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Silver Branch series:

Vanessa Napolitano

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Vanessa Napolitano obtained a MA in Poetry from MMU in 2006, but it took her a while to gain confidence in submitting work. In recent years, and particularly since writing with more intensity through the pandemic, she has been published in places such as Poetry Wales, Mom Egg Review, and Free Verse Revolution. She has had work in anthologies such as Bent Key's 'Ey up Again' and the Leeds Poetry Festival anthology. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a poem last year by Black Cat Poetry Press who will be publishing her debut pamphlet this summer. She also has a further pamphlet due out with Kelsay Books later this year.

This Astronaut’s Wife


You’re mutant-hot, the low rumbling

is thunder rumbling, worse, belly deep but amplified

till nothing but that is audible.

A giant’s belch of fire is delayed,

then released into the sky.

You can trace a map in darkness

matching that first trajectory.

Far too long after, tiny fires

burn in your irises

like his clothes folded on the chair.

Everyone will imagine you miss him.

They will bring you pies to eat,

meals to freeze, sympathy made edible.

They will follow him

on the television and car radio.

When at night you switch on the globe’s light,

stand above it on the bed,

squint. Sometimes you think of floating —

say the word floating. Float. Like desire.

You wish him well?

Months later none of this will have abated.

You will be expected to wait,

calmly. Eventually you will serve him

some other woman’s pie.

Skeleton Key


They worked all night to make a skeleton key

to unlock the invisible door

where your memories live,

but the ivy was so tangled

and the carpets were too thick

and now we’re both trying to remember who you were.


You called the speaking clock to remind you of the time,

to make a frame of seconds to build yourself around

but you dropped the hours and minutes

when the receiver clicked down,

and now the shop is shut.


We took you in, we took you home,

the walls, the floors, all unknown

we showed you your objects, one by one,

ring, rug, book, chair,

oh bird outside, that was once there,


sing her back to herself,

but the magpies have also flown.

These children who keep visiting

carrying stacks of words

have unfamiliar faces

and burdens that are not theirs.


They worked all night to make a skeleton key,

though they found the lock vanished.


Now we can only cloak you in kindness,

oh bird outside

that was once there.

The Parade of Lost Fathers


Mine is the one around the middle with the beard, and glasses —

my whole life I never saw his clearly defined chin.

I hope they provide a float,

as he was latterly not much one for walking;

though I suppose the ankle doesn’t bother so much now.


Good whiskey; black coffee; a long meal out;


a lengthy televised political debacle.


My husband’s father is behind, in front,

the fathers of at least two good friends.

They walk/drift in lock-step, out of their concrete being

into their concrete memory, just as immutable. In my brother’s

view of the parade,

perhaps my father wears a different shirt —

laughs at a different joke? Later, at a barbecue, we can argue

over what year it was

our father learnt to drive.

I give my parade balloons and a bar

I imagine the weather is exceptional - dry, sunny but not too hot.

All the fathers at this parade are kind,

but not caricatures - there is rancour, regret,

candy floss. Popcorn.

Small foods that get stuck in the craw.

The confetti of things left unsaid.

Your Second Halloween


I was on the top deck of the bus at Five Lane Ends

by the Morrisons when my mother rang,

said you were hot, quiet. She had made burgers,

with portobello mushrooms and wedges. I called 111,

who said to take you to A & E.


There’s a separate A & E for children.


There was a little boy with a mood ring stuck on his finger.

A nurse stripped you to your vest and gave you

Calpol, or Ibuprofen, whatever we hadn’t.

It was your quiet that bothered me most. We waited a long time.

Waiting a long time is a good sign.


There’s a separate A & E for children.


Your heart was beating faster than they liked,

but it was the fever, and the fever started to go down

before the rash came livid and indicative

of a virus, an ordinary virus,

the kind I would catch at the back of my throat

and throw off days later.


There’s a separate A & E for children,


and I’ve only been once,

so I guess I’m chastising myself.

There are worse Halloweens,

there are worse nights. Some parents

know about it all, from strip lighting, to being seen fast.

I’ll take inconvenience,


of that.

For your horse to come in


It was seven, a lucky

number (dwarves and brides for brothers,

deadly sins)

named Pilgrim

that ran like an engine.


The grandstand was gray

and the sky too but the track

was greener than money

which anyway was going down fast

from slim wallets


and fast walkers.

It was umbrella spokes

a fleeing horse out riderless

a can of Pimms and a flowered hat,

these omens aligned


so he knew it was time to lean

heavy on seven up at 3:10,

his wife betting each way

his daughter tan and smiling





for his horse to come in


First Day of the Year


You crept into bed with us

we woke up together like segments,

like coiled squirrels.

When you are older,

I imagine your separateness

opening out like an umbrella,

all spine and distance.

Best not to think ahead.

Can it always be, instead,

rain in bright light, polished branches,

clean air, a little careworn

a rust-coloured blanket —


your head in the crook of my arm.

Los Angeles, twice


A studded black carpet of lights rolled out in a grid

orange and white prickles,

squares of dark where trees and parks interrupt,

a magic eye puzzle of a city that resurrects itself

into myth at a distance,

at the top of Vermont, House of Pies,

behind, the white walls, curves of the observatory,

a tourist trap, a wonder,

suspending the night in postcard-pretty glass.


Down at the intersection of St Andrews and Wilshire,

a Korean coffee shop is glossy white with plastic chairs,

just opening. A man sleeps on cardboard in the entrance

to the rundown Ramada,

The Wiltern towers green and magnificent on the corner

cars clustered like hungry bugs pushing into sugar.

My commute beginning, all red lights and noise and caffeine.

This picture, a past self.


Watching her cook

The world begins with a slotted spoon, that skims the rice,

that lifts the potatoes, that I stare through from the top deck of

the vegetable rack

to see the kitchen piecemeal. This slotted spoon begins out


covers the span of a smile;

ideal for stirring pasta. This one is mine

an iteration of the slotted spoons before,

the ones used until their handles disjointed

or their plastic warped on hot pan-lids.

Used as an extension of a claw

to grab high-shelf biscuits,

thrown on the floor like a bone

or a drumstick for baby to play with

(face-sized once more).

Upright amongst the wooden spoons and the spatulas

this has seen better days, ready to be upgraded

to retire and sift stars from the sky, fish from the river,

rights from wrongs, words from sense - no,

no such severances to perform.

The slotted spoons go forward, infinite iterations

separating substance from broth.

Recipe for a ghost

Workers in the Mill repeated their task over and over in 12 hour shifts

you can imagine the cacophony of their machines, like worker bees.

harder to see, their differences.

Instead each seems like a model

from a museum; sturdy boots, starched aprons, a scent of carbolic soap.

Was one of them wild,

slipping behind a machine for a gossip every time they could,

and one of them depressed, and who was vain?

The building stands now full of Hockneys,

and a diner serving pizza and salads and a bookshop

that smells like giant vases of lilies.

and ghosts, hundreds of ghosts

slipping between the tourists of the heritage site.

They’re not stuck in loops, nor repeating their tasks

over and over in 12 hour shifts.

Now they play games; tricks on the staff, pick the pockets

of customers, take in the art, race in the loft space,

press their faces to the windows and stare out over the valley.

Memory and longing made matter,

memory and longing mattering more than was allowed

in their hard, unreachable,  long ago lives.

For the ducks


Come on, let’s go

let’s see if we can find the mallards in the canal,

the brown ones you say are the boys, the colourful birds that you call wives,

let’s see if they are awake,

or sleeping at the edges,


Come on, let’s go,

we have the bird food left from the boat-shop,

we have an hour to spare. I saw the ducks this morning,

it’s cold, but they may be there,


Come on, let’s go

let’s see if we can tempt the mallards in the canal,

the river is rioting,

the trees as well,

so find the placid ducks with me.

What did the table become when it grew?

It took me so long to find it. I knew where it had gone,

following longing into the woods. Well, I knew longing.

I had longing. But I had chores to do and books to write,

I had children to raise. Only after all this could I

myself go to the visit my table.

By then my table did not look like a table

it had  become a tree, which was very chic

or perhaps very ashes to ashes, and I said as much.

The table being a table being a tree said

nothing. To prove a point I took our paper

and leant it against the bark and rubbed

a crayon across the paper. Point proved,

I peeled the paper back and saw that it

said ‘go home, you’re drunk’. Which was rude,

if true. I followed my longing back home;

these are the breadcrumbs I leave myself.

I hope that the table is happy now.

Even at this darkness is falling


I am still brushing my teeth, still folding clothes and sheets,


can’t stop folding in fact, would fold my hair, fold my skin,

fold my thoughts into a square of origami that could fit

inside your pocket.


Where you go, I go, until I can’t,


So in my separate body, in my separate heart

I  will do the chores and keep my thoughts;

but know I am folded into the shape

that contains you the most.

Summer, Los Angeles


Deciding on brunch, powdered sugar on pancakes,

not minding forty minute queues for mimosas,

not thinking about a two mile walk there, a two mile walk back.

Our limbs pinked by the sun, never sunscreen in my extra bag,

never an extra  bag,

less time given to contingencies.


If we were tired we napped on the sofa

with our jaws slack and the dog curled

in the apostrophe of our knees,


at the edges of my days' happy hours,

late night trips to the pharmacy or supermarket,

street lights and bedtimes unhooked from one another.

Trees a corset on the spine of the street and the city back then

was mine, safe, unsafe, who cared


about property prices and extra rooms

and where the good schools were.


There was time for wanting,

that became a sort of cage,


until the Summer I saw your beginning,

and everything changed.

November Snow


Early snow vindicates

our Christmas tree up.


Early snow distracts me

from the news

when the news won’t stop.


Early snow is sudden and brutal cold.

The second time we go out in it, we wear

fresh hats, mismatched gloves. I drag you

on the pink sledge. Slush-bumping, track-speeding.


Early snow settles between my scarf and collar bone.

You say snow tastes of itself, which I think means nothing. Of clean.

I make lashings of meringue, in sympathy with the white hills.


Early snow. Winter opens her hands.

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'I've written poetry since being quite young, and I am slightly  horrified to think of the piles of adolescent poetry lurking in journals from decades ago. Writing is always how I've been in conversation with my experience, and I find a calmness in being able to explore my interior and exterior world through it. I also deeply love reading poetry - an incredible poem feels like a magic trick where you can't work out the mechanism. That would probably be my ultimate goal, to create a poem that feels effortless on the face of it but contains something much more complicated, that really connects with the reader. As I've become older (I'm 41 now), themes around nature, motherhood, and grief have become more present in my work. I lived in America for over a decade, and then moved with my family back to Yorkshire, where I grew up, so those locations have become embedded in my writing.'

Vanessa Napolitano - March 2024

Free Diving


They never say drowned,

only died or lost as if

speaking deep space out of the brine.


They sink, not like fish,

or a mermaid dreaming of muscles

but like a rocket, reversed.


They plunge to an edge,

then turn, lungs compacted

to the size of a fist,


They, a singular wave

curling and releasing back

against an immense ceiling of sea,


They climb until breaking

the ceiling or, until darkness

bursts over them. Then,


They, limp as rag dolls

are resuscitated from blackout,

only to choose this again.


They never say drowned,

only died, or lost.

Their bones anchored to this.


Anthem for the weak sun after winter


Not for you the sunflowers, or garden parties.

Not for you the bikinis or fat bees

or chocolate melting in pockets. But,


this Sunday - meekly -

you dispersed the gray gathered clouds,

warming the face of a few brave gardeners,

pedestrians at bus stops and children at play.

Tenacious as it was, the frost could not withstand

your slight insistence.

Your heart not quite in it, still you shone

a quick prelude to yourself. You tipped

your hat a little. Come on, daffodils, you whisper,

show me what you've got.

The only things that can bother you

when they're dead are jellyfish

She calls them jellies,

torn like sheer cloth and tendon

over the pebbles at Saltburn.

We warn her of their danger

translucent and mucus-like still,

we think,

capable of a sting.

She's afraid, so we carry her past the strata

of rock to the open sand, where's there's less jellies,

more plain seaweed

but barefoot she's tentative

and I see the smallest of my worries

takes root in her


though inert.

As we drive home, my back burnt

a carrier bag of fossils, a machine-won elephant

besides her,

we joke about ghosts

of starfish and birds,

already knowing

what she'll fear,

what she won't.

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