Below my heart hang two pale women,
ghostly, gelid, sea-horse girls.
Without my telling you would never
see them, tiny tapioca clumps suspended
in the silt between my bones.
So nearly motionless, they are both breathing,
dreaming their amoebic dreams,
and I swear when I wake before dawn, try
vainly to return to mine, I hear them, faintly,
murmuring. But my ribs make a shallow hull
and one of them must go. Duck, bail out,
flushed into the sewage and the wider sea.
I can’t endure them both, adrift
among my vital parts, sizing each other up
with tadpole eyes. I must decide
and feed the lucky one. Let the other shrink,
dissolve back to this body’s salty soup.
Look closely at them: soulmates, secret
sharers, not-quite-siamese. Who stays,
who goes, which one of them is history?
She kicks up an almighty storm, makes
waves, enormous, tidal; while her sister’s
calm, pacific, dull. Our oil-on-troubled-water-
pourer, keeper of the peace. You choose –
mark one who should be squeezed out
of this narrow vessel; voided, spilled,
to lighten, buoy me, make some space.
Plain sailing then, I’ll forge ahead, forget
her spectral presence, and a lifetime’s
sly, subversive whispering. Learn
single-mindedness at last. But when it’s well
and truly done, how will I know? Will I feel
relief, release, how the balance shifts
and settles; then walk straight, unpuzzled,
sure – or limp and stumble, still
obscurely troubled, phantom-limbed?
from A Fold in the Map (Salt Publishing, 2007)
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