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Three Poems by Janette Ayachi

Edinburgh–Manchester

 

The tram breaks a flock of gulls feasting on sunrise and fast food;

festival-goers leak out from nightclubs in sunglasses

– the zigzags on Princes Street, the dregs from parties.

A herd of women carrying their shoes, a herd of men carrying one another,

the sober neon of the first open shops knocking everyone slightly askew.

My train steers steady. Manchester hikes up her skirt

as, chain-smoked and rain-specked, I reach a hotel on Canal Street

and touch base with the beautiful possibility of momentary touch.

 

In places like this, if you feel the music you are having a good time.

Writing your name in my margarita with a single straw,

I avoid the other bars’ madness and find a mirror ball.

The bartender juggles limes; non-couples discuss non-cocktails.

‘Do you know where you are? You’re in the Gay Village’

– the doorman answers his own question, 

and everyone around me seems to be waiting for something to happen.

 

I am simply no one’s type.

When the girls go home, when the boys go home,

gay men complain about the abundance of stag dos

and I spot the first hot woman, wearing a shirt stapled with clouds

and enjoying smoking too much.

My chair is stuck on unsteady cobbles.

A man passes, selling roses; the locals call him ‘the lost man’

and add: ‘Look how deep his eyes go into his skull.’

 

Fairy-lights are twined around trees; someone cackles 

and it never stops. Those sad drunk eyes of women in bright green

who over-sip Chardonnay and meet in Chinatown for chow mein.

Here I am served red wine with a fly floating in it. All this plastic sacred kitsch.

Maybe it’s the colour red. Maybe I should have stayed in the sparkle.

Everything here is wiped clean.

 

I am meeting Charlotte in thirty minutes on the bridge.

Does she need shots? Can I handle it? Who will I end up sleeping with?

People arrive here drunk and hungry; I forget where I am; I am drunk and hungry.

All the food is so hot it steams. Women flick back their hair

to suck meat from the bones. Women ask their men if they will eat at all.

Most decide on duck as a starter, as love ballads churn on tepid speakers.

 

In the morning, hungover and perhaps still hungry,

I come to look where there are more things to look at,

visit the art gallery to find Ophelia predicting her own death

as I consort with the Pre-Raphaelites and watch the sculpture 

of the eagle pecking at Prometheus’ liver over and over

as if I too had been punished for stealing fire from the gods.

 

 

Butterfly Net

 

We stand close without touching, leaning

against the wall where the world has stopped

for us. Our smells meet in the air like lovers

from a past life connecting but not sure why,

under the gauze-thin sash of sky offered

to us from the nearest rain-stained window.

 

I ignore the blue avenues, the aeon sun,

the odd red October leaf that waves

past in a whirlwind of flight and fury,

to focus on her outline spilling over edges

like the frantic pulse of an inapproachable dream.

 

I web her breath in a butterfly net

as she mussitates the letters to write

her spidery name, holding the pen

by its wings the way a surgeon sketches

on the body marking a place of incision.

With skilled precision she shows me

where the arrow would reach my heart.

 

 

The Beginning of an End

 

The most attractive women are mostly mothers;

men here hobble, crease lines into drab denim,

point through the leather of their shoes,

all dry-skinned elbows and ultraviolet sun kisses.

 

A ‘shimmery sheikh girl’ is more the Wolf’s fancy,

though I dress no organs outside the body to dissect.

Keep your animal close, your feed closer still,

because how long before the albatross shrieks?

 

You rise again, Goddess, irises like the Aegean Sea,

with your cheap restoration and pageant love songs,

blunt arrowheads and goblin-men in tweed.

In the background, framed prints hang in creaking silence.

 

Slow circles are sipped into strip-searched pints.

Televised witch-hunts flicker in static

as the steely dark outside turns glass to mirror.

After this drink, I will walk long roads to vertical cemeteries.

 

But the pub-babble chains me with its hissing around ankles;

nacre bubbles in the vodka optic chortle.

Then families come out for meals, flock through car parks

and corridors like migrating birds.

 

The waitress sets fire to the candles; they become rows of crofts 

destroyed during the Highland Clearances.

She moves so slow her face becomes a mask

that is only lifted to sing along to pop songs.

 

And later still that night, after tombstone and trek,

you shut down the bar and follow me to your home,

where, in the dip of the mattress, we slacken into our first quarrel.

How the heart sags after argument when love ruptures,

 

is stabbed at with pins, throws objects across a room

when no one is looking, terrorising and quick, like a poltergeist.

 

The new year swings on its hinges, and the months palpitate before us.

 

 

Janette Ayachi (1982-) is a Scottish-Algerian poet who has been published in over sixty literary journals and anthologies from presses such as Polygon, Freight, and Salt’s The Best British Poetry 2015. She collaborates with artists, has been shortlisted for a few chewable accolades, and has performed her work on BBC Radio, as well as across the UK at various events. She has a combined honors degree in Literature and Film from Stirling University and an MSc in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University.  She is the author of the poetry pamphlets Pauses at Zebra Crossings and A Choir of Ghosts, and a children’s chapter book, The Mermaid, The Girl and The Gondola, published by Black Wolf Edition Press.  She is currently working on a memoir titled Misdialing The Muses.

 

 

Image credit: Tim Sackton

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