"the courage to be repulsive"
Fragments after Claude Cahun
our dead rivers blacken the satellites. like ambergris swabbing a model's wrist, this is the world, sickly and sinister.
here, where only misers thrive, i multiply myself. each time, doubled and divided, smaller and smaller, never enough of me to go round. morning is the sky, reset softly through a humid rain. and england rises up all wreathes, refrains and rations; is a lead knell sounding. they come with mealy-mimes, a smile turned crisp at the corners. cozen-coo, a coupe. come to kettle our peasant antic. us fetter-folk of cancelled sex. disputed blossoms slay the boundary wall, frounced and floundering. nothing lasts. they script crusade, these patriots, bland aphorisms of intent, with mouths like penny-bruises. we cross and counter-cross, their dowagers, their fauntleroys, their race of moony spivs. cued loonies, waiting in the wings for war's rice-pudding mottos. england blooms under sackcloth. loving fungus smother us, oh mother to us all. her sundial seas. europe, assuaged in her sarabands. a furtive analemma over empire. carry this love – to set is to sink, to turn to stone.
claude, i see you strutting through these lame domains, betting beyond the body.
the soldiers arrived, pressed terror into punctuation. our language made misfit with injury.
our occupation, claude. murder-work for idle hands, those lovely graveside thugs. the call that turns my telephone inside- out.
death notices. oh yes, he does.
claude, i have mastered my trespasses, bared my breasts, my body a sleeping bestiary. error is interstice. the bowl is dispossessed of honey.
that they should see us, our arms bent back like careful, painful birds. to stud this flesh with borrowed shrapnel, make ourselves more monster. the womb scraped out, singing with the wind its sad dumbfounded function.
they posit wounds and pity us, but we are more than a fissured tease, drowned in the room that draws us. neither is not neuter: my dear, my dear, we are thickets of extremes.
my wrist ringed like a pigeon's leg. you come to me in dreams, dressed in gold foil, dressed in halting triage, in units of acute care, in casualty and smoke. wake to an annex roof mobbed with gulls, their pasteurised fury. clamant, an ealing caper. wake to the moi non plus of someone's city perfume. disgusting breath assemblies, brits. dawn will be a vaseline-smeared emmanuelle movie, channelling its shit je t’aime. come sow crows in this open field. become a hyena, an animal left ajar.
here, infested and grandiose, the colonies smoke their celebration with wracked lungs. the lighthouse, vaguely beaconing. the foghorn lifts its stroked baritone towards france. tidal gloom, and kids in their stylised pain stalk past. we were grim voyagers. i walked my own face from my face in slapdash mascara in ninety-nine. the sunk lyric, the subcutaneous heart. the pen poised but unable to ink. a neo-nazi's fist, romancing my lip. it is hard. we have won, but i have lost. defeat festooned in flags of glowing spectrum. a quipping ache. love's recall, razored from the page. unmoored, outnumbered, and lightbulb-laurelled with all our bright ideas. when art is a failed milk rearing nothing. when i've no more words, no more masks. then the mask wins by a landslide.
who the fuck are you? says claude. houses concussed with bunting. i gut the poems, i operate the dream.
the body's equivocal creep. our outermost appetites, passionate reach. the musk of multitudes. where is our solidarity? queer: an inevitable edge. like amorous snails, our bodies slide over bodies and are disgusting. piles of cancelled paperbacks, the wet book of our lungs, drowned.
country people, default to honeysuckle. indolent and infected. high winds walk the magpies into mutilation: magpiles, a flux of muddy feathers. fox evil, enough to conjure with. a rush mat, my body, their earthly textile.
oh, norn. oh, iron. oh, piggie pacts of murder. forgive me my hinterland, as i forgive those who go open-mouthed, aghast against us. can we ever more than got in the way? whose war is this? our unformed faces, abstract and hatchling. the brain is a secret garden paved with all your pyrrhic victories, with the slow amends of fences, small rhymes soiled. be the lyric eye, exploding over driveways, the whole thing tarmacked with quarrelsome rainbow. puny dirt makes nothing grow. no flowers for your loyalist bower of bones.
claude says give it up. do not waste my love on those who translate feeling into tendency. sweating out the mildewed substance of this sunshine, belonging nowhere and to no one.
you were so beautiful, informally glittering. at mischief's deadly undertaking, you. and beating the white of a word into stiff peaks.
sweet state spreading like a green fact. these blackbox lilies. where the suicide slips into the topsoil, the silky protestations, big men expanding a pleasantry until the air runs blue. and baby, the rind on you, the sheen on you. we eat or invention, a thousand and one survivalist ploys.
Dr Fran Lock is a some-time itinerant dog whisperer, the author of seven poetry collections and of numerous chapbooks, including Hyena! Jackal! Dog!, which was published by Pamenar Press last year, and Contains Mild Peril (Out-Spoken Press, 2019). She has recently completed her Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, titled, "Impossible Telling and the Epistolary Form: Contemporary Poetry, Mourning and Trauma". She is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters.