KCL student poets: Maleeha Mir, Maria Orlando, Amy Hill

 

Maleeha Mir

 

    Southend on Sea, 2018

 

It’s hard to believe they’d be happy to sit there
on plastic red chairs, ready to be thrown away by sunset.
Happy to sit on the cobbled, shifting sand
where they could watch us run and scream at each other (in civil tones, of course)
along the cold horizon of murky water.
We’d never be able to venture in
with their preference to sit from a safe distance,
avoiding the ‘half-clothed’ passers-by with donuts drenched in sugar and honey.
No. They sit next to each with a space in between. It’s not proper to sit too close.
Dark rocks and the blurred faces of red-chested sunbathers fill up behind them,
My grandma in a striped shirt, while her small, veiny feet look free in the damp breeze.
Her face, tilted back, a smile (we rarely see) glowing on this clouded day. My grandad
next to her, in long grey shirt and black suit trousers. Matching grey socks firmly 
upon his feet and sandals seem to repel the swaying ground. His fingers clasped, as 
his white sun-cap slides off his head. Still, his half-frown can’t help but force me to 
smile. I only hold the phone that captures a single moment. I want to go to them
and tell them, that they’ve never changed or decided on a different path.
To thank them boisterously for starting this chain of events,
or our life and the confusion that is me. That is us,
The us, running on the sandy gravel and damp mud in socks and half-priced sandals.
I want to tell them (politely, of course) in the misty daylight and salty air,
Her expression unmoved, her feet without socks
His face continuing its grimace,
But I can’t tell them. It’s a secret we can’t share.
it’s okay that they keep their distance, but it’s not my place.
Instead, I smile, press the button and capture 62 years in a second,
Keep doing what you’re doing, nothing will change.

 


 


Maria Orlando

 

    The Way They Miss The Sea

 

My mother was born in a room
on the top floor of a rickety house
on the edge of the cliffs
of an island called Ortigia.

Her first cries were shown to the world -
she was taken outside because my grandpa
believed her daughter’s first breath deserved to be:
U mari,
respira beni u mari, Rosettì.*

So I think to this day
when my mother speaks
she has the sea in her lungs.

And not just any sea.

There’s a way it reflects the island at sundown
where sweet and salty waters never entwine.
The place where Aretusa sank down into the earth
in an act of rebellion.

Now, I can see the sea
in my mother’s eyes
whenever she mentions retirement
I know she can see it:

A house on the same cliff she was born on.
Lemons and oranges ripening in the sun,
swordfish grilling,
honeycomb from the market.

And when I’ll visit her I know
she’ll want me to
take her out on her cousin’s boat
to the little cove
past the city,
past the factory that
gave the men in her life jobs
but dyed all the white beaches black.

I’ll row her there and
back until my hands blister.
We’ll walk up the steps to her kitchen
with a view on the cliffside.
She’ll go on the balcony and
stand there holding out
a hand to her mother
who she named me after
and to her father
who told her to breathe in the sea
before anything else.

Now, stuck living in the Venetian fog and languor,
she misses the sea like she misses a friend.

There, the sea in her lungs
will finally be satisfied
and she’ll be able to breathe again.

*sicilian dialect = the sea, breathe in the sea well, Rosetta.

 


 

Amy Hill

 

    Antionette

 

I unleashed my artistic license
on the pate of the Austrian princess.

She bade I do something new:
I chose my weapons,
braided French gold blue,
baby galleons at the scalp,
locks in the mast,

over-under-over
twisting up the Seine itself.
Swan at the Opera.
Napoleon could’ve thrown anchor
and drowned.

All that ecstasy and ermine,
sailor knot at the nape,
poor Fantine’s obituary mane
piled up to the rail de drapé.

I sowed a garden
on the Queen’s brow,
sweet ambrosia
leaning out of the carriage window,
higher than Dieu,
beggars reaching for the gold-leaf,
stroking the wispy hollow of her throat.

Weeping under the weight
when she saw the world
I’d carved there:
in rouged-up patisseries,
pastel silks, La Palma violets,
fairy bells, flags,
Chantilly lace, china cups,
a dollhouse Versailles.

I, Michelangelo: my pale chapel
turned towards her dissolution,
my Christmas tree.

I braided her final aria
by the baying hounds.
My silver swords shivered.
She died when that first lock,
fair edelweiss,
fell,

cutting clay: my woven Eve
perished in my arms.
I cradled her,
my golden child,
not hearing that famed head fall
or the bloody cheer.

 

    Inheritance

 

I open my palm: see the shore,
the sea-spittle quivering,
upchuck from coal guts leaving
scorch marks in pitch glitter.

That common stuff, that my mother’s father
took to heart, into the carpet, blackening frown-lines.
My soles push through it now,
like founding spades

over the wrist, the delicate silt-skin;
my own violent footprint
not marking the family footstool.
My ancestry waxes, wanes:

I pronounce my aitches now,
talk in tongues. Lapping,
the tide carries my burden,
unlades it

into my nailbeds, white half-moons.
I read the land like chip-paper,
clench up my fist
in confession,

stoke my mother’s temper:
I think it’s in my blood.

 

KCL student poets

About KCL student poets

Here we showcase poems by recent graduates of King's College London's Creative Writing courses.