Siân Hughes’ use of idiomatic language is superb, and often has the effect of lulling the reader into a feeling of the quotidian, leaving him or her unprepared for the poem’s ending. More on Hughes, pulled from her publisher’s Web site:
Siân Hughes was born in 1965 and grew up in a village in Cheshire. She studied English at Durham, Birmingham and Reading, and is now a postgraduate student at The University of Warwick. She has lived in Birmingham, Stafford, Manchester, London, Devizes and Oxford, sometimes with a partner, but more often alone, and now lives more or less in the middle of nowhere with her two young children.
She has worked as an infant teacher, a community publishing worker, education officer for The Poetry Society, English lecturer, journalist, writer-in-residence, shop assistant, life-model, washer-up, sandwich-maker, mother and step-mother.
Out of sheer rage that her second novel was not good enough to get published, she began writing poetry on an Arvon course in 1994, and in 1996 won the TLS / Poems on the Underground competition with “Secret Lives”. She published a pamphlet of poems “Saltpetre” with smith/doorstop in 1998 and in 2000 won a Southern Arts Award for Poetry. Her work appeared in Anvil New Poets III in 2001. In 2006 she won first prize in The Arvon Poetry Competition with “The Send-Off”, an elegy for her third child.
And from Hughes’ new book, The Missing:
The Double at Highbury
The day Arsenal won the double you stayed out of town
while I went looking for a houseboat for one.
It was moored under the tropical aviary at the Zoo
and, having no engine of any kind, was staying there.
The toilet arrangement was a bucket and hose
and relied on the cover of darkness. This was June,
but the owner made light of the way the tin roof
turned it into a floating methane-fuelled oven.
There was a washing-machine, with a patched out-let pipe
and a generator wired to an illegal stand on the tow path.
The owner waved his cigarette in the vague direction
of the single bunk bed and told me to look round.
On the way home I struck lucky in the local hospice shop
with exactly the right kind of shirt for £4. It’s amazing
what people throw out. I was home before the whistle,
when shouting and horn-blowing filled the street,
went on until the sirens joined in at eleven. All night
heat held the sounds in close-up. The air would not move.
I waited for you to call soI could hold the receiver
up to the open window and let you into my world.
Your desk faces north, mine faces the wall :
over each of them you hang a picture
of your wife, in case we forget who we are
or what we are doing here. ‘After I’m dead,’
you say, ‘she’ll come back for the library.’
The staircase separates fiction from drafts,
pornography fills the loft. The landing
with a leaking roof (biography, misc.)
is ordered on a private system (by friends,
of friends, for sale, the rest.)
If I take the basement, (romance, plays) you’re left
with everything you like to think might be true :
poetry, newspapers, letters, Fine Art, those volumes
in dark covers under the sink, her memoirs, bath books,
city guides, dictionaries, and all the stuff in the attic.
Sometimes your dressing gown unhooks
and slides out under the garden door
with three aces up his sleeve.
He flies in the face of next door’s dog,
back flips down the middle of the street,
opening himself to the breeze.
Something in pink nylon flutters a cuff
from an upstairs window. He twirls his cord
to beckon her outside.
They’re heading for a club they know
where the dress code is relaxed midweek,
and the music is strictly soul.
The Girl Upstairs
The girl upstairs wears white lycra shorts
even in winter. ‘They’re comfy’
she says, ‘What’s the problem ?’
From the back door you can hear
the steady scratch of her electric meter.
The corner shop sends messenger boys
up the road with her grocery boxes.
Cling peaches in syrup, carnation milk,
baby carrots, peas. Her freckles
are pale orange under a homemade tan.
The landlord says ‘She could make it nice.
Homely. But she’s not the type.’
Her boyfriend laughs. ‘When I come home
I don’t want gardening and all that crap.
In the taxi you say ‘I know this part of town,
or I used to, years ago, when I had a tart.
That is the right word for it, isn’t it ? Tart ?’
‘Not really,’ I say, and unbutton my coat.
‘She had a terrible yappy dog, but I didn’t care.
She was nice and fat. I liked that. Fat.’
I lift my dress over the tops of my stockings.
‘Fat,’ you say again. ‘Lovely and fat.’
The Greedy Man
The Greedy Man counts boiled eggs
back into their box, eleven,
ten; his tongue plays out
over cooking instructions.
Steam rises. He sighs
as the microwave tray revolves.
He freckles the skin
on a bowl of blancmange
with hundreds and thousands.
‘Hundreds and thousands’
he murmurs, delighted
one dish can contain so many.
The same air we collected
in our hair and clothes
from a view of the river
is flowing out of hedgerows
up the garden wall
through the open window
to and from between our mouths ;
with no sense of occasion,
nothing we said or didn’t say
stops it short. It seems content
lifting our ribs, and then letting go.
There’s something in my eye,
a smudge over everything
to the left of the television.
I can ignore it if I choose.
A door opens and closes
your side of a long-distance call.
Turn my face to the light.
Tell me there’s nothing there.
The Sacking Offence
Like the outline of a paperclip
left on the windowsill two summers ago
or fingerprints, dusted over, but still intact
along the edge of the franking desk,
something like cigarette smoke
might, even this far into the week,
uncurl from the corner of a table,
to print last Friday, ten p.m.
as a row of inverted chimneys
across the calendar on the back wall.
At intervals in the night his footsteps
climb the stairs, then change direction.
The cistern empties, pauses and refills.
Before breakfast he turns back the quilt
on her aeroplane pyjamas, biscuit crumbs,
a paperback copy of The Bald Prima Donna.
She’s taken his favourite pillow next door.
He helps himself to her vanishing cream,
draws the curtains for a morning’s sleep.
You taught me how to roll cigarettes
without saltpetre, the slightest draft blows them out.
I count your visitors in empty bottles, a steady drip
of something collecting under your chair.
There are slates in the guttering, dead leaves
and newspapers behind the door.
I’m preoccupied with the state of your collars,
worn through to the webbing, lost buttons,
the damp under the window, the problem of storage,
the way your shoe heels wear down on a diagonal,
a shadow that falls across your eyes
as if you were watching me undress.
According to the magazine I picked up at the airport
that caramel-brown mongrel who followed you the length of the beach
is the perfect colour for your star sign, one you should wear every day.
He suited you, it’s true, his long snout lifted to your waist
as he kept time with your feet, pointer-fashion.
In the evening light the high-stepping ripples of his shadow
as it crossed the tide-marked sand suggested something pedigree.
Today I saw him tack out from behind the windsurf place
and slip into a pack of Germans on their way to the port, his smooth coat
an effortless match for their close-cropped heads and tans.
Long before they loaded the last rucksack onto the pilot boat
he was shedding gold flecks of blond light from his fur,
ducking into the shade behind a stack of blue plastic crates,
his eye on the slow swinging gait of a passing American.
It’s one of those parties where the children have taken the seats
in the living room, and no one eats the sandwiches. On the stairs
ex-lovers compete for who looks down on whom. No one consoles
the woman in a low-cut dress sitting outside the bathroom
waiting for her lover to take his wife home.
Her lover’s son keeps bringing her cake — she’s usually more fun
on their trips to the zoo. The boy wants to play monkeys. Gorillas.
Anything in cages. Her hand is white on the banister.
‘Go carefully down the stairs,’ she says. ‘Hold on tight.’
scrubber, slattern, slag, doxey,
white trash, bit-on-the-side,
— not to be taken home, taken
in your mouth, not to be
taken to heart
a pick-up, practice-run,
day-time, texts-only, token gesture :
someone you’re sort-of seeing —
but only with one eye.
This is the place where they ask
‘Can the doctors write to you
using this name and address ?’
before they tick the standard form
and stack it, face down, behind the desk :
where you sit very still on smooth chairs
and reread the horoscopes
in back issues of Company:
where someone looks you in the eye
and says ‘You do know what I mean
when I say markers in the blood ?’
Where you promise to be good
next time, forever, play it safe,
for a string of negatives, a new life.
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