There is freedom in Summer, in blue heaven Slurpees and al fresco dining. My lover throws the sheet from his body and the sun stripes his legs like bright stockings. Sometimes we open the window and the breeze is jasmine in the morning, burning citronella candles in the evening. One time he suggested we go to Bath in June to prolong our season; drink champagne with chilli mussels and look out over rooftops from an apartment with a turquoise door. But I promised to spend winter with someone else, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, burrowing beneath the king size doona. When blossom starts to creep across branches, a book arrives in the mail with six pomegranate seeds pressed between the pages.
P.R.B. (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood)
I wish I had been painted by Millais. Maybe not as Ophelia in a tepid bath. Perhaps as Lady Macbeth. Or Titania. Or Portia. I used to make you sit on a little wooden stool and pretend you were painting me. Stroke after stroke rasping against the canvas. I would unravel my strawberry plaits and stare at you. Sherry eyes. Corsage at my neck. Picking up the small crumbs of wedding cake and passing them through my gold ring. Nine times. But you still didn’t get the hint. And so I am suspended in that moment. Forever bridesmaid. I can’t be Effie to your Ruskin. So blot out the canvas with grey. Euphemia’s hagiography turns on a wheel and a bear, but I can’t be your martyr. Writhing in my skin, I call out to Rossetti to paint me. I make you call me Guggums and cling to wild heartsease. We both know the laudanum comes later. So you paint me. Regina Cordium. Hooded lids. Heart shaped pendant. There are two still babies in the shadows. One within and one without. Broken hearted, I become your posthumous Beatrice. Dig me up Dante! Exhume me. Consume me. Shift the soil between us and gather me in your arms. Chase your journal of poems around my coffin with your fingertips as you hold me. Let me hear your mew of pleasure when you have it. At last. My copper hair fills the empty space. But the worm’s hole in your journal eats away at your heart.
If you elegize me, do it slowly. Don’t write a pantoum one evening over a chicken curry. Or a villanelle on the train between suburban stations. Take your time, compose a prose poem longhand in a notebook with a fountain pen. Buy an inkwell and fill it with pink ink. Let it stain your writing fingers. Set aside a few nights each month to put in commas and take out adjectives. Picture me in every metonym and alliteration; imagine us inhabiting the spaces between words. When it’s finished, don’t publish it. Make a bonfire and watch the paper catch and burn—the letters taking off like hundreds of fireflies in the starless night.
The Blue Bower
At Hotel Granvia, a skinny Santa Claus in a blue fur suit rings a bell to announce the roast beef is being carved. You take up a naked plate while I wait for the cheesy happiness at the bottom of a seafood doria. I’m post-martini and you’ve had three glasses of wine. Salarymen fuelled by bottomless tokkuri of saké are cheering as the Christmas tree casts a pattern of turquoise light over the buffet. You nudge a silver orgel, from the Imperial Palace, across the table. When I open the lid, it plays Happy Birthday and blue Santa brings me a slice of strawberry shortcake on a heart-shaped plate. I take the cherry blossom from inside the music box and one of its tiny petals comes to rest beside my dessert spoon; a pink dot like a full stop.
A Sea Spell
We share a triangular hotel room during stage three lockdown. Champagne bottles line the kitchen wall and every evening before bed I pull on your tshirt and sneak down the corridor to put oyster shells and fish bones down the rubbish chute. I wedge the door open with my notebook. At night, we hook my computer to the television and watch old movies. You tell me I look like Glynis Johns in Miranda and I revel in crimpy hair and, at breakfast, sardines on toast. For ten days, the bed is our ocean. On the last morning, as we walk along the beach, I throw my half-eaten Danish to a waiting seagull.
Cassandra Atherton is an Australian prose poet and leading scholar of prose poetry. Her prose poems are widely anthologized and have been translated into Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Cassandra’s most recent books of prose poetry are Leftovers (2020) and Fugitive Letters (2020). She is currently working on a book of prose poetry on the atomic bomb with funding from the Australia Council. Cassandra co-wrote Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton, UP: 2020) and co-edited The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Melbourne UP: 2020) with Paul Hetherington. She is a commissioning editor for Westerly magazine and Professor of Writing and Literature in Melbourne, Australia.
The Ekphrastic Review
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