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THE WEIGHT OF COMING HOME
WINNER OF THE 2014
GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL
Jennifer A. McGowan obtained her MA and PhD from the University of Wales. Despite being certified as disabled at age 16 with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, she has persevered and has published poetry and prose in many magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. She won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2014, as a result of which her first full-length collection, The Weight of Coming Home, is now published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
She has also been commended in the YorkMix poetry competition 2015 and Highly Commended in the prestigious Torbay Poetry Competition and the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition. Life in Captivity and Sounding, her pamphlets, were published by Finishing Line Press. Her website, with more poetry and examples of her mediaeval calligraphy, can be found at http://www.jenniferamcgowan.com
Jennifer A McGowan
The Weight of Coming Home
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£7.99 + P&P UK
PUB: June 2015
A flat boulder on the edge of a cliff.
Your body warms the lichen,
releases its light scent into the air.
Lying here, you know the meaning of space:
it stretches out, up, and on as hours
roll by. A sudden judder: a thought of me.
The world tilts crazily on its axis
and stars dance like butterflies.
The dark blue heat of the July evening
dampens your skin like sweat.
The breeze wantons with your hair,
till you almost cry out
at the memory of urgent, tender hands.
This is how I imagine you
during these short nights and long time zones
apart. In my hotel room, I watch
old black-and-whites on cable,
seeing you between the frames,
flickering like a burning photograph.
At 4AM, Grant and Tracy retire.
I pull over some paper and write,
My dear love. Just that.
The lift goes to the top floor—
going through “Staff Only”
takes me up to the roof, door propped open
by housekeeping seeking fags
or waitresses, illicit trysts.
The moon hangs full. It’s the only fact
worth knowing. Up so high, the wind whips,
tears at my robe, the silk you chose
because it matched my eyes. I throw
the note aloft (with a flash of thigh)
and laugh, and pad downstairs.
Alone, I turn out the lights
and nestle into the thought of your body.
A continent away, a moth
the colour of paper
suddenly flutters and kisses your cheek.
Love Like Salt
A pearl sweats near poison.
A king holds a jewelled cup,
seated between the daughter who chose gold
and the one who would go bare for no man,
but the poison at the feast is subtle:
an empty chair and ancient guilt.
A servant brings the cook
to account for the tasteless meat.
The king almost sees,
but does not hesitate to blame.
The girl does not quail;
says, Once you cast forth a child
because you thought she loved you less.
He lowers his head, weeps.
She embraces him at last,
whispering his name,
she has made him
eat his words
and knowing nothing else
to rub in.
What kind of a man
ties himself to the mast
without even a knife in his boot?
It was three hours later
that we noticed him signalling;
halfway to Scylla and Charybdis
before we untied him.
We enjoy a laugh, after all.
It’s all very well weaning yourself
off opium, lotus, whatever,
but when your reward
is to tie yourself
to the underside of a fucking sheep—
well, there are sheep at home,
that’s all I’ll say.
And pigs. Pigs!
Not a one of us got a look-in
while he, the big O,
screwed Circe’s brains out.
So good he just had to go back.
So sorry your mum died,
she said the second time, cooing,
those big deer eyes, long legs,
pulling him back down on the bed.
We knew whose wand had the pulling power,
but Odysseus had a thing
about size, not skill. Holy moly.
So, yeah, we knew the signs.
Ten-year contract with over seven years left;
no sign of Ithaca. Not good odds.
And damn, we were hungry
after a year of acorns.
Six hundred cattle!
We fancied a steak.
Oh, he told us No,
but you know, after the trip out,
the whole war, the flesh-eaters,
the singing birds—there’s only
so much “no” you can take.
We were shipwrecked, of course.
Only one survivor.
And Odysseus, free of us,
fell on his feet, another dame-with-a-C,
Calypso. Seven years there,
and then a princess!
wait at this ditch
for a hint of blood.
I fall into the landscape. It
folds me in. How these contours are
written in me; each hill and riverbed.
How each wall-stone is one of
my bones. I enter the shelter, try
regrowing roots. The rain that starts to
beat on the roof is no more pure than
the water I cannot stop in my eyes.
Speak hiraeth lowly, slowly; lay it
to rest with the weight of coming home.
Note: Hiraeth is a Welsh word which does not translate directly to English. Roughly, it equates to the soul’s pain and longing when from home.
White, white light.
Trees caught in immobility.
Rimed grass, small ferns
pattern the alabaster ground.
Breath catches; holds; hangs
marbling the air.
Suddenly a blue train screams.
The world shatters.
Only one room left standing.
Two miraculous windows
carry cracks that half-write his name.
The ceiling now exposed as roof.
She will not move. He will get lost,
she says, if I am not here.
No word yet. She sews,
making do, waiting. Garden buried
under next door. Only cats creep out,
prowl the street. She draws
the curtains at dark.
Try to look away.
Look back: her little area of blackout.
Her candle. Its beams.
Even Though I Have Her Eyes
I never talked to my grandmother
about her life. First, she was just
my grandmother. Later, I realised
her marriage was poison, and fled.
Then she was dead, leaving me
only the beauty of long hair waving
down her back; the smell of waffles;
the promise of a family I was nearly part of.
What or where is home? This exploration of origins (and the myth of origin) goes through various stages of migration and settlement, merging or contrasting the personal with the
legendary and mythic.
“McGowan finds the stories in landscape, and the landscapes in the lifelines of people's palms. Beautiful, sharp, an accomplished collection.”
“Jennifer McGowan has a clear, engaging voice and her poems have a strong sense of place and a sharp eye for detail. There is glorious use of sound here and some startling imagery. The poems are shot through with humour even when the subject is painful and those written in voices from myth are quite wonderful.”
“In The Weight of Coming Home, Jennifer A McGowan explores actual and imagined experience with confidence and compelling honesty. From vividly memorable everyday scenes in homes, hospitals and forests, to the voyage of The Odyssey and an Anglo-Saxon battlefield, McGowan applies deep insight and astonishing verbal virtuosity. This is accomplished work from a poet widely published on both sides of the Atlantic.”