J ANE YEH
The black cat that always sits on the bin next door wasn’t sitting on the bin. • The price of porcine commodities rose slightly, while that of the vegetarian English breakfast at my local café remained the same. • No-one attempted to assassinate the French librarian at my old university, despite his insistence on labelling paperback books ‘INFÉRIEUR’. • The last of the flannelette pyjama tops I had stocked up on in America abruptly gave up the ghost.
Something was missing from my life (other than the black cat and pyjama tops). • A new recycling regimen in my borough wasn’t enough to make up for it. • Neither were reports of recent advances in tooth-whitening, fuel injection, and women’s rights in various countries. • Nor did a certain Hollywood actor’s growing resemblance to Mayor McCheese prove sufficiently distracting.
The shallowness of my existence was hardly a novel development. • I had been known to frequent discount shopping outlets voluntarily and to reject suitors based solely on hair length. • I spent hours devising ingenious interrogation tactics for Cluedo, despite having no-one to play with. • I was a card-carrying member of a secret organisation devoted to the abolition of Velcro.
It was unclear to me whether literature could offer any salvation. • Volatility in German type markets meant that italics were now verboten. • The invention of see-through paper resulted in a move towards blatant transparency in fiction. • A sort of massive rise in textual ambiguity rendered the love poem obsolete … or did it?
Eventually I grew weary of thinking on these conundrums. • The neighbour’s hideous spaniel popped out for a moment and gave me a soulful look. • The number of charitable donations to Battersea Dogs’ Home I planned to make one day subsequently decreased to zero. • Scientists declared there was a 60% chance that hell would freeze over due to climate change, while Streatham would remain unaffected. • A level 5 pollen alert led to extreme hoovering, even inside my hermetically sealed castle.
They pack up around three with their incessant chirping. Their headgear includes goggles, stripes, crests, and masks. They peck for a living for their grub, which sometimes includes grubs. They snack on gingerbread and candy corn from off witches’ houses.
On the ground they look helpless. Their hopping looks absurd. Their tiny brains contain thoughts about worms; fluff; other birds; and goats. (What kind of weird-ass animal has a beard but can be milked?) They switch into defensive mode whenever a goat or person comes round.
Their brains are so small they forget how to fly until they do it. If you make them cross, they’ll poop on you. If they see a witch they chirp, ‘Witch!’ and retreat to a safe distance. (The witches want to bake them and use their feet for coathooks.)
Their nests may be built out of yarn and dental floss. They keep spare nuts in select locales for future munches. They pick on smaller birds to practice seeing off predators (like the witches). They keep their eggs hidden in bushes, like jellybeans or spiders.
PN Review 202 If you cross them, they’ll pluck your eyes out. Their heads are the size of dolls’ heads, but their bodies don’t fit into the clothes. If they spy a goat they try to confuse it by flying backwards in slow-motion. They want to live out in the open like people, but they can’t be arsed to make weapons.
This is as much space as I can spare to look at ferrets. My friend’s ferret used to burrow into the red velvet cushions of her sofa, worm its way under the seats and into unretrievable nooks. Ferrets are mustelids, meaning their nearest relations are weasels. Take care! A pile of laundry might be hiding a napping ferret. My friend’s ferret liked to crawl up the bootcut legs of her jeans while she was wearing them. Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dusk and dawn. Some are adept at stealing small objects such as socks and unused tampons. My friend’s ferret made a clucking sound whenever it was happy, like a sweet fur-covered baby. It would do a frantic hopping routine out of sheer excitement if you threw it a handful of soft balls (this is commonly known as the ferret war dance). One day her ferret just disappeared. It must’ve tunneled through a gap in the ash skirting boards of her study and landed in unknown territory. I like to think it found its way outside and survived, but equally it might be rotting in the wall. Sometimes a ferret is just a ferret, but my friend said it was as bad as losing a child. Ever since then we haven’t seen each other much. The truth is most people can afford to lose something they love. (My friend, for instance, still had a partner, and later a baby and dog.) Ferrets have a distinctive musky scent, which some people find off-putting. The correct term for a group of them is a business of ferrets. Whenever I remember my friend’s ferret, I think of its bright beady eyes.
The Big Sleep
I eyeballed an elaborate clock. The gun hung Gaily in the pocket of my harlequin blazer, which matched My argyle socks. The sky was like a sceptical grin Or a self-reflection. I elbowed the dregs of the afternoon
And burst into the shindig. The whole gang was there: Señor Oso, Monty the Skunk, Chip Butty, and some dames Half-inching the cheesy nibbles. In the middle Was the clever dick I’d come to see, my archrival
In gumshoeing. We bickered over who had the bigger List of clients; Chip tossed me out. In the gutter I rehashed why I’d gone in the first place to That dive, the Croque Monsieur – the hollow-eyed
Mother, the missing girl, the trail of clues leading to The shadowy capo of an underground doughnut ring, The smell of leather, the severed hand, the murdering Bastard who’d kill a kid for no reason – they all knew
Where to find him. I dusted off my Damascene holster And went back in. The silence was almost existential Until Herr Oso pulled out a gun and sneered, ‘Time’s up, you twerp.’ Shots rang out. I saw red,
Like the red hair of the girl who’d died alone In a cellar, like the red-rimmed eyes of her friends At the funeral, like the blood-red stain spreading across My shirt as I lay on the cold linoleum, having failed her –
While that dirtbag was still out there somehow, Laughing. It wasn’t fair. My life was oozing From my side like melted cheese. My blood was pooling Like a pancake on the checkerboard floor. When I saw
Monty grinning down at me, it finally clicked – He was the joker behind it all. My last move Was to reach into my comedy jacket and shoot. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it sure felt good.
Four Sisters: Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward D. Boit This poem won third prize in the 2011 Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition, and appeared on the competition website (http://edwinmorganpoetrycompetition.co.uk)
Each girl has got her best dress on. At dawn, they were washed and brushed and tied Into pinnies. Then the long wait
Until afternoon, when their florid mamma Peers in for a moment; is off to the coiffeur’s. The one on the floor wants to know what her doll
Jane Yeh: Seven Poems