Sunday, 25 July 2010

Three Poems - Claire Askew


You're all hands. Hanging off the rafters
in my dreams, you draw me spinning inward,
a fine skein of your scent around my throat.
I've tried to fight. I'm the big, sad orange-striped
queen wasp you never wanted -- pissed off
and sticky, kicking your stinking web to bits
with all my strength. You're stuck with me,
buzz like a fruit machine; I blunder and spit
in the eyes you've got for other pretty flies.
I know I'll let you drink me weak, and then
you'll ditch this nest and split, hold up
your black arachnid palms and shrug, then run.
Left to rinse your thumbprint from my wings,
I only hope you'll think of me, and sting.


He'd mounted a microphone in Hunter Square
then sat all night there, nervous
nursing it, static and catblack.

Did he sleep? He couldn't say.
But he'd stored up sixteen hours of non-stop tape:
a full night of footfall, smokestack and rain.

First, homebound rush hour swallowed the playback,
his four-track snatching at car exhaust,
lungfuls of talk, a traffic crossing's acid techno beat.

Then, high heels; the slam and blare
of cabs at kerbs; shutters concertinad down
to the earworm of a saxophone.

Somewhere -- as the bars called time, he'd guess --
a fight broke out. A shrill hyenapack of girls
threw a spike in the soundboard's eerie lights.

Then quiet. The mosquito fizz of streetlamps.
Dewfall. The occasional long-skirted swish
of a bus in the distance: the air's shift.

The final hour: a milkcart's early, noisy spool
and clink, and then the dings and clicks of him
fumbling at the microphone's lead.

The last sound before the playback's pause
is the horse-hoof clack of a skateboard,
stonestruck, stirring the city like tea.

Male privilege

Give me the shovel.
Give me the tattoo gun's kiss on my skin.
Give me the hard day's work.
Give me the graveyard shift.
Give me the white van.
Give me lager and the night.
Give me the warship and the race car.
Give me the walk home alone.
Give me the chainsaw.
Give me the streetlit alleyway.
Give me the roadmap's cryptic veins.
Give me the fearless midnight park.
Give me the swagger.
Give me the paycheque.
Give me the wet-dream and the punch-up.
Give me James Bond and Action Man.
Give me walls to build in the baking sun.
Give me the engine.
Give me the motherboard.
Give me the budget and the Bible.
Give me strength.
Give me the steel-toe-capped boots.
Give me brass knuckles and a big dog.

Now look at me.
Now tell me I can't.

Claire Askew was born in 1986 and grew up in the rural Scottish Borders. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary publications including The Edinburgh Review, Poetry Scotland, Textualities and The Guardian, as well as being selected for the Scottish Poetry Library's Best Scottish Poems of the Year anthology two years running (2008/9). In 2008 Claire won the Grierson Verse Prize, the Sloan Prize for Writing in Lowland Scots Vernacular, the Lewis Edwards Award for Poetry and the William Sharpe Hunter Memorial Scholarship for Creative Writing. She was recently longlisted for a 2010 Eric Gregory Award. Claire is currently reading a PhD in Creative Writing and Contemporary Scottish Poetry at the University of Edinburgh.

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