The Shift of Mrs Atlas


Valerie Sinason, 1986



Mrs Atlas on her shift in the desert

(husband in hospital with a broken back)

Holds out her shopping bag and sighs


Such a shopping bag, frayed and distended

crammed and torn

Such a black hole of a shopping-bag

to hold the universe in

to stop the continents colliding

to stop the planets falling out


To stop the fallout


She is scared the seas could forget their vast cool nests

and fly to dry land

She is scared the stars could drop

like drawing pins from a pinboard sky

and the sand, the grains of sand

would get in everywhere, like they do in sandwiches in picnics


She has been told many times by pilgrims, heroes and sight-see-ers

that she can put down her bag

that there is a design plan.


Trains and tides run on time

Sun and moon turn on and off like taps

An envelope of flesh stops inner seas from spreading.


The Management have declared the post obsolete

They offer golden handshakes

But she has not got a hand to spare


Her husband encourages her with postcards from his hospital

He warns of lost space shuttles, falling limbs of planes

He can not join her for a long time

The doctors say his back can bear no weight.


Mrs Atlas does not mind.

She knows that the world turning without her out of control

would leave her leave her


Hurtling with the loose ends

the spiky green tears of rain forests

the stinging grains of sand

the visiting shadows in the hospital


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