16 July 2020

READ OF THE DAY

JEANINE STEVENS
Wintering in Bloomsbury: 1981

The holly bush, a sober lump of green,
shines and smiles at winter. John Clare

Lucky to find a cheap flat off campus, with breakfast:
bacon, egg, tomatoes and toast (white or brown).
Ideal location, just around the corner
from the British Museum (free entry
on days when studies lag). On a side street,
I walk past a book stall: purchase
a leather bound: Tudor Shakespeare,
1916, and The Cloister and the Hearth, 1920.
The mist is still and gray; streetlamps refract
at 10 a.m. Waiting at a stop sign, a local
asks, “And how do you like your President Reagan?”
I will check in with my tutor, maybe Tuesday.
My essay on wooden henges can wait.
For now I need to hear the crackle of winter branches,
freckled leaves splitting under icy arms.

If it were Spring, I would join John Clare,
in the Kentish heights, seek the ox-eye daisy,
startle the wild duck, and watch
weary rooks fly to distant woods.
The walk will find some places still and warm.
If Summer, I would lounge in parks, enjoy outdoor
dramas on college lawns, everyone more
obvious then, analyzing maps, pavilions filled
with bright florals and floppy hats.
How pleasant to learn that little rivers still exist
under London: the Walbrook, the Tyburn.
Fog follows me as I tighten my tweedy muffler
and step inside a small hotel; here a ‘Ephemera Sale.”
(Little sandwiches of potted meat offered.)
I purchase a tattered copy of English Country Life.
Past the American University,
the British Library is overcrowded. I only want
to stand before adjoining displays: early
handwritten Beatle’s lyrics
and King John’s Magna Carta.

Heading back, denser fog disrupts sound.
I hear the murmur of sales clerks in a booking office,
and folks in chilly flats stirring their evening meal.
Yesterday in University lunch room,
I’m wearing Birkenstocks and a denim jumper.
The clerk asks, “Do you have a faculty card.”

John Clare: “A Leaf Falling in Winter.”
“A Song.”

‘Wintering in Bloomsbury: 1981’ by Jeanine Stevens was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.

COMPETITION

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (July 2020)
Closing Date: 31 July 2020
Judge: Terry Jones
For original, previously unpublished poems in English Language, on any subject, in any style, up to 50 lines long. Poets of all nationalities living anywhere in the world are eligible to enter.
Learn more and enter online now at https://sentinelquarterly.com/competitions/poetry

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Dr Esiaba Irobi (Photo: Molara Wood)

ESIABA IROBI
The Cry Of Orgasm

She was a Mauritius woman
who sold spicy grocery at Leeds
open market and spoke demotic English
even on the phone that evening
she told me to come over for a chat.
I won’t tell you exactly where but
just know it was somewhere in Headingly.

The lights were on to show me the window
of her house and her door. On all fours,
furs erect, like a Yorkshire cat starved
of pudding for two years, I crept in.
The door purred, closed quietly
so as not to wake the neighbours.

She said her husband had a timetable
for beating her, so they were now separated.
We watched Ruby Wax on the coloured
TV for three minutes then went upstairs,
her blue sleeping gown spiralling behind her
like my lust. Up there, in that grey bedroom,

It was sweet, it was swell, it was juicy;
la creme de la creme, her olive thighs
squeezing honey on my ever-green cucumber
and, inch-by-inch, devouring it, enjoying it,
relishing it. Dear Reader, I won’t tell you a lie,
it was sweet, I lay there, on my back, furs erect,
pawing the air, a lucky cat dissolving in ecstasy,
crystals of sugar forming in my mouth, my brain,

my heart. But just as the tremors were coming,
the tremors of our earthquake, memories
of her husband rippled through her mind, and,
suddenly, like an olive leaf, she wilted.
Instead of a cry of orgasm, she swallowed
and sighed; her eyes scanning the room and
windows with fear. The fear got into me too
as she climbed off like a disheartened jockey
who had failed to win the prize at the races

While I lay there, an empty saddle, with no foot
In the stirrup and no kick at the side to spur me on.
Since that day, the condom of our love
Has been broken. And now when I go to the market
I avoid her stall of spices and go to another
Laden with peaches and fresh strawberries
All of which are red and also very sweet.

‘The Cry of Orgasm’ by Dr Esiaba Irobi (1960 – 2010), author of Why I don’t Like Philip Larkin & Other Poems and Hangmen Also Die, was first published in Sentinel Poetry (online) December 2002.

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