After Salvador Dalí, Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1936
At the gallery, the classical beauty has been refurbished for function,
breasts excavated into drawers fitted with tufts of fluff
where the nipples or handles should jut. Don’t you want to touch?
Test the machinery, a silken glide on hidden rails. The man who remixed her
says bodies are full of dreams. Especially this sort of body,
withholding her mysteries. Well now, haven’t I felt a man tugging
at my breasts like stuck drawers, asking after my dreams?
Careful men, twisting at nipples like the dial to break into a hotel safe,
decoding enigmas of the muse. There is no shame in this
although as I speak, all the shame I have somehow amassed
cranks in my chest like a heavy wheel unlocking a cavernous vault.
I am a grown adult so instead of dreams my body brims with shame.
I am primed to be mortified before doing anything wrong.
Shame lingers in my centre like the murky spring yeasts
suspended in my mother’s homebrew elderflower champagne.
If you jostle my bottle I will shatter from the pressure of it
and so I am a doll machine for fermenting dreams
of catastrophe. Cut off my limbs and call me a disaster Venus.
Guys and dolls, I am not against these body games, the puzzled parts. I know
there are worse things than being collaged, and seeing one’s own
amputated fragments is amusing in its way. Like scraps of possum pelt
snipped up in the grandest indignity, the plush pests dying to become
novelty nipple warmers, a frippery you might brush
with a cheeky fingertip, perky on a plastic mannequin
in a souvenir shop, while asking ‘who even buys this stuff?’
Perhaps if I peel off the adhesive backing and attach those tufts to my breasts
I could pull out my own drawers, sort through the shame
into piles of that which could be donated to charitable ragpickers,
and that which must simply be thrown away. I could fill my body
with something more useful than mystery or apprehension
or other peoples’ dreams. Certain predatory libertines
could spend so much time dreaming of the body
they might forget to keep a person in it, optional as a sachet of lavender
stuffed in the corner of a delicates drawer. But I have to live here
for as long as I can, and despite all the shame
my dreams still live on in my body,
persistent as the fine grey mould that flourishes
in the corners of my bedroom drawers: unseen,
but blooming through the lonely nights.
The artwork that inspired this piece is currently still under copyright, you can view it online here. The featured artwork in its place was commissioned by bad apple from Mickie Loof for the 2023 Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.