Natalie Ann Holborow

the poet

Natalie Ann Holborow is a writer, digital content specialist and marathon-runner. She won both the Terry Hetherington Award and Robin Reeves Prize in 2015, and has been shortlisted and commended for various other awards including the Bridport Prize, The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition, and the Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize. Her debut collection, And Suddenly You Find Yourself (Parthian, 2017) was launched at the Kolkata International Book Festival and was listed as one of Wales Arts Review's Best of 2017. Her second collection, Small, will be published by Parthian in 2020.

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the poems

Andromache

00:00 / 01:30

Assume I am wearing black. Assume I have swathed myself

in the hollow shades of his bruised knees, dust-clogged and sticky,

assume I am leaching away with him. The tracks of his belly

scar the dirt. Does anyone ask for his wife,

 

hair dripping over the Trojan walls, towering ten feet over

the beetled men below, gleaming up and blinking through her?

Assume the wind blew me over the edge of the wall, quiet

and pale as salt. Hear me say nothing at all.

 

See these living hands. Hear the smack of my palms

against stone, blood coiling its way to my heart, bind me tough

as a horseman’s rope. Blow my bones to polished pipes

              they play when great men fall. For me,

 

no tune at all if I should choose to stagger up,

sway on broken toes, burst my lungs screaming for

the dead man’s bones with our only child tumbling

              over crumbling stone in a gasp of blood and milk.

 

When Hector cracked his back behind the chariot,

when the bruises flowered blue, when our only baby spiralled

like sycamore, the Gods, I felt it too – I called Astayanax,

              I called Hector. Who called Andromache?  Who?

Black Dog

I am in that temper that if I were under water

I would scarcely kick to come to the top.

~ John Keats ~

00:00 / 01:31

He woke me just this morning, nose pushed
to my sleepy cheek, breath shuttling 
down my cool neck: my faithful black dog.
His tail clubbed me all shades of violet.
The sun sawed me in half.

He follows me to the kitchen.
Here he comes, his canine shape
gleaming like polished jet. I stoop
over my coffee, hiss at him to go.
My mouth lands on his drooping ear
but the stupid dog is deaf;
his dumb tongue a dripping slab
searching my hand like a rodent.
When milk won’t do, he loves the sting of salt.
He nuzzles the lid of my eye.

Wherever I go, he follows.
At office desks, restaurant booths,
hunched in the seat of a taxi,
my faithful dog sniffs out my bones.
When lovers come, he turns possessive.
I wriggle free from their fingers,
stop them kissing the sides of my jaw.
They leave when I talk to the papered wall.
I grieve when their footsteps have died.

I go to bed at odd hours
to watch the small pulse of blue time.
When sleep stands me up for the zero moon,
the dog strikes me down with his paw.

Smoke Signals

00:00 / 00:55

We grew apart in inches, not miles.
The house hummed, an empty theatre,
our mother pushing the vacuum
between our silence. Hacking
clots of broken words, your lungs
drained themselves into your pillows,
fists thumping softly
until you sucked in again, stained your breath
from a chilly window. Where are you
I knuckled the question into the wall
which dragged on between us, searched
with my palms for your warmth.
A blank inch pulled you away, and I listened
to those hisses, those furious sobs,
heard the weight of them
bending your spine. The vacuum
tumbled to a stop. You stopped hissing,
opened your window, blew quiet smoke
across mine.

Publishing credits

Andromache: Southword Journal

Black Dog and Smoke Signals: And Suddenly You Find Yourself

  (Parthian Books)

Black Dog also appeared in The Stinging Fly

© original authors 2020

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