GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
Catherine Ayres is a teacher from Northumberland.
Her poems have been published in a number of magazines and anthologies.
In 2015, she came third in the Hippocrates Prize and in 2016 she won the Elbow Room poetry prize.
Amazon is her first full collection.
Cover design by LAURA LAWSON
138 x 216mm
£7.99 + P&P UK
PUB: 9th DECEMBER 2016
In her debut collection, Catherine Ayres explores illness and life beyond it, with honesty, humour, and a melancholy optimism. These poems skirt ancient myths to arrive in hospital wards, laybys, and lakes.
This is poetry for anyone who has ever lost their way and found an unexpected view.
‘A stunning collection…she swallows whole the suffering of illness and heartache – and renders its darkness into poetry of skill and great beauty… “Amazon” takes the reader on an uncompromising journey to the coldest edges of life – and somehow returns us, warmer and richer, made more whole.
Her pen is a powerful and a graceful thing.’
‘The poems in “Amazon” are raw, fresh, and painful as well as uplifting – she shares intimate truths,
This book is beautiful and important, this book is a gift.’
‘These are brave, funny, heart-breaking poems which say the almost unsayable about trauma and the sometimes excruciating process of recovery… Unflinching honesty and intensity of poetic imagination shines in defiance to give this collection its strange, unsettling, haunting beauty.’
The Amazon imagines a first date
after Buddy Wakefield
I spent ten years as a full time martyr.
I was aiming for Saint Cul de Sac
but the Pope doesn’t canonise kitchen sink crucifixions
so I stopped crossing my heart.
There are too many hiding places in a fixed smile
and nobody found me.
See these moths under my eyes?
That’s from not blinking.
Choose your words carefully,
I’m still reading the ones etched on my eyeballs.
Second chances only happen once;
after that, it’s like bleeding onto a flag
and organising a bullfight.
This steak knife reminds me of absent flesh.
Forgive me, I don’t mean to be brutal.
If disappointment was a lifestyle choice
they’d sell that sinking feeling in Tesco.
I’ve searched the greeting card section –
With Sympathy doesn’t cover it.
Please seduce me out of this flat mood.
Of course I’d like to fuck you but I’m not that easy.
You can’t kiss away my scars.
Press your lips against them.
You’ll be the first.
How I helped myself escape from a snow globe
Unstick me, please, the world’s turned plastic.
I’m as feisty as a fingernail, cloched in kitsch.
I can see you gurning, bulbous twin;
stop smearing rainbows across this curve –
tend to your little witch. I’m waving, not drowning,
breath caught so often my lungs have run out.
It’s heavy weather, waiting for redemption;
my world is floating in fragments, a wonderland
of white lies. Here’s the plan, sunshine: let it snow!
Bring this clown’s gavel down in a blaze of light;
we can smash this circus into smithereens.
I want the old life behind me, Technicolor tragic,
an upside down oddity stamped against a wall.
I’ll gouge out this glass eye if I can suck up
enough sun. How about a pinhole in the North Pole,
broken stars bleeding in your palm’s eclipse?
Let me splash a pompous puddle at your feet.
I want to glitter your soles with glycerine.
We could be wondrous.
Don’t overthink. Undress.
The lake is quite miraculous,
its small tongues lapping at your feet.
Meet slowly. Sleepwalk into its glass eye.
Ignore the goose bumps orbiting your
thighs. Sink into liquid elephants, ruffled
doves, until your nose shoves through each
wave and you crowd surf bald crowns, dazzled
by their dapples. The water’s fresh as apples.
Close your eyes. Light swarms your lids
like fireflies. Feel the ghosts of glaciers rise
and smooth your belly with their spines.
Fear unwinds; arms smear wasp stripes through
black depths of fuzz. A buzzard circles high
above, its mewl a fingertip on glass. Listen
to it pass. Glance at the shore – your clothes
collapsed as if in grief, your handbag
crooked as a thief – then push away its plate.
Return to shimmers, quivering flowers.
Swim into this clean slate.
You’ll be an Amazon, he said,
until one breast later
I found out they had two.
And there was no fight,
just a crawl through white space,
needled, not speared,
all my blood shed in a bag.
Yet four years on,
these women rise inside,
watch me thunder in
from the world’s edge –
the men gone,
life strange as a plain.
Sister, it’s time
to trace the stories on your skin.
Slick our myths across your chest.
Open your wounds. Begin.
Choosing a breast
She helps me onto the trolley
and we chat about our sons
to distract me from the tug of the drain
in my side, a cunning snake that bites
its way out, leaves an ellipsis, a bloody
‘What next?’ on the spotless floor.
I’m placid as the pierced Christ,
my eyes following her Crocs to the
cupboard at the far side of the room.
She opens the door to a mortuary of pelts,
spineless hedgehogs in cellophane:
These are softies. Choose a size.
She crackles them open;
it’s like Christmas on Mars.
Small? Medium? You’re not large.
And of course I ham it up,
hobble out onto the ward,
make the old ladies laugh
with this foam pet in my palm.
Later, curtains closed, I clutch it
to the padded hollow of my breast,
solemn as Nelson in the ward’s glow.
It sheds its final prickles in my eyes,
spikes a line across my severed chest.
There are things I want to tell you,
like how we went for a walk last night
at ten, striding out past the flickering TVs
to the motorway bridge, as the day held
the memory of itself in a thin strip on the
horizon and you spread slowly inside me
like a bruise. Before we reached the railings
we could hear cars scoring tarmac, the soft
howl of lorries singing of places we would
never see. And I wondered if we should join
them, make love one last time in a spatter
of bones and blood on black and white.
But look at the trees, you said, look how
carefully they hide the tremble of birds in their
shadowed hearts. Does this not give you hope?
I kissed you then, pressing your words against
cold steel, as the night uncurled like a fern frond,
leaving me alone, wrapped in the shroud of a streetlamp,
five minutes from home.