Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two by Nancy Mattson


His great-uncle told him of soldiers
picked off as they crept from trenches,
cut down as they ran in the wrong

uniforms clotted with mud.
The old fellow’s gone a year, left him
flat and chattels. Some garden.

Unshaven at 11, Damon squints
at his narrow patch of land;
and beyond, at a field of quonset huts,

their skeletons draped in polythene
to shelter beds for pea shoots,
tomatoes in blossom, soft fruits.

Damon’s bride is lying in, lying in
bed while he’s pulling, pulling at
the fraying cord of a rotary mower. 

Hark how the mower Damon sung,
With love of Juliana stung!

Partings in long grass suggest a path:
he uncovers worn bricks for Juliana’s
touchable feet. His toes in sandals

do damn stub into buried tufa stones.
Those ragged cones of firs lack point,
want his clippers. Where’s a ladder.

That maddening church. Its electronic carillon
pummels a hymn into his left temple,
loops back to hells bells let me sow your love,

something something hatred; turn it off.
While everything did seem to paint
The scene more fit for his complaint.

Hark how the mower hacks ivy
from a grotto that stops at his hip,
kneels to rescue a red lamp,

guttered candle in its bowl.
Unrottable grey roses plug the mouth
of a cracked maiolica vase. Letters on its base –

‘To Juliana’hit his gut.  Spit in tissue
dabs away loam caked on a virgin’s face.
He stands her upright in the grotto,

its roots deeper than any alp,
far too heavy to haul away.
Let Juliana mock. Let it stay.


A small black case
lined in orange velvet

packets of strings
in permanent curls

plectrums as soft
as babies’ nails

a chrome yellow bakelite box
three fingers wide

her ‘pyramid pitch pipe
for violin and mandolin’

her lip prints
on these whistle pipes

each as long as my thumb
each with an old reed

I need to wet
with new spit

and the notes sound like this
from wren to bear:

E e
A e e e
D e e e e e e
G e e e e e e e e e

her fingerprints
on this mandolin

a red ribbon round
its neck to hang it

I no longer squirm
to call this ribbon scarlet

for all those songs
that stuck in my craw before

her arm and leg went stone
her voice monotone

 Nancy Mattson moved from Edmonton, Alberta, to London, England in 1990. Her third full length collection is Finns and Amazons (Arrowhead Press 2012). Her first, Maria Breaks Her Silence (Coteau Books 1989) was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award and her second is Writing with Mercury (Flambard Press 2006). She co-organizes the popular Reading in the Crypt series at St Mary Islington in north London.

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