Mary Ford Neal, Ebbing

Street magic

I don’t believe in magic. But something
hovers along these streets, something
like dust not settling hangs just above
the slippery cobbles, and it’s more than
the messy flash of reflected streetlight
and it’s more than the colourful spill from some
long gone car, lying now in the gutter
as though someone had pierced a rainbow
and let it fall sighing down to die here
in the dark, by a drain, with the swollen fag-ends
and the dog urine and the spit of the loud lads.
This is something else – our shoes splash through it
whatever it is, and I swear it makes our stepping lighter.
My feet might fly, and any second I might be gone
unless I grab your arm to stop myself
which I never would.

My husband is losing his shit

because apparently a woman who looks just like me
went to another city and ended up drinking for hours
with a man whose name is such a profanity
that neither of us can say it, it would be like speaking
the name of the devil, and what she did next with this man
was also unspeakable, and she looks just like me.

Apparently she looks just like me, but her eyes glittered
she laughed like a fanfare
and her behaviour was so unlike mine
that I’m sure there could be no mistake, and I’m sure
that my husband is worrying unnecessarily, and I’m sure
that there’s no need for him to be waving
someone else’s arms around
and wearing someone else’s face

and no need to be shelling me with deadly words
but apparently
the resemblance is uncanny, so much so that, despite the fact
that I would never do those things, would never
would never
and her eyes, and she laughed, and her behaviour
you see
she looks
so much



Here on the lengthening shore I watch
as the tide laps away predictably
the tide that submerged me so recently
that its film still clings to my skin
and draws a shudder.

If I depended only on my senses
I’d be unsure, the inching away so slight
it could easily be mistaken
but I rely instead on what I know
of tides, and how they leave.

I also know that tides return
so by then I’ll have raised myself
from my damp seat, and studded
with imprints of shell and stone
I’ll have wandered back to dry, dry land
where laws of nature promise tides don’t follow.


So I resuscitate myself, smooth out the creases and I stand
a moment, face to the curdled sky and then begin
the dreamlike journey back to dry, dry land
but these are sea legs now and might rebel

and yes, I feel dragged backward out to sea.
My lips are silent now and cannot move, but if they could
how would they keep from whispering scuttle me?
I know I cannot promise that they would.

I know the sea is full of little deaths, and I’m afraid
of riptides, and of pounding rains and winds
I know that I will spend my life on dry, dry land
sorry for these and all my other sins.

What I like

Tell me what you like,
you say, and your murmur is summer-thick.
Tell me what you like.
Because although your chin is resting on my stomach,
and you’ve tasted the fresh sweat on my collarbone,
you don’t know what I like.
Tell me…
…Very well:

I like a tidy desk. I like to sit upstairs on the bus.
I like bland food, and I like sleeping on sofas with
the television on. I like the way my mother always
wears clothes that suit her perfectly. I liked
my grandmother’s command of a room. I like it when
a favourite song begins on the radio, even though I have
the CD beside me on the car seat. I like taking a book
from the shelf after years of neglect, and seeing the bits
I’ve underlined, and wondering why, and finding my old
scribbled notes in the margins, especially if they’re
sarcastic, or contain exclamation marks. I like
very cold weather, and wearing layers. I like myself
for surviving the early realisation that true happiness
would always elude me, and I like praying. I like people
who say what they mean, and I like the last third
of a candle. I like sparrows, and clearing my plate.
I like having a notebook nearby at all times. I like
spending whole days without speaking, and I like
descending bass scales.
I like being helpful.
I hope this is helpful.

in which i wish god on you

let god be everywhere, like they say it is, let it flow like water
between all the cracks in you, like sunlight into every dark
place in you where the gloom will be powerless against the
sheer fact of it. let god be a bloodhound with your scent in its
nose, and follow you into every room, into every one of your
conversations; in every rise and fall of your chest, let god be.

and let god breathe fire, visible only to the things that mean you harm

and let god and the fire cremate every last one of them and
carry you along on the warm air cushion their burning makes,
straight down the middle away from roadside ditches and
thorns, smoothly over ruts and holes. let god flow into every
cell of you, from the roots of your hair to the tips of your toes
and saturate you, not to drown you but to baptise you, and
water you, and may you drink god.

Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her poetry was published recently by Ink Sweat and Tears, Dust Poetry Magazine, perhappened, Capsule Stories, and The Winnow, and her debut collection will be published by a UK press in 2021. She tweets about poetry and other things. @maryfordneal

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