Knife Angel, by Isabel Palmer

After the Knife Angel sculpture by Alfie Bradley, currently on display at Coventry Cathedral

His face is a mask of tragedy, open-air,
Dionysos, eater of raw flesh, the wand
or weapon god, only his mother mortal,
the cult that feeds the dead with blood

or Christ, the dying and returning God
of blood and wine: a face stripped to the bone,
a crucifix of nose, eyes, chiselled cheekbones,
saints’ lips that speak only to ghosts.

Hollow, gargoyle eyes and nostrils, doves’ nests
for squabs, the same word for young birds
and their flesh, his eyebrows, knife-slashes, traced
with a priest’s thumb, how children draw birds.

His veins are needle-sharp, threaded beneath the skin,
shoulders, hatchet blades, his chest a cathedral ruin,
its ribbed canopy, Gothic tracery eviscerated, the spire lunging
upwards, Coventry’s cross of knives, St Michael on the baptistery,

the Devil at his feet, the saw-toothed walls of nave
and chancel, saints and angels nesting in their dovecote.
His wings are crow quills with bloody nibs, his hands,
nail-bitten fingerprints, offered to handcuffs, birds

already flown. His voice, if he had one, rusty birdsong,
the witches’ chant of pigeons, the siren in the too-late hours,
the dull blade swallowed waiting for news as words
shred guts, throat, tongue on their way to his lips.


Isabel Palmer is co-editor of Flarestack Poets. Her debut pamphlet Ground Signs was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and her first full collection, Atmospherics, with a Foreword by Andrew Motion, was published by Bloodaxe Books in Home Front. Both collections were written in response to her son’s experience of detecting IEDs in Afghanistan. In 2018, she was the overall winner of the National Army Poetry competition and a prize-winner in the Robert Graves Poetry Competition. She was Poet in Residence at the National Army Museum for 100 days leading up to the WW1 Centenary and runs poetry workshops for veterans.

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