Karen Dennison

Poet and artist


Published in Obsessed with Pipework


It has no voice, refuses to neigh
or nicker. Horse-blood doesn’t flow
into my own, its weight lost to my hand,
cold nuzzling my palm. Grey-white
does not transmute to dapple-brown.
The unnamed horse remains unnamed.

If I were a bone biographer could I read
its pumice-like surface, determine year of death,
whether stallion or mare? Would I understand
from indents, misshapen places, forces
pressed upon it; thickened and roughened
where muscles connected?

How much history is lost to marrow, how much
scrawled inside coral-shaped tunnels?
Could they tell me how it grazed on wild thyme
on Mongolian steppes, licked salt from dried-out lakes;
if it died of starvation or old age or at the teeth
of wolves that crept down the mountains at night?

Are its skeleton keys still there on the ground
where I found them, displayed like a museum exhibit
missing this stolen piece of puzzle, this anklebone?

Published in Agenda

Waterloo Bridge

Remember the winter of ’99,
standing on Waterloo Bridge;
how a windstorm threatened
to juggle us in its shadow-puppet
theatre of air.

In the Little Ice Age, the Thames
would freeze, ice lodged
in its closely-spaced piers. Frost fairs
grew like crystals: skating rinks,
shops, dancing reels, spit-roasted ox.

Now the river’s just-ironed denim,
bleach-streaked with the lights
from Westminster Bridge
and the Wheel’s a ruby ring,
sprinkling a patch of sequin-pink.

I’d forgotten how London
is part of my skin, an invisible tattoo
of the time we spent,
the vertiginous thrill
of its backbone of bridges.

We clung to each other that day
with a rigormortis grip, spoke
of the ice floe that broke away,
devouring people and tents;
joked of being swallowed whole,

sinking down to the city’s silted bones.

From so too have the doves gone


I have stood in overgrown queues for bread.
I have waited in snow and ice and rain.
I have prayed for the dying and the dead.

I have ached for a son’s return in vain.
I have looked into the lifeless eyes
of the living, seen the strong insane.

I have heard – believed – too many lies.
A silence weaves each day and night,
ravels and knots our collective cries.

It begins with hunger, a bloodless fight,
the courage of mothers, daughters, wives,
the city domes and their dying light.
I have lost – I have lived – too many lives.

From Counting Rain

Counting Rain

She kneels at the window.
Each splash is a dull surrender,
a colourless dawning.

She seeks a pattern
in the chaos of grey,
traces with her finger a languid cross.

She starts to count but her eyes
roll down the pane, following
the jagged prayer of a single drop.

As it reaches its unanswered end,
she lifts her face to a godless sky,
and begins from one again.

Moon Landing

Your belly is rounded, palimpsest of moon.
Feet-up, you wait, eyes scanning the flickering screen.

The grainy transmissions are like the silvered crater
of my skull, the muffled chambers of my heart.

Through egg-shell skin, I see
a hazy light, turn like a heliotrope.

As he takes his momentous step, you feel
me kick. We’re almost weightless, he and I,

suspended between worlds. But I resist
the pull of earth, the first breathless glimpse,

begin one last slow-motion somersault,
not yet ready to breathe for myself.


Home from lessons, she splinters
her mouth, presses a fork against
the tight membrane of her lips.

She curls up on her bed and shrinks
inside her shell, wrapping her face
with embryonic wings.

Fracture lines spread from her mouth
to her eyes. In her sleep
brittle tears scratch her cheeks.

Morning is a film of skin. The jigsaw
of her face lies on her pillow. She stretches
the pieces, seals a smile.

Today at school she’ll rehearse her laugh.


I left the safety of your arms
for the vacuum of outer space.

I looked back to see you mouthing
like a fish. I couldn’t read your lips.

My blood did not boil but
seethed beneath the skin.

My hands swelled, filling
the space left by yours.

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears
were simmering in my eyes and your name

had boiled on my tongue.

Releasing You

I wind and wind, feel the pressure build.
The key-hole is empty, its key long lost.
Ivory paint is chipped off pale wood,
but the red rose is perfectly furled.
Opening the lid, your eyes are my eyes.

A ballerina in a skirt of dusty net
jerks to life; her clockwork pirouette
leads me to a dressing table, a sunlit bed,
stories of brooches, pearls, and rings.
I lift the velvet tray, watch the spool spin;
its spikes pluck the teeth of a silver comb
playing Für Elise in doll’s house notes.

Lowering the lid, I catch your scent,
breathe you in, and out again.


She wrapped her guilt in silk, buried it
in hard earth. Each slicing of the spade
jarred her bones. She dragged a concrete slab,
piled up bricks on top. She scattered flowers
to hide the smell; no fox would dig up
her shame. She tended the plot every day,
speaking to herself. Finally, she stopped;

brushed off wilted roses, un-piled the bricks
and removed the stone, let weeds grow
from remorse. Years later she unearths
a lacework of roots, tattered scraps of silk
and bones of forgiveness.

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