Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hartlepool Cinderella

Hartlepool in winter, in its desolate ballgown of closed pier Victoriana, hunches her shoulders against the wind. Chance it or dance it, under the arches the artist gathers her materials: used condoms, a sea-bitten toothbrush, bottle-tops, rusted through. Hands to work and hearts to God, she mutters to herself, turning over ideas, hopes and feelings. The next show would be like the promise of the wind at her back filling her sails with the beauty of change. It was themed for Shelley: Changed Futures, Chanced Futures and Naught May Endure but Mutability.
She passed the first of the painted doors without a second glance. Her mind was busy, collating, curating, a taxonomy of objets trouves: a cork, slotted with a verdigrised 20p, the names of the celebrants almost legible. She turned it in her hand. That was the nature of her work, her life. Possessions and purposes, always sliding in a state of making and unmaking. A scattering of gravel, a lighthouse of coloured sand, the broken body of a doll, one arm missing, tears on its face inked in blue pen. If looks could change, she murmured, stroking its torn and matted hair. I'd give you peace of mind. Instead I'll give you a piece of my mind. You shall have your place in my show.
Hartlepool, sand and gravel, like a small poem by Betjeman, shuddering under its snakeskin sky, waiting for the storm to break.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Monday, 24 November 2014


Float me into the world heaving tumultuously, I am turning through the cosmic flux, God's brief ejaculation smeared across the void. The angels fumble for humility, cover their faces with their wings, put all heaven in a stir. And here I am, born to you. Colours flare and settle, the black shine on a rook's eye, the highbrow gilding on Simone Martini's annunciation, the blue of the hedgerow sloe. The world absorbs me as if my osmosis. Exult ye company of Heaven, here I am. Born again. Perhaps you will think it selfish, or self-indulgent at the very least, all this noise about my coming. Perhaps you would prefer the silent language of the unheard, unlistened-for, felt arrival. Me, bursting through the transparent veil between this world and the last. But hush me as you will, the Gods are glad and clap their hands for joy, for their creation, and the world's absolute refusal to be quiet.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Norwegian Eulogy

The Norwegian slide easel stands in triplicate before the mirror's triptych riddle. Two explorers from the turn of the century look out of the frame: why did the deer leap so high and so fast? The light has faded to a friendly vintage sepia. They stand on shale or scale, the mountain's dust, arms about each other's shoulders. They have climbed, hand after hand after hand, an unbreakable link, taken a turn around themselves, to send this small miraculous image and send it fluttering down the generations to land here on your birthday dressing table, beside the roses and the pumpkin-shaped box of dark chocolates.
Why is time fallow? Now it pools, as dark as the rust on a starling's breast, now it is a leap across the road, now it is read in the wind's spirited script blowing near illegible across the field. This is how to make sense of the world. The tiny silvered print shivers and is still. Macro and microcosm. We're in there somewhere. Here is the light catcher winking a semaphore of shame and redemption, of loss and restoration. Don't ask how something can be so beautiful in such a sad place. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
Maybe his wife will suffer a push through the earth, or a slip through the feathered air, or a rising funnel of bubbles from the pond and rejoin him, here, in this moment, now. While all the other possibilities are still looking elsewhere. Maybe they will find their reunion in the multiple refractions of the mirror's threefold version of their lives and the slide will momentarily be them, on their wedding day, beneath a storm of rice, held precariously in honour on the  humble Norwegian slide easel.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Monday, 17 November 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

Someone to watch over me, begs Rapunzel from the moon tower. Tonight the moon is in its perigee. It is done with losing face. Inspiration has come to her through the tiny window, before which she kneels, hands folded on knees, begging. Someone to watch over me...
Rapunzel closes her eyes and imagines her celestial protector: massive, festooned in violet lights, like stars, like the lit inklings of midwinter. She imagines the sea-clean smell of him. She imagines the transformation of her shabbily lit life as he drifts in, brimming with greatness. In her mind's eye fish leap from the waters at his feet, birds chevron the sky in his wake, even drear humanity drags itself across the fields bringing him tiny handmade cakes of ginger and marzipan.
In his presence it will be possible to have your cake and eat and be fulfilled, to partake of the glowing crumb and be forever satisfied. For him she would gladly slip into the straitjackets of the old witches: Mercy and Honour. They would be soft and silky, like a sleeping child's flushed cheek. Feathers fly through the air. the bearded angels have been here.
Rapunzel stays on her knees, hoping for a future once read in the palm of her mother's hand, to be fully present. Praying for someone to watch over her.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Woman's Right to Shoes

The King and Queen are squabbling about their dancing shoes. She is all for high art, a statement pair, something from a fantasy. The King, knowing exactly where that will lead, would prefer she went barefoot, or in something fashioned out of mud.  It is the evening of the Great Feast. Their hot words are fuelled by the anticipation of sucking on songbirds drowned in cognac, oysters rolling in straight from the sea, the tenderness of well bruised beast.
 In the kitchen Cook is pricking the skins of pigs to crackle and amuse the guests. Dry rot will provide the delicacy of funghi braised in Vintage Chablis. Just a penny here, and a penny there thinks Cook as he slices the pale stalks of the mushrooms, licks the blood off his knife, seeks snails in his earthy box.
Looking into the mirror's triptych the Queen adjusts the precise calibration of her frown. She'll take a chance she thinks, and wear the glass slippers after all. She extends a foot for the King's approval. The King flushes with a quaint retro anger, his face a pink potty hurled into a corner, and sulks towards his own wardrobe. The Queen, unable to decide whether she has won or lost, forces her feet into splintering glass and rises tottering to cross the room. Pink bubbles froth in her footsteps. The King turns his back. Nut Case, he bellows, and in the pantry the cook shivers.
The problem is, continues King, swallowing his mood as if it were  straight whisky, we have drifted apart. I could chase you in your glass slippers down the cindered path; the cook could serve us something or other - let's say for the sake of argument, wolf, as soft in death as Romeo. It wouldn't make it right.It wouldn't bring you back.
What do you want? The Queen asks, tenderly, stroking his thin hair.
Wear these instead, he begs, and hands her a pair of hare-pelt stilettos. Here, let me wipe the blood.
And in the end, it seemed such a small thing to please him. So she did.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Desiring Alice

How long has he been gone? it is impossible for him to gauge. After all that has happened he knows that it is not the future but the past that is incredible. He puzzles over its shattered remains. He'd had just one throw of the lucky dice, who knew it would land this way?
Breath rises and falls. Gravity continues to work. His heart does not forget to beat. This stupid body, doesn't it even know how not to carry on? He longs for the chance to demolish goodbye. He longs for everything to have been different, to have killed her in a rage, to have written her story in code in a diary dull of secrets, to have washed her feet in oil and tears and dried them with his rough tongue. Always a sea-man, his inclination is to salt everything: danger, love, dinner.
Alice, the name rolls in his mouth like a pebble, like the flawed orb of a moonstone. Alice, at the lifting edge of evening, opening her mouth and smiling at him, waving, as though she is the heroine of love's silent film. Then turning and burning all his boats. The celluloid curls as she sets the light to each one.
Still, he wants her. In spite of everything he wants the season of forgiveness. He wants the pure peacefulness of her standing by the bay window, looking out, pouring tea into cracked cups, distilling their lives together into something almost fine and old.
Not this, not this chill longing, this glacial angel at his spine, this long laddered lifetime of desiring Alice.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pantoum: The Heart's Repeating Gestures

I sing to you at last of golden archways
Light falling in lozenges on quiet squares
I sing to you of mystery, shadow-light and shade
While everyone looks the other way.

Light falling in lozenges on quiet squares
Mercy and love answer me
While everyone looks the other way
Like blood leaking from wine.

Mercy and love answer me
Let your voice rise with mine
Like blood leaking from wine
Its all the same to me.

Let your voice rise with mineIn languages that sit softly in the mouth
It's all the same to me
All that is unsaid, but will be said somehow.

In languages that sit softly in the mouth
The thuribler and the boy
All that is unsaid, but will be said somehow.
The heart's repeating gestures

The thuribler and the boy
The body electric and a soul of dust
The heart's repeating gestures
Of oneness and of many, and of trust.

The body electric and a soul of dust.
The hem of darkness lifts and light steps in
Of oneness and of many and of trust,
soft soft she treads, soft soft she must.

The hem of darkness lifts and light steps in
I sing to you of mystery, shadow-light and shade
Soft soft she treads, soft soft she must
I sing to you at last of golden archways.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Vanishing Point

Where the heart should be, mutters Adeline to herself. I shall cut around where the heart should be.
She is sitting with his body on the beach, amongst the bust tyres, bottles and rinsed lights of the day. She has dragged him here to start the day, at the very edge of England. Bless this day. She makes the sign of the cross, and closes her eyes tightly, not wishing to appear ungrateful. Ever since the messenger had arrived at her door, in its feathered mask and its gleaming wings, she has been at pains to remember her manners. She does this in regular little admonishments to herself, which she flourishes in her head, like a courtier. Or a Sunday School teacher. Cut the coat according to the cloth, she says now. And picks up her serrated knife.
Behind her the sky is the deep saturated blue of childhood. She must work quickly before the light reaches its zenith and the others being to emerge, blinking into the day.
She tugs the pariah vest, a shoddy god-knitted thing, closer to her body. Toes the corpse to make him roll face up, squats beside him and commences where she most dislikes. She begins with the cut of his jib.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


There I go, on my circuitous way through the mazes of your heart. Blame it on a broken compass, half for you and half for you. God knows what treasures you have amassed, jealously hoarded, over the years. I will have to borrow my wits from him then, for mine own are but melting snowflakes of awareness as I make my way untoward the heart.
You are my murderous sister and you manipulate me as though I were a paper doll you could tear out, fold up, refashion again. Reclaim in triumph. Oh dear, I've said too much. You have slipped into woe. A fool and her favour. If I am not careful I shall end up like Aunt Goliath, with her mouth all sewn up in crimson velvet thread. too bad.
I was born with a twin heart, half for you and half for you.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


I have cut a thousand paper hearts from the letters and journals I have found around the house. So much for my sleet relations and their flinty ways. I shall string this bunting over every archway and architrave. The narrative of placid blame that I have hoarded over the years will now be made available for all to read. Disjointed, random and manipulated as it is. So. Just so. Just so I can die blessed.
Do you read me Uncle? Ah well, the truth is a cunning mistress, flashing her torn paper fan at us. Catch her if you can. She takes the circuitous routes through this house of envy. Thus she trails the velvet curtains behind her. Don't trip.
Where now Uncle? She takes us out and down the wide drive, back to the river-front. Down to the broken steps of the River Not. Get in, she gestures to us, and I cannot help but look at you. She has a small blue boat, with the name Triumph painted on in red. Its sails, why look? They're rigged with that selfsame bunting you were reading back at the house. All the little hearts tearing in the sudden squall.
My heart is a bruise. I put my fingers to your lips, Uncle. Don't say it. Don't say it now. Or she'll have you, this wintry queen of truth. Your mouth will erupt in blisters. Ssh uncle. We are out on the placid river after all. Blessed as sleet. Here let me unfurl the bunting for you. Are you sitting comfortably? then let me begin time's tender story of history melting into now.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Long Life Fairy

The long-life fairy drops in from beyond the horizon, in all the popsicle colours of the sunrise. From the Adulterer's Songbook she chooses two anthems: Longevity and Happiness and plays their notes, their different moods, upon her harp. Longevity: one clear descant stretching into the distance; Happiness a swarm-song of sounds in my chest. As though you had moved your head on the pillow, or had stood before me transformed by tragedy and lust. And the afterburn I feel, of sharp mouths munching through my hair.
She blesses us with many beautiful years. The words fall from her mouth like fish, like mackerel, dark and bright together. She trails a fairytale of woe in her fishnets. A magpie is caught, hanging upside down amongst the glitter. The harmonica, her true harp, releases its Once-Upon-A Time cadence of lament.
Each thing smells sweet and full of meaning: Your hip against the windowlight (it is Friday, it must be fellatio) There are no days of the week beginning with C I complain. And you tell me, complaining is to say you want the opposite of what you have. It seems a casually puzzling remark, but the long-life fairy snaps shut her Songbook and coughs up the word wife, like phlegm. I fold myself in two, like a paper heart and think I see her ghost flicker in the thundery dark, but maybe it was just the long-life fairy leaving, tossing her starry tiara our way, crumpling the air with her vibration.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Electra Dreams of the Last Day

One day remains. Odd as a child in a foxed mirror, Electra rides towards the ruined church. Like kisses on a glass page tossed promises and curses stream behind her, leaving a trail of handmade offerings. She is coming to the wedding of the Bride-with-the-Deceitful-Mouth, knowing that whatever is yet to be wrecked will be wrecked in the way of all flesh. For doesn't everything always, even in this marriage proposal, still so exciting, feel the urge to be something else. She has gathered up the scattered remains of our culture: a plastic doll's head, frost ferns on a window pane, curiously intact Victoriana, a knife with its chipped blade. As pitiless and as unflinching as a God, she rides upon her frost lion, trying to tempt the hidden husband from his den. The crescent moon hangs above her shining like hammered tin, a green mouth turning pink, all in reverse. A mystery and a sudden shower of light. One tear streams backwards up her face. Turning the palm of her hand she maps a series of glorious exits and entrances: lifelines; lovelines. The bride opens the door of herself and lets her love to be pass through her, Electra stumbles in with her gifts from the bay, and the improbable husband arrives a moment too late, like a retold joke, and goes to her, with his ring, since he knows no better.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Rafael Finds Unexpected Opulence

Early evening come in the blink of an eye, as the sun passes over Rafael's shoulder and illuminates the map. There'll be treasure here, he knows it. Incomings and outgoings, losses and gains. The ltitle latch on the gate clicks shut behind him. How much change will he see, when he shoulders open the door to this cottage on the cliffs he calls his castle? He has returned, as he knew he must, knowing all manner of love and its cargo of grief. He has heard that a broken heart is an open heart.
When he enters the house, there she is, at the kitchen table. What price his soul? She is reading from one of the books, turning its yellow pages in the sun's borrowed gold. Under her breath she is calculating his heart's ransom. All these things he thought he could not live without. He is acutely aware of the cliff edge behind him, through the open door. Don't bet more than you can afford to lose, his brain-chatter warns him. Have you a penny to pay the ferry? When the time comes to count the cost will you still be arguing about who found this fortune or will you cease to care. A cacophony, or a symphony in his head. Or perhaps just the brass section warming up. When the pounds aren't taking care of themselves he is in a state of febrile excitement. He has come to get what he wanted and something else he didn't expect. A jar of pickled onions on the window ledge glows like a jar of captured moons.
At last she looks at him and all the questions subside. He had wondered what she'd make of him, when she saw him with his broken fingernails and his crock of fool's gold. And now, before her, he sees she loves him, simply, broken as he is. She has the coins to redeem all his sins.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Saturday, 15 February 2014

It Begins

It begins with all the perfumes that pass for summer in his more peaceful years: diesel rising off the roads, figs going over in their bowl, synthetic coconut from my warm skin. In the garden the upturned bowls of the peonies fill with rain, which falls with the necessary urgency. From my vantage point in the treehouse I watch how under the wide dark sky the garden forms itself into a bowl of light. From his chair on the porch he can hear me pulling the great powerful note from the Tibetan singing bowl until the Gods are thoroughly summoned and all world is choir. Rapture, rather.
I suppose we'd sometimes argue. In the operatic way. But I cannot recall what we said. Our words fall still among the other sounds. He wears a little silver bell so that wherever he is in his dark hours, I can find him. We keep inventing precious times together. Behind him, on the white shelf are three shiny black bowls each with a silver sign - the name of a God, the breath  of creation, a widow's prayer. We are not permitted to touch these bowls. We must pass them by, he says, dipping his fingers int the water. And as soon as he is gone indoors, I do, touch each of them in quick succession. And just this once, the familiar world averts its gaze and will not notice. And this is how it begins.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

So Green

So green it was cast aside, thrown to some minor tilt in the wind's inflection. Though they searched the forest lines, those young girls walking in an afternoon light, it was not to be found, maybe never to be found again. So green, it tucked itself among the small pears of your unripe dream, shivered in the frostbitten air. The young girls breathed out their souls, cold and radiant, clouds of broken longitude. But even there, it could not be found.
So green, its marks were antique, though they looked freshly made, a bit smudged perhaps, like the rain-merged message-in-a-bottle sea stained script of your love letters to me. The message illegible now, something starry-blurry, something wept over. So green the distance from it to us is as natural as the distance between my writs and my thumb. Imagine that! That what we longed for was there all along, at our fingertips. Something in my heart steps on a trip wire, a line so teetering green it feels like a line drawn freehand by a considerate child, a thumb in her rosy mouth. The wire dips in the Methodist wind. A pear falls from its branch with a soft thud. My brow is mapped with the lines of latitude and longing that characterise what I will do for you and how far I will go.
At this my mother's soul flies in through a tear in the atmosphere. Chagall turns over in his bed. blink if you believe me. The forest is standing in green italic against the horizon. So green, if love is still beating her soft drum let's invite her in.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

F is for February

My wild King, we are in the odd month out. Carrion birds march on the armour of the dead. I am iron turned rust; I am cedar turned charcoal. I try to divine water, anything lively in this dry land.
 Jokers are always wild, you whisper, and press the card into my palm, lined and creased with use. A is for adoration. You are my King and I am at your service. All these days I spend with you, working for the months yet to come, a time I cannot even dream of. There are twenty eight days in a leap year you say. That's wrong of course, the month unravelling itself again. B is for battered, by rains Be careful what you wish for. I grow morbid and morose. The bottom of the hole fills up so soon your Majesty. I empty your pot and watch the gold flowing around in circles.
C is for the crowned tweet bird who lands on your shoulder and pecks the worms from your ear. The sulky crows lever themselves into the storm-promised sky. I turn up the Ace of Hearts so often it is humiliating. D is for the dancers, flickering their eyes, scattering rice and puja flowers before us. They show us the palms of their hands and I look to you in fear in case you can read them as clearly as I do.
E is for the earth, root-rodded, and for energy. Your eyes light up my Lord. We are signing to each other across the abyss. Excepting envy, I begin to think we will manage this.
F is forever. Let us take refuge there. It won't be long now.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Saturday, 11 January 2014


Oh keep the dog of days far hence, we prayed then bitterly to the God of smashed up things. Alice had her wand and her luminous wings fashioned from chicken feathers and bones washed white. We hid in all the improbable places of childhood: spiral stone staircases that ended abruptly in stone walls; underneath the carparks and the canal bridges, in derelict lunatic asylums still creaking with their ghosts. And the days were ridged with magical and mundane treasures. We pushed open a door to see a sheep's spine turning on a string. In the midden behind the playground we unearthed a trove of soul secrets, unlit but still beating, giving off the must of smoked aubergine. Before long Alice would grow desperate. Tell me a secret, she would plead, something that nobody knows, and then another, and then another.
But in spite of our prayers time moved itself around its series of clocks, exerted its miraculous propensity to age us. We looked in mirrors just to catch a sight of our fascinatingly older selves. On the walk home, the night grew cold, and flapped around us like a freshly ripped coat. Wind wide enough to wrap a fairy in, Alice murmured, yawning, and then lay, still as a saint upon the flat wall outside the pub, listening to the warrior drunks singing their soft arias. Stretching her arms to measure the sky she asserted the randomly improving values of lemons and told me of her dreams. And we must have held each other then, as we are doing now.
And here we are, still praying to the Gods of all smashed things to mend us, spare us, and keep us. And still we pray: oh keep the dogs of day far hence.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele