Forty-Five Square: Poetry

These poems were originally published in Forty-Five Square: Poetry (Birkbeck – June 2014).




We took a grande taxi from Casa to the white city—
four hours through scrubby hillscape, past goats
and cryptic signposts to the enclosing walls.

A trail of trucks obstructed the square each bearing
the legend Kingdom of Heaven in stark Helvetica,
we unloaded our bags in this other realm.

The medina was manned by gesturing djellabas,
corridors cast with kilims and ceramics, endless cats—
the odour of urine haggling with earthy cumin.
We, exposed westerners, fought our way through
the masses, armed with defensive palms and bad French,
seeking high-ground—a place to uncover our heads.

The riad was court-yarded, mosaicked, set with birds,
and bougainvillea, for us to wear cerise, draw and drink
mint tea poured from an improbable height.

I walked the ramparts, trod the citadel and was moved,
stirred by the steadfast hulk of history and—below the walls,
surging and rolling—the same endless sea.

I bought a pair of babouches in tooled maroon and wore them
to seem less of a tourist, but back home the stench was too much—
I disposed of them and framed the photos instead.


Portrait of a Moroccan Traveller


I am the type of person who travels to Marrakech—
the Rose of the Desert—with artists and those who
discern the rhythm of her dance through history.

I am the type of person who visits art galleries,
not just postcard stands, who photographs the
effect of stippled light in the souks.

I am the type of person who can spell Marrakech,
I have actually read Hideous Kinky and I don’t
misquote Casablanca, like everyone does.

I am the type of person who sits at a table on the square
at night, charmed by a dazzling bouquet of lights diffused
in the steam rising from a thousand dishes, holding court
in Place Jemaa El-Fna in the sickle-shadow of Koutoubia,
consuming a lamb tagine with relish, though it tastes like goat.

I am the type of person who turns to smile
as a stranger photographs me.

(In this place, I am the type of person
who looks like they could be someone famous.)


Sagrada Família


There it was—looming
like a molten taper over the financial district.
Grasping for the sky, green and scaffolded—
Gaudi’s temple.

The façade wept.
I entered—crept under concrete boughs
then—was swept along on a tide of undulating walls
beneath mushroomed columns.
I climbed, inspired—the railings writhed,
staircases grew wild,
strange fruits bloomed in purples and corals,
cacti sprouted from pinnacles.
The windows—infused with saturated hues—
chorused in seraphic harmony.
Their glory reflected on my face—
I was revived,

but they just stood.
Petrified figures with panelled faces,
carved and cast,
the dead watching over the living.
Christ stretched out a squared-off hand and turned
a blunted face to the city.

A Babel tower,
never quite achieving heaven.


What’s in a Name?


A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?
Some assume a nom de plume will alter ego
as magic potions or phone booths are wont to.

It’s an adhesive tag, clinging to your lapel
a prehensile digit, hooked by the crook of a little finger–
my name has a grip on me, whoever me might be.

I was given a biblical rope with which to hang myself:
a snare or noose that will forever be confused with
Rachel—at least my middle name is plain.

What is the merit of middle name? A second-choice
or passed down from ancient aunt to create new mutiny
to be wielded in parental wrath, or in school—ridiculed.

Used to be I’d give away my name in marriage—addition
is the contemporary way. It’ll be a squeeze though to fit
next generation’s quadruple-barrels on any register.

Shudder at the nomencratic cruelty of parents who
cradle their newly sprung and brand some awful appellation
into just born skin [think of Jenna Taylor, Peter Files].

Did Romney’s parents consider—one day a nation might
wonder if his given name was Mittens, did the Pitts
think what a spoonerism would do to little Shiloh?

In the moment of responsibility, think of the poor cat
you labelled Marmite and whether it does matter that
the name you’re set on means bucket in Afrikaans.

In documentation for my own named child, I penned
her initials: E.A.R. and, as they wheeled her off to insert
grommets into her glue ears, I laughed inappropriately.

At the end—for those of us so little accomplished
as not to warrant a Wikipedia page—all that’s left
is a name, cut in stone, to tell who we were.

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