I once knew a wife with rattling bones,
whose face was made of rice cakes
whose blood was made of consommé
whose skin was hard as eggshell.
There was no melting her.
Her child swallowed nothing
but greens and goat’s milk;
he was spindly and failed to thrive.
I once knew a wife, plump as a doughnut
with buttered hands and a floury lap
whose babies always wanted more.
Her sighs weighed heavy on the rolling pin,
her crusts were never tender,
there was fury in her kneading;
her loaves would take on air and multiply;
her children grew too fat.
I once knew a pitiless wife
who smelled of peach and salt
who warmed her skin like a caramel glaze.
She kept a secret book of recipes,
lured her husband with a calculated sauce,
then killed him slowly
with foie gras, double cream and hollandaise.
Airship Italia left Spitzbergen on 23rd of May, 1928
Hermetically-sealed matchboxes couldn’t save the holy mission,
sanctioned by Pope Pius XI to bless the very tip of the Pole.
One morning in May, the Zeppelin reached that point
where meridians touch like segments of a forbidden fruit.
The crew threw out a blessed crucifix, some coins and a flag.
It showered the snow below like a Pentecostal sacrament.
They dumped all that was sacred upon the melting desert.
On their way south the airship crashed. Mayday signals
came out of the blue, stirred only silence and vanished.
They thought to be prepared for anything but never used
their ice axes. The windproof-overalls were worn by the wind
and the life jackets saved no one’s life. The Finnish shoes
didn’t carry them to Finland. After the virtuous artefacts
fell out of the window they clearly said adieu to salvation.
“A good poem takes something you probably already know as a human being and somehow raises your capacity to feel it to a higher degree. It allows you to know your experience more intensely. When you meet your life in a great poem, it becomes expanded, extended, clarified, magnified, deepened in colour, deepened in feeling.”
When you plunge your arms into the heavens unseen,
red-robed and lean, veins straining
to reach your god with this wafer –
all the women gathered want to fall on their knees
and pleasure you.
We clamber to receive Christ’s body from your beautiful hands,
naked and trembling, fingers touching
our lips, we kneel –
all us women tilt our heads back and offer
our belief to you.
We confess our sins to your body, hidden in darkness,
attention hovering between your imagined form
and the very real smell of you –
all us women who thirst for your blood, your gaze, forgiveness,
but mostly for the sacred in you.
We ask you to marry us,
to another man, another body, another life
and you oblige our wish, bless our union –
all us women get married, have babies, baptise our children
for the love of god in you.
We invite you to dinner at our family tables,
drink in your tales of redemption and duty
as you sip our wine, nibble our food, taste our hunger –
all us women watch you eat – and later
dream of being eaten by you.
Previously published in New Contrast
and included in Hyphen (The UCT Writers Series, 2009).
In the woods they are burning her hair
three of them
they light it with a match
and she lets them
she lets them burn her hair.
Watches the ends smoulder.
Watches the ends curl her curls
curl up like leaves.
She lets them burn her hair.
There are long dark shadows
blocked with boulders.
– The area is cordoned off. –
She let them burn her hair.
– The area is cordoned off. –
When the sun splits open
the gaps between trees
and the sun slices into the scene
that she let them burn her hair.
The light opens up the morning.
A plait lain out on the end of the bed
like a rope
several metres long it hung there
tied with a yellow bow.
It belongs to no one now
lopped off at the nape of the neck.
The door is closed.
Arms raised to hug the sun
eyes like sods
hatchet arms creak and clank
sleeping under sunless light
another sun gone
reaching obedient: she dreams.
From among the ashes
from what had not burnt
gathered to a mass
of brown turf gathered
– a cloud in her arms –
to the river
to spread in the warp of water.
The light smooth and silting.
The forest behind –
too much too much
dark cannot exist?
The sun swings to the right.
She went left
to the river
old dirt track
stepping over grass
hair taken down to depth.
In the forest they look for her.
she walks along the path by the river
her hair in her hands
what had been taken
to the river
to the water
the smooth strand that curves its path
over the head of the hill.
Something has passed.
Behind in the forest
in half dark heaving afternoon
they claw at earth
scratch around for a trace
in the woods
search through evidence
make lists of explanations
make lists of reasons
for her absence.
The sun guides steps,
imprint on soil.
It wasn’t about who was listening.
If anyone was listening
– to the song not the words –
speaking would mean silence
– dead ears dead ears –
the pull and placing
in a line brimmed to full
was almost love and almost listening.
Quiet response to quiet sound.
A song heard in the forest days later
made a young boy cry.
Wrapped round trees
stayed, not moving,
a stopping place.
We could meet
in the woods by the river
stand eye to eye
in the stopping place
words curdling our bones
a single drum beat, one long groan.
While she walks
a path behind her concertinas
each stride a fragile weight
pushes up the earth,
turf over grass over turf.
it is now to be stone now
to know how to finish.
Eliza and the Bear, Eleanor’s forthcoming collection from Salt in October 2009, explores wildness and what it means to inhabit a body, what it means to be an animal with a sense of self. The poems circle the tensions between a domestic, communal experience of selfhood and the individual wild feminine of the “I” of the title poem. They explore love, longing and esire with unabashed imagination.
“I am a wind-swayed bridge, a crossroads inhabited by whirlwinds … You say my name is ambivalence? Think of me as Shiva, a many-armed and legged body with one foot on brown soil, one on white, one in straight society, one in the gay world, the man’s world, the women’s, one limb in the literary world, another in the working class, the socialist, and the occult worlds. A sort of spider woman hanging by one thin strand of web.
Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”
My Granny used to soak the spuds too
making it easy to peel them later.
Part of morning’s ritual was topping
their pot with water. Later, after
fowl were fed and tae and bread were ate,
she’d peel them slowly, humming all the while
a medley of Moore’s Almanac songs.
Steeping my potatoes now, as she did,
brings her Four Green Fields down the years to me.
Scaly and red, these Roosters, instead of
her soft Queens; mine tattle of modern machinery,
long scars that I smooth away with a stainless
peeler. I split them with a long broad knife,
rinse them down and leave them by for dinner.