Column 29

Here’s a poem that’s all about the heightened awareness you get after a shock to the system. It’s full of visceral images and arresting metaphors, each of which earns its place; there are none that are decorative or there to show off the poet’s skill. They all seem necessary, because they are ways of communicating complex, difficult feelings, from the ‘goffering/ of quiet air’ to ‘a cast handful of earbones’. It was the title poem from Judy Brown’s first collection; her latest collection, Crowd Sensations, is also published by Seren.


After bad news, and its pulled-back fist,
flows in a sound that’s not a sound. It’s not
the brain’s tide beating blood in propped
and shored-up workings, not the tapestried
texture of attended silence, the goffering
of quiet air folding and unfolding
in a house where nothing is happening.

After bad news, you tell the seconds,
hungry for the hurrying thunder
that never comes. Instead a chemical fizz
fills the ears, before the descaling. An angel
rides the stirrup and anvil, spurring on the drum,
works like wild weather in wet sheets,
flapping and cracking the body’s flat muscles.

Long after the bad news, when it’s bedded in,
you notice most clearly the mild loudness
of the not-so-old man in the foot tunnel,
drumming and drumming and biting his mouth.
The posed coins in his blue cloth
are tiny, like a cast handful of earbones.


Used with kind permission of Judy Brown and Seren.