National Poetry Competition 1986
- Wendy Cope
- John Fuller
- Ken Smith
Between the Lines
Words were dust-sheets, blinds.
People dying randomly, "for want of breath"
shadowed my bed-times.
babies happened; adults
buried questions under bushes.
Nouns would have been too robust
for body-parts; they were
curt, homeless prepositions- "inside"
"down here", "behind", "below". No word
for what went on in darkness, overheard.
Underground, straining for language
that would let me out, I pressed to the radio,
read forbidden books. And once
visited Mr Cole. His seventeen
budgerigars praised God continually.
He loved all words, he said, though he used
few to force a kiss. All that summer
I longed to ask my mother, starved myself,
prayed, imagined skirts were getting tight,
Hoped jumping down ten stairs would put it right.
My parents fought in other rooms,
their tight-lipped murmuring muffled
by flock wallpaper.
What was wrong, what they had to say
couldn't be shared with me.
He crossed the threshold in a wordless
slam of doors. "Gone to live near work"
my mother said, before she tracked down
my diary, broke the lock, made me cut out
pages that guessed what silence was about.