Four new poems by Fiona Benson



    Heavenly Bodies

for Mark Haworth-Booth


Small mother, I want to believe 
that when the soul is released 
it is borne to the stars by a swan, 
though the body remains, your small bones laid
in a Perspex kist and soft-clothed clean,
beads at your mouth like a song for the child 
curled at your side on a dead swan’s wing. 
Lately I learned that, for another tribe,
Ursa Major constellates a stretcher
and Ursa Minor is the stretcher of a child.
Surely your baby was flown on this soft litter
to the emergency room of heaven,
hurtled through its vast swing doors
into galleries of light, nursed 
and cauterized, without trembling or pain.
Some hot Syrian nights
of bomb-shocked children shivering in the clinic,
legs dangling from the gurney, screaming 
for a mother who is not there,
a small boy cradling his baby sister
who is dead, I want more than anything 
to trust that a child’s soul flies up 
on a swan’s white back, that there’s room for them all 
in the deep expanding dark, that they’ll take 
their stations, their heavenly bodies burning,
and graze the world again, as light.
But I think this life is all there is,
and all these children know of it
is a doctor whose hand shakes so much
she cannot stitch, and a cold faraway feeling,
the white rush of a white breath leaving 
and the strange ascension of dying.




Here’s my body 
in the bath, all the skin’s 
inflamed trenches
and lost dominions,

my belly’s fallen keystone
its slackened tilt –
for all the Aztec gold
I’d not give up

this room where you slept,
your spine to my right, 
your head
stoppered in my pelvis

like a good amen – 
amen I say 
to my own damn bulk,
my milk-stretched breasts – 

amen I say to all of this
if I have you –
your screw-ball smile
at every dawn,

your half-pitched, milk-wild smile
at every waking call,
my loved-beyond-all-reason
darling, dark-eyed girl.


    In the Milk Days of Your Sister


After years of ruling this roost, little chick,
your hair is unbrushed,
your breakfast brought in to the sitting room,
everything out of custom

and your parents somehow gone,
your father silent, the laughter
blown out of your mother
like someone snuffed her out.

You put your hands
each side of your sister’s fat cheeks
in a gesture entirely your own,
and you tell her that you love her,

and my poor exhausted soul
for love of you, bows down.


(from Zeus)


    [transformation: Nemesis]


I fled upriver
          cut gills, sprang scales,
                    he was teeth in the water
                              rudder-tailed –
I became a snake
          and hid on my belly
                    he became a mongoose
                              Rikki-Tikki-Tavi –
I became long-eared
          and burrowed into earth
                    he was muscle in the tunnels,
                              trap-jawed, fast –
I was a deer
          streaking for the hills
                    he was the runner
                              snapping at my heels –
I fletched black and tan
          and flew against the wind
                    before I reached the stars
                              he was swan, I was pinned –
we made a crater where we fell
          screaming through the night
                    a bloody prolapse – 
                              his shame, not mine.



Fiona Benson

About Fiona Benson

Fiona Benson lives in rural Devon with her husband James Meredith and their daughters, Isla and Rose. Her pamphlet was ‘Faber New Poets 1’ in the Faber New Poets series, and her full-length collection, 'Bright Travellers' (Jonathan Cape, 2014), received the Seamus Heaney Prize for Best First Collection and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second book, 'Vertigo & Ghost', will be published by Cape in January 2019.