Helen Tookey

Two Poems


Tonight you have set out all the keys on the oak table. They lie on the grained and pitted surface, each with its own design, finials of love-knots, triquetras, plain oval loops. You align them carefully, crosswise to the grain, you lay them out as you would lay out the cards for a reading, and you wait. But you find nothing to unlock.

It is no longer autumn, so yesterday you burned the few dried leaves from the mantelpiece. Some blackened instantly, shrank into themselves, became scraps of ash and then became nothing. But others unfolded in the flames, their ribs and veins glowing like wires, and one, a fireleaf, gleamed like a phoenix and flew, rising out of sight and up towards the black night sky.

Where is Louise? The pictures on the walls, they are not Louise, and the body in the long mirror, that is not Louise’s body. You remember the time you saw her stand in the gap, the split in the beech’s hollow trunk, and you remember your fear, that the tree would close over. You called to her to come away, and she laughed, of course, she was never afraid –

– No. She is somewhere under a clear cold sky, in a country of endless unchanging light. She is pulling a sledge across miles of snow, skirting the pinewoods. There is no sound, only the steady crunch of her boots on the hard-packed snow, and the rasp of the sledge’s metal runners, this sledge she pulls like a kind of companion. She doesn’t speak, but as you watch her you see that there is a kind of speaking here, a syntax of endless unfolding, of no end-point and no desire, only this walking over snow, this pulling a sledge forever in half-light.


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