Featured in this issue The Common Flesh

The Imaginative Life of Writers and Social Responsibility

and new poems


In previous issues:

Interview with Alison Croggon


Specula: Mirrors from the Middle Ages



To order The Common Flesh from Arc Publications

Attempts at Being from Salt




Contributor Notes

Alison Croggon Alison Croggon

Songs of a Quiet Woman

lurching delicately as a snow queen down this street of greys
unfocused exactly enough to miss the businessmen
goggling at my stock     deciding
(as I twitch primly into the tram seat my handbag
nestled on my lap like a puppy)     deciding
this will be a day of minor survivals
etching a bloody mouth in flourescent mirrors
or idly lacquering a hand of claws:
small weapons for a small war


there is one streetlight which always
blinks off whenever I walk near it
coming home late and secretarial
to the hint of cats and cooking—
silently inside me something flexes
something unsurprised


men of course lately they are kind of me
although an acid starting in my sweat
erodes me like an argument:
snatched by hesitation in a shop
eloquent and secret with the smell of him
I feel sureness swelling like a bruise
forcing blood into lips breathless and reverent
this pearl in the corruption of my belief


(yes please no trouble thankyou mother
it's been a pleasure because I do not know
how to be angry or ugly mother—
granny addled with sherry under bombs
in Wincester never raised her voice
or said a word back to your father
no matter what woman or what insults:
her eight year old skin is white and powdered
and now she pisses in the basin mother
and I know the proper way to lay tables


to other things I turn the eye of god.
the tv's gorgon eye has glazed me over
and nothing touches me at all:
not faminine fear fear or revolution.
only a shellshocked child in Beirut
firmly stroked to stillness by a nun.
he stared at her with eyes as black as hunger
I wept then for the simple magic of hands


the routine of coffee    the complicity
of cigarettes and gossip
this gentle leaning over narrow tables
into the sly glass of recognition:
I know I am dishonest in my dress
(she says to me)     I know I am dishonest
but all I ever knew was how to lie


She was a wing heavy with no substance
love slumbered deep in her hollows
awaiting the hurricane of petals
and the sleeping poisonous dew
and the fabled sky unfolding
to the astonished vagrant
a realm of ivory gods and architectures
of apples and bees and harsh rivers

shrieks and caresses consumed her
she ladled patience from her shrinking marrow
the torrents of her hair
fell endlessly in mute pools
where eyeless fish swam invisibly
through spines and fangs to a blank gullet
and she drank waters bitter and tasteless
and cold outside the spectrum of touch

the windows were attentive
smelling her blood her scattered hands
all the white hours they looked and looked
and her eyes dwindled
outside were a city of judges
a burnt forest a mouldy fountain
broken girders a hairless doll and dogs
barking in the black implacable wind


yet is you in the morning broken-winged angel you imagined yourself in the fire or in the frost you imagined
how beautiful the arc of your fall how the wind
                                                               caressed your cheekbones
how you hardened to steel how you exploded among
                                                                                   the neon lights
like a bottle full of petrol like the scream of an anguished guitar
yet you imagined all this in your infant sleep curled in
            the rose of your mother and the blue fatherly distances
you sang in the arms of trees and looked at such far horizons
the waters so blue the waters so brown the waters smoking in
    the dawnlight the slumbering opal breast of an ocean of exile
o child you were so alone you were a breath of ice
exhaled through smog where flowers fell from your
                                                                          thighs and withered
the crimson petals of sex the stamens of boundless love the
                                  bitter pollen of words all fallen and wasted
in the mucous of sad afternoons the ash and decay of
                               silent evenings in mornings of green despairs

and after midnight after the chimes rang out over the
                                                                              empty city square
you saw the hands of the clock running around and
                                                                         around and laughed
you were sick already with useless nostalgia you felt
                  how the skins inside you twanged their hollowness
you wept in treacherous armpits you lay on your stinking
              bed screaming a name you sniffed the menstrual tears
                       you tasted again and again the arsenic of shame
o angel the cold electrified your hair the stars fell trembling
               through your fingers you tongued the milion bells of
                    night there was nowhere you wouldn't fly for love
but your wings were already breaking
your spine snapped in two and four and eight you fell
                                                         but not at all as you imagined
the jurors mocked your gracelessness and even then
                                                                              you couldn't weep
love dragged you from your icy dreams and broke
                                                                                  you with its fist
the fist was bone and you were bone the million bells
clapped shut inside your skull
and nothing rang back nothing nothing nothing


I show you a new world, risen,
Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.
               Taliesen 1952, R S Thomas

My flesh is sad with itself, it walks in the garden
heavy and opaque, an insoluble riddle.
The bruises on my arms are lightening
and a dew softens my mouth
as birds wink in and out of the trees.
But still I am sad.

The oranges are pale moons. The wind
sings them into eclipse and calls them
back from the black leaves.
I envy their voicelessness, the sweet
fertility that falls
mindlessly to the grass.

I am not gentle tonight.
Tonight my calling is useless,
betrayed and foresuffered. If my face
chills in its blood, if my eyes startle open,
it is because all this sobbing will fall
to inhuman water.

They will say they are redeemed.
They will crown my absence with their suffering.
But I remember a crowded table
and a plate heaped with oranges
and how generous hands reached out and tore
open the common flesh.