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Harry Houdini (1874-1926), American stunt performer.  Suspended from the cornice of a New York skyscraper, he must somehow free himself of his chains and make his way to safety ... will he do it ? Is this one trick too many? 

circa 1920s
Escape

 

When Hunger gnaws at the brain-stem,

scavenges in the brain-ice

with a sound like fingernails

scraping a blackboard, lightning bolts

singing through your teeth,

 

when Hunger stoppers your mouth,

pulls your nerve-strings tight

until each palm is bound

to the opposite shoulder,

your arms are kissing your breast,

 

when dangled by your feet you turn

to the crowd now gathered

appalled, enthralled in the marketplace –

just visible behind spires

that lock the cathedral to the sky

 

the moon’s a curved needle

with which you pick the mechanism,

and now you’re free

to shimmy down and take your bow

but the scene has changed:

 

they’ve all gone home or there’s somewhere

else they should be, your skin

blows this way, this way

into winding-cloths around your ribs

and though shackled in a wood

 

sealed by winter’s screws, your soul

has slipped its chain to crawl

from the shadows of trees towards

a djinn who waits at her candy-cane door,

holds out a collar of bones.

 

 

© Tess Jolly

Picture 10042079, unattributed photograph, circa 1920s

 

 

Tess Jolly works as a library assistant and facilitates creative writing workshops for children. Her poems have appeared in many UK poetry magazines. She has been commended in the Four Counties Poetry Competition, the Stanza Poetry Competition, the Barnet Arts Poetry Competition and twice in the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition. Last year she was awarded joint second place in the Stanza Poetry Competition run by The Poetry Society and was the winner of the Hamish Canham Prize for her poem ‘Goldfields’. Her pamphlet Touchpapers has just been released by Eyewear Publishing.