Last to go is the halo,
which she carries hooped
like a bag over her arm,
as dented and bruised
as the wheel of a stock car.
The wings went days ago,
along with sweetness of breath
and heart. All she’s left with
is an ache between the shoulders,
an occasional urge to take off,
like an amputee preparing
to walk on ghost limbs.
That and a dryness in her mouth,
as if she had swallowed her own feathers.
Today, her feet are blistered from dancing,
her dress and beaded slippers,
the smuts of mascara beneath her eyes,
confess the ruin of last night’s revels,
her skin is crusted with salt.
One more song she cried as the band
packed up their instruments,
shimmying to the percussive crash
when the drummer dropped a cymbal.
Later, she rested her head on the shoulder
of a horn player, felt the earth
vibrating through his limbs as he blew,
a sound so soulful, so complete
she wondered how she had ever contemplated
the divine life, all that white,
the cool silver of heavenly ideals.
We picture you in the Chelsea Hotel
limousines purring outside,
the ice-cream sheen of Leonard’s cum
pearling your quivering lips. Or onstage,
white blues mama, shimmering in silver lamé,
mouth wide in the ecstatic throes of joy or pain –
who the hell knows, man? Ripping out
each note, ripping out heart, lungs, throat,
that unholy howl unpacking the smokestacks
of Port Arthur, its cheerleader ideal, the prom
no one invited you to, ugly duckling,
the irritant lodged in your heart, which you choked
with beads and feathers, speed and horse,
Southern Comfort, that wild cackle laugh.
You were the hottest chick in town, could out-ball
any guy but no man made you feel as good
as an audience and if pearls are tears of the gods
yours were shed in private, that wisecracking shell
hiding the square dream of love and picket fences
you never quite left behind on Pearl’s road to fame.
The day you bought it at the Landmark Motel,
face down, wedged between wall and bed
in panties and blouse, your lip cut, fisting a handful
of silver and bills, your life zapped
by the too-pure heroin you skin-popped earlier,
you’d called City Hall about a marriage license,
never dreaming your fiancé would be removing his pants
in a game of strip billiards at the moment you’d lay
your works in a Chinese box and lurch forwards.
Don’t still, my beating heart
We’re born with a finite number of heartbeats,
according to the ancient yogis, who counselled calm,
the steering clear of things that make our heart rate
quicken, bring us closer to death. But who wants
to be prudent when it comes to the heart?
I’d rather splurge, fritter my remaining heartbeats
on grape suede shoes and a plum crêpe dress,
slide on stockings you’ll later peel off
(there goes a few days’ worth), gamble them
drinking Rioja and Hendrick’s gin by the fire,
dancing to Goran Bregović on Spotify,
eating your perfect roasties, crumbed with lemon
and thyme (crisp as autumn outside, fluffy
as pillows inside). Talking of pillows, I’d like
to spend more time in your bed, your hips clamped
between my thighs, or drifting into sleep, face to face,
foreheads touching, arms and legs entwined.
Lower Market Street, 1973
Bombed on Tuinal and Newcastle Brown,
Mad Eddie steams into our room, skids
to a halt at our bed and throws back the sheet,
squealing, ‘Ah, look at the babes in the wood’.
Naked as eels, me and Richard cling to each other.
I drop acid, I’m on the Pill. I want to be as cool
as hennaed Sadie, who’s crashing on our floor,
who pops Mogadon for breakfast and bares
her boyish tits without thinking, who’ll steal
my green platform boots when she leaves.
Grabbing his balls, Eddie flickers his tongue
across his teeth, looking at me like he knows
about the boys I’ve let feel me up in alleys,
that I lost my virginity to a policeman’s son
in Stanmer Park. Richard tells me I’m all woman,
I try on the tag but here come breasts, hair, blood,
here comes the creature my father couldn’t have
in the house, the one who was only loveable
when she was a baby, a disc of pink vinyl,
stamped with her master’s voice.
Chase the lady
After I sent you away
I ate the Christmas lady,
a gift from Canada.
First I bit off her head,
allowed the chocolate
to melt in my mouth;
then I thrust my tongue
into the cavity
of her body, licked clean
her caramel filling
and sucked her shell,
lingering over the last,
Now I’m standing
at the window,
the glass so frosty
it’s like Toronto in winter.
I’m seeing a darkened room:
my nipples haloed,
your lips glistening
in the streetlight
falling through the slit
of half-opened curtains.
At my funeral I want Maria Callas singing Un Bel Di
and Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’,
although on the day I might change my mind
and go for Che gelida manina,
‘Children of the Revolution’, Janis Joplin
roaring her heart out in ‘Get it While You Can’.
Either way, it’s tears and laughter I’m after,
no stiff upper lips – stiffness being restricted
to the pants of ex-lovers and husbands,
remembering, perhaps, my blow job technique
or the pelvic grip I’d finally perfected.
Afterwards, at the wake –
which will be the kind of party I used to love
but have grown to dread, afraid of the girl
who could throw up in a clogged women’s toilet,
return to the bar for another drink
and then take a stranger to her bed – at the wake
I want everyone dancing to Motown.
And if someone should see fit to erect a shrine,
like the glass cases at roadsides in Greece,
I’d like them to make sure it contains
a pair of black silk knickers trimmed with pink satin,
a first edition of the Wide Sargasso Sea
nestling beside one of my own works,
a Polaroid from a dirty weekend in Berlin,
a glass of champagne, and my beating heart –
pierced with an arrow, one last time.