My hummingbird-mother is multiplying.
So many selves with dilated eyes,
so many lilies to feed on.
She is a curious florist
extending her tongues
to catch insects deep in trumpets.
Five hundred miles she’s flown,
she is not tired yet but very hungry.
She’s outwitted the hawk, the emerald
darner, the orb-weaving spider.
I’m dazzled by her ruby gorgets,
her changing green wings.
But a child can’t understand
who would lime the insides of petals
with gummy liquid.
A blur of darts, then the struggles
of forked black tails with violet sheen
dangling from each blossom-trap,
the faces drowning in nectar.
I remember the colours and the sounds
the flowers made, as if, at last,
my childhood had found a voice –
buzzes, squeaks, high-pitched
cries from inside each goblet.
There is a beast that runs
naked through the streets,
setting fire to bins,
trying on clothes in stores,
dresses she drops on the pavement
as passers-by gawk,
who throws coins at the crowds
and offers credit cards to kids.
Her tail is long as her body
and helps to keep her balanced
as she climbs the stone trunks
of strange cities.
When she was ten
she could fight off gangs,
win every cat-fight,
could skip along jagged-glass walls
as they jeered about her mammy.
When rats leapt over her bed
she caught them.
Now, the doctors ask her who she is
and she says:
I am the fierce fossa
I eat your cats and dogs,
my red tail is a torch
that sets fire to your cars.
They ask her again,
as she races around
their consulting rooms.
They keep asking
until she gives the right answer.
Cryptoprocta ferox she bawls
in that voice she keeps for emergencies
like all the males are after her
and she’s not ready.
Wrong! They shout, wrong!
They shave her red-brown fur
and again she tries to escape,
to scale the towers of Liverpool, Cardiff…
Still she insists she’s the ferocious spirit
of the Kirindy Forest,
the last daughter of her species.
They ask: Who tamed you?
She sits on the chair
and growls at the ghost
that’s always there
following her down the cobbled alleys.
The Roach, she says, that
who fucked the world
while I worked.
who did not lick my neck
or scratch my flanks,
who gripped my waist
and tore into me
before I reached
the mating tree,
before I offered myself
on the bridal branch, the high one
where I could kick off ugly suitors.
My Mother’s Love
I asked my mother
where she kept her love
and she answered:
My love is a bird
in a gilded cage
and that cage is perched
on the head of a fat boa
coiled at the top of a tree
and that tree is surrounded
and tigers and bears.
So I went in search of the tree
and fought the beasts
around its trunk.
I fought the fat snake.
But when I opened the cage
I found a small bird
with its wings torn off.
She has made herself a horse-dress.
Night and day she worked
on her crochet loops and chain stitches,
until the mare’s eyes covered her nipples,
nostrils flared over her ovaries.
Horse legs dangle from her huge horse-face,
a tail swishes from her tailbone.
With its protection she passes through firedoors.
No one can hurt her when she wears her horse,
the past gallops away.
She asks for a table and sits at it,
the words canter over the paper.
While Nurse braids her mane,
her pen writes to her holy daughter
and her holy son.
She has crocheted their foal portraits
on the cheeks of her mare-face.
When her nipple-eyes see them
Nurse straps her down.
They tie a halter around her neck.
Here comes the jacket with endless arms,
the burning wet sheets
twisted into ropes
and the nosebag of horsepills
clamped over her muzzle.
Here comes the jockey
who rides her like a racer
until she is raw.
They pass four hundred volts through her brain,
her teeth rattle in their pens
and bite the apple of her tongue
and still she won’t wear the hospital gown.
Her dress is a horsebox
hurtling down the motorway
at a hundred miles an hour.
Pascale Petit’s sixth collection Fauverie was shortlisted for the 2014 T.S. Eliot Prize and five poems from it won the Manchester Poetry Prize. She has had four collections shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and chosen as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, Independent and Observer. Bloodaxe will publish her seventh collection Mama Amazonica in 2017. She is the recipient of a 2015 Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors.