White-haired and thick-skinned, she took
to issuing decrees
whose judgements brooked
no possibility of reprieve.
‘I like to call a spade a spade’
she would perorate with pride,
recounting how the nuns had made
her learn to write with her left hand tied
behind her back, as though to mime
the contrarian and contrariwise
procedure by which those old pagan kings
were crowned, walking widdershins
around a stone circle
in shapes at once absurd and elemental.
Who knows how these things get started?
A chance encounter
in a wood with a man
who’s riding hell for leather
through a thunderstorm, the furtive glance
across a crowded dance floor
of one half
of a pair of soon-to-be-star-
crossed lovers, or you
in your black lace negligee
recounting the tale of Mary
Tudor, dead from the cancer
she had prayed so fervently
would be a baby boy.
Watching the beavers negotiate
the uneven ascent
of choppy waters and coppiced banks,
I was put in mind of the camps
the Indians would strike at our
approach, their tipis’ triangular
shapes disappearing through smoke holes
to the four corners of the world.
Last winter it had been so cold
that their breathing had gusted and billowed
from out of the lodge like the fumata
bianca of cardinals in conclave,
or the fuming of the Mayflower
as it picked its way across the waves.
Stephen Grace lives and works in York, where he is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Related Literature. He helps to edit the poetry journal Eborakon.
Image credit: Chris Jones