Phoebe Power is the author of Harp Duet (2016) and Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet, 2018), which was awarded the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. A new illustrated pamphlet, co-authored with Katrina Porteous, is forthcoming from Guillemot Press in April 2021. Phoebe lives in York.
She used to faint, her hair
flapping beside her, eyes
spinning back through her head.
She grew an eating disorder like
a germ in a test tube, or a baby.
Never said what was in her
soul, but left her pink lips
prissed forward at us, to guard her.
Then she got thinner, till she was a slick
question mark in a long dress.
At every stage, the pattern in her face
I saw her on the arm
of a train operator. He was all
apologies and watches. Eventually
she drew up a chair at the office herself
and went to work. She never missed a day.
Then a shadow
drew down behind her eye.
She woke one Monday, and could not see
through both her eyes.
a shadow has drawn down
behind this eye.
I saw her the next week at a party.
She didn’t mention it.
Her eyes were just as big,
and bare, and blue as I remembered.
/ Epiphany Night
bells outside my wohnung
men in tall white hats
make a ring
hats with paper fringes
men in long white robes
then the kings
come by boat
cross the See
from dark mountains.
comes the boat
crossing dark water.
step down drei könige
in fancy robe and blackface paint
then they come with lanterns
pointing orange yellow white
pointing lantern hats then start to
multiply in all directions, starshapes,
lanterns carried everywhere
bobbing like a lake
then all the handbells stop
and ring as one
behind the See
washes at our backs
/ Ice Rink
slippery translucent globe
lit pink, or blue, or light green.
cutting through the top
like milk or foil or egg or skin
and sliding on parallel lines, then
crisp surface, ridges raised.
plastic-covered blades. beat:
synthetic girl’s voice
pops around this indoor space.
friends hold hands; littlies
shuffle in their spacesuits
hanging on to penguins;
parents loosely dance behind.
this jolly light world
of flying and seeing;
the jolly bright world
/ from A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria
Stop 1: Eck 1
two perspex jars of candles:
egg pool of wax, yellow flame
burns through lent, anticipating easter.
windowbox of deep pink
primrose, and spiking bulbs
white, moving up to green.
behind, the painting:
mary gets a crown, ascension.
seven stars of straw
tucked in the top iron frame.
first I’ll draw,
if you wanted you could stay
till the flame burned down.
I have to kneel
inside to take a good picture
/ from A Tour of Shrines of Upper Austria
Stop 1: Eck 9
this one’s for mothers,
all dead and dying mothers.
mary’s in a frame there
her dress pulled back to show
her grey and red heart
pierced with a knife and lilies.
jesus too with his bared heart.
and a monk holding a baby
on his arm like a father.
in a frame’s a worried mother
kissing the hand of a child in bed.
and a sewn tea-cloth, black thread
on grey-white linen:
Wenn du noch eine Mutter hast,
Danke Gott und sei zufrieden,
Nicht jeden auf der Erderund
Ist dieses höhe Glück beschieden.
at Elli’s schmankerlstube it’s all
drinking and bosners.
in neukirchen it’s ten a.m. and children are dancing in a pen. They’re dalmatians, indianers, cowboys with foamstick horses and goggle eyes. Two headteachers smile and joggle in a pair, her cruella fishnet makeup and his penguin suit, peaked beak. High loud music wrenches in the outdoor light, rips fabric. Dance the children on.
A multicoloured snake or train of people tooting its bells and flute, curving down the road beneath the green banks and a big sky, the mountains.
/ Isis and Marija
Isis doesn’t like that her name sounds like
the terrorist group Isis
from Colombia speaks Espagñol
will not 15 cause she will Peter Pan
the only girl in soft grey sweatpants
in the art class brushes
a waveshape, blue-violet-green
while the other kids draw in pencil first
a fish, a plant, a boat
Marija loves Isis; Marija needs friends, she dominates a friendship. Let’s go shopping! Isis is so funny girl. Both don’t speak so good german but are good in english, and understand all
Marija: at this school I don’t learn anything! They just give us work and we don’t must do it. In my last school the teacher stand at the front we take notes we learn something. My mother come first from Croatia for one year. Then we all come. I live in a hotel, five minutes. I don’t like live in the hotel because I don’t can see my friends in my house. Isis has next week a party, pyjama party. We play games, talk, maybe go shopping, I don’t know. It’s really good.
my grandmother’s name was Chris.
ach ja – Christl.
a chrism, christ with a lemon tongue.
turquoise water inside a glass
a crystal you take in your pocket or carry
touching your neck
a pair of blue and glass eyes
from a black and white portrait
a ring of yellow hair
in your army green cap
a baby lying over a stream
or the picture of a baby
/ Es war einmal
A farmer was walking by a stream when he saw a basket had been left there. There was a baby, miraculously, asleep inside. Glücklich für das Kind, the soft, fine day; the slow wind didn’t wake her.
They called her Christl, because she came like Christ in a mean way, out of doors, and was conceived like him, mysteriously.
The farmer had neighbours who, it was well-known, could not have children, and this was a great burden. The farmer’s wife felt that God had laid a gift in her hands, and she was grateful for what she alone had the power to give away.
She was adopted by these neighbours. Then when she was eight, Christl’s first sister was born. Heidi, with hair all over her little skull. Then came Irmgard, Günther, the twins Roswitha and Anne-Marie, and Harry.
At 21 she worked in a canteen in green army uniform, serving meals to British soldiers after the war. First Frank hooked her waist and touched the bright yellow curl that emerged from her cap to rest on her cheek. One night, he stuck his dick in her. The other man came, and he wanted to take her to England and marry her, and Christl had nowhere else to bring the child, and she would not leave it by the river, so she crossed the sea.
/ now I’m a bit mad
now I’m a bit mad at me mam, never adopted me properly, why not?
ah that’s what they said, she’ll probably get some more children that’s why she never had me adopted that’s what they said
then afterwards after five years would you believe and she starts having kids then she had six! She was lucky she had me, helping her I mean
then she had Heidi, then nothing for five years, none for five years after that,
then she has Günther,
then she has Irmgard,
then she has twins!
then Harry was the youngest
I would have liked to have Werner adopted. They want to sort it out get your papers and everything
because when Hitler came to power and Austria joined up to Germany you had to have papers all of a sudden about this
aryan thing and that
Stop 1: Erlendorf 54
The Erlendorf house was grey; no-one came to the door. A dark-green, electric-locked gate; thick tape on the mouth of the newspaper tube on the mailbox. Is that a surveillance camera? Small tubular box-eye at us, with its slow, red-dot pulse.
We cycled asphalt Radwegs by the Autobahn and under heavy bridges, by mineral-green streams and recycling plants. Then down gravel, scuffed paths that cut through trees and dark-green mountains, massive on either side. A clear, turquoise lake; graffiti; warm grassy air; spots of rain.
Stop 2: Ludwig-Walter Straße 20
Looking from the side the house was on, under the pink faded church, a car-show called werner. Next to that, a 24-hour casino and a netcafe; on a bus-stop, a women’s underwear advert. Further along, by the crossing, SCHNITZELWELT.
At the point of the address itself, a dozen new apartment buildings in matte grey, nos 15-25 interchangeable, the handle at 20 a big plastic mitt-shape.
Werner, my uncle told the address where my grandmother lived to us over the phone; he added it was opposite a church “with two onion domes”.
Ernst was the son of Ernst Konditorei and he had to take up the family business, though he did not like making cakes. He did not want to be inside a small kitchen rolling dough and piping rosettes when he could be in the fresh forest air. He had wanted to be a forester.
When he retired, his daughters were married and the shop closed. To make up for lost time, he woke at 3am each day and cycled to the hills, where he painted pictures. He had a pole fixed to the back of his bicycle where he taped the wet pictures to dry while he rode home. In winter the water on the pictures froze on the way down, and there were ice-flowers – Eisblumen – in them.
/ the weather’s changing
It used to be ever so hot in Austria,
not so hot now, the weather’s changing, it’s like in England.
When I came to England first the weather was really
warm and I thought it’s warm in England nice here not so cold
because it’s frosty in Austria
you get all flowers you can see out the window
you couldn’t even see through because of all those ice flowers
get up in the morning freezing
get dressed straightaway make a fire
in the kitchen, we used to stay in the kitchen nice and warm there
/ In and Out of Europe
In 2016, polling day,
I’m swimming in the Traunsee,
In 1946, my grandmother came
to Britain, and spoke kein deutsch
to her children.
As a child she swam
in the Faakersee, Wörthersee,
I swam as a child
in the Eamont, Ullswater;
There’s a Schloss in the town
I’m living in, named for
‘Cumberland, a lake-rich
county of England’,
where I vote by proxy.
/ I’m not coming to a country
why did they let us come here then, to torture us!
write your travellers’ cheques on this piece of paper
must have been a reason everyone got married after the war, they supposed to be your enemy
and put that somewhere separate to your travellers’ cheques
I didn’t know they were short of housing and they bombed it in
so if someone nicks your travellers’ cheques you’ve got this other bit of paper
I’m not coming to a country they bombed all in, I never would have come
get them from Thomas Cook
can’t even get your own place, everybody had to live with somebody
on the transalpino it’s quite nice, you go all through Europe
I didn’t come here to be rich or anything, but I expected a home
and you haven’t seen Europe, so it’s quite enjoyable
/ Austrian pastorals
i the lake that’s black in January.
ii an a.m. running stream,
mineral off the Loser mountain.
iii stepped out the car in Ratten
to a high clear air, „Die Post“, tractor.
iv Wolfsburg, for instance, was a zone of deaf white.
v and the Villach canal, sprayed with weed.
vi I lived on a hill in Kärnten
with piebald goats and barns.
vii I’d go back to Tyrol’s
I’d go to Voralberg’s
houses made from wooden feathers.
viii I climbed forests of mountains
and came out to insects, flowers,
razed trees, cattle.
where I walked the smooth roads
daily, passing chickens and the ridge
above the cemetery.
I should’ve married in Austria
they wouldn’t be here then
If I hadn’t worked for the English
I’d be here
get a nice boy in Austria
but I’d be somewhere else
life’s made out for you
how would you be here
I don't know how it works
but be somewhere else?