Contemporary poets: 9 Carol Ann Duffy

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Born in Glasgow in 1955, Carol Ann Duffy now lives and works in London. Her first collection, Standing Female Nude (1985), won a Scottish Arts Council Award of Merit and established her reputation for often outspoken, feminist poetry in which lyricism and lack of illusion go hand in hand. Selling Manhattan followed two years later, and her most recent book is The Other Country (Anvil Press, 1990).


But one day we woke to disgrace; our house

a coldness of rooms, each nursing

a thickening cyst of dust and gloom.

We had not been home in our hearts for months.

And how our words changed. Dead flies in a web.

How they stiffened and blackened. Cherished italics

suddenly sour on our tongues, obscenities

spraying themselves on the wall in my head.

Woke to your clothes like a corpse on the floor,

the small deaths of lightbulbs pining all day

in my ears, their echoes audible tears;

nothing we would not do to make it worse

and worse. Into the night with the wrong language,

waving and pointing, the shadows of hands

huge in the bedroom. Dreamed of a naked crawl

from a dead place over the other; both of us. Woke.

Woke to the absence of grace; the still-life

of a meal, untouched, wine-bottle, empty, ashtray,

full. In our sullen kitchen, the fridge

hardened its cool heart, selfish as art, hummed.

To a bowl of apples rotten to the core. Lame shoes

empty in the hall where our voices asked

for a message after the tone, the telephone

pressing its ear to distant, invisible lips.

And our garden bowing its head, vulnerable flowers

unseen in the dusk as we shouted in silhouette.

Woke to the screaming alarm, the banging door,

the house-plants trembling in their brittle soil. Total

disgrace. Up in the dark to stand at the window,

counting the years to arrive there, faithless,

unpenitent. Woke to the meaningless stars, you

and me both, lost. Inconsolable vowels from the next room.

(Photograph omitted)