The first one came at school, urged on by a boy,
she ran into a competent spin, white triangle
at her groin his only point of focus. In youth,
her thighs remained toned, good enough
to be seen in parks, skirt hem teasing her chin,
air sharp at her hips. After marriage, she did it daily,
in the garden. Legs wide (not even spread that far
for the bearing of her boys) blood surging in her skull.
A neighbour mentioned it. His hushed confession
to a sighting amused her for days. Her husband continued
to thrill at limbs thrown skyward, her gymnast’s poise
on reaching the lawn’s edge. Their sons’ small heads peeking
above the sill, now their distant admiration from homes
of their own. Steady with retirement, they wash breakfast things
in peace, before he unties her apron, feels her loosen, lets her go.
I’m half way up when the stranger topples.
Her clumsy lack of balance becomes a heavy,
dangerous weight I cannot right. As her body
repels the force of dirty treads, my shoulders
block her petrified bulk. I grip the wide
rubber rail, feel it shudder, her black hair tangles
in my mouth. My other hand gropes her coat;
a very intimate struggle, the abyss behind us
getting deeper all the time. Those on the descent
look embarrassed as they glide down to trains,
until at last, the top, where I lever her upright,
let her go. She walks right into the street
without a thank you. I want to cry and behind me
commuters rise, straight as candles, from the dark.
I like to watch a smoker –
their claims on dank
public space just to stop
and inhale; their outdoor defiance,
their expelled clouds
There’s something unkempt
about the one on the left.
Her hair, that hoody
she hides inside. Each suck
flashes the bird swooping
on her wrist, as she makes
that smokers bond; shares
secrets with a stranger
for the duration of a burn.
One last drag, then the hiss
in her polystyrene cup.