Poems: Jenna Clake

Illo for Jenna Clake's poems.

Do we have to have health and safety inspections?

Max has decided that he can only work in the attic. He has moved his computer
up there. ‘Be careful!’ I say as he climbs the ladders; Max only wears slipper socks
now. I try to take him biscuits every few hours. I leave them on the floor at the bottom
of the hatch. I listen for his movements. Max finds his work frustrating. When he
is angry, he covers his eyes like we’re playing hide and seek. ‘Go away!’ he says,
and then he is at my feet saying, ‘I didn’t mean it.’ I always forgive him.
For inspiration, Max has unboxed all our belongings. He gets into everything like cat
fur. A few days ago, he found my teenage diaries. ‘I enjoy the parts about your
friends,’ he says. ‘Particularly when they argue.’ I don’t really know what Max does
when he’s up there; he won’t talk about it over dinner. I am left to say things like,
‘I waited for you to come down to turn the heating on,’ and ‘Are you okay?’
Max nods as he chews. He always wakes me up when he comes to bed. I try
to be more alluring to him; I make my voice high-pitched when I call him;
I read somewhere that men like women with higher voices. Max wears his headphones
a lot. They have a microphone attached to them. Sometimes I hear him talking
to someone, but I can’t make out the words. Once I heard him say ‘hat’ so I dropped
hats into our conversations but he didn’t seem to notice. Sometimes, Max won’t get
out of bed and I hold my breath like I am waiting for a ghost to pass. This happens
mostly on Monday mornings, so I know it can’t last. I invent reasons to leave
the house. Every time I leave, I feel like I should have worn a warmer coat.
I hope Max will be downstairs when I get back. Last night, when I came home,
Max was in the kitchen holding two mugs and it was as though we had found a lost
photo until he said, ‘I can’t keep on taking breaks,’ and took both with him.

Why do you have all these computers and no books?

Max has decided that he must stack all of our books on top of each other.
Each time he adds one he inhales sharply, then exhales as soon as it’s balanced.
From the top of the ladder, he says: ‘I used yours on the bottom. I hope you don’t
mind!’ I tell him that I don’t. Max has alphabetised and arranged his books by size.
When he reaches the ceiling, he starts the tower again directly above: in our bedroom.
‘What happens if it falls?’ I say. Max presses a finger to his lips: ‘It’s best if we don’t talk
about these things.’ He takes a photo each time he adds a book. He has installed a sign
above our bed that says ‘Number of Days Since the Tower Fell.’ It has been five days.
I am only allowed to enter our bedroom to sleep. Max must bring me my pyjamas
and I have to get changed at the door. Max has loaned as many books as possible from
the local library and insists that I do the same. ‘I don’t even have a library card,’ I say.
Max drives around the roundabout three times to get over this. ‘I can’t come in with you
because they’re on to me,’ he says. ‘Make good choices.’ When Max finishes one tower,
he starts another. The next one begins in the middle of the kitchen. Only Max can open
the fridge. I have sudden cravings for butter and milk. When I look at him, I feel the juice
of an apple run down my sleeve. ‘You must understand why this is important to me,’
Max says. I nod as though I am standing in front of a painting. I want to ask when things
will go back to normal, but I am scared of his answer. In my head I say, ‘Number of Days
Since I Felt Normal.’ It has been five days. Max begins his third tower in the bathroom.
I tell him that I’m leaving. He is at the top of the ladder, and doesn’t hear me.

I’ve made up a word. Please add it to the OED.

Max has decided that we need to talk about our relationship. When he sits
down, he drops a pile of paper onto the table. It thumps like an upset heart.
‘I have printed our emails,’ he says. He dips a finger in the coffee and sucks
on it. ‘I think we have been emailing each other for too long. We have nothing
to say now. Think of me as a figure disappearing into the fog. I’ll think of you
as a reflection in a steamy mirror.’ I pick an email from the pile. ‘In this one,
you said that you didn’t have time to email me anymore. I haven’t emailed you
for thirty-three days,’ I say. Max sweeps the pile of paper to the floor. The sheets float
like feathers in a pillow-fight. He returns to the attic. I haven’t told him about
the dream I have where I am lying in bed. He is standing at the top of the ladders
throwing book after book on top of me. Each book is the same book: the dictionary
he bought me for our anniversary. I tell him to stop but he keeps on throwing them
and the pile doesn’t get shorter. Then something happens – when I wake up I can
never remember what it is – and Max is lying at the bottom of the ladders and he
is covered in the first pages from the books, the ones where he wrote, ‘Love, Max’
and I am wailing. I lie on the sofa and place a hand over my eyes; I can hear
Max better this way. Max once said that a cat curls up when it is happy. Max lies
straight when he sleeps but always puts an arm around me. Upstairs, Max is playing
loud music. Max has never said that I can’t go in the attic, so I join him.
Jenna Clake is studying for her PhD at the University of Birmingham; she is researching the feminine and feminist Absurd in poetry. She is also the Poetry and Arts Editor for The Birmingham Journal of Literature and Language. Her poems have been published by Poems in Which, The Bohemyth, Bare Fiction, Ink, Sweat and Tears, and more.

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