Four Poems by Adham Smart


When the henna met the hair

I saw the clay’s red hands
rubbing into the balm of his scalp,
how herbal colour can feel, like someone
touching you, as though plants
had learnt how humans spread their love,
perhaps by growing up around us
over thousands of years,
had learnt to be like fingers
that know how to touch hair.
The chewy fibrous
the grassy strength
weave themselves into welcoming forest,
dark canopy laying out a carpet
for the red-throated dye bird,
blushing muddiness around his neck,
pellets of bloodsoil fallen onto his clothes.
And then I was swimming in a rose dream of his hair
which swept like kelp in a rolling ocean,
and me a seahorse among the fronds,
told myself the only place to go from here
was further into the warm depths
of his hair.



I have also become like a crab,
obsessed with moving sideways,
rocky in motion and rigid in shell.
The stresses of my environment
weighed down on me like tidal ebb
extruded from me segmented leg,
castle carapace and flag signal eyes.
I pebble my way through the sea clutter,
my scuttling worries some, but not me.
Squeezed generations of ancestors
grafted unwittingly to make my shape,
and now I pinch, I rob, I scuttle,
I swerve predators and lurk for morsels,
I ride out the tide and shoulder the swell.
All around me the other critters
are losing their backbones.


Black as soote

“Coffee-houses be (for the future) Put down … do not presume … to Utter or sell any Coffee, Chocolet, Sherbett or Tea, as they will answer the contrary at their utmost perils.” – Proclamation of King Charles II, 1675

They seek my downfall in their every sip.
I know what they’re drinking about;
I’ll stop their bubbling sedition,
their frothing sentiments I’ll no more brook.
Too often I’ve been up awake
anxious of mutterings in the coffee-houses.
No more trade in the wide-eyed cup:
I’ll put the nation back to that sleep
brewed in toil and ragged beeriness.
A bean to challenge me? I boil with rage.
I throw out that bile that’s black as soote
and tasting not much unlike it.
Let the ink dry on their mouthy papers,
I’ll stopper the chatter with a writ,
no more foam and fomentation.
Black as soote, bitter as bad news –
I ban it. Now go and wipe your lips.



Humbled by its sticky load,
the vine is pulled towards the ground.
Overbig fruit rankling in the sweaty light
drenches the garden in sick sugar.
Fruit unplucked will weep and warp
and sow its acid into the soil,
a sour juice for bitter earth.
Leaves lose their firmness to the air.
Unkempt summer gardens
bleed crystal dew from the wounds of harvest.
We must believe in sweetness.

About the Author

Adham Smart is a writer and translator from London. He has had writing in The Rialto, And Other Poems, The Missing Slate, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Poetry London. His writing has featured in The Cadaverine Anthology and The Salt Book of Younger Poets, and he contributed as translator to the anthology Six Georgian Poets. His first book of poetry, yes yes mouth, is published by Valley Press.

Image: surtr: Coffee Galaxy, 2013 (CC)

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