by Claire Allen
She crouches in the crawl space
underneath some plywood half-fallen
against a muddle of abandoned breezeblocks,
waits in the small, dry hollow
her short tenancy has rubbed out of the earth,
emerging only after the first luminous quiver of dusk,
moves like smoke,
her ink-gloved, hairpin steps meticulous, untraceable,
leaving no print behind in the hardening concrete
that clamps the earth inside its damp, mineral smell.
He is watching when she appears. In a blink,
a stop-frame. Suddenly there,
pared down to the nub of her necessity,
hunkering over a dead pigeon coming undone
in the road like knitting. Haunches low to the ground,
shoulder blades pushing up under her skin like stubs of wings.
She snarfles up the soft, unravelling coils,
delicately crunches the bloody needle of exposed spine,
its neat row of stitches. Moves on.
He pulls the curtains closed
and writes another letter to the daughter he has missed
for five months. In the margins of each page
he draws the fox cavorting around landmarks
he has only seen in pictures:
Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The London Eye.
And on the bare plaster of his bedroom wall
her outline again, scratched in spent matches:
his touchstone in this hungry city,
running free in the mountains and forests of home.
Claire Allen lives in London where she teaches literature & creative writing. Her first novel, The Mountain of Light, was published by Hodder Headline Review in 2004; her second, Protection, in 2007. Her poetry has been published in The Reader Magazine and twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.