Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2011

When there isn't time

by Penny Lapenna

You marshall thoughts like dominos, careful
to avoid one last tap. The page erupts in its blaring white
signal of the endless now. Knowing that
you should really set out to collect them from the school gates
or there will be tears. Put down the cup, the mouse, the pen
and drag on the non-slip boots, all too mundane for poetry
but woven into your day since the redundancy tossed
you back into the maelstrom of your four-square life.
It bites, that ankle-nip you tense for but can’t avoid.
How can there not be time, as if poems grow
like nine-month conceptions, after the futon excitement,
after the furore becomes the roar of daily traffic?
I’m late. I’ve missed them. They have already set out
for the birthday party in the café on Calle Dalt, up the hill
through the square of Renaults and Berlingos.
Bald bellies over combats disturb you in the plaza
the careless presence of a child only a skin’s wall away
from harm. There is no time, this time, to tell them.
Find them among fifteen excitable heads. I am removed from the room
floating with the smoke skeins, mere inches above
each separate insistent forehead. The world turns
on a pin; a dream of longing packed into a sci-fi movie
in that square inch in my periphery, above the coffee-cup rattle
and her face where time has passed while no-one noticed.
To make a difference. To be remembered. To be eternal
in the blush of youth, an echoing chain gang of family passes
through generations in the shape of a tea-stained birthmark.
The baby hiccoughs. She leans its head on her arm
like there is all the time in the world to worry about him,
but not now, when her own pulse races, and skips.
I take their bags. Coats. There will be time to write
after they have learned trigonometry, epidermal layers,
and the intricacies of conveying their hearts desires
to me, as though I could fulfill them. If only. The cats
yawn, removing themselves from their feline Ouroboros
to make space at the PC. I must read more Vonnegut.

Added: 07.02.2011

Judges' comments on this poem


The contrast between the inner and outer worlds, and their different timescales, is brilliantly conveyed. Not a single wasted word.