I sit facing the wall
while they draw my back
with charcoal. I hear their marks,
sense the sweep of lines
and sudden scrawls
criss-crossing my spine,
burrowing between the blades,
mining a new territory
of light and shade.
The wall is sky blue
with old spatterings of scarlet,
cadmium yellow, and burnt orange –
fiery suns on an azure field.
I feel the relief that blue can bring,
the space it opens into, its air.
My back stays straight,
thanks to the equanimity of blue.
I close my eyes, see a yellow glow –
a fledgling sun – at the base
of my spine, warming my bones.
My skin feels paper-thin, transparent.
Can they see the scaffolding,
the fretwork? How much looking
is needed to see beyond the form?
A tattoo of eyes covers my back,
clamouring to get in.
I haul my body to standing, hear
bones re-jigging themselves,
clicking into place.
I hesitate to leave the wall,
the comfort of its haphazard splashes,
its calming blue field that draws me in,
then opens me out like a fan,
turning blades into wings.
The bag lady’s got us fooled
by her gabbling, her toothless grin
and lunatic gaze, the paraphernalia
of her ways – the perfect cover
for a goddess of sea foam who
once stood naked on-the-half-shell.
She knows she can be Venus again
so bides her time with the trappings
of her street gear. She’s in no hurry
to change her clothes, her hair, her skin.
She’ll sit for a while longer
in her bulbous body, her rotund form,
on her makeshift throne of newspaper
bundles with virgins’ robes, witches’ herbs
and angel hair, hold court with the Furies.
She’s not waiting to be kissed by anyone.
At twilight she becomes the city’s balance,
her ancient spine pivotal
to the weighing up of things.
She’s bound herself with layers of material
from millennia of mothering, conjuring,
whoring, healing, feeling – she’s fed
a multitude. At midnight she’s visited
by all the Marys, who hail her,
The Giantess, in all her guises.
after van Gogh
He wants to show you the field he keeps seeing
in his mind’s eye, the field that makes him sizzle,
the field with the blinding yellow sun –
his favourite colour – the yellow that sends cerulean
down to ground, reversing the order of things.
He wants to do that now – bring some blue heaven
down to brown earth if he can.
He feels blue take root, spiral up, and with his brush
it breaks surface, carpets the field.
He looks for a long time at the blue carpet …
he could stop there … but no, he puts a man
in the picture who will feel the fireball sun on his back,
the sun that will soon be dying on the horizon.
He wants the man to feel the sun’s rapture.
He wants the man to feel his own rapture.
He wants the dying day to stay for ever on the horizon.
He makes the man in the picture do something –
throw seeds on the blue field, again and again,
because he and the man want the ground to grow
more sky blue, because the blinding yellow sun
will be sinking soon and the blue will start turning grey.
He and the man want to feel the sun’s rapture.
He and the man want to feel their own rapture.
He and the man want to be sky-born.
It wasn’t the water jug. It was the slice of lemon
in the water jug that caught my eye,
how it seemed to be moving around the edge,
not staying in the middle,
and the more I looked at it, I could see as much
of the slice of lemon underneath as on top,
no doubt explained by the angle I was sitting at,
as much as the physics of floating.
I looked away. A couple of minutes later,
it was totally submerged,
its bright yellow crescent upside down,
turning through the water, steering a course
before making its way to the surface again.
It seemed that this small yellow slice of a thing
with its soft pulp and hard rind was saying,
You can do this too.