When it comes

[original/poem]

Artemis Callaghan

Here's something a bit different from me. Poetry is my first love, I only really flirt with prose. I hope you like it. If you do, and would like to read some more, check out my website http://cerilloyd.wordpress.com.

 

When it comes

 

I.

Woman/dragon

 

You thought about the woman you saw

on a bus, exhaustion stamping her

ration book face, & you wondered if joy

was gone for the duration, like bananas

& peace of mind. It was a black & white

city afternoon & a man wanted to approach

you but you were a half-day closing

shut-up shop, so he made up a secret

sadness for you: a fiancé lost at Tobruk,

& in his dream he was gentle & kind,

buying you drinks & holding your hand.

You were soft & sad as you drank your rum

& pep, & were glad he was there. Reality

would be unfathomable for a man like him.

The dragon unfurls across your shoulder

blade, stretching into the memory of the needle's

bite; red, blue & green mixing with blood

to stain your skin. The man with the machine

caught between propriety & a longing for

the expanse of your back, white & blank.

He wanted to tell you stories about mermaids

& anchors, hearts & chains, but he thinks

in pictures not words. Instead he gave you

a monster, guarding a treasure as jealous as any

secret, a mixed blessing you didn't thank him for.

You feel it burn, a restless reminder under

your clothes. She said she should've been a boy

but you couldn't agree. A boy would never

understand; he'd see the dragon & not the jewel.

She traced the outline with the tip of her tongue

& relished in the burning. You dragon , she said,

you fiery gemstone . The trick is to sit on the top deck

because then you can see it all: the streets & ruined

houses, the bombed out buildings, the remnants

of the fire storm that scorched & choked the city.

You are alive & more alive than you should be

because you should be dead. You walked out

of the rubble & the only mark on you was the dragon,

clawing through the layers of dust that clung to

your skin like an unwanted suitor. They said it was

a miracle but you knew it was luck, as random as heads

or tails. You didn't recognise yourself as the girl in the photo,

her eyes intense, her expression a barely modified snarl,

as if she would rather bare her teeth than lady-like smile.

You could taste iron in your mouth but your spit was red

from bricks not blood, it was air your teeth tore at, not flesh

& bone. Disappointed, you got the bus home. She said

she should've been a boy, been allowed to streak the sky with

flame & metal. You said, I don't want my spitfire to be

mechanical. I want your words to blaze & bring down

my enemies. Stay alive in your half-battle dress serge,

your shiny buttons & tie, your compulsory skirt & nylons.

I want the fox running red through the nature reclaimed ruins

that litter the city, a quick reflection in fragmented glass.

I want your feral heartbeat under the palm of my hand.

Let the boys be showy heroes, we'll be brave by staying alive

& rooting ourselves so tightly into life they'll never get us out.

We'll be bindweed & goose grass, ragwort & blood red poppies.

Overlooked weeds whose beauty is in their tenacity. Seen

from above the river is silver under the sun, threading through

the dark stained buildings. At eye level it's as thick as tea,

oily with industry, the ships & lighters that jam the docks

& the Port of London . Its stink curls up around you: rotting

vegetation & fish, the tidal slick that sucks at the gulls.

To the west, you could walk through the city, out to Windsor ,

Henley & Oxford. To the east, towards Tilbury, Canvey Island

& the mud flats of Essex . There by Southwark Bridge

was the closest you'd ever get to the sea, & you closed

your eyes to taste the trace of salt on your lips.

II.

Tea dancers

 

Seen from above, the river is silver, but you weren't

looking that way. You were looking at the sky,

the clouds that moved with the pace of the bus, stop

& start in the traffic. A weather predicting sky,

metal grey with the threat of rain. Shivering in your thin

cardigan, you had dressed for the sun with hard won

optimism, wearing that dress because she liked it,

the red roses reminding you that you were alive when

you could just as easily be dead. No one notices two girls

dancing as long as they don't hold on too tightly.

You were 19 & held to home by expectation & duty,

& met her here every other Tuesday because you couldn't

imagine a different solution. Where else could you feel

her body warmth, smell the shop bought perfume mix

with something deeper, something darker & uniquely hers?

You never could resist the rise & fall, the quick & slow

of a teatime three & sprung dance floor, one hand resting lightly

on her shoulder, hers at your waist, the other gently clasping yours;

your frame perfect as she dips you into the turn, the throwaway

over-sway, natural & rondé. She said she wished she was a boy & never

had to dance with men. But then she would smile when asked

as if she'd been saved from an old maid shame in which you were

implicated. One night you watched as an insistent boy waltzed,

foxtrot & tangoed her until she was diminished & you were left without,

wanting your heart to flitter, a brush across the snare, a bowing, when

she took your hand & pulled you so close your bodies were almost touching.

You rode your window reflected face home, skin pale in the yellow

bus light, & ignored the man who told you to cheer up, it might never happen,

love.

III.

Love letter

 

Love came unexpectedly in the post, hitting the coir matting ( out of the moonless

sky ), an unexploded bomb that appeared as innocuous as a birthday card or

( I fell for you ) letter from the bank. A perfectly ordinary envelope with a postmark too smudged to read ( a night as thick as a black-out curtain) & no return address, handwriting you didn't recognise ( as hard as I try ). I can't forget you. This is the one thing of which I'm certain.

 

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