thorn field

by Claire Askew

(for M)

Tomorrow he’s leaving for good.
You know where he’s going, but don’t
belong there – couldn’t show up
without scaring him.  So
it’s your last chance.  So
what if he’s married?
Your heart walks past the shopfront
fifty times without going in.

Your head drives you to the beach.
There’s a spitting easterly.  It’s February,
two degrees, the dunes filled up with snow.
You write his name in the coffee-coloured sand
and the sea licks it up.
Of course he’s married.  You palm
a good head-stoving rock, then chuck it.
White wave-tops blow sideways out of range.

The town’s rinsed out.  Somewhere
a clock is wrong – the streetlights on
in daylight. You tell yourself it was just
three times, and the first time doesn’t
even count – you don’t know
his last name.  You wonder
what his wife looks like,
then can’t stop.

Night comes without stars.
He locks up the shop for the last time.
The tide is dragged out by its skirts,
your thrown rock dumped in the ebb.
The clock chimes last-chance,
last-chance
 – his smile
like a chipped axe gleaming. Above him,
all the streetlights go out.

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CLAIRE ASKEW

Claire’s debut poetry collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016. The collection was shortlisted for an Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, the Saltire First Book Award, the Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Award. Claire is also a novelist, and her debut novel All The Hidden Truths won the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and was published by Hodder & Stoughton in August 2018. Claire is currently the Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, and you can follow her online @onenightstanzas.

Photo Credit: Dominic Stevenson

Read more from Claire:

Knifethorn fieldAll the Hidden TruthsIn Conversation with Poet and Novelist Claire Askew