Maids of honour, bridegroom, bride,
the best man in a grey silk suit,
a flash to catch them in the arching
stone, confettied by a sudden gust—
an apple tree in full white spread
beyond the reach of bone and dust.
I am the driver in a passing car:
the wedding-dress a cloud of lace.
A small hand clutching at a skirt,
some nervous bridesmaid, eight
or maybe nine, has seen
the blossom fall, has closed her eyes—
her head falls back into the scent,
the soundless whirr and whirl of earth-
bound petals like sycamore seeds
on a current of air, silent helicopters
bringing light— a wedding gift
the bride will brush away, unconsciously.
This is no ordinary act, no summer fête,
another simple wedding held in June.
This is the wind shaking the apple-tree,
the bell above the kissing-gate,
the sudden fall of blossom into light
which only love and innocence can see.
We must be held accountable to love:
where they step out together arm in arm
as newly-weds, spring-cleaned, and climb
into a waiting car beneath a summer sky,
the blossom will still fall, unstoppable—
a drift of change across a changeless time.
In dreams, I see his horse again; its red eyes,
its strange oak-leaf skin. What Gawain sees
I can’t tell but he wakes desperate some nights,
clawing at his face. It should have been the King.
We’ve been wandering in this forest for months,
Gawain and I, neither of us daring to admit
we’re lost. The year is nearly up; he babbles
in Scots in his sleep, prays for deliverance.
Morning. The road takes us again, my hooves
scoured by snow and blackened ice, burnt
like old pots on the fire. I try not to remember
the tales they told for months before we left,
the grin of the axe, its shiver of steel through bone,
grease and sinew, the head rolling and rolling
like a football, those bruised eyelids flickering
back afterwards, a grisly green, unreal.
I see myself step numb under his dead weight,
Christ-like blood on my flanks, his severed head
bouncing against the saddlebags, hailstones
scattered hard as pearls beneath my hooves.
Out of habit, I’ll stop when he’d have stopped
and drink when he’d have drunk, imagining
his thighs, the tug on the reins, finding my way
in the dark without him, only the clop of hooves ...
We do not know you yet, you are nothing
but bone and fluid and mass to us.
They lift you out through your necklace
of cord, slippery and indignant,
and suddenly you’re inspired, all lungs,
pure beetroot. Your brother,
tucked up tight beneath my breast-bone,
does not want to wake. His mild eyes
open in surprise to a world of gowned figures
and white masks.
and emptied from the waist downwards
like a breakfast egg, I lie back
with my arms full of babies. Your father sits
with a perpetual grin on his face
like a man in a Greek comedy.
These lights above the bed are your first stars.
Urgent with milk-haze, you root
for the breast and I gather you in, begin
with your own names.
Women poets are not supposed to look like that,
did nobody tell you? The one
with the cigarette is bullish enough
but this, taken naked, face
against the wall with one arse cheek
is the portrait of a muse, my dear.
In later years, your beauty was eclipsed by age.
Here your skin’s like frost, that white back
and hourglass waist
crying out to be marked, to be photographed.
Did it feel safer like this, turned away
in your nakedness,
to be stared at, lusted after?
‘Leave off looking to men to find out
what you are not,’ you said.
Then let me take you to bed, Mina,
to the ostrich feather bed
of our imagination. There we’ll smoke
and make poetry all day, decadent
in our sticky love,
looking each other in the eye, drinking
each other’s blood
like tea from a china dish, steeped
in what it means to be us, spawning
our poems like fish.
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