Mslexia, the magazine for women who write | www.mslexia.co.uk
A Litter of Moons
(Foetal specimens, Pathology Museum)
Brown dwarfs, like Jupiter, we are stars
that didn’t make it, too slight to shine.
‘Malformed Foetuses’: our landfall
broke hearts, though we barely tasted air.
We came in peace, but could not breathe
your atmosphere. Film aliens can be cute:
we dropped into your world to gasps
and screams, at how nature riffs
on your forked symmetry, your skin
with its certainty of inside, outside. Look
at us, how richly we number the ways
cells can combine, or choose to stay apart.
Here a brain balloons, a dark cloud
of thought above the skull. Here, bowels
billow through a split spine. A face
with cartoon eyes slopes straight to cranium
above that comic stare: this has one eye,
a milky navel in mid-brow, where another
has a flaccid horn, like a tiny penis bobbing.
Many of us are twin, gazing into identical eyes
across a single body like a seesaw held
in perfect balance, incessant tête à tête.
Tails, fur, tangles of limbs which cannot live
knotted or survive undone: ranged on shelves,
we shine with borrowed light, a litter
of moons. Held suspended, helmeted
in glass, rocked by the footfalls
of those who come to learn from us,
we had a life, though it too was borrowed.
We travelled hopefully, not knowing
until touchdown left us stranded
how you’d fear us, flinch
from our delicate, audacious difference.
VALERIE LAWS writes when she needs to and thinks while she is swimming. Though the demands of family and a fear of success are distractions, a neurotic relationship with deadlines and persistently nagging characters keep her writing. Her work has appeared at The Sage, in electroluminescent material on the windows of St. Thomas Hospital in London, and as part of an Arts Council funded project where poetry was spray-painted on live sheep.
I've been a Mslexia subscriber since the very start: Nine years of sound, supportive advice and information, during which I've moved from a just-published poet to a fully professional writer and performer, poet and playwright with five books and many commissions to my name. I was surprised and thrilled to hear of my competition success; it's a boost to my self-esteem and a validation of the new direction my poetry is moving in – along with my pathology residency – so is very valuable and welcome, especially as the judge is Carol Ann Duffy, a poet I greatly admire.
It will be wonderful to see the poem in the magazine: it aims to give a voice to the subject, foetuses, and that voice will be heard by an enlightened and eminent readership.