ON LOOKING AT A PHOTOGRAPH OF A DEAD WOMAN
I don’t remember this: you
in the garden, squinting into
the light, the lines on your face erased,
the sun’s shadows barring
the kindling of the grass, that blouse of
broiderie anglaise, the navy skirt.
This photo makes that moment last
forever, which in itself confers
significance, though what it means is up
for interpretation and here your acolytes
must disagree: to me, you seem determined,
your mouth set, while she says your lips
are clamped in a slant of hate,
your eyes impaling your photographer.
You’ve left us little.
This flatness is part of the flotsam,
a residue which pins you down, alive,
while it reminds us just how lost
you are, or resurrects you, though
you never left and haunt us often
in a warmer form (the touch of your hands
on our faces when we sleep, your voice
so quiet we’re unsure we heard it).
We can only see it with knowledge
of what came after. I suppose the sibyl
at Cumae felt much like that when she looked
at her visitors’ faces and read
their future – the layer of after poised
upon the now, the accretion of past
lying under it like silt – and scribbled
on her leaves and threw them down.
SELF-PORTRAIT AS AN ANCHORESS
Let me observe these walls, the small ferns
pressing between their stones,
loosing their spores
into expectant air.
Let me observe this plate,
left in the window, and what is on it,
only ash and something
I have forgotten, from another lifetime.
Let me observe this water,
like a jewel, as clear
and motionless as any diamond,
and just as far as jewels from my deserving.
Let me observe this book,
which shines sometimes
in slants of light
that pierce me through like arrows.
Let me observe him, forming
in the air, his hands that lift
the wet heart from my body,
dripping and bloody, shining like his own.
Let me observe my body, as it feeds
on manna that he brings me,
mouth to mouth, the bones that press
my wrists, my belly swelling.
Let me observe the words
that issue from him
into my silence,
dripping from my tongue.
These mornings lie across the face like scarves.
These clouds move fatly and implacably
across a grey, a silence that extends
interminably, misting through the gutters.
Dreams linger in the corners,
flex their tendrils. They flick and twist.
Their tongues drip soggy odours,
those triple-headed dogs. They pant. They burrow.
The body is robed in lead.
The head beats hard. It throbs like a heart –
the tempo troubles the plaster –
the heart itself wreathed in a burgeoning
of white despair, fine curdlings of its breath.
THE LITTLE DEER
I walk on the tarmac path between two fields,
flat now, the crop trimmed down, dry and unswaying.
And, far ahead, I see two creatures standing –
thin-legged, red – and think them two large foxes.
As I approach, they run, ungainly, panicked,
and now I see that they’re two half-grown deer.
My steps are quiet, slow like poured out treacle.
The fawns vanish behind some outhouses.
And I creep through this place, watched by its guardians,
and feel my gooseflesh rise as their gaze spills
across the faded stalks and dust of stubble,
darkening my path beneath a cloudless sky.
Cool, half-lit heart of the house,
poured full of silence
which thickens like custard
between the thigh-thick walls.
And I wade through it,
bearing my pestles, my jars
of dark green glass, my copper pans,
ceramics chilly as cream.
The ceiling is hung with herbs,
dried in clusters like brushes,
the aromatic spikes of rosemary,
old lavender bleached dust-coloured,
brittle leaves of the bay tree.
Rose petals age on brown paper
along the sills. There are rows,
on the shelves, of jams, of wines,
that glow like eyes, unseeing,
all night long,
and ivory cakes of soap,
And here, in a dish,
is that jewel the magpie brought me,
which flares and pulses,
stolen through your window.
Other work by Kitty Coles