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Astrid Alben
Astrid Alben

Astrid Alben’s poetry collection Ai! Ai! Pianissimo is published by Arc Publications. Alben has been described as, “a new and original voice in English poetry, serious and uncompromising.” Her poetry, essays, translations and reviews are widely published, including in the TLS and Poetry Review, The Wolf, Stand and Poem. Her poems have been translated into Romanian and Chinese. She is currently working on her second collection. As co-founder of the arts and sciences initiative Pars, Alben is the editor of two anthologies, Findings on Ice and Findings on Elasticity, and curates site-specific events that are a mixture of theatre, scientific experiment and performance. Alben is Wellcome Trust Fellow and a RSA Fellow.

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Astrid Alben Poetry

The Light Switch


On the west coast of Canada

a human hand has washed ashore.

It’s the sixth case in eleven months


and the second in under forty-eight hours.

The sixth hand is a right hand just like

the first four hands. The fifth hand, found


on a Monday, was the first left hand. The third

hand was found near the second. It’s as yet unclear

if the fifth hand pairs with any of the right hands.


It remains a mystery who the six human

hands belong to.

Not to the same person – that’s for sure.


What to do? Little else to do.

Read the news, masturbate,

watch a documentary on TV.


No, not on the world food crisis,

(that’s old hat old boots no job)

the most luxurious hotel in the world.


No, some asylum seeker

after some twenty-three years

returns to Romania where


the people speak a language

in which

practically everything rhymes.


After the commercial break, his

(the Romanian’s) hand presses against

the old front door and then (and this amazes me):


his hand infallibly slides round the doorframe

and blindly insinuates

its way clear of the vigilant walls


with the self-assurance of a back pocket

and the brevity of life stuffed deep inside.



someone who has been far away from home

for a long time can still find the light switch.

Instantly. Like someone.


Scene III


He is on his way to her house

a ticking bomb strapped to his back

and just in case a sketchbook and some gin.


And when he’s gone finally finally


she unpeels her fists

smooth as milk

light floods the room.


(the curtains are indigo blue and let the sky through)


When she fell asleep it was noon.

While the room

the room carries on.


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