Running, I become
three bridges – over the old red sandstone bridge, under the concrete bridge, speeding up to reach the arches of the Royal Border Bridge; the piers above me, an open-air cathedral. I become a woman running with water and mudflats, with North Sea and estuary, drawing towards the river’s source. Running minus earphones, I become music, passing through Melancholy, where the shorelarks’ warbling slows down. I become November, gloveless hands, face chilling to painless, oil of clove dissolving. Running, I become the woman with ten-metre legs, with a pinhead – contents so scanty it no longer needs to survey the horizon for obstructions. I become significant to dogs, who bark to run with me, whose owners now address me – ‘Did you just pass a man with a big black dog?’ No breath to explain that her three ankle-hungry Jack Russells worry me more than one giant lollopy dog. Running, redrafting myself, I return to my primal language of sigh and puff and laugh; I become sweat and tear, the low-thud song of my lungs. Running, I become a woman wintering; I follow the pink-footed geese crossing the hard blue sky in a great wavering W, and when it sharpens to a V, a letter of purpose, I join the formation of those who know where to go and how and why, gliding upstream in their upwash, their wingbeat. Running, I become the border.
© Anne Ryland 2021
Published in Unruled Journal (Valley Press, 2021)
Commended in the Magma Poetry Competition 2018
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 2021 Published in Unruled Journal (Valley Press, 2021) Awarded Second Prize in The Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine 2016 (Open Category) 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.”
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
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)
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)