Pippa Little

Snake Street

(Kigyo Utca, Budapest)

Someone I never met
left  for the lake,
let me sleep
in his naked apartment

a grand block in the fashion quarter
entered from  dust and blare
through a tiled hall
to a piss-sweet courtyard of ferns

I rose in the wire-mesh lift
to the door which at the twist of his key
fell open to fin de siecle floors
and imperial  windows

unfurnished but for a grand piano
a bowl of grey lemons circled by flies
high heels kicked off  akimbo,
faint undercalls of pigeons:

that summer I sank my thumbs
into big enough bullet holes,
entered the tobacco yellow synagogue
came back late and drunk to sleep

under that black malarial hangar
with slow-turning galaxies
weaving a fume through fever-dreams

of rib-meat curved up, my small red boat
I rowed through radio frequencies
in warlike languages,  imagined wakening
with bloody insteps, laughing.

Brushing The Old Yellow Lab

She is grainy cornfields I remember up beyond our house,
glowing on the hillsides I never reached
through late summer sunsets: long shadows in slow burn,
that longing to be somewhere else
where my life could begin. So much faster
than I expected, here I am, mothering a dog in our middle-age
who slips out of herself, supple as thistledown
every season, almost-white chaff lifting in tufts,
for whom love is this wordless touch, the weight
of my hands. I plough shadows in and smooth them out,
remembering light pollen-sticky on my skin,
waiting for that sensed world to come.
Not how I thought it would be
or enough, yet warm, rough, loose,
more than I needed.

Elisabeth Says

(for Elisabeth Olin)

Elisabeth says
as we all sit together
over bowls rosy pink
from our rhubarb fool and cream
that  in Sweden, when children
swallow a key or some such thing
their mothers feed them rhubarb:
Elisabeth says
its strong fibres seize that object,
wrap it round, entwine it with muscles
like boa constrictors’, so thus swathed
and swaddled there’s no sharp end
or impediment to the journey,
and all’s  well!
Elisabeth says
in her experience it works
for dogs as much as babies, and
we laugh, our table messy
with a good meal finished.
She is beautiful, how she grows old.
I remember yesterday
she showed me bark
on autumnal trees,
said her grandmothers grated it to flour
for starvation bread,
and how it tasted.


(Old Wives’ Summer)

In Altweibersomme
we gather the first misty skeins
dip them in piss-starch, dwindle and spin them into wires
that twitch with all the conversations of the world…
we may choose to drown them in a milky ditch
or whisper them home:

in Altweibersomme
we have no appetite for love but dawdle where young men
rise out of clear pools, shaking drops free in golden,
needle-fine constellations – we sew them old, heart-stuffed bodies,
and when we drape the bright mesh over,  each hero shivers:

in Altweibersomme
we grow weary of figs and pomegranates,
sip one another from long spoons, sigh for that honeycomb
to glisten slickly on the tongue,  gulp
gulp till the forschung puppy-fat is gone:

in Altweibersomme
we hang  shoes from elms,
snip babies’ hair and set one curl in forfeit on the pillow,
knit their moth-breath into storms, throw ourselves down hills
in snarls of birds-nest, crying
prayers for cannonfood, tumbleweed, the eye-bones of  sluttish husbands:

from the hairs on our chin we weave soft, slow, snowdrifts:
they numb the flail and weathervane
in spiderly baptismal shawls or shrouds
through which dirty light  frays, in, out,
in, out, like lungs, breathing.

‘Indian summer’ in German is Altweibersomme or Old Wives’ Summer. Weiben/weben/to weave alludes to the threads of spider silk that float about on the autumn air, like the cut-off parts of someone’s weaving.


for B.

button for a
Barbary lion or
Bengal lancer, bonny
bull’s brow, lady’s bedstraw:

Whin sill basalt,
blue bay on a braw day or
Bread of Heaven:

my bright and beautiful,
beloved –

bombazine bric-a-brac
of bats’ wings,
subfusc bunting
by the rain’s bodkin,

Bob Doubles
steps besom-swept or
umbrellas by and by,

baby’s bower, bosomy
twice-brewed for
balm and balsam :

my bright and beautiful

Pippa Little is Scots but lives in England. Her collection ‘Overwintering’ was published by OxfordPoets, Carcanet Press in 2012 and was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. She has appeared in many magazines, anthologies such as The Best of British Poetry 2012 and 2013 and she’s read at several events including the Edinburgh International Book Festival, StAnza and Durham poetry festivals, and in Mexico City. She runs workshops, edits and translates.

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