Two poems from Imogen McHugh’s new poetry book, A King’s Bones, published by Dempsey and Windle on 1 June 2022.
A King’s Bones
The earth is full of breath and silent prisoners
the clay and the worm, the sigh of the seasons
do not make a restful place for a king’s bones.
I have seen the earth build a palace above my body
in the image of splendour. Crusty diamonds, soiled silk
the remnants of so many little lives lived, lonely.
I have slept too long in this darkest womb.
The noises of men begin again for me, the taper and scrape
into toiling and triumph. Hands less clumsy
liberate the lime, acid sand and at last, my limbs.
There is the touch of the fresh air and the empty sky,
the human face with coloured eyes and mournful mouth.
Human flesh pressed to human bone
tenderness to this broken form, the linger of a fingertip;
I was tossed, naked to humiliation and despair
only to be lifted like a lover. Somebody is weeping.
The bones: the relics of a life destroyed by hand and word
afterwards in the mouths of men and children.
What is a bone to you, with your trembling touch?
Will you hear the story from he who saw it all?
This skeleton has become its own punishment,
its own malformed nightmare and disappointment
to be born whole, to see myself crumble
child-body into adult, life becoming terminal.
As plants curl towards light away from darkness
I began to curve in upon myself. To hide.
I have felt pain in all its forms, the ache
in the thrum of my own heartbeat.
An invisible haunting, a ghost in my own form
is this a god-given gift? A mark of difference
these bones have known more than yours,
the creak and shudder of an inner darkness
shrinking my rib cage, crunching vertebra
as my body changed so young. I changed too.
Is there a burden so heavy as that of difference?
Knowing that there is so much to hide,
in death our flaws exaggerate themselves
our deformities deform themselves, bones in knots
tied into new stories. The spine becomes a snake,
the man becomes a demon in his death.
Pain changes everything.