… more than kisses, letters mingle souls
— John Donne
The paper’s blinding, like a salt flat,
and blank as a trepanned convalescent;
the pen’s a poised kris.
Do I begin with Dear?
A noncommittal Hello?
Taking a deep breath,
restraining a sneer,
I write his name in red:
five little letters.
We met a year ago
at an inner city club: cancerous smokes,
fists in the air, Apollo-perfect men.
He could talk six feet under water.
Once, with wax, I fashioned a spread
of feathers, and then guided him in flight,
but he soared too close to the razored blades of the sun;
oh he was green as a sapling.
But Christ could he scare the skies with his tigers eyes!
Eventually I tired of his magniloquence,
the tango ‘round my swelling doubts
and so, a wild sirocco,
I careened from his Black Sea.
Our relationship didn’t change subtly,
like the passing of the moon through her phases,
but theatrically, like the shifting of tectonic plates
or the plummeting of a grand red drape
– and with it the sound of a thousand sirens singing.
The echoes of brass bells and sailors’ cries are still ringing.
Ultimately I had to cull him,
a cane toad, a rabbit or a kangaroo:
he was simply too reckless with his red soldiers,
so couldn’t care less his ‘three little letters’
could possibly infect me.
And of all people, he, he, he –
the recovering junkie – was so quick
to pass judgement: my drinking ‘Aboriginal’.
The nine-inch nail in the coffin: he dismissed
my unconditional love with a Judas kiss.
I would have accepted libation or fate.
Suddenly my hand starts trembling with rage;
aware I’ll never write more than his Christian name I carve
a bloody X through the polluted page.
[Quotation: line from ‘So Young’ by Suede from Suede, Nude Records, 1993]
for Donna Tartt
The month to husband (but ‘Je ne vais jamais me marier!’ you once
exclaimed), a New York restaurant: pocket Lolita (ninety pounds is all she weighs
with a height of sixty inches), you tangoed the herringbone, outdazzling the motes
in a scarf (a dash of red, the paintings of Corot), and a tailored, magician black suit.
‘I’m so excited to meet you I can hardly speak!’ – the Mississippi twang rolled
slow and sweet. Squeezing easily beside me, you wiped your nose’s tip,
silvery-pink with outside’s falling chill, and blinked those eyes, elliptical and
feline-like, ice green as tourmaline.
I knew so very little – T.S.
Eliot on an answering machine, an infamous proclamation: ‘My life is like Candide’
– and knew I’d leave that day knowing little more.
Demure as you were, though,
about your routine tricks, you regaled me with marvellous childhood tales
whilst picking at your pear and calamari, pouring another glass of Billecart:
a great-grandfather spoon-feeding you blackstrap molasses, enormous
doses of codeine cough syrup for tonsillitis (consequently two years
were submerged in an altered state of consciousness), and supping whisky
Mesmerized, very much buzzed on your southern belle perfume, I
hallucinated the long drugged afternoons and evenings, the languorous undersea
existence, you staring at a View-Master reel of Peter Pan flying
over London, fantasizing about flying with him, and wondered: the source
of inspiration? seedlings fermented in those rich and fertile liquids? …
A decade on (the world on tenterhooks), I cradle in my palms
the Biblical books – The Little Friend: steamy gothic horror, snakes
and methamphetamine, a torn-off blackbird wing; The Secret History:
hubris, murders, modern Greek mythology – Technicolor parrots
in a sepia menagerie;
my finger’s poised to page-turn volume three.
[Quotation: line from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Olympia Press, Paris, 1955; lines from ‘Sleepytown: A Southern Gothic Childhood, with Codeine’, by Donna Tartt, Harper’s Magazine 286 (July 1992): 60-66]