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What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

It is the sound of paradox and cliché. Lying
in the yoga class at end of play, it is the clinch.
It has been stretched for years and needs a rest.
It is the sound of the air on your face, air that has swirled
round the school gym, while the poses swung and held.
It is the sound of ceaseless, futile effort.
It is the glide of flexed and silent ease.
It is the muted wave of one who lacks a catch,
the simple mind that lacks a voice.
It is the slap of palm on thigh, mass applaud
as the class warms up by Chinese massage.
It is the slight, half-hearted politesse
of those whose half-time drinks are full and precious.
It is the soundless rage of prisoners,
the careful patting of the sly, the subtle sleight
of the master detective, seeking hidden doors.
It is skin folded in, and then extended,
a swift flamenco clip. A grasp of sand:
a koan half dissolved, and half in hand.





Fitting In

June sits rocking on the unmade bed.
She’s been out for a meal, the second
of the day, although it’s only three.

She insists her figure’s grossness
is because of fluid. Some of it runs
from her eyes, as she stares at dust.

She fingers the pile of Richard’s records
discs in the wrong sleeves now, and hardly played
since he died. She thinks about

the hospital beds, the way they keep her
in all day when she’s ill again.
The nurse comes round to inject her,

but somehow it feels all wrong,
the nurse is a girl in a woman’s uniform,
the beds like wrong-sized envelopes, and she

starts to shout when politely asking for help.
But she’s free at the moment. Confusingly,
the sun is in and out. Bills fist-crumpled into balls.

She comes to me like this sometimes,
and I don’t throw her out. Her moods
are heavy weather, end-of-tether storms,

and all I can do is accept her clumsy offers
of help, and give her tea in a faceless cup.
This eases us both, like women folding linen:

there is that quiet smoothness she once knew,
an insubstantial shake of the dowdy tea-cloth,
circulars sealed up carefully, waiting to go.





A Mystical Poem

A woman stayed in her room.
She noticed the nights sweeping in
and out each year like a tide.
When they came close she exalted
in the encroaching darkness, though
the nights themselves were magnificently blind.
To go abroad in her thoughts then was to risk
being locked and dragged by poison claws
or simply the swell of the element
which rolled through sealed-up doors.

On the south-east side of the year the hours
grew calmer; receded to incandescence
on evenings when she trod in dampness,
face with the smoothness of sand. She looked
at the past, and the future; all bland
as a doe in pasture. Then she noticed
glints in the stroll of her mind, made all
the more beautiful by night’s residual pools:
the little wrecks in crystalline-cut bottles.
An empty shell lies hallowed in her hand.





Sardines


I remember my first encounter with the real thing.
Whole and entire, the sardines
laid out, quite certainly dead, on a wide white plate.

Clare and I sipped our Spanish gin. The sun,
Spanish, glared out the irrelevance of home,
slipped from my sight on the plane like some old wet stamp.

The hurt still came at night, sleeping off the drink
in our small, cheap room. I start up to that familiar
inconvenience: the wounded, empty womb.

My ex, now. I practice the phrase, its salty precision,
its savvy, its severance clean on my tongue.
Mix it with jugglers, or buskers, or pilgrims who mourn.

You’re finding that quite therapeutic
, Clare said,
as I split off their heads, their fan tails, with my knife.
Again and again. The five thousand delivered of life.

Five for each time he and I made love. Each fish
lies on my lap, unmanned and edible.
Their silver mouths whisper what’s good for me.


                  © Sarah Law 2003



These poems are taken from Sarah Law’s new book, The Lady Chapel
, which is available for £8.50, post free, from the publisher:£8.50, post free, from the publishers:

STRIDE, 11 SYLVAN ROAD, EXETER, DEVON EX4 6EW
[Cheques payable to ‘Stride’ please]