inside stairwells
                      girls flock
                                  kicking off
                      their shoes

          school uniforms morph
                      to plastic plumage
          beak-masks elastic
                                              in a heap
                                                                      (undressed triangles
                                                           of orange felt

                                  skin strafes cement
                      words pass
                                              (secret rules
                                                           piling up like
                                  their calls
          echo off the steps         they take
                      each other’s soundings
                                                           (strokes of
                                                                       kind fury)
                                  learn to gauge threat
                                                          the way they catch
                                                light slipping
                                  through dusty glass

          inside stairwells
                                                jab one another
                                                          with costume beaks
                                  flutter their feathers
                                  sharpen their feet
                                                           and their voices

                                                                       the bare weapons
                                                                                               of their bidding





Michelle Penn grew up in the US and lived in France for many years before moving to London in 2005. Her debut pamphlet, Self-portrait as a diviner, failing, won the 2018 Paper Swans Pamphlet Prize and was published in the UK in September. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic, including Runes, Spillway, Shearsman, Magma, and Aesthetica.
(Photograph by Andrew Tobin/Tobinators Ltd)