Mimi Khalvati (two poems)


Twelve! Twelve! Twelve! Twelve! yells a despairing waiter.
But who is Twelve? Not the child by a river,
the Chinese child with an extra little finger
on each hand they call Shi’Er, who’s four or five,

whose name means twelve, slipping out of a jungle,
out of a book, into a crowded café.
What is Twelve? Nominal? A numeral?
In her case, heartbreakingly both I’d say.

Twelve. How quick the first consonantal cluster
to escape the teeth, how slow the dark l,
voiced v, to reverberate round the vowel,

an e that swells, that rhymes a temple bell.
Hedged by tall consonants, e in the centre
peals through a gap, an entrance for Shi’Er.


I don’t live here, according to Jolanta,
I only come here when she comes, she teases.
Between times, plants get watered, piles of paper
shrink and grow and a vase might spring sweetpeas.

But aside from a seismic shift on Wednesdays,
nothing’s ever moved. Doors are door-stopped open.
Only the rooms float in and out of doorways,
plane trees in full leaf climb in from the garden

and plans to live elsewhere prove transitory.
Wagging a finger, ‘See?’ Jolanta scolds,
lycra-clad in citrus, her Marigolds

pumping a cloth black-grimed with nicotine
and tar from storage jars, ‘You see, Mimi?’
So I do live here after all, you mean.

Mimi Khalvati has published eight collections with Carcanet Press, including Child: New & Selected Poems, a Poetry Book Society Special Commen-dation, and The Meanest Flower, shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. She has received a Cholmondeley Award, a major Arts Council Writer’s Award and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.



Mimi is reading her poems at this year’s
Torbay Poetry Festival, on Friday,October
20th. 8.00 – 9.30pm  £10.00 to include
a glass of wine.