NAKED ON THE STREET SIDE
How was it she had never noticed the manoeuvre by which
he switched and re-switched so it was always he, not she,
at risk of the arc of water, oil and grit played upward
from the passing tyre, to drench his trouser leg, again?
The sleight of hand as he handed her, handled her,
steered her by her elbow, like a surgeon manipulating
a remote machine, a flensing knife or similarly subtle
instrument of kind correction.
And her nylons thanked him.
Her high, beige, suede heels thanked him.
Her dry-clean-only-ness thanked him.
Now, she walks as one winged – feeling unclipped.
The hairs flinch up from her forearm, naked on the street side.
She’s inscribing texts on her arms in needled ink, serif font, starting with Kerouac, from there to Woolf, Plath. As an infant, dandled naked and trusting on my hip, her arm brushed a radiator in deep Canberra winter, raising in an instant a field of ripe blisters, poised for wet blossoming. Each nudge, burn, break, caress, embrace, slip, slap, stitch, incision, leaves its protective carapace on skin. Ink alone is chosen, not chanced, eloquent, not delinquent.
Penelope Layland is a Canberra-based poet and former journalist. Her most recent book, Things I’ve thought to tell you since I saw you last (Recent Work Press), was a winner in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards, and was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize (2019) and the ACT Book of the Year Award (2019).