• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 12

Avarana

There were parts of her that were never her own.

A diaphanous mucosal tissue, returned broken and bloodied. A hollow cavity enveloping a home.

A name.

She conceived of herself, that these parts were made to be given, were happily given as a crown for god. And men.

She of rib and bone and grit had learnt how to give all the pieces of herself from Amma whose back now slumped forward with the weight, as if somebody had slipped her vertebral column out whole, she was imagined without spine.

They did not see the uniform composition; the rod stacked up against her, inside her. The shape of her was already written.

An interloper in her own story and skin.

1

The Cure

The doctor prescribed at least two hours at a gallery or museum, followed by at least fifteen minutes of what he called ‘personal observation’, to be repeated daily as long as he deemed it was required. The printed prescription seemed unnecessary, with nothing to collect from the pharmacy, but he said it was an important part of me taking his recommendations seriously – which weren’t recommendations, exactly, but rules I had to follow if I wanted to be officially discharged. It’s important, the doctor explained, that the exhibitions include sculptures and paintings which portray the naked female form. The pain will get worse ,the doctor added, before it gets better.

The first day was harder than I was expecting. I could barely bring myself to look at the sculptures – their fridge-cold bodies of milk, their elegant wrists. I found it helped if I focused on other aspects of the artwork, either present or heavily implied. A red apple held aloft with a perfect white bite. A heavy metal chain. Dark clouds, thick with rain, and the pale sunlight spilling through them. The walls of the gallery itself, even, which were clean as a field of snow and smelt of fresh paint.

Personal observation was even more unbearable. The small, circular mirror the doctor had given me was awkward to hold at the right angle, and I kept catching my face from below – grimacing, avoiding my own eye contact. My fingers kept slipping on the glass, and holding it between my bare knees left painful red grooves like my skin had zips. I could feel my heart, like a fish, slapping the length of its silver muscle against my chest. As directed, I noted my observations in a small leather notebook which the doctor had also given me. It was important that my observations could be applied to both the art in the gallery and to myself:

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2

Sheer

The stockings were a provocation, pulled taut over flexed leg, held there just so. That was the word he thought. Provocation. She was talking and then she was not talking. He watched her pause on the edge of the bed, hands pulling back her calf, head lost in scuds of clouds.

‘I forgot what I was going to say,’ she said. ‘It’s gone. Poof. Just like that.’

‘Like your dignity,’ he said.

‘I lost that a long time ago,’ she said, laughing, getting up from the bed.

A pencil skirt and stockings. Did not need to show him this. Could have conducted the conversation through the door, rather than be shown her undergarments. The trust implied in that. Or not trust, but provocation. That word again. Why now to feel that? Because of stockings? How easily we are tested; how easily we become the suspicious eunuch in the lady’s chamber.

‘I shouldn’t be too late,’ she said. ‘If I am, I’ll call. The spare room’s made up. I’ll be back before Sammy wakes.’

She applied lipstick, looked him up and down in the mirror.

‘You okay?’ she said.

‘Have you always worn stockings,’ he said. ‘I’ve never noticed before.’

‘Sometimes,’ she said. ‘When I want to surprise someone.’

‘All the years I’ve known you,’ he said. ‘I never knew that.’

‘It’s hardly something to know,’ she said. ‘I mean if someone were to ask you about me, my wearing stockings sometimes wouldn’t be top of the list, would it?’

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3

The Zookeeper

Once, we met a woman who was a glutton for the humiliation of others. We didn't notice it at first. It was only at the end of our customary Friday night dinner, when we all sat heavy and sated, that her hunger presented itself.

One of us was holding forth about bad tattoos; how could someone be so careless with their own skin? That's when we noticed the glint in her eyes, as sharp as the tip of a blade; the sideways smirk slashed across her face. That's when she slapped both of her legs on her table, rolled down her stockings, and revealed her menagerie. She was covered, ankle to thigh, in cartoonish scribbles. There were peacocks in crowns; sailors with bubble muscles; lopsided hearts skewered with arrows. Each tattoo, she explained, was a totem; each totem, a person; each person, a lover.

Those greedy eyes drank in our astonished expressions. We laughed a little too loudly, praised her ingenuity. She rolled her stockings back up slowly. The elastic snapped against her thighs with a satisfying smack. Nobody's eyes had left her legs.

We drained our drinks. Someone produced gin in a dark, squat bottle, that was being saved for a special occasion. It sat sharp in our full stomachs, but we didn't care.

One of us got up to change the music, selecting something with a honeyed melody, something irresistible. We found ourselves heading toward the middle of the room. We started slow, our toes scuffing the carpet. Our guest led from the hips, and we dutifully followed; soon, we were gliding like oil. And hands! We seemed to remember that we had them all at once. We clicked, clapped, dipped our partners. We laughed – at this time, we'd usually be in cabs, train carriages, beds. Yet here we were.

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4

Impassioned Choices

Notions of Sapphic love unsaddled her brain.
Figures – one hers – entwined, refrained
from their fathers' common sense, grasp of reason.

Prone, her legs, one extended high
as its twin deferred and knelt, senses glazed
by sight of sumptuous flesh. Her round
knee, tattooed, flaunted her lover's flowers,
swelled desire. Two blooms beheld each other,
mirrored female limbs trembled together and came

unperturbed by a supplicating hand –
male, fine-fingered, hidden behind
striped strokes, his erstwhile privilege batted
away like ping pong balls, light and unnecessary.

5

Babes in an Earthquake

My body hurt,
so I
unzipped
unbuckled
unsnapped
the extremities.

It would be a shame
if after my head and torso
are well-rested
I found my limbs in atrophy.

Before them, I set
a simple wooden chair,
photocopies of rehabilitation
exercises given after consultation
with physiotherapists.
A daily regime:
strength
conditioning.

I asked my partner to conjoin
with me in this extreme
meditative reaction
to modern life,
let loose the flailing
structures always on the go.
Always one for timid half-measures,
she unbuckled only her legs,
unwilling to abandon touch.

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6

This is not her

This is not her.
This is her on mirrors and other surfaces, hidden behind
Suits and ties, schoolboy uniform and wife-beaters,
These mirrors only see what they want and can’t have,

This is not her.
Do not let her be known as such a flower, without a stem,
Cut and put in vases and seen in captivity, adored,
But only as a fantasy apart from herself

This is not her.
Let her be the fullness that she is, a magnificent tree,
With leaves and stems and trunks and barks,
Break those mirrors and have new ones that see her and not this

7

Exhibitionism (Westminster Blues)

Straw-hued hair tousled, askew;
Adolescent hormones on fire;
Ill-fitting suited and booted regalia,
Etonian precocity, curiosity...
Scuffed shoes, unknown stains,
A budding arousal in his loins.
Uptown; sourcing arty inner thigh,
Décolletage and, frankly, genitalia
Of a female persuasion; shocking
Glimpses a must; gusset, heels, stockings.
'Name?' 'Er, Johnson; Boris actually...'
'This exhibition is for over 18s only, I.D.?'

8

3D Twister

The arrow had spun
Pointed to blue
Claimed by his hand
Wrapped around thigh
Spying the gap

Spin again they cried
The sculpture of flesh
Contorting as they reached for colour
The dangling red
Snared by a spiked heel

With every twist
Stockings tore from skin
Shimmering in the hazy light
Limbs claiming wanton limbs
Reaching ever closer

The spinner never stopped
Watched by eyes, devouring movement
Wondering if they too
Dare join in, give themselves up
Become meat and eat each other

9

Eventually you find the joke that hurts

It's a museum
of injuries, he said,
laughing,
and I had to guess.

Bruiseum.

A museum of alcohol!
He stared expectantly.
I knew the answer,
but refused to say it.

I won't say it.

A monochrome museum—
no. I won't.
A museum of the Hebrew people—
please.
A museum of loss—

Okay. Okay. That one stopped me.
I know the pun.
Loseum.
We all got the pun.

But there was something more there.
This was a place
I wanted to go
just, you know, to see.

To see the things
I had lost.

10

On Display

Leg
held
erect
Biellmann spin
highlights black nylons
reveals refined flesh
above the dark hose, below crisp
blue taffeta tutu pleats as
long, hairy fingers on a dismembered hand clenches
a mirror, fanning garter belts
casting second leg
illusions
folded,
braced
on
a
wooden
chair, surreal
third leg standing on
toe ignores Daphne’s sculptured arms,
baroque marble limbs that reach skyward towards Olympus
seeking divine deliverance
from Apollo’s chase
transformed to
laurel
tree
boughs.

11

Pieces of her

she danced
from dawn to dusk
until her limbs
her mind
were no longer hers

she twirled with
such ferociousness
that her body
splintered
and fell into
a montage of despair

her heart
her soul
entangled
in a blue cloud
of confusion

her only hope
amidst the pain
to rest awhile
return all to self
find the missing pieces
and become whole again

12

Hidden On Display

sleepwalking ginger blossom
mannequin of wax and sinew,
in endless muddled numbness.
wounded body parts, scars
on display, hidden, buttoned up,
choke of victorian lace, queen anne’s
seeds unbloomed, flower
of a million buds, repressed.
cracking plaster, eyeless stare
uninhabited, haunting. her skin,
degraded alabaster, tattooed,
covering a delicate heart of gold ruby
glass, violently stolen, smashed,
shards tearing stockings, heals, purity,
across veins of antique limestone.
fragments glued back together
solely to be shattered again.
drops of blood, royal finger prick,
trauma unseen. only chilling, petrified
parts, an intricate nest of hollow
plastic bones, and crumbling remains.

13

THREE QUIET WORDS

I’m lost, she said to the empty room,
I cannot seem to catch a breath,
and – in fact – it seemed her lungs
had quit while her head still rung
with the echoes of the shrieking death
of the love they’d shared … she had assumed.

Three quiet words he had but spoken –
flaming trident which had scorched her heart:
turned rib-cage to naught but ash
and all inside but embers
smouldering, while her disjointed parts
reminded her that she was broken.

14

She’s not there

She contemplates this echo of her thigh,
this grey ghost of her arm:
cardboard copies he made
up in his studio
on the old street.

He’d say, today: I have no memory
whatever of that time.
That blue plume? What he tried?
No. I can tell you that
it is not true.

He’d join her in this pallid gallery
and grope that lofted limb
again, and shake his head
and, baffled, say, oh no –
have we two met?

They’ve met; but never mind. Now, anyway,
She grandly tours the room,
wending from nude to nude.
Intense attendants tut
and hiss: no photos!

She does not say what caught her absent eye
back then, beneath the storm:
not him, not what he did;
instead, a lightning show,
scarring the skylight.

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15

the art of the leg

the toes’ downward slope
fishhooks the eye, tugs
the catch to rounded crevices
secret depths, forbidden return

or swishes the eye toward sky
to revel across curves and valleys
stretched sinew, long muscles
of delight and whimsy

bent it snaps a whiplash
boomerangs desire
embrace of thigh and calf
folding itself into mother

of pearl conch or lotus
it lies upon a dream
of koi-drenched ponds
a slip of silk on flesh

16

The Last Drop of Water

To touch the leg that dances across the universe,
to feel the pulse of a thousand suns shining—
this—
this is where we must live.
We create and re-create our world.

The curve of my knee is irrelevant.
Can you see inside my veins?
Can you see into the heart of each word,
waiting to drip onto the page,
like a Dali painting?

Our only hope is connection.
I see the sculpture of your youth
and notice the fleeting beauty,
which we all possess in early years.
What I want to understand
are the less traveled cells,
where the truth of who you are
sings the highest note without shame
or regret.
You are the light touch of dawn
when the shadows flee.
You are the last drop of water
on this earth.

17

Ooh La La

Ooh la la
she jiggle her bra
like desire and delight
no be far

Leg up leg down
breast point like crown
hip swerve den curve
feather blue
and the boys say ooh

Who be dis
nameless she
old like age
in her porcelain cage

Make like she simmers
inside your gaze?
silent eye turning
from opaque to rage?

Lie lie! Fake news in your eye!
girl never complain, bitch never sigh
she not get energy
I tell you for why
girl no get heart
her best is body parts

18

A Juggler’s Aria from The Pyrenees of Ice and Mist

When a wig lends itself to no head
gymnasts of the Dordogne
in the flooded Tuileries Gardens
truly make me think of France.

On display at the Louvre,
a thigh from Frankenstein’s monster soldered to a plate,
Is it true Madame said, Let them eat cake
on her way to the Guillotine?

Leipzig’s Mendelssohn and Guernica’s Picasso
invited Sister Muses of the libretto arts
to step out in leggings on a runway
the aim, Immaculate Perception.

I wandered about, gossamer blade
of glissando strings, wondering aloud,
where to lean a wooden ladder to catch
Rapunzel’s tumbling avalanche of hair.

19

Practice Unseeing

Standing akimbo,
with limbs askew, she
pulled herself together
and started anew.

Level with mortals,
on a pedestal no more,
she picked up the pieces
and strode 'cross the floor.

Leaving the safety
and sweet adulation,
for authenticity
and a new vocation.

Exiting the revolving
door to the right,
she enjoyed the feeling
of hot, bright sunlight.

She stopped at a newsstand
for a paper and juice,
sat down in the park
and opened the news.

People were starving,
immigrants dying,
mass extinction of the planet;
she found she was crying.

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20

PROMISES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN

Men tell me to peel my skin like a carrot before I ask, ‘Do you like what you see?’ Say it’s sexy when I leave my pantyhose and high heels on while everything else comes off. For a moment I’m worried because I think I look silly. But trust me, you don’t, they say in a voice that shows me they know what they are talking about.

A three-minute song to dance to is on but our tastes differ. We don’t mind the clocks, despite our differences. They love my skirts that are easy to take off. I love to put all my weight onto my hands and squeeze their thighs near the groin before they touch the elastic of my panties and stop breathing to say nothing looks as sexy on a woman as a broken heart.

I thought once a promise looked sexy on me, on them, telling me to wear it like fabrics that feel good on my body. My old clothes are full of holes and don’t fit properly. I should chuck them out, but seem to lack the strength.

These old bones don’t do dancing anymore. Yet, I often hark back to what once was to remind myself of what I’ve been missing.

21

SHARED APPROVAL

When I arrived at the gallery I felt faint. I needed to sit down. I’m not as young as I was and what with my arthritic hips I couldn’t sit on the floor. There was no seating in the gallery, then I spotted a white chair occupied by a group of disparate limbs and sundry objects. As there was no-one in the room, I carefully removed all the items on the chair and reassembled them in the corner. I slumped on the chair, exhausted. Then a party of tourists came into the room and gathered round the reassembled limbs and took photographs on their smart phones and admired the reconstituted sculpture. From my little white chair, I nodded in shared approval.

22

marlene

clad in blue, with blue
eyes besieged by brows
sharp like arrows,
aimed at angels.

limbs caught in a blue feather bower and tights.
limbs are both hunger and bait.
her voice sat on a chair
as desire takes flight,

like the smoke out of
an unfinished cigarette
gasping for a mouth
to suck it.

23

Unreliable narrator

funny what you remember
how your head reshuffles the deck

it wasn’t a boa draped around your neck
I just wished for snakes
and there you were
all long and loose limbed supple
I remembered you in part
left out the bits I didn’t care for
turned out that was the most of you
I gave you credit for a wealth of good stuff
that I stole from somewhere
such a lot of someone elses
many who I’d never even met

when I think of you
when
my memory’s a serial killer’s cellar
Frankensteining bits of you together

24

INTERCHANGEABLE ME

This, then, will be my epitaph:

          Haughty, naughty, cold as ice
          bet you can’t walk past me twice
          hold your glance
          don’t try to stare
          think that I am unaware?

But, did you ever think of my thoughts as I furtively gazed back at you?

No, you saw me as a woman only to mirror your desires

          for you I became a nurse, garbed all in white, to erase
               your childhood abandonment

          or a dancer, twirling lithely, on the stage of your ever-
               changing sexual imagination

          then a statue, standing breath-holding still while you
               conjured yet another me

          and sometimes a slut, dressing in 5-inch heels and
               spewing filth to arouse your flagging libido

Those endless pictures burned into my mind are fragments of our world together, arranged by you

          always by you

What you wanted was what I quietly became

          never ME

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25

interdisciplinary ekphrasis

        aesthetically     aesthetically
              pleasing     pleasing
          gold statue     gold statue
                posing      posing
      contrapposto     contrapposto

       anatomically     anatomically
                correct     correct
                golden     golden
              -ratioed     -ratioed
             physique     physique

anachronistically     anachronistically
        recalling all     recalling all
         the golden     the golden
                   ages     ages
                   past     past

    approximately     approximately
                 worth     worth
          infinituple     infinituple
         her weight     her weight
               in gold     in gold

26

Out of Art

comes struggle,
struggle to produce
time
          money
    art.
Frag mented       life,
arms akimbo,
brushes in hand
too many choices
laid out before me,
heart
           juxtaposed,
head tired,      so tired.
Feeding the need
in snatches,
bursts     of color
                           here
jumble of words
     there.
How lovely     the day
could be
when no choice
     is necessary.
A day of art
and         nothing more
no alarms
    no chores
no outer voices,
                 just me.

27

Dancer

I danced the can-can
in bonds of lace, ruffled
the ears of front row voyeurs.

Leg met hip, forged waist,
climbed to shoulder,
soared to a pillar of neck.

My face, I don’t need to describe,
it was mere introduction.
My body performed.

All those eyes trained on
the heel-kick-arch of my step.
I invited them,

but not his hand.

28

In Pieces

Individually the parts
looked OK. His grandmother
always said he got her legs
and they looked good
in stockings—he preferred
the old kind with the seams
running up the back:
There was an art
to keeping them straight.

And he could rock a pair
of heels better than his sister!
His arms had not gone to flab.
They were firm and attractive.
But then he wasn’t taking
the hormones anymore.

Which meant the hair
on arms and legs and hands
had come back full force.
He wanted to be Aphrodite
but he was Ariadne
chained to the rock
of a past mistake.

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29

Silence in Motion

There is no sound
but the rhythm of
foot on floor,
foot on floor,
and the slap of hand on
shoulder, thigh,
shoulder, thigh,

and the song of air,
inhaled,
controlled,
exhaled,

foot on floor,
foot on floor,

each step, turn,
jump, slide,
step, turn,
step, turn,
step, step,

each pause,

each movement,
so painstakingly
learned and
relearned and
repeated and
repeated

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30

Can Can

They’re lined up ready to go on stage
These dancers of the Folies Bergère
their mouths reddened,
stockings suspended
heels high as heads
ready to dance
their Can Can.
And yes they can
they really can
kick their legs that high
and wave them around
as if they are disconnected
as if their bodies are barely held
together
but they are together
and they really can
hold on
at least to each other.

31

THE BRINGING TOGETHER OF PARTS

as a study in anatomy this is partial
where there are three legs involved

it's a day in parts too — all kinds
of nice with fun included — swept away

on the moment that happens — has
constituents of arms and legs

guided without a head of steam
sensuality a bi-product of a stocking

in place for its full meaning
though a tangle here that hangs together

as a specialty of balance in space
as a wordless time of stillness

as a garden of delight torn apart
as a mingling of parts without a single name

32

Human Touch

I want to know what it feels like to be with a human.

I want that gentle feeling of another human; the love, the affection, the excitement that runs through your veins and the electricity that a human touch gives you. I want to feel it, to touch someone, to hold it, run my fingers along their lifeline and feel their energy. I want to know what I have been missing.

I don't know how I came to be in isolation, but all I know is that I have been gone for quite some time, and that the place I once was, is no longer the place I will ever be a part of again.

33

Leda’s Children

Flippant in the half-light
with Leda; half swan, half
advert, invasive.
I watched you twitch
and wing towards her circus;
blurry, humming.
Years later, a fifth child;
fished from a darkroom
in a verge of stockings, netted
shoal-like with tumbled meanings.
Friends sip red wine
and stare, old philosophers
gathered to deconstruct
Leda; half swan,
half advert, invasive.

34

The Price She Paid

Though she knew it would cost her and arm and a leg,
upon losing the bet, she would have to renege.
When she offered tattoos which they couldn’t reuse
they demanded a payback she couldn’t refuse—
her head and her torso and then even more so
her heart and her soul (which were darker than coal)
which they’d send down to Hell for they knew very well
naughty views of a muse were a very good sell,
then her arm and her leg they’d send to a museum
where people would pay for the privilege to see ’em.

35

Legs Dancing

With rigid torsos and fluid arms,
they feel the bend and stretch of leg,
paired muscles pulling –

not pushing.

A dancer’s calves and thighs
are strong from point and rise,

plantar flexion in action
in graceful bend and stretch

worthy of Rodin or Lautrec
brushstrokes in a gentle
ballet composition

or an energetic cancan.

36

You Can’t Outrun Squally Rain

Outside a fisherman ties his dingy to the dock.
He runs for shelter below a lean-to sheet of plastic,
as if a person can outrun squally rain. Nothing
compares, being chased by a tropical maelstrom.

I've sheltered in a cafe with plastic chairs and tables.
I glance up at the waitress who sets a sweating bottle
of beer on the table. She asks if I’m ready to order.
Salt and pepper shrimp, a vegetable. M' goi, I say.

The rain beats against the awning and pours down
on to the wooden dock below. The fisherman waits.
No rush — this is Lana Island. None are in a hurry here.
Time keeps its own speed in China.

When I was young, and my soul was still half empty,
I let the world fill me. The world was my home.
Wherever I went, whatever I saw, each place left a bit
of itself in my soul. And I left a bit of myself behind, too.
A kindness for kindness. Memories for memories.

Like the heat of Singapore as I walked across the old
iron bridge. Dazed, I thought I heard footfall behind me.
A curse, equatorial heat. It scorched my neck, my arms.
No fan would cool me, no cold drink resolved my thirst.

I once stood at the base of a glacier. Listened to its
white ancient mass groan and snap, it shattered the air
with a landslide. I remember my feet begging me to run —
but my legs refused. I learnt what it meant to freeze.

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37

Woodstock, 1969

It was all legs and feet and arms
trampling Max Yasgur’s dairy farm.
His hand, reaching out to tame
the generation gap, brought
little money, lots of damage
and neighbours’ scorn. It was
Woodstock. It was
for love and song and free.
Now, pristine in a gallery
arms, legs, hands
have long forgotten
the psychedelic love generation.
Where once in mud and grass
hippies loved and laughed
in summer warmth,
now a compilation of limbs
sits on marble, stone-cold.

38

DISOBEDIENT

I traveled in the waves of time
I came with love
in the world the noise
and in the heart of man
wandering
In the Colors of the West
and to the light of oblivion
I was disobedient
Signs I left on
hidden corridors
secretly sealed
and sacred

The clean conversations
to secular and aged
times have been silent

39

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Leg stretched as if reaching for the ceiling
in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Atlantic City,
Isaac Hayes on the portable record player
Nancy W. brought together with the LP

in 1969 after the moon landing a month
earlier and before we went back to school,
thighs burned by sun and calves rounded
in a way that stays until bones break.

I don’t know when I decided to go West
but it may have been in the long slow
introduction to the song in a voice
of Southern blues.

I don’t know when I decided only
a Western man would do but both men
I married were of desert lands once seas
but neither would ride horses into mountains

with me after all the trails I wandered near beaches.
The only one before me to head from Pennsylvania
to plains was my great-grandfather to shoot
buffalo so the railroad could go through,

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40

A Jagged Collection

Our worst chaos
is a flood of bent arms and legs
that don’t have torsos.
The muted voices in a department store
liquidation are another sign of our economy’s decay.
When we walk through a closed store
without smiling faces or displays,
we soon realize that all the manikins
quietly form in dismembered unity,
a jagged collection of gender-less models
in the abandoned darkness of despair,
secretly having a vigil for the dead
without candles.

41

A New Self

I cannot fly or make things appear,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble in fear,
I can’t live with myself; I’m amazed not at myself,
My love, my beauty and the pity of myself.

I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish and open to all tears,
The mist of the wreckage of life I hold,
And the tales of sorrow I told.

I practice being myself; I learn to be me,
And then I found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
They were goaded out from under rocks in my heart,
When the walls were built higher on the earth,
When the water was turned off, the windows painted black.

I followed these signs like an old tracker,
And followed the signs deep into my own temper,
I followed the blood spotted path deeper into dangerous regions,
And found so many parts of myself in divisions,
It taught me that life is not everything,
And gave me new eyes to see through all things.

People spoke, but sunlight came out of their mouths,
And I was laughing at me with their mouths,
We laughed like children and then we were quiet,
No laughter was then in my mouth as yet,
Where is the laughter? I asked myself
And my new self smiled at the shattering of myself.

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To The Woman In Black

I could have asked her would she
like to be the woman of the sonnets?
But instead we just sat silent together
in the dark movie theater.
Her hair was short and black.
Her face was pale of course,
made even paler by makeup,
but black around the eyes.
And her lips were black,
kissable black.
She wore a black sweater
though it wasn't so cold inside or out.
And her dress was short and black,
showed off the long black stockings
that disappeared into the shadow
of the seat in front.
She was the kind of woman I imagined
leaving flowers at the graves
of long dead movie stars.
But she was with me, at the Palace,
digging her black nails into my hand
as the horror film unfolded.
There were moments I averted my eyes.
There were times I bled,
red blood I'm sure,
though black to my trembling knuckles.

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EXPERIENTIA DOCET (EXPERIENCE TEACHES)

Visitors are instructed not to touch the sculptures,
to keep their dirty paws off the art, to stand to one
side and not to look too closely at the pictures.

Any one of our attendants will be happy to explain
how these tactile objects feel against the skin. If you
have an itch to know then please feel free to ask.

What is this fear of us discovering for ourselves?
Why this aversion to let us gently scratch the surface?
To connect with the artists, to carefully place a hand

where their hands have been. When my only wish is to
receive their gifts in person, I’m frustrated once again,
left irked, miffed and peeved, rankled, vexed and

piqued, galled, riled, displeased, upset by the turn
events have taken. As I shoulder one more warning,
I’m led by the arm and ousted from the building.

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Performance Art

They said to me,
Just prance around in a tutu
Do the splits, the Can-Can
Maybe interact with the audience
But remember
This is serious stuff
The gallery has a message
Disconnected nudes are perfectly fine
On a chair in front of the exhibits
But Do Not Touch the real Art here
Your nude leg is too disturbing
Those arms appear out of control
A striped fan to cover modesty
Detracts from pure white space
Deconstruct your disability, yes,
But remember,
This is serious stuff.

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No Pedestal Holds Us Up

Rather, a child’s chair bears
A measure beyond gauges.
Meanwhile, we’re surrounded
By the encrustations of past ages:

The marble, the oil, the stormy skies
Ravishing stormy landscapes.
These would quail under the weight
Of the age we’ve just escaped.

Stockings protect very little there.
But the hand bearing the present?
We don’t trust it either. Why should we?
The color is all wrong, unpleasant.

There is no center here,
No solid being, no settled mind,
Only a portion that cohered
Somewhere else in a different time.

Our pumps clack on the concrete.
Our chair scrapes like a turkey call.
These others call to us, too,
Chanting in their dead languages.

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In Collaboration with

This issue of Visual Verse is published in collaboration with M Museum in Leuven, Belgium, to celebrate the 51st conference of the International Visual Literacy Association taking place at the Museum this month. The wonderful visual prompt has been selected from the Body Language exhibition at M-Museum:

Artwork: Valérie Mannaerts, Orlando (Legs), 2013, Cera-collection & M-Museum Leuven
Image: Exhibition view from Body Language at M-Museum Leuven © Alexandra Colmenares

Visual Verse would like to thank the artist Valérie Mannaerts for allowing us to share this wonderful work with our writers. We are also extremely grateful to the staff at M Leuven, particularly Kim Claes and Eveline De Wilde, for helping to bring this collaboration into being.

M Museum Leuven Logo

Find out more:

Valérie Mannaerts
M-Museum Leuven
IVLA conference 2019

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