Poems by Natascha Graham

 

MERIVALE

On the 28th March 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. The following is an Ekphrastic poem inspired by the painting of her sister, Vanessa Bell, by fellow Bloomsbury Group member, Duncan Grant. This poem is a moment wherein Vanessa is writing to her sister, only a week or two after her death, where life continues to break back in, with all of its sharp edges.

 

Have you ever been to Merivale?

She writes. While

Angelica, (six), fist full of flowers, arranges them in a pattern similar to that of the painted tile of the hearth.

Violet stalks with purple faces for the V and daisies for the W while she sits, cross-legged, in the milk-dish of sunlight coming in through the half-open door.

Have you ever been to Merivale?

She begins again. Blots the end of the pen, nib down for too long on the fold of cloth.

Watches the ink bleed out blue, blue, blue…Perhaps-

She falters,

Perhaps we shall go, you, me-

A song thrush in the wisteria just outside of the window calls from her nest, Leonard whistles back from where he stands between the tulips

Vita perhaps,

Angelica hums a tune half-forgotten and half-remembered,

and the children, of course, they do so love to see you.

She smiles, watches her daughter weave her own initials with petals from the Forsythia.

And, upon our last visit, Angelica fell rather in love with a cow which she gave your name to-

Out in the garden again, just by the door, Angelica picks weeds, plucked with the hollow sound of the milk thistle or dandelion stalk

A brown cow, all doe-eyes, soft-muzzle. Standing on legs with knees like pollarded trees.

She smiles. Gains momentum. Shifts in her chair that creaks and scrapes against the flag-stone floor.

Netty’s here, folding your stockings, rolling them into yellow balls like eggs – like eggs, in a basket.

As soon as she is gone, I’ll unravel them, fitting perhaps, for I seem myself unravelled.

She hears Netty on the stairs. Knows the satisfaction she will gain from this rolled nest of previously unravelled and unkempt stockings.

Did I tell you I see Vita now?

She comes to dinner in your place, sits in your chair with its back to the fire, with some hesitation, of course.

She looks at me.  And I in her see you, and you in me she sees, though neither of us has spoken of this of course.

Instead, darling Tom slaps cards down upon the table, Queen of Hearts upturned, only fleetingly, between her and I,

And then, of course, Duncan slaps his card down too – the King, perhaps, of Spades, as suits him, and the moment passes, without whistle or trace-

The song thrush sings again, greets her mate with a beak of soft sheep’s wool scraps.

– only the echo for which I have spent these last few weeks digging for beneath the roots of speculation, only to find dust and grit, the shrivelled bulb of a daffodil dug up too often and the skull of a blackbird buried by Angelica, I am sure, though at your behest.

Now, the ticking of the clock, the whirr, the readying, readying, then the chime. Too loud. Always, too loud.

She closes her eyes, waits, waits, for stillness, and then-

Have you ever been to Merivale?

She has digressed for too long.

I ask not because of the (now) literary bovine, but because, in passing a cottage I noticed a young woman, a girl, perhaps, sat, elbows on the windowsill, Mrs Dalloway between her hands – and it was such a shock to see you there, so suddenly, so starkly, in this house painted the colour of our Cornish sea, because you see (as only you do, you did) I look for traces of you, without knowing it at all, and I find I cannot speak, cannot say, as you would have done, so eloquently, but I cannot, neither with voice nor with pen the pain it is to glimpse you so suddenly, and so sharply within your absence.

The house is quiet, the bird has flown, Angelica has gone, the garden too tempting.

Such is death.

The stillness stretches.

But one of these days we may contrive to speak again. Who knows?

Again, the stillness

My darling Virginia, I miss you.

And this letter is nothing, without you to receive it.

The hesitancy of pen held above paper.

Yours, always,

V.

 

 

SHE’S CALLED GILLIAN

 

She’s got brown hair and eyes the colour of a bleached winter sky.

She’s about 5’5, but she’s tough.

I met her just after I met my girlfriend.

My girlfriend was a narcissist.

She didn’t like me having friends, or seeing family.

So, I didn’t really.

Gillian stuck around, though.

In fact, that’s when I first met her

A few months in

She was standing in a driveway nudging gravel with the toe of her Converse.

I asked her if she’d lost something.

Her wedding ring, she said. Not that it mattered.

He was a cheating bastard.

We walked to school together.

She wore dark jeans and a plaid shirt over a long-sleeved top with four buttons at the neckline.

She was self-destructive.

I liked that about her.

She’d help me put the shopping away when the Tesco delivery arrived.

It wasn’t my house,

but I did everything in it.

She expected that of me.

My girlfriend,

The narcissist.

Once when my girlfriend went away,

we used her land to have a bonfire in the old metal drum that was full of weeds and earth and crap.

Gillian joked we should get all of her clothes and stick them on the fire,

but burning her clothes wouldn’t do any good, we decided.

She had enough trouble keeping her clothes on,

having less of them would only add to the problem.

We cooked our lunch on the bonfire.

Potatoes baked in tin foil.

Their skins were black but we ate them anyway,

and inside they were smoky and white and good.

Gillian would be there in the evenings, too.

I’d make my excuses and slip to the garage for another bottle of wine,

and Gillian was there,

back against the wall, picking at the fraying edge of her sleeve.

She’d tell me about her day, the sheep, the farm.

She’d hug me, properly, hold me until I’d stopped shaking,

or near enough.

 

Once, on fireworks night,

She had a party.

My girlfriend,

the narcissist.

Everyone was there. All of her friends, family, neighbours.

Her dad made the bonfire bigger than was safe.

She poured everyone drinks and looked for me to give me something to do.

I stood in the shadows with Gillian.

She was all nervy, jittery, bristling with energy, possibility, magic….

She was wearing wellington boots.

Green ones, but they weren’t Hunter boots, and I was glad of that.

They were bog-standard boots from a garden centre.

She had one hand in her pocket, I could hear the clink of the keys to her Land Rover.

You need to get shot of her.

She said, looking at the bonfire, into the flames.

Her face was warm, golden, fire-lit and beautiful.

She’s going to kill you if you don’t.

She looked at me then, Gillian did.

One way or another you’ll end up dead.

She was right. I knew she was right.

 

But Gillian only existed in my head.

 

 

 

I AM WINTER

 

She is everything I am not. She is supple as a snake.

I am frozen.

She is the whisper of holidays and beach trips, BBQs and laughter.

I am eerie stillness, the last bloom of white from dying blue lips. I am winter. I am cold. I am in darkness, flirting with madness, wires in my veins, pulsing, vibrating, killing me.

I am the splinters of skeleton trees in the pockets where my eyes used to be, my mind the fleeting glimpse of a wolf.  She is a peacock, I am a wild hare, running, but never finding home in a wood full of eyes. She watches me. Hiding. Breathing.

I am the uncertainty of black ice, I am strong as the North Wind.

 

 

 

Influenced by David Bowie, Virginia Woolf and Sally Wainwright, Natascha Graham is a writer of stage, screen and radio and lives with her wife on the east coast of England.

Her novel, Everland has been selected for the Penguin and Random House WriteNow 2021 Editorial Programme, and her short films have been selected by Pinewood Studios & Lift-Off Sessions, Cannes Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Camden Fringe Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, while her theatre shows have been performed in London’s West End and on Broadway, New York as well as at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester, Thornhill Theatre, London and Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York where her monologue, Confessions: The Hours won the award for Best Monologue.

Natascha is also working on Bad Girls: The Documentary, a documentary about the cult ITV prison drama and is currently working together with Queer Colours Theatre on the upcoming production of her stageplay, How She Kills.

When she is not writing, Natascha is co-editor in chief of Tipping the Scales Literary & Arts Journal with her wife and co-hosts the upcoming LGBT podcast, The Sapphic Lounge, with fellow writer, Stephanie Donaghy-Sims.

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