For poems by the founders and organizers of Poetry Teignmouth click here.
A series featuring the work of Poetry Teignmouth members. For previously featured poets, click here.
Sue Proffitt has worked as a psychotherapist, teacher, actor, waitress, gardener and shop assistant. She’s written poetry all her life and feels it’s about time she started to do what she has always wanted to do, which is write for a living! How successful or not she’ll be is as yet unknown. She lives in a coastguard cottage in Hallsands, South Devon, and her deepest love is for the more-than-human world: the animals, plants and wild land and seascapes around her. For her nature is sacred: not in a ‘religious’ sense, but in the sense that being outside connects her most closely with her own spirit and the interconnectedness of all life.
Sue’s first collection, Open After Dark (Oversteps, 2017) was published in March and she is currently working on her second collection which will focus on the last ten years of accompanying her mother into dementia. Dementia is very much in the zeitgeist, and this collection of poems will be an unafraid exploration of what it is like to move into a world where memory, identity, history and personality all fade away – and what’s left when these core constituents of what we might call ‘the self’ have gone.
What’s a moon doing in this forest?
I hover above you, unseen but not unfelt
as you present your full face,
thin as transparent latex
brown and frilled as an old maid’s cap
blotched purple, a flower.
How is a flower a lung?
shrinking in, ballooning out --
parachute moon-mouth —
my words slide off you
like rain off an umbrella.
I have seen you press yourself
against a vertical rope of weed
and stay there, as if thinking hard,
as if willing it to move,
then slide around it, viscous, untroubled,
trailing three, four feet behind you
poisoned filaments live as electricity.
Ruched skirts, creamy and crumpled
as a dropped wedding dress
hitched up again but unravelling
frayed trails, diaphanous frills
What a marvel.
A moon in a wedding-dress.
Section Three: My Mother’s Language
My Mother’s Language
In the early morning, as the tide pulls back,
her first sounds wheel and fidget on the foreshore
getting their bearings: where-why-what
pick-pick of scavengers tearing at weed,
turning over pebbles, throwing up a crab-claw,
hunting for the left-behind
titbits in the dislocated kelp
flung on the tideline.
By lunchtime she knows, like the gulls,
there is something there under the flotsam
of discarded cups, a tangle of ropes,
a bloated shoe, each half-known thing
unearthed carefully, held up for an instant
to the light –— and dropped.
What is that unrecognisable thing
out on the water? Under a million stones
small words scuttle out of sight,
and out of the frightening sky
a cloud-shift quenches the afternoon light,
makes even the shallowest pool
impenetrable. In the puddled sand
a mystified calligraphy of webbed feet
circles the same phrases over again
and she reaches the sea
more by chance — sinks down
under the waves’ heave.
Section One: The Gift
On the coast path
past the condemned cottages
tilting towards the sea
a frantic flapping --
in the open porch of one cottage
on a ledge facing the window,
beating herself against it again and again.
I recognise that panic
when the world blacks to this —
She was oblivious to me, to the open air behind her,
all she had to do was turn round.
I approached her (the wonder of it!)
cupped her drumming panic like a prayer
walked to the cliff-edge
opened my hands.
The planet paused on its axis
watched this wild thing
unmoving in my palms.
This was the gift she gave me
before she flew
no blink or breath to time it.
I stood there, the old grief
of separation returning --
my hands shivering
in a memory of feathers.
Dusk. Under a slate sky
the forest is losing its edges,
the round baffled faces
of chain-sawed stumps
looming through dense air.
I’m quickening my pace
a sound at my back
the snap of twigs underfoot,
small explosions of spooked birds,
plop of nuts and seeds
something else –
the wild boar.
No time to run. No stick. No dog.
From behind me they stampede
and the forest splinters apart,
the felled tree between heart and throat
trapping my breath.
Stuck like a pig to ground
I watch them thud alongside me
not dark like trees
or pale like the prisoners in concrete stalls
but rust, tusked to the hilt,
shrieks hot as wet metal tearing –
something hurtling through space unstoppable,
the sound of centuries colliding
through the thickening dark,
through my pummelling heart –
ripping the sealed drum of my ear open.
I watch them chasing each other round
the curve of the path.
The quiet, following after,
hovers outside me
ringing like a storm glass.