Poems

The Ruin Withholds its Secrets
It disrupts the skyline –
my eye stumbles over juts and drops.

                         This is no sanctuary.
                         But there is so much room in a ruin,
                         to tramp through a long hesitation.

A human in the ruins is less
than the whistle of a curlew across mudflats
or a single thrift swaying on the cliff.

                         I love the silences of a ruin’s story,
                         the presence of murders and prayers.

I draw closer to touch
its scars and fractures –
immerse myself in brokenness.
                         Where are the stairs that spiral
                                                                             beyond rooflessness?

When I wander among ruins, a longing grows in my throat.

                         It has borne the ice, the salt-gnaw and the wars;
                         it knows the triumph of being more
                         than left over.

Such quiet defiance in a ruin,
it dares to be an outline.



© Anne Ryland 2011

Published in The Unmothering Class (Arrowhead Press, 2011)
Sea Script
One vast page ranging away from view,
     no paragraphs for pauses. Where to begin,
how to find a loose thread that invites
     unravelling. Each sentence slips out of
its predecessor and into the next, wave
     upon wave of calligraphy, not a lapse or
hesitation in sight. This is a complex
     and perfect grammar, and I always loved
a verb table, the way tenses string 
     together as pearls, each mirroring another,
and those cupboards a linguist builds
     in her mind, where accusative, dative,
genitive are stored for instant access,
     the carved drawers of etymology, where
tide derives from time. Later, I may
     evolve into marine lexicographer, a creature
of the shore, gathering and annexing
     the sea’s textures, until I become bilingual
in its liquid language. But for now
     I must learn the words as a child does,
like braille, tracing them by finger
     in the sand, the slow kinaesthetic method.
My first letter is the shape of a small
     purse, or is it a lip, just slightly open. 



© Anne Ryland 2006

Published in Autumnologist (Arrowhead Press, 2006)
Letting Her Go
My mother will abandon land,
her three wheelchairs and three hoists.
I’ll wrap her in the cream shawl
then lift her into a cave, its roof alive
with lichen and spleenwort fern.
I’ll place her on a ledge, and leave.
The tide will come in, bringing
two cow seals with mottled coats, drawn
by the ghost howls of their stillborn,
but instead they’ll find a bone-woman
and they’ll stretch their crinkled necks
to sing to her in shades of light and dark,
sing her limbs back to life,
while the waves peak and break
until she is silver and streamlined.
The ocean will become her home.
She’ll steer through its blue-green rooms
and learn the underwater calls of seals:
the harmonics of their long moans,
the guttural rup with its sharp upsweep,
and the trrot clicking sounds.
When my mother basks on the rocks
after her first sea dance,
her laugh will be one I’ve never heard in air.



© Anne Ryland 2006

Published in Autumnologist (Arrowhead Press, 2006)
The Twins’ Heads
Three pounds at birth, the twins were laid in a drawer,
thought unlikely to survive. Their mother poured

all the warmth from June to August into her sons.
Their skin was thin, their skulls almost unborn;

cotton caps swamped their not-quite-arrived eyes.
Hats padded with tissue, the twins looked so surprised

their sister, ten years older, resolved to learn to knit.
From a simple pattern she made eggshell blue bonnets

for the brothers she hadn’t wanted – one, let alone
two. Plain garter stitch: cast on, knit, cast off; she wove

and looped them slowly into her life, as if her hands
were willing their bones to grow. Measuring their heads,

she traced the gaps and seams that mustn’t be pressed.
Their faces were double, twice as defenceless.

Monozygotic. No-one understood then that the embryo,
just two cells big, had split perfectly in two.

For years only their mother and their sister knew
which boy was which, though could never explain how.

And even now as the twins turn seventy-six,
their heads cold again, they share matching quirks –

nervous cough of a laugh, diluted eyes, the silence
followed by slipping over words mid sentence –

and each time they black out, another thread snaps
or a knot tightens. They can no longer be wrapped

up, holes darned, by the arthritic fingers of a sister
who’s glitter-sharp. But she can’t fathom the mystery

of what goes on in the twins’ heads any more;
far away as when they were side by side in the drawer.



© Anne Ryland 2011

Published in The Unmothering Class (Arrowhead Press, 2011)

Awarded First Prize in Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition 2009
Anna’s Left Hand
          Anna Bertha Röntgen, December 1895


i         In the dark room, somewhere
          beyond infrared and ultraviolet,
          she places her hand

          between the pear-shaped tube          
          and the plate wrapped in black paper.
          Her ring clinks,

          palm pressing against glass.
          The more she tries to hold still
          she is tempted

          to escape, but she is the experiment.
          Should she remind him she is not
          a wooden or aluminium woman –

                                                                                        his nameless rays pass
                                                                                        through her

                                                                                        minute after minute –
                                                                                        a tide of light particles.

                                                                                        There is translucent,
                                                                                        there is seeing too much

                                                                                        but this lesser, silent half
                                                                                        that will never

                                                                                        unbolt or sew,
                                                                                        write or slice

                                                                                        is her oldest hand
                                                                                        and it waits, patient.




ii        She sees metacarpals and phalanges
               that might have been carved

          by a cavewoman. She sees her hinges.
               This hand, released from the troubles

          of skin, tissue and nerve, the vulnerable
               veins, is her winter hand, a bare

          branch reaching from shadows
               for secrets lower than touch,

          a purpose higher than waving farewell.
               The spare hand carries her unasked

          questions, restless; is not in harmony
               with her lips. The little black boulder –

          the metal of her wedding ring –
               has blocked the rays, but loosened.

          This hand could scoop wind and mist,
               push open the sealed door in a dream,

          call the dead to come home. She knows
               her ghost-hand will transgress

          before it scatters, a miniature ruin of bones.


© Anne Ryland 2016

Awarded Second Prize in The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2016 (Open Category)

Published in The Hippocrates Prize 2016: Winning and Commended Poems (The Hippocrates Press, 2016)

The first human X-ray photograph depicted the hand of Wilhelm Röntgen’s wife Anna. 
This view inside her body reportedly caused her to exclaim, “I have seen my death.”

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