Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel’s new collection, The Mara Crossing, was published in January.

Poem: ‘Revelation’

Ruth Padel, 5 January 2012

‘A ladder’, the master whispered, ‘of nucleic acid.’ This was the first we’d heard of it. Rain nosed the glass; wind lashed the trees outside. ‘Four hydrogen-bonded nucleotides locking on like mating damselflies, but each a different size, pulling the ladder’s sides into a twist, like serpents on the sign outside a chemist who for old time’s...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 28 April 2011

The Two-Handled Jug

A low-flying stork. Two acres of graves, guarded and layered in rose-pink. Walls, city, dust.

We have been here for ever. Anonymous pinchpenny plague tombs from medieval centuries.

Bronze epitaphs in French, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic. Fathers and children, fathers and wives.

The Jewish Cemetery, Marrakesh. A visitor, wearing the guard’s black velvet kippah,


Like Matisse, bending over ink and watercolour on a shut-in terrace

to sketch the only wineglass on his table. Its coiled, thick stem. The row

of blobs below its bowl a choker of pearls for a bony throat.

The candyfloss smudge of thinning pink within. Its need to know the worst

but hope for more. He’s writing, small and black beside the pale-rose tint

he’s given to particles of...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 12 March 2009

Giant Sable Antelope Would Like a Word with History

At night the savannah comes to claim me. Thirty females and their calves in search of a leader. Shaggy manes

down each nape. White cheeks and that dagger of kohl down the nose. Vibrissae, strands of black glass

under a pure white chin. Nefertiti eyelashes, each aching hair standing proud from each whiffy pelt. That ready-to-flee gaze


‘Annie listless.’ They take her to Ramsgate    to try what seawater can do. On the beachhe picks up shells. He is still a collector. Emma    watches a bathing-woman in baggy bluecoax Annie to the caravan-machine    drawn by two horses out to sea; and thinks throughin her head a Beethoven sonata and cadenza.

In autumn 1850...

Diary: Singing Madrigals

Ruth Padel, 29 November 2007

The highlight of the year, for a small singing group I belong to, is an evening’s work with a conductor who specialises in 16th-century music. We practise hard in advance. Our repertoire is English and Italian madrigals, and this year we had two by Monteverdi but were divided over which English one to choose. We sight-read a massive six-voice piece by Thomas Weelkes, ‘Thule, the...

Poem: ‘Slices of Toast’

Ruth Padel, 8 March 2007

for Ian Jack

Lying in bed in the dark without heating. December 3rd and feeling warm, almost too warm, I hear the window give that rattle-burp it only ever does when the wind is fierce outside.

Black raindrops flame on the glass. Light from across the back gardens, one lone yellow oblong, someone up early on a winter morning. And I think of my parents putting radiators in their home,


Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 4 January 2007

Red Syncopated Green

You’ve given away your temple, Lord, your altar-stone, dun flame of burning myrrh, oil poured in long libation, soaking into turf; smoke rising to your sky from incense-sacrifices kindled by our grandfathers. You’ve given away our wall-of-the-world liana-twined batik – the holy mountain, dipterocarp, deciduous, evergreen, where panther pugs are secrets...

How can I paint Winter Landscape with Temples and Travellers, or Five-Colour Parakeet

on Blossoming Apricot Tree? The oracle boxes are empty

and the Minister with a Brief for Charming Explanation has signed a licence to the army for the forest to be cut,

ordered satin linings to his red kimono and is drinking with the General

in what he says is the best restaurant in town, attended by two...

The Excavation

Travelling ends. Fur’s losing condition. Brittle, each ginger hair-tip will snap. Rubbed patches appear on the rump as they squeeze into underground tunnels, flatten themselves under fences in wet sieve of rain, scuff through concrete hole four inches square. Greeting the year with a clear soul, she looks for a family earth. Her mother, her grandmothers dug in cement...

Four Poems: Alligators

Ruth Padel, 21 March 2002

Versions of Alligator Creation

She made the world’s first alligator from a spine    Of sugar-cane,

Binding the spring growth’s joints and knuckles,    Then rind-peelings,

The eyes from saffron, tail from the leaves and fruit    Of betel-nut,

Clay mould from a sheet of upish,    Squelching from sheaths

Of betel-nut palm:...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 1 June 2000

The Grief Maps

You find the manuals (‘How to Mourn’) on Borders’ Self-Help shelves. ‘Imagine this to be your Trail Guide in a park. Starting from Point Death, the paths available

are Numbness, Shock, Denial. They lead to Loneliness, Confusion; visions of black lorries dashing by on the M25 each with a hole in its black side

like the last piece missing from a jigsaw:...

Poem: ‘The Phoenix’

Ruth Padel, 27 May 1999

... her once-red head locked In a tank of steam,         Her face foxing down into nothing Saying ‘All my beauty’s gone,’ Holding on

To your wrist, your bare arm, Through a shock hedge of wiring, spliced         Every which way to intestines And rationing herself to Seven Up (Plus morphine) on...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 18 September 1997


Watching him handle his life as a flame-thrower on pilgrimage for a key geological event –

say, volcanic eruption in snow, the frozen cocaine of church bells giving out under ice below Reykjavik –

or let’s say he’s something more animate, a very endangered species of tiger, the kind that makes himself go without silence,

not giving stillness, either, a chance...

Poem: ‘Sorry’

Ruth Padel, 8 May 1997

For Don and Chris who asked me to check the genitive of clitoris

not in Greek, which is easy, but Latin. I’m trying standard dictionaries

in three languages for that sleek particular satin- ness of skin,

homologue of penis, male, present in the OED

as rudimentary organ in

the female of many of the higher vertebrata, found in all and any Carnivora,

nub (you might say) of all those...

In the 1640s, every musical household in Italy had a copy of ‘Ariadne’s Lament’, high-spot of Monteverdi’s Arianna and his most famous song. The lament expressed the opera’s theme: abandonment. Monteverdi called it Arianna’s ‘most fundamental part’. There have been many Ariadnes since. Cambert, Marcello, Porpora, Handel, Strauss: only Dido can challenge the number of times Ariadne magnetises ‘abandoned’ to her name. At the moment of the lament, Ariadne’s abandonment is fourfold. Two past abandonments: she abandoned her home and herself, for and to Theseus. Two in the present: abandoned by him, she again abandons herself, this time to her feelings in song. Her self-abandoned expression of abandonment is a hieroglyph of all four abandonings.

Poem: ‘Scotch’

Ruth Padel, 14 November 1996

The fox you didn’t know you had in your front garden is craning his velour neck

from the hedge at two in the morning to see what he doesn’t often get a glimpse of,

that moonspark on a glass of Scotch

he doesn’t often smell being more at home with fish-heads and the rinds of Emmental:

trainspotting to his fox-astonishment a tumbler doing the rounds of his own beat about...

In Memoriam Gerry Macnamara


They were switching on headlights through A40 dusk, despite the blaze from Mister Lighting

and a glow-worm trek of aeroplane through the scuffed cloud: a written line, a last letter

running left to right of the flyover till it smudged out in coughs.

The little source drawing south, away from its end: that soft broken run of cotton commas.


Driving west, I took...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 26 January 1995

Mr Exocet

She dreamed he made a scape ship from a grandfather clock,

bone soap, and the certainty that human’ll breed true.

Refuse the transhuman, he’d thunder in his sleep to the digital alarm.

But that’s the old style him. He’s bought air purifiers, banned whisky from her house,

eats only yellow food. He’s carving tables of exogamy. Marry out.

Seek help from

Poem: ‘Harley Street’

Ruth Padel, 3 December 1992

She was born round the corner in an attic. Balancing chemistry textbooks on her feet, her father pushed the ivory five-foot pram down the middle.

‘He thought you were immortal’ says her mother. Later she daggered sticks along immaculate black railings.

Today it is a psalm with each brass doorbell, every blue-rinsed concierge, daily bland against the rush of last hopes....


Mary Lefkowitz, 4 November 1993

In Euripides’ drama Hippolytus (428 BC), when the women of Troezen learn that Phaedra, their queen, is ill, they wonder if she has been possessed by a god or whether her ‘soul’...

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