Olga Dermott-Bond, Perfect/Pluperfect


Picture this new love:
shape of a red maple leaf,
gentle unfurling,

hold it in your hand:
breathless weight, shivering light:
each veined rivulet

a velvet fragment
that longs to rest here, curling,
bright as my blood, yours.

Amelia Earhart’s last flight

After ‘Have we really found Earhart’s bones?’ in The Guardian

She is at home in the cramped
attic of her plane cockpit. Time
is a condensing glass between
sky and ocean; each blue creaks

with dusty clouds that build them-
selves so easily into mountains.
This place on the map shudders
beneath her fingers, whilst her

little yellow plane is singing
uncaged, a little too low beneath
and above the inkspilled world.
Now and then turbulence shakes

her like a moth, but she is searching
for more than light, the distance
from her father’s empty whisky
bottles that roll, sometimes, towards

her in dreams. Those splintered nights
disperse so easily up here. She pictures
crossing the international dateline like
tickertape, throwing this adventure high

in confettied air. Ideas like these hang
like bats in these rafters. She knows in
her bones, in the metalled pinions of
wings that curve the very air, that she is right.

French lesson

A porta-cabin like a tea chest; dusty, sharp-edged, drafty,
walls so thin they splinter, bulge behind wheezing posters.

We are tightly packed in. Belfast girls with the wrong
nasal accents. Il fait froid. It is always cold –

so cold that the conversation card Mme Chagrin holds up
grows mottled and damp: Qu’est ce que c’est?

Silence drips down the insides of smeary windows. Il pleut.
We stare out into December afternoons, dark as attics, thinking

what an exotic place La Rochelle could be. Listening tests:
“Imagine you are in a café in Paris. The waiter asks…”

No. Impossible. We will never be that tiny cupped femme sipping
coffee by the Seine, effortlessly smoking a thin-tipped cigarette

stroking the leg of her lover Jean Pierre/Jean Michelle/Jean Jacques.
It is hard to imagine ordering anything. Except a huge radiator we could eat.

Our teacher wears a necklace like a broken up glacier. Her breath shards
curl verbs into baby dragons that sleep strange in our mouths and will eat us if

we get the wrong ending. Imparfait? She makes exam papers written in tears.
Adieu Tristesse, Bonjour Tristesse, Adieu Tristesse, Bonjour Tristesse.

We are ugly wooden dolls with our six other more avant-garde
cosmopolitan selves locked inside: Je suis? Nous sommes?

We paint an expression of plaintive apology on our hard faces with
scrunched up Tricolor textbooks stuffed in our mouths, whilst rules of

pluperfect and preterite nail our desperate essays together with rusty staples.
We pretend that we can’t get out,

we are waiting for someone to lift us out

I think,

unwrap us

speak to us in the language of love.

Every day

Every day of you is a small brush stroke.
These walls are beginning to sing –
the hard shells of 1, 2, 3 have peeled,
cracked, to reveal this – a tender oil,
the clean paint of your voice asking
questions, new words wet to the touch.

I am learning to live with messy edges;
my raw voice, a caught gull cry
that circles in the evening when
the day’s mess spills out over a
tired floor – too large shadows of
mistakes rest unfinished, left uncaught.

My arms ache with the effort of this,
pushing first, second coats onto your
bodies of light. I notice I have abandoned
old clothes, standing instead in bare arms
freckled, busy, speckled egg-shell skin
warm with flaws. My skin. It looks like yours.

the perfect ending

for ella

perhaps it is
a thread, found hanging
below the hem of your favourite dress –
the stitches follow
like tiniest kisses
that have puckered,
leaving an open gate
for you to slip through
so you can feel wet grass
of somewhere cotton –

soft. perhaps it is
a well worn sentence, each
word as clean as a shirt
on a washing line in
someone else’s garden:
one day soon you
will peg up new love
like happy laundry (your
socks and her socks) letting
them dance all day on a blue

silk sky. perhaps it is
a pair of old curtains
taken down, the weight
of dust-draped velvet
like a sleeping cat as
morning shows its bare face
at your window and the sun
threads its needle through
this linen-fine day, finding
a new place for you

to start.

From Northern Ireland, Olga Dermott-Bond lives in Warwickshire. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has been commissioned to write for Poetry on Loan and has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines, including Rattle, Paper Swans Press, Magma, and Ink Sweat & Tears. In 2018 she was shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s Primers IV publishing prize, and was one of the winners of the BBC Proms Poetry Competition. She is a teacher and has two daughters.

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