After Rosaleen Norton’s Three Witches, 1951
She pulls at the edge of my artifice,
fingers loose on my lace blouse.
She offers me a cockle, a cowrie,
a paua glinting eye-like, a wispy
keratin beak from the beach. These
treasures dangle before me like a
rusty pair of earrings, their brassy
enamour flaking onto skin. She
knows I am the sort of woman who
can only be unbuttoned by another.
All it takes is a pair of jeans, a touch.
I took her out for drinks one night and
we sat outside in the cold, watching
the students go by. Have you listened
to Schumann lately? I asked her, even
though I thought his Symphony No. 2
was one of the worst I’d ever heard. She
said she preferred infernal screaming
and séance murmurings. Continuing to ask
stupid questions, I said, Will I ever love
something the way I want to? Her laugh
was only natural, her eyes like fangs, her
mouth all-seeing. I took that laugh as an
answer. At home, when the open door
of the microwave made the kitchen
Turner-yellow, I thought that perhaps I
shouldn’t have. She gave me perfume
in a little red vial, almost a cliché. But I
never wore it, because it felt like I’d be
giving up some part of me, if I did.
She is a bare-footed, idle girl, wreathed
in flowers and silks and bare-chested
chastity. Tired of the men chasing her
through the forests, she hides in empty
opera houses, in opium bottles, in the
after-swill of a negroni. I call sometimes,
into the expressionless trees, sweet with
moss — How do I write about the Great
Themes? — but the woods remain a veil,
scented with nothing but crush. On ink-
stained nights, I play around with the
Baroque-lace-sleeve of agony, writing
in a feverish trance. I pretend to have
a fitful sleep, plagued with horrid dreams,
and quite like the look of my dark circles
the next day. I pretend to be consumed
by words and fill my bedside cabinet
with unread books until it is bursting
with dust. She does nothing ‒ she takes
no notice. O folly! O misery! O woe!
They say all poetry is about Love, Death,
and Time, and what a horrible thing a poet
is, writing about these instead of living
them, deep inside a lover thinking about
what a sensual poem it’ll make. O folly,
O misery, O dejection. Make me whole,
make me swallow my longing like the
last sip of the cocktail, rife with ice.
O Muse — make me into something,
even if it is something that I am not.
She is crystalline, quiet. I amuse her
with my bedside-cabinet gemstones,
scooping up the amethyst pyramid and
bottle of garnet and septarian orb, asking
for her blessing. I want to be consumed
by light. I tell her. Like the end of a symphony.
Like the moment before the applause. Like
a yellow brushstroke is so much more
real than the sunlight. Of course, it’s not
wise to want this. But is it wise to want
anything? Out of all the sins, gluttony
is perhaps the most fun, but it’s the
most ordinary, too. It’s the one you find
in the bin full of empty Party Mix
packets, in the bathroom cabinet full
of pink glittery potions that all really
do the same thing. She forgives me,
this bright object, this celestial woman
so cool on the skin. She ripens the fig-tree
in the night. She kisses the edge of my
mouth when I am sleeping. I stay asleep.
My dreams don’t change. But in the morning,
when I awaken hot with desire, the figs are
so perfect. They are so red on the inside.
It takes everything in me not to eat them all.
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.