Part-Arc of a Rainbow

A new poem by Ruth Padel.

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As if you saw      

     driving back from a sprint to the supermarket
     to get your nearly       but not quite       dying mum
     a pack of squeegee sponges and a new
     washing-up brush       the old one is filthy   
     she can hardly see the sink any more                    

something you’ve never come across before
     the part-arc of a rainbow   
     slicing through a chink in metal cloud

and as you go 

      that stump of rainbow fades 
      but shreds of its hidden core       appear
           in other sectors of grey air
     like swamp-light       flashing out of
     and back into       the corner of your eye

as if somewhere beyond all this heaviness

     there’s a whole skyful of neon 
     some wild fishnet pyre  
     of the spectrum       all the glittering hidden 
     wavelengths of memory       tangled as the ancient cottons
     in her long-abandoned sewing-casket     

it is a rainbow strip-tease

    you will never see the end        
    and because you’re on a curly country road    
    the angles keep shifting       you don’t know
    who or what is round the next bend      
    until you see the whole semi-circumference entire.

Ruth Padel is professor of poetry at King’s College London​. Her new collection, Emerald, will be published by Chatto & Windus in July

Ruth is a British poet and author with close connections to conservation, wildlife, Greece and music. She has published a novel, eight works of non-fiction and eight poetry collections, most recently The Mara Crossing, which mixes poems and prose to explore migration. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Council Member for the Zoological Society of London.  See her website for more.

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Migration