BOOKS / Contemporary Poets: 22 Carole Satyamurti

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Carole Satyamurti is a poet and sociologist who teaches at the University of East London and the Tavistock Clinic. Her writing career took off in 1986, when she won the National Poetry Competition. The haunting lyrics of her two collections, Broken Moon (1987) and Changing the Subject (1990), never lose sight of domestic realities and family relations, but spin an imaginative web over interior drama and lives in crisis.


Before, this box contained my mother.

For months she'd sent me out for index cards,

scribbled with a squirrel concentration

while I'd nag at her, seeing strength

drain, ink-blue, from her finger-ends

providing for a string of hard winters

I was trying not to understand.

Only after, opening it, I saw

how she'd rendered herself down from flesh

to paper, alphabetical; there for me

in every way she could anticipate

Acupuncture: conditions suited to

Books to read by age twenty-one

Choux pastry: how to make, when to use

The cards looked after me. I'd shuffle them

to almost hear her speak. Then, the world

was box-shaped (or was I playing safe?)

for every doubt or choice, a card that fitted

Exams: the best revision strategy

Flowers: cut, how to make them last

Greece: the men, what you need to know

But then they seemed to shrink. I'd turn them over,

find them blank; the edges furred, mute,

whole areas wrong, or missing. Had she known?

The language pointed to what wasn't said.

I'd add notes of my own, strange beside

her urgent dogmatism, loosening grip

infinitives never telling love

lust single issue politics when

don't hopeless careful trust

On the beach, I built a hollow cairn,

tipped in the cards. Then I let her go.

The smoke rose thin and clear, slowly blurred.

I've kept the box for diaries, like this.

(Photograph omitted)