Poetry from Bethany Pope


Some people never leave their own backyards,

not really, not in any way that matters.

Even if they get the visa, get on the plane,

they land in Nanchang airport with a year’s worth

of purified water and dehydrated

North American-style macaroni;

fifty aluminium packets of fake cheese.

This kind of person only sees the cracks

in the cement, only notices flaws,

blind to all but the myth of their own country —

a dream of some imagined, singular greatness.

I’d offer to take them out for breakfast

porridge: ground rice, spiced beef, tender slices

of peanut and garlic, served out of

a terracotta urn the height of a child,

but they’d never agree to it and I

lack the patience. Besides, they never last,

not for long, and I’m enjoying my time.

The Undiscovered Country

There’s an unbroken blue sky underneath

the weak-plated shell of my cranium.

Lying on my stomach, beneath that sky

(those skies)

hooking my fingers into the scree

of loose, golden sandstone at the edge of a cliff,

I can peer down into the rotting green breath of the earth

which seeps up from between the fat, dry lips of the crevice.

Tree-tips, curling, fern-like and ancient,

push themselves up from their secret, fertile roots

— just within brushing-reach of my fingers.

This forest has been growing in me for a very long time.

I cannot trace the trunks to the bottom of the loam.

There are animals, possibly monsters, moving,

down there in the dark.

Millions of them, swarming.

Occasionally, I’ll glimpse a flash of bright fur, or

the spark of a scale. I can hear them,

circling the branch-strained remnants of light,


calling to me,

‘Come home! Come home! Come home!’

and I grip the parched, craving lips of the earth,

until my nails tear and bleed,

clinging to this sunlit, imaginary safety,

to keep myself from jumping.

It gets harder, every day,

to resist.

Bethany W Pope has won many literary awards and published several novels and collections of poetry. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s latest book as ‘poetry as salvation’…..’This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.’ She currently lives and works in China.

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