Without my stone companions
I’d be madder than my husband.
Our son’s mortal pining left scars
sharp as flints in a glacier’s womb.
My body traces a daughter’s loss, too
like dark veins in marble.
Yet this gallery of sculpted ghosts
turned purgatory into hibernation.
Pacing like a snow queen
among Paulina’s collected treasures
I pause in wonder at peerless Hera
flaunting her branch of immortality.
I often finger Victory’s pleated robe
ruffled feathers wind-borne by freedom
jealous of her headless state —
no thoughts to disturb her mind.
Even in sleep, I see the caryatid’s
slow smile framed by lengthy plaits
certain as Hercules
of bearing her burden forever.
I touch Venus’s cool thigh to know
this hand is warm, compare our breasts
my unwilling breath barely perceptible
and I’d swear it’s she that moves.
Now Paulina says my daughter breathes
in her penitent father’s embrace,
so these years of aesthetic nurture
become a rehearsal for my rebirth.
Fearing our theatrical coup
be deemed witchcraft
we agree music will conjure magic
and serve as my cue to move.
Dim the lights, Paulina
the stone stands ready to speak.
I want to write a poem about that girl
the one we picked up on a mountain road
miles from anywhere, in Lesotho.
First seeing her slim figure striding
coloured blanket flapping loose
an everyday scene there.
I’d try to capture the serene smile
as she climbed into the back seat
waving us on with long fingers.
No language in common
smiles kept us going.
Just a local hitch-hiker you’d think.
Yet when she asked us to stop —
beside a few large-horned cows
that browsed the roadside
her cane raised to herd them —
she flashed naked thighs
cut off by brief denim shorts.
I’d tell how
as we drove off
her sensuality still filled the car.
Waking in the small hours
sleep as slippery as a shoal
he re-lives his old routine:
leaving home before stars fade
crunch of shingle under waders
father loading fish-boxes
brother checking the engine
granddad greasing winches
quick sips of thermos tea
before the clinker-strong trawler
glides between groynes
ploughs over grey surge.
Bow nosing toward the horizon
his night’s eye checks compass points
store-boxes moored close in
lobster-pots on buoys out further
then his sea-chart memory unfurls
deep water constellations
crevasses scoring chalk reefs
a shipwreck tilted on seabed pebbles
massive sandstone clusters
marking the moment to pay out nets
till the swell and rock of his bed
haul sleep aboard once more.
The Paph Sanderianum orchid, known as the
Jungle Warrior, blooms only once in a decade.
After a day of fuses and sockets
retreats each evening
to his greenhouse’s humid embrace.
His dynamic protégées
flaunt their frilly skirts
flash freckled tongues
between glossy lips
luminous wings sparking magenta
yellow and white into the gloom.
He moves shyly among them
speaks softly of
light, time, beauty
and inevitable fading.
Every night of this tenth year
a last check on his ‘jungle warrior’:
the torch’s beam reveals
one elongated bud has just split
exposing a coil of red ribbons.
Days later, a neighbour finds him
earthed on a dark bed
his pale face lit with eternal joy
crimson tendrils wired
into the shock of white hair
like a classical hero.
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