And sometimes you don’t know where it comes from.

It appears as a heat, prickly, under your skin, your scalp.

You open a book and find it there pulsing, on a page where it wasn’t before, by a person whose name you do not recognise.

It appears to have been lying in wait for you, for just this precise moment of tiredness and openness.

It is like an accident, a jar falling to the floor, a bump in the car, as we say in slow motion.

Somewhere below your belt your insides shift a bit. They gurgle.

You realise you are muttering the words under your breath, like a woman you saw in a waiting room once.

You hope no one walks in and catches you.

You go to the internet. There is nothing to be found about the poem there, nor its author.

You go back to trying to trust the thing in front of you, double checking the spine of the book for signs of tampering.

You mention it to no one.

You think you may have fallen in love.

You have to go out. You hope the poem will still be there when you get back. You half believe it won’t be.

You mention it to no one.

Until now.



They know us by our lips. They know the proverb

about the space between us. Many slip.

They are older than their flashy friends, the glasses.

They held water first, are named in scripture.


Most are gregarious. You’ll often see them

nestled in snowy flocks on trestle tables

or perched on trolleys. Quite a few stay married

for life in their own home to the same saucer,


and some are virgin brides of quietness

in a parlour cupboard, wearing gold and roses.

Handless, chipped, some live on in the flour bin,

some with the poisons in the potting shed.


Shattered, they lie in flowerpot, flowerbed, fowlyard.

Fine earth in earth, they wait for resurrection.

Restored, unbreakable, they’ll meet our lips

on some bright morning filled with lovingkindness.


Gwen Harwood, from Emergency Kit (Edited by Jo Shapcott and Mattew Sweeney, Faber, 1996)