—Philip Larkin was not just a poet. He was also a librarian. The same could be said of Barbara Blake, who won the RE: Writing Prize in 2018. We are pleased to publish her poems Hurricane and Spirit—
Kevin in '94,
when he broke my heart
and left the roof caved-in.
Carol the year before,
the only person I've ever hit,
outside of family,
and further back Elaine,
the girl at school who smelt of wee.
She left that school so damaged.
They retire the names of hurricanes
that prove too costly,
retire them from
the six lists of names
throughout our lives.
Now I couldn’t call a puppy Kev
and watch him wash,
or breed a rose
and name it Carol
or have a daughter
Names marinade in their people
until some taste funny.
People wipe their feet
on their names
until some no longer read Welcome.
And then there's Jennifer,
Did she retire herself
when she had me,
retire the whirlwind part?
Or would it be too small,
to ignore her title of office,
her robe of state with its simple trim –
Mum – not ermine,
but soft as fur?
I couldn’t bear
to level our home.
You don’t expect to feel maternal
towards NASA’s Mars Mission rovers.
I certainly wouldn’t dare to name
my children Curiosity, Opportunity, Spirit.
But the rovers have heads with camera eyes,
on top of spindly masts rising up
from beds of solar arrays stretched out
like shoulders—a dinosaur’s ancient frill
and the landing deck of a Star Wars toy,
plotted with squares, a schematic of the Studio Lot
at MGM, factory of the stars.
And they have six wheels for legs
and robotic arms that reach out to test the surface!
And here’s Opportunity trundling over the craters
as indomitably as a toddler who points
then runs towards a tree.
And here’s the pictures being beamed
from Curiosity’s Pancam
of a planet more orange than red—
cinnamon, caramel, gingerbread—
pictures that show the rover's tracks
like doodles in an exercise book
or the petulant crop circles of a kid strung out
on too much Sunny Delight.
And here’s Spirit
busily collecting samples on her own,
as self-absorbed and self-contained
as a child on a beach,
making a society of a rock pool,
telling Mr Starfish he must be home in time for tea.
So when I read Spirit had fallen silent
at a site called Troy, where she’d got stuck
wrongly angled before the Martian winter,
without enough charge to see her through,
and there’d been no sound, no peep since Sol 2210,
I felt a tug, a pull, the light years loaded
with new wonder and new fear,
which is how I imagine a mother must feel.
Spirit—you robot! Machine! How did you flip
a switch in me to make me want
what I never did—to cradle
your massive head, dig out your wheels
and set you right again? It must be because
you are so logical, and so far away.
Barbara Blake has worked in the library at Norton Rose Fulbright’s London office for more than ten years. She won the RE: Writing Prize in 2018.
First published in RE: issue 15 (2019)