Issue 19: Charlotte Eichler
The Coffin Calendars
Miss June is given lilies, Miss December’s in white fur. In the woods, twelve walnut caskets for us to stand in. Childhood Sundays, the moth-eyed rows of old men, half-living. Memento mori paintings hanging on the walls, the angels in the aisles with noseless shadows. My smile says too much about my skull. I try to stay still – the photographer says next year we’ll all have guns and camouflage bikinis. In town, people turn their heads as far as owls do. Our dresses show the winged blades of our backs as we fly off the shelves – and the men, the men joke they can’t see the coffins.
We knew everything, playing oracle on the carpet.
Saturdays crawled with our ladybird circus –
on the ends of our fingers, solemn as blood,
we sent them to find our future husbands.
We let them trickle down
our wrists into the birdbath
to see if they’d keep walking while we drowned them,
jealous of their easy flight
from one shape to the next.
Now, like hanged men, we want to buy futures
and there’s someone doing tarot at the end of Brighton Pier.
Stars are poking holes in the sky and the birds
are coming into roost. There’s an airy clatter
of cards falling into place
but stranger things are happening beneath our feet:
coppers chink through the boards
onto rows of starlings
stacking themselves like decks, noisy as a masked ball.
We think fluke has something to do with wings
then remember whales, gliding
despite the weight of all they know.
We watch the stragglers find their place under the pier,
all the sea’s dark spread ahead of us.
Six foot five and all you eat:
a single bowl of mackerel
and a one-inch square of bread
topped with a slice of garlic
to ‘toast the Queen’.
Coming from a bath
your body’s brittle coral,
a seahorse curve.
We wish we could see
your blue heart
through the pane
of your skin
because you never
like a shoal.
Charlotte Eichler’s poetry has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and she was recently awarded a year's mentoring with Vahni Capildeo by Poetry London magazine. She lives and works in West Yorkshire, and her first pamphlet will be published by Valley Press in 2018.