Small breaks first: cup on marble floor
—Michael Symmons Roberts
almost a bounce before it shudders and fans
its blue and white into a new pattern
around my feet. Pieces of china, sharp
as mountain tops cutting through cloud,
tempt me to bend down and trace their shape
with my finger, to feel their lines run
into the chalky grey grain that was always
lurking under the glaze. Next the milk bottles:
two in each hand, cool and wet with drops of dew
still clinging to their fat necks, slippery
between my fingers. I brush one, lightly,
against the arm of a chair – that’s all it needs
to make it cry out and they fall like pears
from a tree, hitting the ground and turning it
into a lake of cream and glass, freezing me
to the spot. And then the chandelier I used to look at
with my opera glasses held the wrong way around,
so all those festoons of crystal beads became something
you might find in a rich girl’s doll’s house.
I imagined how the weight of it would rip the plaster
from the ceiling before it crashed onto the heads
of the people in the red stalls below; the tinkling
of the glass droplets falling through the air
more beautiful than anything the orchestra ever found
in their pit. Big break last: my grandmother’s bowls
stacked at the back of the cupboard, their glass worn
soft and grey – all my mother had left. She cried
when I broke one and even then, I understood why.
Unity Spencer, the daughter of Stanley Spencer and Hilda Carline remembers her mother giving her her first oil painting lesson on Hampstead Heath.
That day still and white
as a layer of sand caught
in a small glass dome, that day bright like a painting hung at the end
of a dark hallway.
And then the wind that came from nowhere – so sharp
she tied her scarf in a soft knot around my neck
before she told me how green
hides in yellow, waiting for you in the shadows
if you know how to look.I didn’t believe her so she bent down
and picked a buttercup, pulled it up, out of the grass and held it
between her thumb and forefinger and I remember how I loved the long O
of her fingers – like an eye. I can still see it now.
But then she opened up her coat and drew back one side of it in a great
black wing and held the flower against it
and I sawthe green that was always there
holding the yellowup and out
so it spun in front of our eyes.
And her watching me and that voice, the drawl and the break in it
as she said my name – ‘Darling Unity’, draping it over me
like lights on a Christmas tree.
Laura Scott‘s pamphlet What I Saw won the Michael Marks Award in 2014. Her poems have appeared in Rialto, PN Review and Poetry Review, and one of them, ‘The Half-Loved,’ won the 2015 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize. She has been commended in this year’s National Poetry Competition.