Christmas Special 2021 

Sarah Connor

Sarah Connor is a retired psychiatrist, originally from South Yorkshire, now living in North Devon, surrounded by mud and apple trees. She has lived and worked in several countries, and plans to travel more once the pandemic ends. Her poetry has been published by Black Bough and Irisi, among others. Sarah was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Black Bough Poetry in 2021 and runs a poetry advent calendar on her blog.

The Silver Branch project recognised a significant body of work contributed to Black Bough poetry of excellence. We are privileged to showcase this work.

Blog: fmmewritespoems.wordpress.com

Twitter: @sacosw

Instagram: sarah_sandytoes

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Christmas Angel

 

Next-door's angel has gone up again,

her spread wings flapping silently

all night. I wake and see her,

keeping her vigil - as if love, not light

flowed through her veins.

How brave she is, out in the cold and dark,

bearing witness to our midnight hopes.

Christmas Eve

We slipped away from the golden warmth

into the silvery night, looking for winter.

The cat had left a dainty trail for us,

and a robin had scritch-scratched a line

on the white card of the path.

Further up the lane, the mark

of two wings in the snow.

"Owl" we said, wisely, nodding at each other

knowing an angel

would be more deadly and more beautiful.

Winter

Everything cuts in winter -

wind, rain, hail - everything.

Winter comes equipped

with knives, all shapes, all sizes -

the gull's wing a smooth scimitar,

the hedge bristling with stilettoes,

even the robin's song -

so sweet

so sharp

January

The pheasant sits

in the ploughed field, a

note of music

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Pech Merl: footprints in the cave

 

Your head came halfway up my arm –

too old to hold my hand, but young enough

to lean against me. The cave smelled cold.

 

The footprints could have been our own,

mother and child, walking together

out of the deep past, into the present day,

utterly human. We could have touched them

 

as they walked past us, hand in hand,

into their future,

disregarding ours.

Carbon

Down in the perma-night

The dark has its own gravity:

That great weight pressing

 

Moonless rivers

Buried forests

Trapped sunlight

 

Deep deeper deepest

Where the inklight is so heavy

A hundred miles down

The darkness crushes itself,

rebirthing

Into the fire

At the diamond’s heart.

Hare, poised

Even her stillness
contains movement -
each muscle quivering
with the old knowledge
of swift dash - glance back -
long loop - leap free -

the ecstasy of flight. 

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Handschmeichler is the German for worrystone

 

I have been put away –

my blood has been measured,

looped into skeins – the bright blood

and the dark. My skin

is folded like old lace,

displayed. My flesh is neatly piled,

like wooden bricks. My bones

are laid out, paired, symmetrical,

tidied.

 

And still I long

to be held in your fist,

rubbed by your thumb

warmed by your warmth.

In the house of the dead

 

In the house of the dead

I became a lizard.

 

I had no choice. There was

no catalogue, no menu –

 

only my soft skin scaling,

feet curling, fingers clawing,

forked tongue flickering

over cracked lips –

 

only my craving for sunlight,

my sprawling need for heat –

 

I became a lizard

In the house of the dead.

Birds

 

So many birds here –

white, grey, blue –

their feathers

carved in stone:

quartz, flint, slate.

They fly down

corridors, press

against windows,

and they sing of love

and pain and grief,

but mostly love.

The year of my first chemo

 

You built a wall

and, yes, symbolic

sheltering us inside

keeping out the world –

 

but maybe you just wanted

to feel that ache

in your hands, your arms –

to walk into the kitchen,

sweaty, dirty,

stretching out your back

 

to feel your body

as a living thing.

 

 

 

 

After surgery

 

I dreamed my breasts

were full of milk:

that I was feeding

a suckling child,

my angry child

my gentle child

 

the quiet warmth

4 am dyad

 

What else could cause

that tightening?

That almost pain?

 

I woke to emptiness,

a healing scar.

My poems are shrinking

 

Soon I will write a poem

that’s a single word

ice

milk

cloud

leave you to do the work,

with your map of dreams and memories,

your tales heard once,

your stories that have sunk into the bone

blade

flame

gull

Owl

Some nights the stars feel very close. Tonight they are impossibly distant, hung high in the dark sky. The moon is a silver sickle, and there is frost coming. The call of the owl makes me pause, and cock my head to listen again. She is part of this chill night – the soundtrack to winter.

 

We don’t see her often, though we hear her. Sometimes she swoops ahead of us down the lane, massive and silent. Once we found the imprint where her wings had kissed the snow as she plunged her sharp talons into some small mammal. The spring this year was mild and dry, so our owl will eat well this winter.

Flower faced sister
Swooping silent bringing death
Calling frost and stars

Why do I write? 

The word "why" in the English language has a double meaning - "for what reason?" and "with what purpose?". So why do I write?

 

I spent my professional life listening to people's stories, and helping them construct them in ways that made sense to them and to others. That meant listening intently, testing out ideas and being very precise with language. So when it came to thinking about my own life, writing it out seemed to make sense. I started off journaling and blogging - but, honestly, I bored myself with what I was writing - I couldn't expect anyone else to read it. Then I decided to do NaPoWriMo, and the whole poetry thing just made sense for me. I was paying attention to the world, I was making sense of it, I was using language precisely. It was really exciting. 

 

What's my purpose in writing, then? What keeps me going? I'm not an academic poet, I don't have much technical knowledge, but I have read the odd  book on poetry over the last few years. The thing that stayed with  me was a few lines from The Haiku Handbook by William Higginson: it is hard to tell you how I am feeling. Perhaps if I share with you the event that made me aware of these feelings, you will have similar feelings of your own. 

 

I want my readers to stand next to me and to experience something of what I'm experiencing. I want them to feel, to know, to understand something about the world or about themselves. Maybe even about me.