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Charlotte

Selima Hill, 4 March 1982

... She comes into the garden to take the washing in. She raises her arms to her husband’s shirts like a worshipper, and then she makes a lovely pile of them. Wings, sails, copes, you are folded and ready to be ironed ... And now she stands, becalmed, with the cold washing cradled in her arms ...

The Hare

Selima Hill, 4 May 1989

... beeches into light, the silence of the woods into a bell; and in the cottage on the moonlit hill a woman shivers in her narrow bed to hear the hare; and then the hare is still; she feels its ginger paws against her head, its dusty fur, like ghostly butterflies that fall in winter from the curtain’s hand; she feels it move; she hears its wild cries ...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 14 July 2016

... My Mother’s Mattress Upstairs, in the heat, beside the handkerchiefs, my mother’s navy-blue horsehair mattress still, although it’s August, smells of damp, of horses in the hush of damp forests, of Spassky, still a child, playing chess all day long, with nobody, in silence – Spassky, whose seductive ingenuity my mother has no need to understand ...

Private View

Selima Hill, 20 August 1981

... I am the wife of the man who won first prize. I am not wearing my new shoes which, though smarter, are not as comfortable as these. I must stand well. ‘He’s a very sensitive guy. I’d really like to meet him.’ ‘Yes, he’s obviously been through a lot ...’ Because the paint is spread so thick the paintings look like toast. Shoals of visitors move in and out of the exhibits ...

Making for Open Country

Selima Hill, 19 July 1984

... I step into the autumn morning like a first Communicant and ride off down the lane, singing. Across the frosty fields someone is mending fences knock knock knock and a twig that’s caught in my bicycle spokes tinkles like a musical box. The village smells of wood-ash and warm horses. Shining crows rise into the sky like hymns ... I have to pass the church where my father was buried ...

Below Hekla

Selima Hill, 10 January 1983

... I appear like a bird from nowhere. I have a new name. I am as clean as a whistle. I beat the buttermilk in big while bowls until it is smooth. I wash the pearly plates under the tap, and fifty canvas bumpers and fifty socks. They drip in the sun below grey mountains like the moon’s. Each night I lift the children in their sleep and hold out the china pot for them: ‘Wilt thu pissa, elskan, pissa, pissa’ I whisper as I tiptoe from bed to bed ...

Mother Stone

Selima Hill, 12 November 1987

... My father was a tall man who approved of beating, but my mother, like a mother stone, preferred us to be sitting in a small room lined with damson-coloured velvet thinking quietly to ourselves, undisturbed; everything was slow and beautiful when we were being punished: all we had to do was watch the dark-red petals’ roses press against each other in a slight breeze on the window pane, and blossoms fall in silence from the cherry-tree; and now my son is lying in a long white shirt across our eiderdown, trying to stay awake, and fingering my spine’s shell pink as if I was a beach and he was blades of marram grass in drifts of sand ...

Orchids

Selima Hill, 23 April 1992

... The aeroplane must have been there for several weeks. A few birds were absent-mindedly picking through the mangled remains of small children, and a gold dog ran in and out of the empty cabin, cradling a spotted quince in its mouth. The man we were looking for was lying on a day-bed under a red tree. He seemed to be having some problem with his skin, and was wearing a pair of white silk gloves and a white blood-stained hat ...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 15 March 1984

... Outside a Tent at Babylon, 1909 ‘Are you ready?’ calls the German archaeologist, standing with his back to the sun. ‘We need to see the tent behind you.’ Gertrude Bell steps over the guy-ropes. She’s got a horrible cold – caught by lying in a draughty hall drawing the plans of Ukheidir. ‘When I ask my men,’ she explains, ‘to help me measure the castles, nothing will induce them to leave their rifles behind ...

A Voice in the Garden

Selima Hill, 2 September 1982

... Your uncle’s here!’ my mother called, ‘Are you ready?’ The taxi was waiting to take us to our weekly swimming lessons. I drove through Marylebone like a VIP, my immaculate uncle close beside me, smelling of soap and peppermint ... He crouched on the edge of the pool and shouted ‘One, two!One, two!’as I struggled with the water like a kitten ...

Three Poems

Selima Hill, 7 March 1991

... I have never been to Africa I have never been to Africa – I’ve only seen it from an aeroplane and longed to go there – it looked like a giant peach, half-asleep, gracefully draped in a dried civet-cat skin someone had sewn bells and teeth onto, and small figures made of ivory that carry miniature gongs and miniature hoes – so no, I’ve never been to Africa, and now I just find it embarrassing to remember sitting in your car reading MAIN BEAM MAIN BEAM over and over again, or not even reading it, but sitting in front of it, imagining bream, and roach, flapping lugubriously around our ears as the car fills up with water; to remember sitting in your car trying to impress you with stories of my travels that couldn’t possibly have been true, and the car piled high with boxes of shopping, of hats and coats, of slinky satin shirts; boxes of ants to feed the googling bream ...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 12 July 1990

... hard work! – so I was happy to set off without her, up the bank, and on to the brow of the hill, my lame pet crow perching on my shoulder. One day I’ll let her go. Stacey, I’ll whisper, Stacey (I’m trying to teach her her name – Stacey – after our friend here, of course) Stacey, I’ll say, off you go! and I’ll slip the loop of string off ...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 7 November 1985

... Not all the women of England At the top of the bank a black airman is doing sit-ups in the tenderest of early-morning sun. I want to squash him flat. He’s like my Uncle Pat’s gold cigarette-case that flies open when you touch it. You cruise along the fence with your elbow on the rolled-down window-edge. Everything you come near falls to bits. The cattery sells bedding plants and runner beans ...

Chicken Feathers

Selima Hill, 2 June 1983

... 1 What a picture! She has tucked her wild-looking chicken under her arm and stares out over what seems to be a mountain pass on a windy day. She is wearing a blue linen dress the colour of summer. She reminds me of Brünnhilde – alone, bronzed, unfamiliar. She doesn’t look like anybody’s mother. 2 She used to love dancing. She went to the Chelsea Ball dressed as a leopard; there she met my father, who looked so dashing in the Harlequin suit his tailor made for him from raw silk ...

On Sophie Collins

Stephanie Burt: Sophie Collins, 18 July 2019

... essays by Nuar Alsadir, Carolee Schneemann and Denise Riley, in a novel by Jean Rhys and a poem by Selima Hill. ‘I began to … believe,’ she wrote, ‘that [Hill’s poem] was speaking to me personally.’ Collins’s ‘earnest desire to consider’ these works ‘on their own terms’ sat uneasily beside her ...

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