From Eden Crawled a Salamander
After Johann Jakob Scheuchzer and his Homo diluvii testis
Like all great lessons
he saw it etched in stone
plain enough for any primitive
or intellectual to translate.
The proof, at last, of an inferior species
rested in the stiffness of this creature’s back,
smallness of its skull, crack of its mouth,
fossilized like those sinners of Pompeii,
except God did not turn this creature to ash.
It received the first baptism:
marriage to water you cannot divorce
This creature sank to the bottom
(how deep is merely speculative)
became one of God’s pillars
for the new world
upon which he layered water,
sand, grit, earth, rock and perhaps
there will be water again,
the thing itself dissolved
leaving a cast
of a disgraced population
before Homo Sapiens, before
Homo Erectus, before snakes
lost their legs
and nothing could crawl
on its belly before God.
She paints Mary over and over
her fingertips are stained blue
and gold. Mary’s eyes are always
sketched with a squint as if
she is blind or looking into the centre
of a sun. Her lips are always grey
as if she is painting out Mary's colour,
saving her from accusations of feeling
anything other than pain.
I commissioned her to paint me a smiling Mary
in red and black, Warhol style
give her the look, I said, she would have had
the day Joseph believed her story, lent his name.
She divided the canvas into four, an eye, and an eye,
half a cupid's bow, the corner of a mouth
held apart by her lines. She looked pleased
“Mary couldn't smile without bearing the weight of the cross”
I was informed. I left her to those broad angels and
down-turned mouths she preferred.
After Sir William and the first Lady Hamilton by David Allan
I compose tunes crafted light as smoke
tapering off to dramatic crescendos
fast notes whipping fingers
key to key as if they are hot: fingers and the keys.
Unsteady spinet legs quiver, delicacy creaks
he raises a brow, eyes flicking aside,
outside, where she remains coyly quiescent.
I have played the same games, eruptions
followed by quiet, thick days, hissing rock
and poison as if I could race a raised hand.
She has already promised fertility, my husband
waits with half the city. Half desiring fire and brimstone
half familiar with Midas, the dog with two bones…
Evenings spent straight backed over ivory
he over books, sketches, cramped hands.
See him set off in the mornings while she rests
across from my window, perspective altered
day to day as if we are sinking, low mists,
metal studs of his shoes scuffing against grit and terra.
Comes back reddened, reading notes, outlining measurements,
cross sections: science of dissecting things too big to unfold.
Asks me to play a tune tonight
heavy steps across the room are a rumble
anticipating fire, compacting ready-raked ash
It was my father’s name – I bore my own and she hid from it
I wound that ‘B’ around my neck, stringing white, white pearls
they couldn’t bruise, you couldn’t bloody and whispered
to you in French, so my lacklustre truth couldn’t translate
thickened in rich vowels: velvet against damp palms.
You translated my Latin through your masters
– who taught you only the words that please
smiled and held your gaze so you wouldn’t get the wrong idea
too blanched to blush - you were red enough. Your changeable characters
let me write ‘Sum A .B.’ and you ‘Fidelis pectus pectoris’ that I lived
to believe. You never asked after our name. You remembered only one.
Sweetmeats fell from my dress, you let them fall devouring me instead
– ‘modo niger et ustus fortiter’, my swan song was not sweet
you let me keep a single gilded plume that they all recognise as me.
*Bullen is an alternative spelling of the surname Boleyn