Josephine Dickinson was born in London. Following a childhood illness, she became profoundly deaf overnight at the age of six. She read Classics at Oxford then taught music whilst beginning to publish poems and develop a career as a composer under the tutelage of Michael Finnissy, Richard Barrett and others. Following a period as a community arts development worker in London she moved, in 1994, to Alston, a remote town high in the Cumbrian Pennines. There she met and married a retired farmer, who died in 2004. Her first UK book, Scarberry Hill, was published by The Rialto in 2001 and her second, The Voice, by Flambard in 2004. Silence Fell, published by Houghton Mifflin on March 12th, 2007, is her US debut, and contains new poems and a selection from her first two books, arranged in the form of a modern day shepherd’s calendar, around the twelve months of the year.

Three Poems by Josephine Dickinson


Breathing

As I walk up the rise into the silence of snow, in the sough of brittle
          snowflakes,
you are breathing shallow breaths in bed.
A paper tissue lies discarded where I dabbed a drip from your nose.

As I sit in another room you are swishing your lips.
You have become the inside of my body. I am gasping for the crackle
and whistle of your chest. My body is your world under a blanket of snow.

The wolf leaves pawprints on it, catching a niff of tussocky breasts,
dipping thighs, flat tummy, tight skin, the mutter of a bony outcrop.
Hills rise and fall with your breathing, its spate and its whisper.

The snow is lisping from the eaves as I listen for the blab of your heart.
You stir to speak. Your chest heaves. Fistfuls of ice slack off and pelt the
           stones,
sluds of snow stretch and slide under the window.

There is a quiver, a tingle, then icy water stutters after the snow in a
           stream.
The night before last, you stopped.
There was a gulp, then stillness and listening - for the lick

of the meniscus on a swollen river, for a trickle in the dried out bed
of a beck, the jostle of fingertips, snapping of feet. You nestled in a heap
under jacket, quilt, hat, light, scarf, shawl, sheet,

you were all twined and tangled up,
your suck held back by a puff, a spanking sea breeze,
then, flat out, pillows concertinaed, released a salty waft, a redolence

while you held one slippered foot under the sinews, stung and docketed
the twisted jumble, face motionless apart from spitting pith,
and I hoicked you up, straightened the pillows in your shadow

and your voice spurted out as I kibbled your lungs in my own chest’s
           thump.
A sky flipped open as you breathed again, like the tilt over Hartside Top.
No birds. No scratchings. Just rustling of clothes and clacking of teeth.


My Lover Gave Me Green Leaves

My lover gave me green leaves
with the mud of the garden on them,
radishes sharp and red,
nasturtium flames.

He gave me the tender heart
of a cabbage, its glossy coat,
a loaf of bread studded deep
with seeds.

He gave me the note
the blackbird
I’d cried at the blackness of
by the river sang.

He gave me the struck fire
of the thoughts
in his mind -
flint on flint.

He gave me the taste,
direct on his tongue,
of the syllables their embers
did not destroy.

He gave me his word,
the word of an Adam -
a promise,
should he set eyes on the sun.

He gave me a drop of the dew
to hold.
To see my face in it.
To look through.

He gave me,
in the chrisomed palm
of his empty hand -
a gasp of joy.


There Were Rainbows Every Day

There were rainbows every day
for three or four days afterward.
I sat in the large soft bed
with silence and stillness falling
around me like snow. Cross Fell
was icy white with a shock
of frozen cloud on its uppermost
tip. The carpet by the bed,
washed several times on the last
day you were home, took a week
to dry to a knubbly paperiness.
The hen house filled with wind,
the roof was ripped away.
First one side of it split
open, then the other.
The garden shed blew apart,
the timbers of the frame rattled loose.
Rain lashed the windows.
The trees strained. The back door
blew open. Greenhouse glass
smashed. You were beautiful.
Your forehead smelled of powdered
millstone grits and moss.
Your ruby lips and throat
glistened. A red dot stood
on your eyebrow. (Did I nick
you slightly when I snipped
those troublesome hairs you’d swiped
me off from trimming?) Your Top
Man shirt and navy soft wool
waistcoat. A barely visible
smudge on your chin where the last
few mouthfuls of soup spooned in
had dribbled out again.
Your grey eyes dry and sinking,
like a Grunewald’s overcome with wonder.

[first published in New Yorker]