A selection of
reached us & woke us out of sleep,
as if we were knocked by a phantom,
two incubi sitting on our backs.
We were rocked from the centre of ourselves,
a seismic rumble that turned us inside out,
grabbed our wombs & merged our bones with
the rods of the building all in a few seconds.
With weak legs I walked to the bathroom,
feeling different, maybe hardly human anymore
but bound to the ground
& somehow made of magma.
filled your bowl with grain every morning
groomed your coat into silk, then trusted
the leather of your muzzle into reigns.
Your nostrils flared with breath
as we stampede towards borrowed time
your stallion heart jolting between the smooth
arc of my legs, you were never brave or noble
but how you shone in the molasses of moonlight.
Then there came a time when you could no longer
carry me across terrains, limbs & love had lost
their strength, your mane became matted
& a gangrenous stench rose from your hooves.
The weight of you would splinter your bones
to puncture the skin, so I searched
the inaudible vestibule of sleepless nights
for a valley to abandon you in,
a place where the balsamic sunset would soothe
you into recovery so you could gallop once again
with another who would tame your strutting maturity
to suit her speed, & where I once kept you
the snail trails of light will beg the sun for their silver trims.
Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
(After John Singer Sargent, 1893)
I have often wondered what others saw in you,
visitors are always so transfixed by your gaze
& men in suits spend their lunch breaks here
staring up at you enamoured & glued
hungry at your shrine,
if only I could read their minds
where your face has been embossed for years.
Your husband worked away from home
left you lonely in your mansion fingering jewels
through marble halls brushing the jet-black
coppices of your hair in mercury-stained mirrors,
your reflection refracted; part lost in silver
part pulled by the arterial blue of endless nights.
Then one night, mid-stream into nothingness
you shed your catatonic shell to unveil music,
laughter, obsidian light & a grinning hostess
who floated from room to room gin in hand
presenting parties for a flux of men & women
who grew to adore your presence,
your natural glide.
You became quite a celebrity, people recited
stories about your soirées,
they quenched for invitations
bands begged to play;
a fulcrum of women ruffled at your side.
Then a handsome American came to paint
your portrait, so you took the time to recline,
gift-wrapped in a lavender Shantung silk ribbon.
He captured your charm,
two opposing expressions on either side
of your face, one side says
‘don’t you dare’, the other says ‘come hither’.
Part of your dress is prudishly trimmed,
part teasingly transparent,
your schematic composition
split by a turquoise clotted necklace,
a wedding present from your husband
weighing you down as you rest
an open-petalled white rose on your thighs.
‘She is a hussy’ I once heard someone remark,
is this what others see, you & I both know
that it only takes one tug to unravel you.
Your husband sold this portrait to the gallery
because you poured his money into your parties
but I sense you are happy immortalised here,
an honoured pin-up, this was all part of your plan.