the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Spring 2013



Clare Best

After the Visit

Her clothes stink of prison fry—
gravy, Jeyes Fluid, chainsmoked roll-ups.

Everything goes twice through the wash.
She lights a fire, places herself,

carefully, at the still centre of the house.
The stone walls move in close.

She bakes an orange cake—
her son's favourite. Thinks of promises

and keeping them. At night
she dreams the mothers of all the men,

standing outside her house
with their newborn boys. She dreams

she lets the mothers in
and they rock their babies to sleep

in a house that smells of cake,
warm from the oven.


Penultimate Poem

I should introduce this one by saying
I'm very nearly done. Thank you
for coming along in the fog and the rain.
And thanks for listening. I'll just read
another two. Please, you can chat
as much as you like in the interval
after the poem after this, while you wait
for a glass of warm Chardonnay, queue
to Buy Some Books and queue again
for the loo. So, before I actually read
the penultimate poem, I'll tell you
about my new work. I'm writing
a cycle of sonnets to the waxing moon,
a long monologue in rhyming couplets
inspired by a trip in a hot-air balloon
and a set of sixty experimental haiku
based on the mating call of the male
hammer-headed fruit bat. In a minute
I'm going to say a little bit more
about that. And I'll cite an obscure
Norse myth that informs my final piece.
But first I can't resist treating you
to a risqué anecdote about a poet
(who I see is in the audience tonight).
Oh, but look—the organizer's gone
quite pink, he's jumping up and down
at the back, waving, tapping his watch—
is he hinting my time is up? I think
after all I'll cut the sestina—I'd hate
to give you too much.


While the last strawberry ripens

we walk upriver as the tide runs down.
Samphire breeze, August hush, sky peppered
with bonfire ash. Sycamore branches raised
like arms. We don't see the ocean rise and tuck,
the harbour empty, schools of mackerel
flapping, a dinghy riding the scarp of water.
We hear a ringtone puncture the afternoon,
then a suction wind, a howling. And at last
the longest, most magnificent watery roar.



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