Five new poems from ‘Over the Rainbow’, the central section of ‘The Forgetting and Remembering of Air’, (Salt Publishing), due May 2013

by Sue Hubbard


“When the Fuehrer has won the war, he has promised me that I can go to
Hollywood and play my own part in the film of our life story.”

Not long out of the convent, balanced on Herr Hofmann's ladder
in search of files I knew, when you entered the studio you were looking
at my legs, that the hem of my newly shortened skirt wasn't straight.
With your funny moustache, English coat and big felt hat,
I saw my destiny – though you forbade me dance or smoke,
abandoned me to brood and pine, do gymnastics by the lake.
Afternoons I'd shop for Ferragamo shoes, change and re-change my dress,
read romantic novels while you built an Empire to last a thousand years.
Betrothed to the Nation you'd say I was your secretary when you dined at
The Berghof with generals and dukes, refused me marriage for fear your
children might be mad. It wasn't much of a wedding, though I'd waited
15 years. Your favourite black dress and diamond watch, I had my hair
especially curled. Alone amid the long shadows of the bunker, you gave me
my wedding gift, the thin glass vial placed like a fresh-water pearl in my palm.
I understood what was expected as the radio announced the Russians closing
in, saw what you'd done to Blondi. Man and wife for less than 40 hours.
Now I, too, will be etched on the glorious tomb of history,
this trace of bitter almonds smeared like your last kiss upon my lips.


Not even a blonde. That came later.
She was born brunette, Norma, a sad neglected child,
her mother in an institution for the crazed.
In the orphanage she told stories – how Cary Grant
was her father who'd carry her off away from
the reek of poverty that seeped beneath
the chipped green doors, the echoing linoleum
scrubbed with carbolic to a God-fearing shine,
those grey-tinged sheets stale with another's breath.
But in front of my lens her skin had that special glow.
The walk, the wiggle, the pout, you know,
were all invented. I shot her in leopard-skin,
lithe among the long grass,
and poised beneath a parasol, her white
broderie anglaise cinched tight to give an hour-glass waist,
then in front of the washroom glass with it hitched,
knowingly, around her thighs.
Even towards the end, dizzy with bourbon and Nembutal
she gave everything she had, as if the camera
was her one true love. Yet when you looked deep
into her eyes she had already become a ghost.
They had to smash in the door with a poker,
found her nude body face down, sprawled
diagonally across the bed, a bottle of pills,
and her left hand touching the ivory telephone
as if there was still one last thing she wanted to say.


June, the Chelsea streets blousy with petrol fumes
and dust, and across the cobbled mews
the private suddenly exposed like a glimpse
of dirty washing as a door bursts open
and she runs flushed, mascara-streaked,
into the evening air. He is her fifth.
Married a hundred days and nothing
but shouting. There are rumours that he's gay.
Next morning he's woken from a drunken sleep
by a trilling phone, discovers the bathroom locked,
the front door flung open. Clambering over the roof
he finds her slumped on the toilet,
dry blood caked around her mouth and nostrils.
They carry away her emaciated frame, draped
like a folded coat across the policeman's arm,
hidden by a blanket. Forty-seven and fading fast,
past the middle way. But oh, how we loved her;
forgave that broken voice, the barbiturate slur
as we watched Dorothy's ruby slippers
bear our childhood dreams to the Emerald City
just a step beyond the rain.


From Assia

She was always there between us,
the power of her words cross-stitching her name
Lilliputian across your chest,
those nimble fingers binding your bony plectrum
with strands of her Aryan hair.
I daughter of Tel Aviv, sister of Buchenwald,
a mere footnote,
lost you to your guilt and her ghost.
Though I cried out to your big hands,
the inside of your wrists, the long bones of your dear thighs
called and called through the wound of my oesophagus –
my throat raw as the larynx of a silenced lark –
you didn't hear me.
Yet when I pulled away you hunted me
down like my own private Nazi guard.
In bed you always gave off that butcher's smell;
a tang of offal, liver and lungs.
Now the night-blackened windows stare at me
ashamed as I carry our sleeping child, wrapped
in a paisley eiderdown, along the cold linoleum
to the horse-hair mattress pulled from our bed
before the oven door –
you never loved us enough for me to leave her here.
Switching off the kitchen light, I turn on the taps
and curl beside her listening to the hum
of the fridge, the Mayflower cooker putt-putting
in the dark, our heads so close
I can smell the Vosene in her new-washed hair.


After Diane Arbus

Is this it? The lights of Manhattan blinking
like a succession of random thoughts,
a string of fake pearls strung across
the dark city, leading nowhere.
Nothing is easier than self-deceit. The thing
that's important is to know that you don't know.
I flip through the index of memories
to make sense of what brought me here:
a childhood of cooks and chauffeurs
in that Central Park apartment,
the public rooms filled with reproduction
Louise Quinze – everything for show –
and me home alone like a princess in some movie set
in Transylvania, my mother depressed, my father
absent at Russek's Fur Store selling sable pelts
to wealthy Jewish women.
A photograph is a secret about a secret.
Taking pictures was like tiptoeing into the kitchen
late at night to steal Oreo cookies.
I loved those freaks: the transvestites, strippers
and Jewish giant, the wealthy women with faces
like broken glass, those aristocrats of pain.
Now loneliness and depression are my friends
as I lay out silver halide salts, acetic acids,
dishes, trays and tanks of fixer, then climb
into the bath fully clothed to watch the red curve
seep across my white wrist, camera at the ready.

These poems will also form part of an exhibition 'Over the Rainbow' with drawings by the artist Rachel Howard 3rd May-28th June at Elevenspitalfields, 11 Princelet Street, London E1 6QH