Issue 25: Natalie Ann Holborow

Never date a poet

She says never date a poet / they are forever

bowling their souls through doorways /

cowering and wanting / staggering stairs

to the moon / perhaps then you will confide in her

you have always adored poets / the brute pen /

the velvet coat dropped from her back /

begging to be touched / the shelled knuckle

trawling the spine for hours / you will ask her

is that okay / dinner is a plate of impressionism / too sad to taste /

she will take a cold sip / carry your new face

on a plate / and write okay with her nail / between you

callas sigh out tedious eternities / water-jugs forever stagnating /

you say so / knowing the scrubbed red of her eye

marks two hysterical months of longing / she won’t bother to engage /

the dull piano lulls and soothes / the slow salt snows

why do you not weep / her naked body a question mark

rising to meet you / bitter cold out and in / small cold gods

in bathrooms / cold hands / porcelain / some deeper chill

wafts back / holds you close / splayed on the bathroom mat /

hairs autograph the sink / nails scar the soap

perfume / shower-mist / the vulnerable wrist

dips to a drown / why do you not weep /

                                                      every pause is the end of the world.

Gestalt Therapy

tell me / what does the chair mean / the cloud

coloured padding / headshake / wind slapping

sad bluebells / okay then / what does the word

apricity taste like / warm skin and apricots

but back to the chair / can you calcify it

to a wishbone / tell me can you put

a person on it / she doesn’t ask what the chair

tastes like / old nuts and dust / iron tang /

has she ever met a metaphor /

what is empathy / earth roots / wires

hissing dirt / the mad garden hand

patting / wet compost fists / what colour

is empathy / wipe old nuts and dust

from my tongue / citalopram weighs

an eyeful of coins / tell me / no tell me /

ever snapped a chair leg and felt it

Small and the birds

she says who is Small / Small is not me

but part of me / sweeps from me

like a headrush / calcified grin / all twirls

and jabbing angles / slithery wings / like a crow/

no not like a crow / she points at the bird outside

it blurs in the rain / feathers and trash /hot static /

or a snake / no not a snake / its unassuming coil

has no capacity for scrabbling the way she does /

sticky-nailed / chain-mail of frost prickling the neck

besides why does the owl not swoop her away / do you

ever feel like an owl / I tick the box no never an owl / Small

hoots softly at my back / froths a ring of feathers

at her throat / says we shouldn’t talk about her like this


Twice a day I take a trip to the annexe toilets

for insulin, hold the hypodermic needle

like a bodkin. Afterwards, I watch

the bug of blood track my belly

in a relieved little puff,

crush it just short of the waistband.

Sometimes, You Cry in this Car

The great shivery out-breath that tries to bear

the world’s ache comes rasping out again

then backs up into silence, waiting to fall into memory-trap.

It makes no sense: heat murmuring on the bonnet of the car,

its deaf engine that might have once roared

into summer, the sunlight on its registration plate like houseflies

on butter. Sometimes, you cry in this car

with the engine off and that feeling you sometimes get

like stepping into a cramped elevator, a train

without any schedule, both hands on the wheel sticky

as though you’d pressed them too long

against the shimmering fever of the universe.

Small Swallows a Fly

Tonight we are having wine for dinner               our favourite

plum-shine         wet lacquer        we could even pretend

we are swimming           foxy reds              oak-smoke

cool odours of vanilla rising         let’s wander vineyards

in dark skirts     I tilt the glass to my lips

gulp downwards              flush upwards  pour another

Small licks a peanut        puffs her cheeks        sometimes

Small tells jokes with her breath            or apes about

pretending to be humongous one time we downed a fly

with wine-drops               trying to get it drunk    the drops she said

are lava                 running her fingers along the menu    she dared me

to eat the fly       you         no, you                sweat broke out on me                blood

slugged along the arteries             I drank until the blood was wine

moths as big as hands swarmed the lamps    and later

counting three, two, one               giggling like clocks     Small and I

pressed a wing                 to each of our tongues                  swallowed the fragile lace


I run twenty miles that afternoon

in the slanting rain             backslashes      who knew

tiny towns could have such dark perimeters

in early spring the cows are slow      silky-uddered

I lap them steaming across meadows

wet pastures      hot milk smell chugging in clouds

I slap at my fringe     scatter beads of clear drizzle

the bulls are thick and fierce   stocky trunks

shunting the cold hills     I sprint harder     hair flapping

like a sparrow trapped    and sometimes    on days

like these I am a bird      hatching in reverse    crunching

the shell back whole     I’ve outrun the dumb cattle

but really all this      the dull beat of my heel     scuff

of gravel              is rain gone about erasing            each toppled stone

dulling to a warning       habitual isolation      eighteen miles

is an act of casual hell immutable famine          at twenty

I say          it will happen                  the drizzle suffused

to a smirr             a dark candelabra of yews     I reel

to a halt at twenty           a bull stops dead on a hill

Natalie Ann Holborow (b. 1990) was born and grew up in Swansea, where she continues to live and work. She took BA English and MA Creative Writing degrees at Swansea University. Her first collection, And Suddenly You Find Yourself (2017, Parthian), was launched at the International Kolkata Literary Festival and listed in Wales Arts Review’s ‘Best of 2017’.

She is a multiple prize-winning poet, on the page and as a performer, winner of the 2015 Terry Hetherington Award and a recent finalist in the Cursed Murphy Spoken Word Competition. Her second collection, from which these poems were taken, is Small (2020, Parthian).

Copyright © 2021 by Natalie Ann Holborow, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.