Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Published by Wild Hawthorn Press (1995)
after Frida Kahlo
When I came to you last night in my thorn necklace
with the dead hummingbird, its wings
were flying me back to the day of the accident.
When the moment came for you to enter me
I grinned at the sugar skulls and wax doves
and tried not to think of the crash,
the handrail piercing me like a first lover,
and me bounced forward, my clothes torn off,
my body sparkling with the gold powder
spilt from a fellow passenger. In that slow silence
it’s not true that I cried out. I only thought
about the toy I’d bought that day,
staggered about searching for it, before I collapsed.
They laid me on a billiard table
and saw to the wounded, thinking me dead.
And afterwards, when I came back to life,
they held a Mass to give thanks. As soon as
I could walk, the first thing I did was go
and buy another toy to replace the one I’d lost.
Just as tomorrow night I’ll try again
to get this sex thing right, and the night after that.
Rivers climb back to the ceiling where they belong
and a fox enters a woman's body, sliding
between her ribs, unable to keep a secret, He speaks
in a different voice from hers. Hunger, he says,
comes to the Portrait House capable of anything,
not just eating, That's no secret.
High above the Portrait House
the sky dozes between love and fornication.
Only the stars, those alumni,
care about me, he said. I am not a fox, he said.
I am a woman, just breathing and feeling sad.
In the Portrait House we had an endless year
that ended. He creaked efficiently out of the door
in his best uniform, saying, I am not a fox.
Yes, it was time to throw out the photographs
of the loveless prince and princess by the palace gates
crowned with make-believe snow. It was time
to eat a gargantuan meal and then sleep
for two or three days, at least.
Ah you are right. It is only a house, a box of shadows.
It is only me folding my arms
in the sparkle of twilight. It is only me
counting my children and beasts. It is only me
in the apple wood when all turns blue and windswept at dusk
with my favourite child singing to her ghost-ponies
high in the branches.
In the Portrait House every wall carries its fair share
of painted or photographed faces; burning lips and all sorts of eyes,
brows and chins. And when in autumn a wind that breaks things
dives through the corridors and the gazing rooms, the faces
frown with such eavesdropping tenderness. They watch us blindly,
growing more and more like foxes. They know
we are too stupid to be bribed. And so a little ghost-sadness
comes into the house, driving us away.
Like any other Adam and Eve, we run weeping
from the forbidden place, everything weeps with us,
tree, cloud, star, lion, river, sun. Every Angel
weeps, and God, he weeps also. But the portraits laugh,
and that little ghost-sadness cries out, smiling foxily,
don't you want these seven kisses? Come back! Oh please!
Outside the Portrait House is a black world and black stars,
black seas and black moons. That is where we must go.
You draw back in fear. Tears run down your face. Why?
You are not a visionary, are you?
I want to be you. Who are you?
In another life I was a man without joy
who lived a wild life.
Since then there have been streets and streets
of silence and rain and fox-voices.
But in this life I am just sifting a little bastard saffron
into a milk pudding
while you come to the table capable of eating anything,
complaining of your loneliness,
saying that women are no better than horses,
that this house has always felt sad.