Fathom, a poetry collection by Jenny Lewis, was published by Carcanet Press in May 2007, and can be purchased from the publisher.
Her poems, in fact, employ many of the techniques of painting, drawing readers in through the gleam of colours so intense and appealing as to be almost edible: “dark plum and liquorice”, “rose and burnt caramel”, “sunlight in squares as shiny as toffee”.
Sarah Crown, The Guardian
Woman Brushing her Hair
is changing again
I caught it in a different light
the flaky grey
my face has turned
to someone else’s
inside the inside
of the ocean, fish are hanging
they sway, silent
not even a rattle of bones
and the dead stir in us too,
coming as they do from the weight
they want our breath
want to tunnel out of us,
force apart our gullets,
and raving at daylight
one more moment
just one more.
Woman brushing her hair
After Degas – inspired by his many paintings of women brushing, combing or grooming their hair.
In spring, I lived underwater with it –
my dappled hands held auburn hanks
like uncoiled ropes to brush and brush
while my thoughts drifted upwards
into the pearly green and umber.
By summer, my face was a scribble –
no eyes, a mute mouth, I forced the auburn
from its lair at the nape of my neck,
brushed it over my brow in torrents
with hands like ham bones: by now
I knew I couldn’t tame it by myself.
That autumn, I sat on a bed while my maid
tried to groom it. Does it hurt? she asked,
as the auburn itself fell like a curtain
over any other possibilities my life held;
she tilted her head and pulled, spilling
a ginger snakeskin over my face and forearms.
In winter, roasting chestnuts, I was caught
in the blaze, my dress became flames,
my maid grabbed the inferno and tried
to brush it out; a jigsaw of shapes held us firmly
in place while in one corner, just in the picture,
a dab of dappled pearl.
Lupins with their peppery, summery smell,
filled the brimming moment to its rim,
lifting the shadow my father left by dying:
eight years of living with my mother’s grief
wiped clean by the heat and promise of the day,
and I, a small child, tending my garden
shedding the past for that moment’s clarity,
absorbed and delighted by the task’s simplicity,
planting stones in a rough circle, turning up worms
the colour of corsets, hardly aware that time
was passing, the smell of gym shoes
and grass being cut, or the way the heavy
summer air curved the sound
of four o’clock striking.
Now, lupins always remind me of you,
how you lifted the stain of childish sorrows,
kept the day bright like a sun-warmed garden
until night came and our spirits ventured –
silently, hand in hand, without fathers:
black as lupins at dusk
setting out against a tall sky.
Growing up in its shadow
seems its gritty dust
wants to get into her knickers
soils the armholes of her vests
before she sprouts hair there:
summer evenings, coming up
through lakes of vetch and loosestrife,
air moist as cow’s breath, smelling
of cud and fodder and her breasts swing
slow as an udder, making the boys gasp
and the girls run ahead to shouting distance.
Their dads were right, she gives
to the first who asks, buries her face
in the slack of their shirts, never hears
the tip begin to slide.
At the funeral they wear beads of jet
as is the tradition in the valleys,
coal black and hard as a set jaw,
a mark of respect for those who died.