. I wait, damp handkerchief

balled in my fist, already lifting my puffed

face to catch the barman’s eye, and as if

they’ve discussed it – and all agreed –

they scuff up, pull another stool,

make room for one more.



Claire Askew’s poems have appeared in numerous places, including The Guardian, The Edinburgh Review and PANK, and on Radio 3’s The Verb. Her debut collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016, and shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award. Claire is also a novelist, and her debut novel in progress won the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. She is currently at work as the 2017 Jessie Kesson Fellow, lives in Edinburgh, and can be found on Twitter @onenightstanzas.



Image credit: grassrootsgroundswell

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