A sequence of poems by Claudia Daventry.
and it is a connected act. All acts are connected
no man an island and no woman an island either;
no hermit withdrawn into his cave on the beach is one.
What the hell – to take this to its logical conclusion
no island’s an island. Though by definition it is,
its isolation the essence; its utter islandness.
All the other islands in their isolated splendour
point up your original lonely island
as just one of many, some palm-fringed, hot; some not.
But all islands are quantifiable, of their genus.
Not one escapes the clumsiness of the phrase ‘all islands’,
or even ‘islands’, eilanden, des îles or islas.
Not one of them escapes their miserable plurality;
each precious ego crushed by the treachery of language.
What is true? Qu’est-ce que la vérité? Wat is de waarheid?
Lingua lenguage langue tongue and we understand
until our tongues intertwist. Then we’re undone.
A third language kills parity, another betrayal.
Who are you? you say. I am myself, je suis moi-même, I
love you je t’aime believe me it’s true ik hou van je too
but which one’s real, which the masquerade? And is it you
in the French on your lips or the Dutch you exhale with smoke?
You’re laughing now, as you lean into the bedroom mirror
tarring your pale lashes with mascara. To tease their angle
to faux-almonds, your glance ghosting sideways; to flirt
with a reflection seeing your reflection through smoke.
Obtuse, the angle offers me your nuque or bare neck,
the flints of your spine. Your child’s skin. The guillotine-line.
Let them eat cake, says the pretty decapitated head
with the shiny shepherdess ringlets, turned all white from fright.
In straitened times, wear tiny slippers with satin ribbons,
panniers, whalebone and ruched swags as you pluck at fictive lambs
with a barley-sugar crook: Come here, my pretties, come.
As they run, empathise with their glöckenspiel ribs
that put the dark clover of your pretty brain to strain,
pondering how an angelic soul like yours can preserve them
from those sorry conditions, such sores, the ordure-caked fleece.
In your head, the bees hum. What can I do, you cry, as tears
negotiate your cheekbones, streaking your photo-finish
with real distress. What it is to be born with so much
responsibility... And, impaled on its spike, the head
keeps talking, in this vein; of grief, of the death of kindness.
The onset of winter, of grief and death, is kept at bay
by small kindnesses. There was a stag that walked the highlands,
remarkable for his albino colouring, or lack,
which melted amongst the trees – now a patch of random snow,
or, as it dragged at branches, an incarnation of mist,
now a piece broken off some foaming pool – on crystal hooves.
Silently he moved. That his veins might pulse with mercury
was denied only by the stigmata of his red eyes.
They tracked him; shot him, dragged the carcass to lower ground,
hacksawed off his icy head. Hot blood, dark as plums,
stained the soil; fear-stink, smear of his bowels on the white pelt.
The silver-fuzzed antlers were carried home to grace some hall
and fair hands prepared the venison, crammed with summer fruit:
cloudberries, shaken from an airless jar, still wet with dew.
A vacuum keeps out poisonous air. The corrosiveness
of jealousy, of rage, of love: these three consume the soul
– this is your jist at lunch, as we’re sharing a plate of ribs –
like eboli, or the melting kiss of domestic bleach
that effervesces sweetly through bone, organ and sinew
leaving nothing but a chloric tang and unnatural clean.
You have to get there first: take on the object of your pain
and slaughter it yourself: with love, with rage, with jealousy.
Or don’t, you say, and live out your life in an airless space.
So – let the passion have the floor, and spill the blood? say I.
Didn’t work for Othello. Ah, you say. Lucidity.
No flailing up blind alleys based on hearsay. Think it through
as Judith did. Seduction first, and then cut off the head.
You lift the last rib to your lips, smile, and sink your teeth.
Ribs have a history. Oh, my god; history and how.
It’s amazing how disobedient a bone can get.
You’d think they’d be a bit more grateful of their provenance.
And, speaking of seduction, take Salome – what a tart.
Her ribs were on display, alright, between the shuddering coins
that jingled from her bustier, from those pretzel-twisting hips.
Giovanni Battista, man of god, didn’t have a prayer
at this point. You could say he completely lost his head
as she dragged him backstage and did a Walsingham on him.
My god, my god, why did you forsake him, or should we ask
was he being led by something other than his religion?
Back to the rib, the snake, the apple: clearly not his fault.
Not much use, this, as your head’s being served on a golden plate,
but what else, from a god who gets married virgins up the duff?
Did somebody say snake? There weren’t that many men who’d dare
to take Medusa to his double bed, no matter how
she’d guarantee unmedicated rock-hardness all night.
Perhaps the turn-off was her hair, which seemed to have a life
of its own: wouldn’t lie flat, insinuated itself
all over the place, had bad split ends, even seemed to hiss
poisonously when caressed. You had to keep your eyes shut
or the dirty looks she dealt would turn a man’s heart to stone.
A girl like that’s a waste of time, concluded Perseus.
My girl will show an interest in the sort of things I like,
be more compliant. Women who meet your eye too squarely,
like an ad for Wonderbra, deserve to get it in the neck.
Give me a girl chained to a rock any day: half-grateful,
half-terrified I’ll leave her bound to her island for good.
Claudia Daventry was originally born in London but has remote Scottish, Irish and other European family connections. She blames this for her reluctance to settle in any one place or in one language for long. Her last home was in Amsterdam, and at the moment she's working on a PhD on translation in poetry at St Andrews University. She won the Bridport Prize in 2012 with her poem 'Alakazam'.