By Stephanie Powell
Quiet streets, big river
-A series of small poems
I stand as still as chimney tops,
pausing at street corners
to see if my flesh becomes brick.
Shin bones straight like
streetlamps- face lit only by phone-screen light.
The newspapers laid out over the
lid of the off-licence freezer-
inky, see-through pages
covering shallow basins of Cornettos,
Magnums and ice-lollies.
Today’s front-page story-
told to the ceiling,
all nicotine cream paint and broken
The pub by the river-
looks closed for good-
The unplugged beer taps dry, the
Viking ship-shell of the building,
settling like a dead quarry into
its own unfightable sleep.
The Wandle bursts like an unemptied bladder,
after a month of rain. A mouth with
no tongue to hold back the flood.
The waterwheel makes violent circles.
It is too fast for the ducks,
too fast for the fishermen- who in gentler times
wait long days for fish.
The smile is half-done, pained
like cheek-skin colliding with
a dead tooth.
The structure holding up
the room fails, the oak-coloured
stairs, infrequently cleaned,
collapse and slide out the
front door like a tongue.
The house plants we
managed to kill-off
during the pandemic grow
into knotted bracken.
We watch hours of TV until
things feel back to normal. A
woman kisses a stranger on
the subway. A man walks
through a crowded square,
passes by the other tourists-
stops to buy an ice-cream.
we watch the mosque rebuild itself,
through a tower of quiet seasons.
March: metal beams are exposed like
an open rib cage.
Two cranes- bent-necked, pushed against the fire-gutted
An early, hot season bends England in its fist, a shirtless
builder rests on a crate, allowing the skin to cool and clear the sweat.
I see the torn insulation mapped
along the walls-
trails of charcoal burn marks
look like a column of spiders from down here.
June: new glass laid flat in the
windows, the midday sun catches like a
flame. Clear film stuck at the edges-
a wire skeleton of scaffolding hugs the innermost
parts of the structure.
It is like looking into the back of a mouth.
I think of molars and cavities,
check my own for holes
with my finger.
We stay out in the park on
the longest day of the year, until the sun
goes down behind the
minaret. We walk home through cooling
laneways washed in dark.
October: cement pillars appear as
from the air. They frame the
face of the mosque like hair. The wrapping along the balcony is
peeled away, the facade
looks frail and new as the leaves that die on the trees
along the fence line.
Blue tarp is weighed down
by breeze blocks in the skip outside the
when it rains it fills with water.
The wind stops the blood
in all of our foundations.
February: a stricken end to winter- it snows
a little. We don’t leave the house much,
the mosque completes its rebirth without witness.
These suburbs feel toothless, the pub
has been closed for months. The days expand
as though arms opening up very slowly,
we hold our elbows beneath out jackets as we stop
to admire the domes-
the same colour as the inside of a shell.
Almost a year- we’ve watched it-
put back together, as we
circled the edges.
My hand reaches for the bottom of your
jacket pocket, our exposed surfaces
sting with cold.
Stephanie Powell lives in London. She grew up in Australia. She writes from her attic at home and takes photos. Her collection ‘Bone’ is out by Halas Press in July 2021.