The swallow is for a safe return home,
she says, like sailors; the one just here
was a mistake; the frog was her first one,
a tribute her first girlfriend loved frogs.
She asks if we want to see more
and our eyes light up as if a world
of pornographic possibility and folklore
line her feathered wings like stanzas.
She lifts her shirt up over her head,
right there next to the gravy boat.
The remnants of corn and candied yams
blush beside her careless nudity.
She turns her back to us like Judas
and bears a thick black lattice cross
between the span of her thin shoulders
a relic of her old life, she says.
In awe, inspired, we gawk as she re-robes,
and filling her mouth with pumpkin pie
and ice cream, recounts her history in ink.
In the bedroom, with the curtains drawn
to let the dry yellow of the street light in
but no stars, I arrange a trip in clothes
on the duvet. Will I need this?
The last load of laundry on spin cycle
shakes the tenement walls, shakes
my feet awake, vibrant with this last task,
vibrant with eleventh hour and nerves.
My hands are busy, have a mind of their own,
sort the toothpaste and underpants, graze
the set of fancy camera lens on the nightstand
a filter of red. A filter of yellow, of brown.
The mountain of clothes grows on the bed
in the shape of a woman, and my second mind
misses the shape of a woman on my bed,
strokes a satin dress, nostalgic. Folds cotton.
In too few hours, I will return to my old home,
to a great city where the sun is always shining,
and everyone I have ever met is wed and works.
Everyone I know is dancing and beautiful.
I pack my new life into this suitcase, I pack
the moonlight in. I pack the heart of the street
in the night, vagrant with pub-drunks, pungent
with salted, sauced chippy paper, hot kebab.
I pack the rain in. I pack the grey clouds,
the sooty rooftops and cracked cobble,
rot iron fences and gardens filled with nettles.
I smooth the pile and zip it closed with ease.
In the street you are barking
at the top of your lungs, something
about the Grand National and how
Stan didnae di it.
Your mates rally behind you
a red herd. You knock your heads
into one another on the way
back to Ladbrokes.
One young buck knuckles
your horns and chides you aye,
this yer last night oot, mate,
last night oot wi thi lads.
In the morning, you raise your head
with a saint’s strength
from the gutter where you slept.
You turn to lap at the cool stream
but think better of it.
You study your histology no nicks,
no cuts, no cauls of condoms
in your pockets you head home.
You shed your downy antlers
in the back garden, like an old word.
Inside, she strokes your velvet pelt
like a hunter, savors your venison skin,
says nothing about your horns.
You bristle under the weight of her,
your body taut and new.
For a time, there wasn’t anything
that didn’t turn out elephants.
Elephants. The whir of the dryer
on second spin cycle: elephants.
Elephants on parade, or left
unmentioned in any room.
Elephants even in the occasional
clop of hooves down our street
in the afternoon: elephants which
turn into equestrian policemen
in shyness elephant magicians.
A mouse was an elephant enemy.
Cheese then a trap from an ally.
We’d have our mini cheese parties
in the living room, and taunt our foes.
Every pet was re-named Dumbo.
Every step became a stomp.
Every sweater, grey or red
our arms a corresponding trunk.
In my hinter-sleep it wasn’t sheep
I’d count, but elephants
their heavy bodies hopping
that ridiculous fence: 1, 2, 3…
Until the day you said
you favored zebras instead.
And I packed all our elephants
into their graveyard in the attic.