‘The Skin Diary’ by Abegail Morley


This is an impressive collection full of echoing motifs: birds flutter through the pages, references to anatomy abound, animal and human worlds collide, and poems move from air (for instance in 'Summer', 'Nesting in the wardrobe', 'Bleeding', 'The winter gatherer', and 'The Ice Hotel') to rain ('Summer’s end in Hackney', 'After you’ve died', 'Afterwards in ink', and 'Night planting'). The Skin Diary is a collection of poems, fifty-seven in all, which create a sense of emptiness and loss, starting as it continues with a sense of what is spoken at the end of the opening poem, ‘I miss you, I miss you.’ ('Before you write off your imaginary sister').

Loss, and the threat of it, permeates the collection. This loss is not focused on one person, rather it shifts and comes to settle variously on, for instance: the missing imaginary sister; an imaginary friend ('Losing Elena'); the ‘he’, and ‘you’ as an oncology patient (‘The Oncology Community'); ‘the lake of lost children’ (‘Counter turn’) and the stranger in the train whose funeral the narrator considers, ‘I can’t help wondering what name they’ll grind // on your gravestone,…’ (‘Paddock Wood to Charing Cross’).

The collection is punctuated with references to warnings of heartbreak ('The carrier bag', ‘Post-'), disappearance, drowning ('Mayday'), and death ('Pause’). These forebodings build tension and add poignancy to later poems in which disappearance or death are faced, ‘But this morning I lie awake // You’re still unvarnished, unravelled in my temporal lobe –', ('Forgetting you'); ‘We didn’t know how drunk you were / At St. Peter’s Bridge, standing on the edge’ ('Presence'); and in the extremely moving ‘text’, ‘But you weren’t back. Later. Or ever.’

The motif of eggs, and poems about fertility and fertilization, highlight another poignant loss. These poems are made beautifully memorable through references to the sea, '...You're the thinness / that laps shorelines at night when oceans / hanker after dunes, barge up beaches...'  ('Miracle').

Throughout, a sense of liminality and space is created, whether on a staircase such as in ‘Brighton flat’, ‘Last night’, or ‘Living with Bats’(‘I’m listening for your tread / on the stairs'), or in the raw exposure of the insides of the body in poems such as ‘The Archive of Lost Lives’, ‘After the funeral’, ‘The horologist and the body clock’, or in imagination akin to magical realism, 

I touch his sleeve
and it comes to life,
like it’s full of swallows,

swifts, nightjars
nesting in its folds –



I said everything I could before you stopped me,
sifted skin through hourglass after hourglass – 

'Time Keeper'

The Skin Diary as a collection provides insight. It's a journal of survival despite loss, and closes with a charm-like poem,

‘…I plant for you / agapanthus, dahlia, harebell,’. Raw reality is contained between the imaginative, magical first and last poems. Throughout thoughts are raised about the power of the imagination, and of spell-like charms to help to elevate us above loss and longing.

The Skin Diary by Abegail Morley 72pp  £9.99, Nine Arches Press  2016.