Tempest – by Melanie Branton

 

I’m doing Act 3 Scene 3 with my A2 group
when lightning strikes my yardarm.
I’m run aground, marooned
in the middle of the Mediterranean, lost

in a fantastic green world, where the problems
of the real one are dissolved
in misrule, suspended on the cusp
between tragedy and comedy, romance and farce:

Shakespeare’s incantations have conjured
another lesson, twenty years ago,
when you asked me about this scene.
I can see you now, Ariel-golden,

real as the scholastic-grade welded metal legs
of the stackable classroom furniture,
although my students are unaware of you, cocky
under your invisibility cloak, a Jacobean stage convention,

and that’s dramatic irony.
I’m diving for pearls full fathom five,
stroked and made much of,
unexpectedly presented with a lush banquet

but when I try to eat,
the spread vanishes
like a scribble of drywipe marker
beneath the board rubber’s unforgiving sweep.

Turns out I am the clown, the gull, delusional overreacher,
easily tricked by Machiavellian plots, fairground freakshows,
new-fangled stage mechanisms, urchins,
and between us now the distance from Tunis to Naples,
Bermuda to Southwark, 1611 to 2017.

 

 

Melanie Branton is a spoken word artist and poet from North Somerset. In the summer of 2017, she performed at WOMAD, Bristol Harbour Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. Her debut pamphlet, My Cloth-Eared Heart, is published by Oversteps Books.

Castles – by Melanie Branton

 

I’m at a workshop at a poetry festival and we’re supposed to be
writing down our thoughts, but the only thoughts in my mind right now
are how the knob of butter in a baked potato looks a bit like a vagina
and how I spoke too quietly when the featured poet asked my name
and now he’s signed my book, “To Melamine”,

and there’s a little boy here with a dad with a hipster beard
and a mum carrying The Guardian and wearing lots of artisan-crafted jewellery.
He’s called Alfred or Arthur or Horatio, or one of those names,
he’s not been backwards about coming forwards all session
and when we’re asked who would like to share their work,
he strides towards the microphone like it is his birthright.

And I know it’s shameful that I’m angry at his “cockiness”, I know
that rosebuds should not be kept tightly shut,
they should be allowed to bloom,
but I’m broken that he assumes by six
what my father could not believe by eighty-six:
that his voice is entitled to be heard.

My father thought that poems had to rhyme. It was the rule.
He liked the kind of poems that get sneered at at your open mics
and he would have hated this one. He was very quiet.
So, sneer if you like, but know his life was measured out in rigid metre,
a regular pattern that he could not break, like a b a b,
like bricks cemented in English bond, a pattern of cheap jeans,
of chequered shirts from Millets, of sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper,
of wheelbarrows and hods, of scaffolding poles and cycle rides home and Swarfega,
of weekly manilla pay packets with not enough in them, then allotments and the dole.

His syntax was twisted to fit the scheme someone else had chosen,
he was stuck in a place that didn’t suit him, like a forced rhyme.
In shit jobs, initiative isn’t welcome – you do what you are told –
and you, with your book clubs and your networking events and your therapists
and your artistic free expression workshops for fucking toddlers,
will never understand how scared he was, every single second
of his eighty-six years, of saying the wrong thing.

We have no castles, we have no historic names,
we have no family crests, we have no ancestral lands.
We have no mangoes, no cardamom pods, no plantains, no patois.
We have no colourful backstories
that people with hipster beards and artisan-crafted jewellery will pay ten quid
to culturally appropriate. We have only scuffed melamine tabletops,
battered bus shelters, blank, unending, broken pavements.

And people with hipster beards and artisan-crafted jewellery
will only ever pay ten quid to see us battered and blank and broken
and being very quiet.

 

 

 

Melanie Branton is a spoken word artist and poet from North Somerset. In the summer of 2017, she performed at WOMAD, Bristol Harbour Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. Her debut pamphlet, My Cloth-Eared Heart, is published by Oversteps Books.

Intermediate Polish – by Melanie Branton

 

Today I am revising the formal “you”,
in a land where strangers are always chaperoned
by the third person,
where subject and object are clearly marked and gender changes
everything.
For centuries, the passive voice of Europe,
muted by invasion, occupation.
The tyrants treated them like dogs,
whipped their children for speaking Polish in the schools,
forced them to bark in German, whine in Russian.
At night, in their kennels, tails between their legs,
they gnawed on the bones of their language:
its grammar.

Acting as a collective noun, they agreed
they’d not forget the name of any person, place or thing,
they’d predicate rebellion on syntactic lines,
make every verb a “doing” word.
Too frail to take up arms, too proud to flee,
they challenged their oppressors in the only way they could:
they stuck their tongue out at them.
That’s why their speech is olde worlde, starched, correct,
a tablecloth that grandma folded, put away and kept for best.
While other nations slouch in denim, have dropped inflections
like a hamburger wrapper in the street,
their language still conjugates and declines
with the couples ballroom dancing in the nightclubs,
moustachioed young men who bend at the waist to kiss your hand,
purple-haired ladies patronising
tobacco-coloured shops
selling nothing but lace curtains.

 

 

 

Melanie Branton lives in North Somerset and has had poems published in print and online journals including Amaryllis, Clear Poetry, Obsessed With Pipework, Prole and The Interpreter’s House. She was also the 2015 Bristol regional Hammer and Tongue slam champion. Her forthcoming first collection will be published by Oversteps Books.