Polly Atkin

© Adam MacMaster

the poet

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.

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the poems

Motacilla flava flavissima

00:00 / 01:39

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
                                                        the trees
black streaks with sticky buds like rain drops 
against the grey-green fell
                                                  you flew 
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
                                                   blazing yellow
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
                                                                     I thought 
you must have carried the sun in your beak
like a seed
                 that you jolted and swallowed her yellowest
of all yellows    
                    most yellow
                                               most bright
                                                                  you coughed her 
out from your perch on the splintering fence
and filled your mouth with nest stuff instead
you stayed with us
                              chose us
                                           you built your yellow 
world in the cracks in our grey one lit up 
with yellow
                         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
                                                                your yellow
between
               your yellow
                                 lighting the way

Still

00:00 / 02:11

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

00:00 / 01:38

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.

Publishing credits

Motacilla flava flavissima: Watch the Birdie: For the Sixty-seven

  Endangered Species of Birds in the United Kingdom (Beautiful

  Dragons Press)

Still: With Invisible Rain (New Walk Editions)

Leeches: Gush: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times

  (Frontenac House)

© original authors 2020

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