“Cipher” and other poems by Lucy Holme

Plane Mirror

Mirror, forge the image I can recognise. Give me mercury streaks
for my vinegar’d smile.
Show her now, same size as me. Same distance between us two.
Virtual, not virtuous when I laugh, she laughs.
No space spared by glass and aluminium to conceal.
I cut her hair and dyed the root, aged her face with reckless youth
seared skin with hot tears, smoked and smudged, double proved.
Let sadness land to eat away at firm chin and high cheekbones.
Had late nights furrow sockets, spill their leaden shadows.
Lay rigid as failed love rubbed out angles, scattered tiny lines on temples.
Relaxed as a new love brought expansion, contraction.
Skin deep, skin tight, skin-full of experience. It shows on me.
People struggle with the truth, age advances by the time we catch them in deceit.
But you don’t lie, you reflect the fact while most avert their gaze.
With each cycle, each rapid leap from winter to spring as ice thaws and sun warms.
We do just fine, you and me.
Keep the symmetry compose ourselves.
Cast out fear embrace what’s real.



I took the wine home post-event
the bottle sticky nearly spent.
Breathed in the taint of basement mould,
of sickly damson decay.
Brushed its neck with fingers stained a violent blue
tannin gums astringent with the taste of you.
Grinding greyish-purple teeth of mottled hue
garish lips with smeary lines struck through;
All glamour quenched by this cool morning light.
You clocked me buffet bound
glassy-eyed, chock-full of riddles and sham panache
swerved clean east across the room to you
flushed with Dutch courage,
skittish as a bee in thrall to gummy pollen dab,
emboldened by the potent juice.
Now I sit in dawn’s pernicious way and rue the deft and steady finger-play
the pop and hiss of disgorgement,
mired like before in the folds of your acid tongue.
Through decisions made, both bad and good
how best to describe our painful flow?
The racking of my crudest form, the shaping of a once fresh heart,
an untapped vintage poured out neat.
Strength and essence unproven yet
hoping age will finally discern,
the faults not to repeat.

An abstract of us

With the light off, I catch your avian eye.
In the dark, you steal mere seconds to adjust
your giant orbit flicker punctuated by a sigh. But the glare,
I see it plain upon your face.
Your sharp gaze could cut glass, steel firm
despite attempts to weather your resolve.
Where you deform by force, I am brittle, break,
malleable as stone.

Winter comes to coax us outside, promising relief.
Each struck dumb as starlings soar above the trees on Hampstead Heath,
a tidal murmuration printed on pink clouds.
I want the perfect picture, messing with the shutter speed
but their swarming dance becomes a smear across the screen.
The magic dissolves.
We can’t fake that harmony, make new patterns stick.

I hit delete.


Zero is nothing so how can it be the size of a living entity?
Zero is empty, a void. Not like a woman.
A woman is full to the top. She unifies, is universal.
Zero’s a chasm, a woman a peak,
a bottomless lake.
How then can her body be confined, vacant?
Be null. With a numerical value of less than one?
A man can not be Zero. Unrestricted by designer template and form.
Why, men still measure by girth and chest, over arm and inside leg.
Study the small print, locate the rules. You can choose.
You can limit, curtail. Strip back the chassis,
an aerodynamic engine built for looks not speed.
Gorge on tissues sup thin air adjust your figure and mind to the game.
Strive for the magic of nothing, exist for the sum of the losses and gains.
Whittle, shrink become quiet, still.
No elements, substance. Not present. Zero.
Make no impact. Become a literal frame.
And double it if you prevail. It is the same.
If you look at Zero, you see nothing. It will not be easy.
A woman can not easily
be nothing.


Between your lungs I lie

In the car, after the news, the preceding hour a blurry hue.
I think of your heart, your poor scarred lungs
hands balled to fists, a child again.
As the engine starts Between two lungs begins
I hear a song bird soar above and circle back.
She brings me the image of you collapsed in my mother’s lap.
Those whispered words, gasping for breath.
Now my own is short, jagged, almost gone.
But not gone like you.

Who else has gone today?
I could buy the Examiner but I won’t see your name.
I’ll buy milk and bread, remember to collect the kids.
In Centra, a boy of 18 or 19 asks, do you need a tissue ma’am?
As I throw him Kinder eggs and all of grief’s sweet impulsive trove and cry,
the noisy choking kind
fumble for my wallet, for the words to say my dad died today.
He looks at me across the till, mumbles
I’m so sorry for your loss.

Irish people and their death.
Chats in the kitchen, solace in the post office queue.
Then tomorrow a new list of names to check through.
Send our regards, God rest his soul. At least he didn’t suffer,
he was a grand ould age.
I gulp the air in this land that was not yours.
Imagine two lungs pink and membrane soft
how your heart cleaved the space between
hoping I was still within.

Cipher and other poems © Lucy Holme

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