February – Richard Skinner


Photographs by Jane Burn



an object seen for the first time

The white nuns walk in prayer, circling a pool
while silver fish swim in the water.

I sit in their cool, spherical garden, against a tall, straight tree. I decide
I am everything at once,
not separate parts placed separately.

A nun shows me to a round, white table and I see
six silver fish, dying.




the decision tree

Her son is crying, so she strokes his cheek.
His eyes are the colour of the bird’s eggs
she found one day with her uncle.

She wanted to touch them but he told her not to.
He reached up into the tree and then opened his hand –
she saw the smashed green eggs.
She looked at him and he began to laugh, quietly.





manor aquatics

She left her husband because she showed her true face to others
and came to lie to him.

In the Red Sea, she learnt to dive. At 50 metres, the red fish lost their colour.
At 80 metres, the blue. At 100 metres, there was nowhere to go.

She returned to her husband, and told him about the blackness there.
She cried. She told him about the strange white fish flashing in the ooze,
said she no longer had anything to hide.





the ready room

When they met, he told her his future was the same as her past
and moved in a week later. To prove his love, he painted one wall
“Sweet Briar” and the other “Strawberry Fool”.

After months of lying alone in bed, she guessed
her entrance was his exit.
The moon shone on the walls, she looked but the light
showed no difference in the shades.




Cumbria Lumen

Light seeps fast over the dun fells
like a great curtain of yellow
opening to reveal the sky, the fields.
A vast migraine, coming forwards, stuns
and sweeps through us like a broad sword,
leaves us as topheavy aerials,
quivering, looking for the arc-en-ciel
far behind in summer rain.



Black Water Side

Your mind is a house full of people running through rooms
looking for keys. Doors slam, but far away,
so softly you’re not even sure you heard it. Turn
the door knob and step into the freezing landscape.
Notice the weeping willow bending over the beck.
The black water now runs red.

Your life is here, made up of minutes, hours, naps,
errands, routine. The little things have to be enough.
The valley is reduced to the side of a fell and cloud coming in.
The sheep are cragfast, the deer keep falling down.
You’ve nowhere else to go and you’re sure of it now—
this is the wrong mountain.




Death in a French Garden

Pear tree, quince tree,
bottle of curaçao.
Chicken fricasses, veal, mutton, chitterlings with sorrel.

A rosary. Hands like leather.
Fichu, fire-dogs,
nonpareil arabesques.

Espaliered apricots, hawthorn hedge, speedwells,
slate sundial on a brick pedestal,
eglantines, spruce bushes,
sprays of honeysuckle and clematis.

Clumps of nettles surrounding the great stones,
blotches of lichen.

Soup à la bisque, au lait d’amandes.
Coping of a wall.

White roses,
blush roses,
white musk roses,
damask rose.

Valerian and camphor baths,
Vichy, Seltzer, Barège waters,
Raspail patent medicine,
Regnault paste,
Darcet lozenges.

The first 4 poems are from Richard’s collection ‘the light user scheme’ (Smokestack, 2013). “Cumbria Lumen” and “Death in a French Garden” are from his pamphlet ‘Terrace’ (Smokestack, 2015). “Black Water Side” will be in his next pamphlet.