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Shewings by Louisa Archer

Louisa Archer trained at the Royal College of Art in London. Her poetry has been published in Magma and she was commended in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry & Medicine in 2018. She lives in the French Alps.


they say my hands are too white

for prayer so they ask me to

mark my shape on the floor, lift

the flags and each night start to

dig down, grub up my nail beds

let the ground grow deep in me

give my heart a true sense of

death. this they say, is one way

to kill two birds and dig in

to myself, so that when I’m

placed there my face will be pure

but my palms will be parched.

I saw a plant root its feet

in a slow chink of earth, it

had lion’s teeth but it did not



Star tags appearing on a tuck of sky space; I’m balancing within it. How many times have I stood out here waiting, thinking it is not coming? Lost in the glow of the kitchen light shifting back and forth, forgotten as a wildness outside; the slow crank of earth and here I am, an extraterrestrial as the world continues to spin. A car drags itself along the dusk of road, catching an eye-spark in the soft night and I move in perpetual anticipation; a countdown forming in the clock of my heart. And it comes. It is awake; called out from the cliffside yet again; an alchemist’s calculated risk, look— it is still being held up by something; always such a shock that it has returned.

I go to the edge again and again,

Go to the river to taste but never cross

More than half way;

On the bridge with rivulets rushing past the glinting gravel and a spread of stardust bracketing [mountain and mountain]. Again I wait, not knowing the exact place, the exact moment but come it must, as it always does. That pinpoint of artificial starlight; that polarised chip of sun reflected steady as a small boat paddling from one cliff to the other, flying toaster wings set to an offbeat orbit; periscope down. This time it appears over the tallest crest, above the great white headstone standing distant and sometimes illuminated in the late evening light. It has never touched that place before and tonight it shuttles far, far above, along a scratch of space; along its sacred passageway.

And it is very easy to become attached

To the experience; to judge everything

In the future against this initial taste

It was February and I had heard the news; it came finally with all the certainty of this little space craft chugging its weight across the gap from nowhere to nowhere. This evening I was deeper into the field, trying to get lost in a familiar place; the snow almost too deep to wade through. Totally alone, a smaller pinpoint against this gushing challenge of stars. I feel so small. Tonight it seems to be crossing with such effort; hanging unwieldy in the air for eternity, as if it is having trouble climbing down the ramp to the other shore, as if somehow it does not want to pass over this little slit of mountain and disappear. It hangs like a faded lantern, lighting the path to the other side; then quietly snuffs itself out.

I decide to rise above it, become the sky

Solid like a mountain; my heart

Expanding like it touches an ocean

One evening I found myself leaning towards him with my body pivoting in starlight. We were moving mechanically in time to the thrum, spinning outward; up and over. We were tuned in as one, as the slow wings gyred in time to subtle planetary flux. Some kind of exchange happened within us (but not quite revealed). Three minutes of celestial dance concentrated on the night's bright highway. We forget about our bodies, we could be star stuff thrown out into the furthest corner of the universe, to be returned by a faithful satellite; swimming up there amongst trainers, bicycles and pylons, broken microwave ovens; all with nowhere to go. It feels good to be close to him. And here it comes; just another fly-by winging on its way; nothing we can do to stop it; a trajectory already fully-formed; at the midpoint between here and there, shaping the valley more than ancient glaciers could ever have done; carving the action again and again with our minds, never separate. We are radiographs of this place; corporeal radars recording every contour of waking stone, marching tecton.

When I do this, I must

Make myself a bonfire and burn up

Completely, leaving no trace

I would write about last night but before that, I will write about the sky this evening, about how amazing it was; about how finally, I decided that this beat in my ears had to stop once and for all and how an act of letting go could become an appreciation in sunsets. First upon the Cirque, the deepest red I told myself I had ever seen coming from those stones; fired up with some otherworldly flame. Then turning to the West to be met with a spectacular show of lights; dust pyrotechnics; I think of angels and the clouds are wings ascending like everything is going to be okay. The moon is quarter full against a deep blue openness and I push it around with my thumb. Concrete on the hillside, that steady craft shoots out before no customary countdown, the chip of artificial moonrock punting its bow to the far summer country as it always does. I could do nothing but let it pass, smiling; I had no clue, it did not matter;


He drew the way the slant fell across the lawn day after day, standing

sketched how that dark animal crept, how it slunk

from fence to fence a notebook full of delicate things

his own strange cipher on page after page, marked

how that monster loomed across foolscap hovered at noon

impeded the carefully pegged out square with exquisite effort

to best option the pool with quiet peregrinations, he was thinking

of a constantly imagined place where eventually large fish would swim

and dug it by hand by pen by mind that was his way; slow tools

to do anything of worth— unshowy shadow work bent

with a constant overlay of doubt and debt

whereas I stretched out under that same square trying to be as small

to lay with bare childish legs letting fingers crawl along them

for as long as there was darkness; this other shape overhead

the weight of the world had to fall. And after he was felled I cried

when nobody else in the house thought how they had unwittingly

let in more light so the pond would not get clogged with leaves

I never mentioned how often he had curled his arms around me

how he understood tight spaces, even though his luxury

had been the sky and it reached out endlessly; guardian of five gardens

benevolent behemoth taken down brick by brick

whilst the space was deregulated and devoured of depth

as more acceptable spaces were coaxed into the open

the neat new turf was acceptable and admired

and the last of the leaves were swept as bright shiny fish

began to breed in the shallow warmth of the water, filtered and flattered

with full light— there was no longer anything but strange thoughts

confined to bedrooms all inward and unspoken

hanging upon a different kind of mood.


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