Mariah is a poet from Oxford, UK. She is the author of the love i do to you (Eyewear, 2019), while the rafters are still burning is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She is currently based in the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester where she is completing a PhD and teaches creative writing. Mariah has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, the PBS Student Poetry Prize and won the AM Heath Prize. She also co-edits online poetry journal, bath magg.
One by one the black-faced ewes
file through the gate. Up and out of the field
over the burned heather to lamb
where their mothers lambed them.
I try to pull a map around the stories:
I know here is where my father was happiest—
if I sit on this rock and let the same cold
enter my body can I say I’m part of it?
Plates of ice across the mud crack under weight,
catch light like the light is something
good enough to frame and hang
in a hall where guests first enter.
His maps were always like that—
half an advertisement of character,
half a mirror to hold the face that looked
square in its white mount.
On and on, the hundred or so ewes file through
hefted to the particular slope that bore them.
Muscle memory, DNA, where do their bodies hold
the bone-hunger that leads them back,
precise as a compass point finding its way
through layers of tracing paper and folded map
to hold its beam-arm straight,
making the distance between them measurable.
In the Archive
The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
When the door closes
we let the quiet of the archive
settle around us.
The chilled air
from bales of frozen film
comes to a stop
and the room begins to fill
with the hum of the corner unit
rinsing air clean
of contaminant on our clothes,
proteins in our breath.
The curator lays the album on the foam cradle.
We stand shy of each other
like friends at a christening
unsure of where to stand
or what to do with our arms,
not letting our voices drop
to break the silence.
The curator begins with the facts:
Mr Phillips reported how the Juju City
reeked of human blood.
Sir Harry mustered a force of 1200 marines,
Mr Bacon had reason to believe enough ivory
would be found to pay all expenses
removing the King from his stool.
I have come to understand
there are various kinds of violence.
A boot in the mouth,
a ring of bruises around an upper arm,
the way that inside this archive
each fact slips so prettily beside the next
like a horse’s bit lies across its tongue.
History is the things
that have happened, the facts
of a body and its breath
that come to us through the records and lists,
the photographs and their captions
curling in neat, even script.
In the silence of the archive,
all I can hear is the hum
of the corner unit
rinsing air clean
of the dust and acid I bring
on my skin, my hair,
and the white space,
page after page of it—
the absences still bearing
the administrator’s mark.
Bright station and all around soft dark.
Toothpaste and sleep, coffee and the white crunch
of salt on the concourse. The headlamps snorting –
boarding as the first gull caws began to ricochet.
That’s how it was the morning I left,
too cold for snow, hills thick with February
sloped black-backed and low to where the Tyne
bloomed in the wake of a boat.
I was less going somewhere than getting out,
away from the terraces and rain, tower blocks –
the yellow Metro stops that took me in loops,
out into the waking-up day.
But mostly I was getting away from you,
the river below breathing as all rivers do.