nettles riff nettles the big tree

by Steve Parker
criticalpoet.org
Second Place, March 2010
Judged by Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar


there at the confluence of radiators the boy sings

I knew you when you were small
you remember back in the old days
a father from outside swinging
a man with a glider who said now then

now then what? someone they said did homosex stuff
in a cinema after chopping nettles all day
this was a betrayal of his wife/mother
all day this was a betrayal

the boy was in bed with biscuits
a torch
the cold the deep cold

by the age of eight I was inured to cold
I can take cold like I can take rejection
warmth I see as too much frivolous politics

ancestral shame I can’t help your Grandfather
who in a laudanum frenzy
maybe it is not right to speak of the favourite goat
whose spirit appeared over and over
in the guise of a maiden
always at dusk clutching a glass
of chartreuse asking in chitin

to be served in the hemispherical bread oven
where the bones were found behind the wall broken

later his girlfriends found these discoveries challenging
uh uh uh uh uh she would say from her book
he held so avid at night beneath the blankets
in the torchlight uh uh uh uh uh he
would say back in English Naval umaphore

tomorrow both of them scything nettles in the old garden
at each other scarcely looking


A fractured narrative wherein the reader is moved through a series of arresting images, back towards an “ancestral shame”. The poem skips its frenetic way through politics and sex and memory, using a range of voices, all of them tied together through the starkly powerful scything of nettles. --Dorianne Laux & Joseph Millar

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