© Adam MacMaster
Polly Akin lives in Cumbria. Her first poetry collection, Basic Nest Architecture, was followed by her third pamphlet, With Invisible Rain, which draws on Dorothy Wordsworth’s late journals to express pain. Polly's first pamphlet, bone song, was shortlisted for the 2009 Michael Marks Pamphlet Award, while her second, Shadow Dispatches, won the 2012 Mslexia Pamphlet Prize. Her second poetry collection, Much With Body, will be published by Seren in October 2021. Polly is also working on a non-fiction book that reflects on place, belonging and chronic illness.
Motacilla flava flavissima
When you came to us in the grey yard
it was out of the darkest season
the first bright day
brightest of bright
challenging to identify at the time
black streaks with sticky buds like rain drops
against the grey-green fell
out of the lightless mouth of winter
with the sun in you
most yellow of yellows
the sun in you
the sun trailing after
the spinning rock of your body
spreading yellow with every dab of your tail
the train of a comet
the augur you were
you must have flown into the darkness and found
the sun by the thin arc of yellow escaping
from the well where she had been buried
you must have carried the sun in your beak
like a seed
that you jolted and swallowed her yellowest
of all yellows
you coughed her
out from your perch on the splintering fence
and filled your mouth with nest stuff instead
you stayed with us
you built your yellow
world in the cracks in our grey one lit up
yellow glowed from the fissures
in the slate
they call you a migrant breeder
when you turn to red a passage visitor
you knit your home in the passage between houses
the passage between one and another
lighting the way
For a while I was still. They made me still
in a room with a castle view they taught
my arms to lie still. It hurt to jerk
pinned down. Still they live. My electric
elbow. My stutter wrist. Knees
skip on the spot. Feet stick reflect
the kick. Running in sleep eyes rolling.
Viscous movement. Stammering rest.
My left leg crossing my right is terrified
trapped its breathing heart the hand
of a metronome set too fast. I watch it
swinging counting out frantic time
to the patterned code of the carpet. I cannot
feel it. I cannot control it. This
is the blood’s attempt at communication.
This is the body’s refusal. It throws
its hands up. Listen to the hidden. I am not
paying the right attention. You say
stop frowning. I do not know I am frowning.
My forehead aches with trying. With shaping
the mouth for a motion like speaking.
Radiant somebody says confusing
alarm with wellbeing. No one can interpret
the language of my blood’s blind panic. The figures
add up to nothing. The pressure keeps building
clicking up a shifting scale. For a while
I was still. They made me still. In a room
where I could not move for wanting. Now
I am matter and current flux radiant
energy dripping ticking.
Leeches have three hundred teeth. Leeches
leave a bite mark like a peace sign. Leeches excrete
anaesthetic when they pierce your skin,
like Emla cream. Leeches are precious.
A medicinal leech is hard to find.
We are listening to the radio on the drive to the hospital.
Natural Histories. A half hour of leeches.
A leech is doctor. A leech is a fiend
who sucks you dry. A leech is a bad
friend. A good leech will save lives.
Leeches are curious. Leeches migrate
around a body. Victorians tied
strings to their leeches and let them roam,
mine the body’s unseen continents,
drain what they couldn’t control. I consider
the grace of leeches. The diaspora of leeches.
The harvesting of leeches to extinction. An old man
reads a young man’s poem, in which
a leechgatherer on a lonely moor becomes
a beautiful cure: the last leech in England
and I think of him now - as I lay on my bed,
a needle in each elbow crook, the cold
saline dripping in, the hot
blood dripping out – skulking in a pool
on the weary moor, a small striped ghost
very beautiful, very precious, very good.
Motacilla flava flavissima: Watch the Birdie: For the Sixty-seven
Endangered Species of Birds in the United Kingdom (Beautiful
Still: With Invisible Rain (New Walk Editions)
Leeches: Gush: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times