Alice Stainer is a lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing on a visiting student programme in Oxford. She is also a musician and dancer. Her work has appeared in Green Ink Poetry, Atrium, Feral Poetry, After…, The Storms and The Dawntreader. Alice has been nominated for Best of the Net, The Pushcart Prize and the Forward Prizes, and recently submitted her debut pamphlet.
A ‘Golden Shovel’ after Fleetwood Mac’s
Songbird (as sung by Eva Cassidy)
Hair severely chignoned, pearls choking your throat and
always, a white-feathered bodice holding you in. But the
heats of Brazil are simmering beneath—swans and songbirds
are all very well, but you are a firebird. Fervid rhythms are
hard to resist, Tito’s black eyes like cinders singing
sparks for you alone, Margot, lighting you to dance like
all of Covent Garden is watching. Pas de deux. Oh they
don’t like it, though fluting your praises. But you know
those flights between London and Panama bear the
flame of your being, uncontained by a ballet score.
A glorious day, Dad, as you would say
(that always made us snigger, did you know?)
Pull on your boots—you do still need them?—
army surplus from the funny shop in Hotwells.
We scoffed, but you said they were ‘value for money’.
Come on then, Dad—there’s a hill needs climbing.
Plastic-pocketed map bouncing on my chest—
I’ve learned its language as you did, and more:
zigzag up a slope,
flex with the contours,
pick your way over hummocks.
Skirt the bog
but don’t cry over lost wellies.
Vivid green patches have a forked tongue.
Heather helps you to hang on.
There’s one path I have yet to find, Dad—
but I will. I will.
Right, binoculars slung round my neck—
chance of a ptarmigan, wouldn’t you say?
Those chubby boulders of bird.
Once, Mum and I saw a whole flock—
consolation, we thought, for a stumbling day
when the cloud came down.
I remembered, you see, what you said about the hills.
Now bog myrtle is spicing the air.
Hurry up, Dad! We have got all day but still,
this clarity of sky is precious.
Mete it out like Kendal mint cake in the high places.
My turn to lead the way—although in truth,
you’ve climbed this hill ahead of me,
and now will never leave it.
Jane Austen's Teapot
Time to bring in the tea-things.
Cups rattle like eager chatter;
china-blue leaves twine about
their rims; stems graft, tighten.
The wooden caddy is plundered,
yielding riches. Silver spoons refract
the light, and in the exquisite pot
brooding at the white cloth’s heart,
the leaves infuse in swirling heat.
Steeped then strained, the tea arcs
into cups in a long, dark stream.
One sugar or two? White sweetness
to mitigate black bitterness.
But let’s not talk about that.
Round the table, a froth of muslin.
Cups are cradled, alliances formed
and fractured, fragile as porcelain.
Then the ritual is over, the tea-things
put away—until the next time. But
look inside the pot: advancing up
its ivory sides, a deepening stain.
Will it ever be time to talk about that?