Elly McDonald


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In Another Place (1986)

One of us is standing, studying sea waters

I can’t

tell which one of us it is, but I know

the sea is green, and monstrous, and greedy –

it grasps slime-slicked rocks and hugs them

smothers them, swallows them whole

The person who watches (who is part

of me)

is compelled and repelled, alternately – a

subjugated rock

a seething cold sea


One of us is crouched, glaring into desert

face cloaked and eyes blinded, I can’t

say who, but I know it’s another

other of my own

an envious drifter

with needs, with held-grudges

a being of nerve ends

a scorpion camouflaged by heat-holding sand

like a remnant of cultures shattered


fragmented, unforgiving


defiantly unhealed

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For Steve (2012)

Time was, you set the rhythm.

You kept the beat.

Singing, all the time, your head

Nodding to a melody line,

Your feet forcing out that beat.

You kept

The best memories, the ones that made me

Laugh. And smile. And grow pensive.

And now

I cry for you. Cry me a river, jazzman.

Let that river run through

A cavern, where the beat boys

Burst into the night.

Take me to that river.

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Practice Talk (1986)

He is learning English.

He likes to practice.


– So tell me what your life is like


asks the passenger.

He practices talking.


– My life is very filled

he says

his life is full.


He drives this cab: all days

most hours.

He studies.

He works hard and he

is learning.



No family.

There is no

since he was 15.


His passenger asks

– Was it hard?


– getting out?

he waded down

a river he swam

at night: smell



bits of bodies

like bouillabaisse

and mines

and he

did not know how

or where

to turn or which direction

and the delta was a swamp

clogged with flesh and he trod

and wished


for moonlight and the sea and

for his uncle:

who was dead

among bodies somewhere



and now

he is here.

He is learning.

Not so hard.


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Remembering Snow (1986)

Rosa says

I remember snow

When I was a girl I lived

in Siberia

There was so much snow so


we skated on a river of ice

Mrs Cameron

born Roth

40,916: tattooed in blue

teaches art


she remembers.

Don’t ask.


Mrs Zabukovec

gypsy eyes

teaches German

born Bulgarian

she remembers

being 18

in Berlin

being 18


she remembers.


She remembers

long rows of blossoms, white-clustered blossoms

so white so

much breaks



remembering snow

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Gorgeous One (1986)

Timelessly entwined like

a celtic brooch, golden

gleaming curves and a fierce


warm against our skin we can’t

deny this

touching moving stirring breathing

passion and the pulse


are the gorgeous one

she teases, she turns

deny this


her limbs, spread

make sense of the universe

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Black Woman (1985)

A woman is following me

She’s been with me since the street

When I turn, she’s not there

A thin woman, turned sideways – a shadow

in the dark

I can hear her footsteps, scuffling, now

tripping; I can hear

her breath catch, the odd stumbling

sob. She’s crying

in the dark, but when I turn

to speak to her she drops

from sight: the empty

space where I felt her

shocks – I am sure she’d

be there if I could just


if my eyes could make out

her outline against black

if I could just define

her features in shadow; a negative

woman, as dark as I am

light, crying

dodging streetlights, avoiding white

floodlights that wash

out subtlety, uncertainties, and leave what is

strong, what is simple – blinded and ambitious

I turn back, and I see her

standing against stars – a black shape

stamped out of the night


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Someone Famous, With Girl (1985)

stops at the sound of

his name called by

a stranger – then


who she is and forgets

himself: it’s you

he smiles (he always means it)

he laughs (and feels abashed)

her eyes mirror his

she is his (they always are)

they are both young


they both can


moments of belief, of the only kind

he’ll know

all strangers

his kind. He is

kind, or he could be, this singled out


he takes her

camera and asks

Am I in there?

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Traffic Victim (1985)

I would argue

I would still be


as I stepped off the kerb, stepped into

a truck

bearing down

its tyres screech for me

its wheel-flesh burns

its brakes ache and break but always

you between me

between me

and death

your arm holds me back

holding back, straight and safe, your arm



and I would do

anything to reach you

to be

with you now

to yank you back to safety

I would kill


anyone, anything, I would roll right over

any body

in my way

if I had my way

– screeching tyres, loss

shrieks –

I would run right over

any object, run right

to you: through

you holding on, holding fast

bearing all


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Tidal (1984)

In the laundry we found a postcard

Victorian erotica

a woman with blancmange buttocks and

a tentative smile

like her

malleable curves, bovine

eyes: a Gibson

girl, in sepia tones, her body

all graceful billows, as

rich as her husband’s wheatfields

her breasts, white as orchards in bloom


featured honey-lips and now

decades later, her country child

wades through pock-coral tidal pools


he still finds relics

of a ship smashed by the bay

shards of pottery

pitted like daguerreotype

shattered, once-sharp edges smoothed

now aged, in submarine silence

he assembles the fragments for

mantelpiece display – a voyeur


he holds them with the tenderness

of her remembered



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Other People (1981)

Long and gentle (soft dusky pink)

A girl in a coffeeshop

Closes up, jagged like an oyster.

Her face blurred like a moonstone.


huddled, hunted, in massive tawny furs

(a memory, but raw as a freshly-flayed kill)

can’t feel, can’t breathe, drains away…

her ankles loll like broken necks


The girl in the coffeeshop

Keeps her chin level,

Talks tired and calmly: I’m not

Really crying, she says.

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Telling (1985)

My grandmother, in the kitchen,

is talking to herself.

‘I had a friend called Alice,’

she intones, low voiced.

‘My friend called Alice baked bread;

she baked bread, ever day,

She was ill, and never told anyone

(I never told anyone

this, but she never did.)

Then she died, and nobody worried

no one had worried, she never

told anyone – so,

nobody ever did.’

My grandmother, in the kitchen,

keeps talking, telling herself. She says

she had a friend called Alice – she

says this baking bread, her daily bread –

and I know she never did.

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REM (1983)

swimming or flying; it’s exhausting

a lurching struggle to keep on top

to maintain buoyancy, a semblance of direction

How I spend my nights, aloft, in

flapping, plunging, plummeting…

speeding into spirals,

open-mouthed crazed arcs

colliding with telephone poles, tangled

in the wires or

strangled by seaweed, out-distancing

a shark – maybe three, vicious

in pursuit: threatening limbs

that churn, that battle, downward-destined and

ploughing through rubber when there’s sharks

all around, there are sharks

there below

How I spend my nights, afloat, and awake,


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World’s End (1983)

So mistaken

she looks frightened, wan

a blank face, and dull

no understanding (like a peasant)

no response (a smacked-out hooker)


person emptied bleak

alone and

nothing in the world can make this right


iceflint fear


Life, more or less – more often

less – a desolate chill


this is nowhere

she knows

she’s nothing, lichen on a rock

but if

still saying nothing

she just sits

and smiles the next time

life will go on

still clinging

much as before