The Young Ornithologists Club, 1979
after Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010
Here it has facts about birds.
Did you know when a peregrine falcon flies, it is the fastest animal?
Here’s where I copied a barn owl. I call him Barmy Barny! He has a mask for a
This is where you write the birds you’ve seen.
I’ve got swift, rook, ring dove pigeon, wryneck, house sparrow, house martin, red-
That’s a pipit. That’s my drawing of a flock of skylarks.
That one was a dead pigeon. Haha! Poor thing. But they’re lovely things, really.
Mostly I come up here to watch them fly. After school, before night,
they’re a sight when they swoop and turn, or late day sit and preen away
like their life depended on it. When I’m up here I’m myself,
I can hold an idea in my mind. Music as well, sometimes. Your mind rides a
with them. Look at that one, coming this way –
O’Hara cento, after Alexander McQueen
When we love at night and I don’t know
The people who will feed me & the moon
Turns blue. Maybe extra licentiousness, or
Affectionate games, maybe body’s true
Beauty & its soothing filth. When the world
Strips down, love is first a lesson
& then like a mattress’s teeth, steps into the mirror.
When I stare & brood as I do often
On manliness of all brutal acts, people
Fetch each other in and out of shadows. Our
Wrestle with hair, what dress to wear. Needles
Of down, parachutes of arrested color
Tied with fangs. I may be tough & selfish but what
Do you expect? I think with my bare hands.
From the Shoulder
After a jacket from the Alexander McQueen collection It’s a jungle out there! autumn/winter 1997-98.
Impala antlers ratchet
Small details of air
2 glazed coils strike the sky
My crescent scars ripple
Improbably soft pony pelt
From the shoulder
My pronk, my strot, my
Sewing needle walk
My gaze a slow burn,
Shawl lapel, single breasted
I won’t be caught
Whither of quiver
Fits my waist
Extends like a hand
Down to the hinge
The lift that says
Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, 1991
after Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010
She stares at me like I’m trying to sell her something. I haven’t got much time, she says, and lifts a dress from the pile I threw on her couch. Gigli’s pattern? she asks, turning it over, and then, You were in Milan? Your pattern? I nod each time and she lifts them all. God, I know I’m fatter than anyone here. I could do this job. Outside, little groups of students clutch their cigarettes. Inside, scent of so much fabric, sewing machine grease, air clean as a lemon. Her desk piled with books bright as exotic birds.
She’s got a hum. She draws her breath in, looks at me. Can you draw, she says. I have my O-levels in art, I say. They made me draw. . .fruit. She smiles at that. That night, I dream about him who tried to hollow me out from 6 years to 11. I wake up in sweat like I’m back at my first job, washing up in the bar where a man would get glassed for looking wrong. Five days ago I was cutting Gigli’s patterns and arguing in a language I don’t speak on his factory floor. How easy it is now, ripping out and starting again.
I come back 3 days later with my sketches, but can’t look away from those wankers and their shiny portfolios. I very much doubt they know proportion, dimension. What are they, 2 years younger, she says. You couldn’t be their teacher. My face gets hot as a bruise. We have a Master’s Course, though scholarships have been taken, she says, But I would like to make a place for you here. She uses the word difficult in a sentence, which makes us both laugh. A small worry of money is about to spill in my brain, but I hold it away. The room of her voice might be a pattern, too.
With a line by Linton Kwesi Johnson
remind me when you can’t take any more
war disaster work pain fashion
and still your thought should
love is the lesson to be learnt
both answer and question you are more
inside you find at last your own creations
Valerie Wallace was selected by Margaret Atwood for the Atty Award and has received an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference Award in Poetry. Her poems appear most recently in POOL, Ilanot Review, The Boiler Journal, and Tupelo Quarterly Review, among other journals. Her chapbook, “The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping” (Dancing Girl Press) was published in 2010 and her first book, HOUSE OF MCQUEEN, was selected by Vievee Francis for the 2016 Four Way Books Intro Prize in Poetry, and will be published in March 2018. She lives and works in Chicago.