by Sarah Broom

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In these 40 powerful new poems, Sarah Broom explores the effect of a life-threatening condition by way of the landscapes of the natural world, charting the hardest things in beautiful language. Broom’s forte is in encapsulating, expressing, and making sense of strong internal feeling and turmoil through metaphor, and in Gleam, her poems bring together

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In these 40 powerful new poems, Sarah Broom explores the effect of a life-threatening condition by way of the landscapes of the natural world, charting the hardest things in beautiful language. Broom’s forte is in encapsulating, expressing, and making sense of strong internal feeling and turmoil through metaphor, and in Gleam, her poems bring together heightened emotion, a robust sense of the physical body, and an external landscape in controlled, sinewy language. In the title poem, she charts a radiotherapy session in both physical and metaphoric terms: “there are avenues of light / and now there is a wide and open terrain, my brain / is a vast, hilly country.” This impressive collection examines basic human truths with clarity and force and will open out painful, rewarding vistas for its readers.

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From the Publisher

“A collection profoundly attuned to human mortality in which Sarah Broom unerringly conveys the joy of the material world. In lyric nets cast at a linguistic edge between life and death, land and sea, home and the world, she expresses the pleasure we take in things we do not own. These poems uncover in a catch of breath and heart what it means to hold on—and let go.”  —Janet Charman, poet and author, Cold Snack

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Auckland University Press
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By Sarah Broom

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2013 Sarah Broom
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-86940-768-1


    holding the line

    when I feel feverish
    I take the full moon
    and place it on my brow
    like a flannel

    it is so cool because it has just
    been swimming in the sea

    when I feel that my heart
    is clapping out of time
    I take it out and throw it
    up among the stars

    who know all there is to know
    about holding the line

    if I could land

    as lightly as those birds
    floating down to the mudflats
    their shapes dark against the sky
    and the silver floor of the sea
    open to them again

    if I could settle
    like they do, sharp feet cool
    in the wet sand, beak
    busy preening, feeding,
    exclaiming their belonging

    under cover of darkness
    the soul fingers its own restlessness

    and the night is a stray feather
    blown into moonlight, a small heart pounding,
    the sting of salt on a wounded, scaly leg,
    the cry of the first to rise
    the cry of the last to land

    and the one cry that does not ease
    but folds the darkness into itself
    and bears it till morning


    the incoming sea
    bisects the harbour
    with a line so straight,
    so geometrical

    I wish my heart
    could make
    such elegant metrics
    of its floundering
    muddy tides


    someone is stretching me like a canvas,
    like the skin of a slaughtered animal
    left out to dry in the sun, like the high scraped
    cry of a bird threaded out over the estuary,
    drawn by the dragging tide

    I am so thin the stars
    can see right through me

    and they do, they do,
    they refuse to shield me
    from their brightness,
    from the lacerating
    tenderness of their

    * * *

    after we said goodbye
    I could feel you for days,
    like a live fur coat
    put on backwards,
    my chest warm,
    my back already
    feeling the cold

    * * *

    and what about that sky I saw,
    the one so soft you could stroke it,
    a dusky orange

    like the feathery belly
    of a grey bird
    flying over
    a smouldering sun

    or like ash falling steadily
    in the light of the flames
    from the cracked, ancient drum

    as the cryptic fire burns on and on
    and the stern hills darken

    * * *

    and when I walked out last night
    it was cold, the coldest night this winter,
    and when the stars asked me to join them
    in the sting of their bareness, I let them
    take me, and they carried me between them,
    clusters of stars all along my body, and I arched
    right back and pointed my toes and fingertips
    and was as long as ever you could imagine,
    and they did not let me go


    One story and the other

    My stomach churns like stormwater
    running to the sea

    and in the wake of the storm
    I am strewn with debris.

    * * *

    When you look at me
    with that innocent face,
    as artless as the full moon,
    as simple as the round
    of cream at the top
    of those old glass bottles –

    then I forget
    your other side,
    the veiled moon,
    the averted head,
    the shuttered eyes.

    * * *

    This afternoon the harbour
    was still and sultry

    only the white butterflies
    carried on their dance,
    their frantic, balletic pairings

    everything else was overcome
    but then when I swam
    in the too warm sea
    the current was strong –
    twenty seconds on my back,
    staring at the clouds,
    and the jetty was a good
    long swim away –

    twenty minutes
    and I'd have crossed the bar.

    * * *

    I could not see the open sea
    because two headlands were in the way.
    One was near and one was far.

    * * *

    And it is true that there is always one story
    and the other:

    the moon with its two faces;

    the lash of the storm and its relenting;

    the fever grip of the days that pass
    thick and fast among stumbling feet
    and soft jammy mouths,
    and the slow inner breath,
    a room expanding and shrinking
    like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
    swinging through the dark;

    the harbour with its come-hither looks,
    its nests and whispered secrets,
    the tug and sigh and doze of tides

    and then the open sea –
    you knew I would return to it –

    the open sea
    of which, in fact, we know nothing.

    Only that it pitches, rocks and keens

    and agitates
    in our dreams.

    disorder in the night

    the wind scours the inside of my mouth dry –
    it's one of those dark, edgy winds,
    not cold, but with a lick of madness

    my shadow in the single orange streetlight
    is so long it reaches right to the beach
    my legs plummeting away from me

    the stars are muffled in clouds
    so I can't see the sea,
    but I know that the waves
    are muddy and chaotic,
    crossing themselves
    in their confusion

    up on the cliff edge it's hard not to lean out
    and test it, see how cruel or gentle
    it would become if it had me

    you know what I mean


    I am trying to breathe
    like the slow, low purr of a drowsy cat
    like the languid sway of an empty swing
    like the shiver of a thistle in the wind

    like someone about to stop breathing entirely

    I look for that place
    where breath becomes so light it vanishes,
    pulls away like a small plane turning steeply
    and heading up, straight up,
    fishbone thin in a thin blue sky

    then gone

    introduction (belated)

    if I took you to the place
    where the two rocks stand
    with the open sea raging
    around them, the thump
    and lunge and bawl of it
    going on through every
    fractured night

    and to that underwater cave
    where the black mouth sucks,
    the bull kelp rhythmically
    dragged in, spat out

    and to those plains covered
    in broken rocks, in every direction
    only grey, voiceless rocks
    under the chafing sun

    if I said to you

    this is me, variously
    raging, devouring, arid

    I would not blame you
    if you turned
    and looked at me

    and went
    your own sweet way


    it was because he loved her so much
    that the clock got smashed and the wings fell
    off the day, because he loved her so much
    that all the maps flew up into the sky
    and burned up along the edges of the sun,
    because he loved, yes, because, that the teapot
    started talking about longing and the spoons
    were screaming themselves hoarse, something
    about the way they had to wait, it was because
    that he loved her, the way the airport sang
    its greasy songs right inside his ear again
    and again, because it was he loved it was
    so much that the room started raining all over,
    warm and tropical, the kind of water you
    can breathe, because it was her so much
    it was he loved, the way the clock just kept on
    ticking through the broken night and the windows
    had to hold themselves so tight just to stay
    like they were supposed to be, upright,
    rectangular, transparent to the world because
    it was so much you see it was so much


    my star body
    rests in your arms

    between each point
    of light

    of stillness

    my skull
    is encrusted

    with the sharpest

    from belly to throat

    blows a warm
    dark wind

    and the pole star

    on the tip
    of my tongue

    the skeleton and the wave

    out there a sea so perfect –
    Great Barrier rising
    in the distance, tankers
    sleepy on the horizon

    here the surf comes
    in flawless curves,
    the sand is near white in the sun
    and the houses rise grand and empty,
    black glass sweating

    only every now and then a wave
    does more than its scripted, elegant collapse,
    and I hear a crack from deep inside it,
    blank and terrible, and for a second
    I am right there in the break of it,

    a blind sack of bones –
    porous, nude, aging, pale –

    dumped, churned, cuffed, mauled,
    drubbed, milled and rattled,

    then washed up on the sand
    still in some kind
    of miraculous coherence
    some loose assembly
    some caricature of being

    skeleton, no –
    no pity,

    get up, clanking bones –

    the sun still shines and the beach
    is outstretched and irreproachable

    get up, get up, I say!

    the skeleton dances under the stars

    when I raise my arms
    the darkness pours down
    from around the stars
    and drenches me

    when I spin
    the grey clouds
    whiskering the moon
    skitter round my head

    perhaps I have not moved
    for several hundred years

    or more –
    who knows how long
    I have been sitting here!

    my bones shine
    a little green in the moonlight

    the heaviness is remarkable

    my joints crack and clank

    these limbs are tender, awkward dancers
    they are flawed, damaged,
    worse for wear

    as I stretch and bend and bow
    their long shafts flare


    Her shoulders are deeply
    curved and sculpted, dipping
    and rising like a swan's wing,
    at once delicate and heavy.

    Her head is smooth and open, the forehead
    high and pulled back, taut and white. Her eyebrows
    are permanently raised, the eyelids flicker,
    her heavy head tilts uncertainly from side to side.

    She does not know her shape.
    Her limbs are weighty, long, and smooth.
    They are awkward to move, as if moving is new.
    She is vulnerable in her strangeness to the world,
    in the unwieldy grace of her body.

    Her head is open to the air, its cavities are unprotected,
    the light pours in, the cold air surprises her.

    She does not know
    how she came here –

    to this silent place

    this silent place
    by the water.


    when I look around me
    the world is very bright

    it is so light and shiny
    that my long bones shiver

    I am not quite sure
    that I have what it takes
    to stay alive in this world

    I need to stay very still
    and let the air move past
    and through me

    I am tired and tender

    when my limbs meet each other
    crossing on my lap
    I want to cry
    with the pleasure
    of resting them

    when tears come
    my bones turn to water

    and I sleep


    the drag of the sea here
    is way beyond me

    when I cut the anchor rope
    it vanishes faster than a breath

    if I had been tangled in that
    I wouldn't have had a chance

    imagine it, the cold ride down,
    the inexorable will of it

    the six-year-old left shaking
    on the aluminium seat

    * * *

    so too when the belly churns
    like the sea against
    those rocks

    somewhere down there
    something is pulling

    * * *

    and I am

    dark and cold,
    but green
    like a chasm
    of pines

    but sure
    of always
    getting my fill

    to the earth's

    in love
    with the giddy

    Meditation on dying

    I was once very small

    I was once very small

    I was once very small

    Of Necessity

    This many birds
    I will protect and nurture
    and the rest I will release
    to the wind.

    This much earth
    I will dig and water
    and the rest I will abandon
    to the sun.

    This much sand
    I will hold fast
    and the rest I will cede
    to the tumbling sea.


Excerpted from Gleam by Sarah Broom. Copyright © 2013 Sarah Broom. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Sarah Broom lectured in English at Oxford University, England, and Otago University, New Zealand, and is the author of the poetry collection Tigers at Awhitu and the book Contemporary British and Irish Poetry.

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