by Sharon Ashton

Download the collection "UnWife" as a PDF here


A Coat of Human Skins
Trojan Horse
Big Cats
Amitriptyline Dreams
Division of the Spoils


That I do not feel now as I did then
does not make the poem less true.

A Coat of Human Skins

                Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next. Seamus Heaney

The woman you love now needs a fine coat,
cleverly wrought
to cover her hollow body
shrunken by fourteen months of fasting
which I had thought a last sacrificial gift
for her dying lover,
but understand now it mouthed her screaming
‘Look at me, look at me, look at me.
He is dying, but look at me.
See how my breasts are disappearing.’
She knew you were looking
She was on the look-out
She said: ‘I can’t show my legs. I look like Bambi.’
How you laughed ‘Bambi? Bambi, Bambi…’

The woman you love now needs a fine coat,
cleverly wrought
to warm her shallow body.
Many are paying for it,
though no one, except perhaps you, wants to.
We do not know the full cost;
we do not know how long it will take;
we do not know how many skins are required,
but we know each skin must be peeled from the living.

The woman you love now needs a fine coat
cleverly wrought from human skin
to cover her cadaverous body.
Some skins are easier to cut than others:
brothers and sisters, loved though seen only once a year,
yield sheer squares of surface cells from a distance,
their cries fading through telephone lines, e-mails and texts.
But squames of wife and daughters will not come cleanly.
Blood clings.
Flayed-flesh screams fill rooms and slide down walls
to stain the coat of the woman you love now.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


In the first fury I would have set a match to her;
watched you while she screamed
like a witch at the stake,
flesh bubbling, hair sparking outwards;
a Catherine Wheel.

In the first fury I would have let our girls
fall out of the chariot,
deaf to their screams
and the crack of their heads
on the paving stones below.

In the first fury I would not have harmed you
needing you to live these deaths.
But now I want only to pull the girls in beside me
and go to another country.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


Do not be your own vulture; high on some mountain
Huddle the pitiless abstractions bald about the neck
Who will descend when you crumple in the plains a
wreck. Louis MacNeice

I have locked my torture in a file named ‘Betrayed’
e-mails I should not have seen
new love and new sex detailed with dates and times I was not here
and a story written for me by the two of you:
that I did not love you
that we could not make each other happy
that those who condemn you are only jealous
that when I find a love like yours
I will l let you go.
But this is not my story.
My story is of pain recurring,
innards torn out, torn apart;
a fresh bleed each time the file is opened.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


Again and again I lit windows
so that you could find your way home
after fighting monsters.
But something shifted;
the lights led you to a place you could not call home.
I was not enough;
the girls were not enough.
And now you say to me: sorry, but this is how it has to be.
And friends say: take a holiday, drink some wine, you might meet someone.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton

Trojan Horse

What gifts she brought us
in tissue and carrier-bags from the best London shops:
bath salts scented with Sicilian lemons,
tasteful calendars of Italy and Paris,
little ginger biscuits in a terracotta and silver cylinder.

What gifts she brought me:
a grammar school book on the Renaissance,
a green and magenta silk scarf coiled like a snake,
a shiny book on Italian villas and gardens,
scarlet tulips she painted herself on silk.

What gifts she carried in her belly
to breach our life.
And when her belly was emptied
and you thrust yourself inside
our house burned.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


You want us to be civilised, amicable,
because of the girls
and because we have been friends for over thirty years.
You tell me there are things you share with me you don’t share with her.
You tell me we could meet Monday evenings, have supper, watch rugby
(she has no interest in rugby)

I tell you it can’t be like this
but I don’t tell you about the scent she has laid down on you
like a cat urinating on its bedding,
and how it wafts through the room when you come in,
making me want to back away; cower in the corner.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton

Big Cats

Fool to have played your game, knowing full well
I had only to smile at the same time
as you to conjure some unspoken link
between us and pass the unspoken test
of spoken words: ‘You think that? I do too,
isn’t that funny? You should… and we ought…’
I knew then I’d become one of the pack,
answered and felt for, groomed and secret-less.
And I don’t know if it’s like this between
males, but suspect it’s unique to females,
requiring as it does the listening,
watching and sniffing I’ve seen at the Zoo;
staring through fences at lionesses
draped over bleached branches of long-dead trees.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


How does it change, the love you feel?
What turns a longing to sleep mouth against mouth,
breathing in and out the other’s breath,
to rolling away to the edge of the bed for fear of touching?
How do limbs so loved twist into a cage?
The voice that made you strong diminish you?
How does a familiar car glimpsed in the High Street
make you retch and find another way home?
And in your dreams, how does the one you loved become a monster?
Silent and always with his back turned to you?

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


This morning she walked past the building.
She may have been doing this for weeks, but I haven’t seen her.
I recognised the hair and hands flicked out like a doll.
I don’t know if she looked up at the window
because I was curled up on the floor; a child again
hiding from gypsies who came each year with the fair;
came down our street selling pegs and lavender;
came to the window if we didn’t answer the door.
And mum was whispering to my sister and me
‘Get down, get down, if they see us they’ll curse us.’

© 2014 Sharon Ashton

Amitriptyline Dreams

Are filled with ghosts
and knives slashing hearts
and extra-long matches
scraped down Christmas boxes
pretty with scenes of snow
each little flame cupped
and dropped onto shirts
left by you in your rush to be with her
doused now in petrol and rammed
through your new letterbox.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


When I cannot sleep
the ghost of her not-long dead love
comes beckoning,
drawing me through the front door
(un-bolted in case you come home)
and out into the sodium-yellow street.
There are many paths,
but always we turn left, then right,
re-tracing the short-cut
(as though time were short)
that you and I would take
those nights we went to watch him die
(nights you went to watch her, and she you)
And I know ghosts have no answers,
but still I ask him if he knew.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


I understand now
you were waiting
for a boat
to sail towards ours,
ripple the long-dull water
and moor beside us
so you could safely
climb down the rope
and board her.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


First you must force the ring from her second left finger
and place it on the right.
Next take a sharp blade
and cut from her all that was for you.
Do this quickly,
in a single slicing action,
then leave her
to heal as best she can.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton

Division of the Spoils

Before this fracture
this splintering of bone
this parting of flesh
all we had belonged to one person
made of you and me.
So how will it be decided
who gets what?

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


Every day now we must walk these ruins;
picking our way through fragments
(some so tiny it is hard to know where they once belonged)
our stomachs churning at things loved before, now detritus:
books, pictures, embroidered cotton bed sheets, a cat.
Stopped dead by hearts still pulsing and limbs of daughters
we breathe in and out, calm ourselves and search for a different path.
In time moss, ivy, even poppies can grow to soften jagged edges,
but how will we fit the pieces together then?
How will we remember what was here before?