Monday night is Albert Poets workshop night…unless it’s the first Monday of the month, in which case it’s Puzzle Poets at the Blind Pig…. and one of the delights is that you never know what will turn up. Last week, Stephanie Bowgett, (who is one of the Albert’s founder members, who will ere long be published by Calder Valley Poetry, and shortly after that will be A Polished Gem on the cobweb, and who invariably brings poems that surprise and stick in the mind) brought along a poem that was too long to workshop. So she read it, and I instantly wanted to share it with everyone I knew. There’s a lot of things in ‘Alice in wonderland’ and ‘Through the looking glass’ that unnerve and disturb, and even more in the story of Alice Liddell. Which I think this poem captures in the imagined voice of both Alices. And here it is.
It’s a poor kind of memory that only works backwards
I wake exhausted. I’ve painted
the whole night, painted
out the mistakes with rose-red paint;
a hundred wet kisses, my face, my tummy,
that brazen promise of breasts
all disappear under the brush.
This quadrille is red, red as a lobster.
Will you, won’t you- will you won’t you-
w-won’t you join the dance?
Mr Ruskin took tea with me
one January day. Papa and the Red Queen
were dining out. I’d sent him a note
(what a forward minx I was!) We were
toasting muffins before the fire when
they returned early; unexpected
snowfall had blocked their route.
In his journal, Mr Ruskin recorded it thus:
a sudden sense
of some stars having been
blown out in the wind.
I have always thought Mr Ruskin
handsomer than the Dodo.
We wait on the shingle, the Dodo and I.
There he is with his Gladstone bag,
his crooked smile. I’ve taken off
my black button shoes, the straps cut
into my ankles so; my white lisle stockings
are in his pocket. He stutters
a stream of sand over my legs.
Abracadabra! From his bag
a safety pin. He always carries pins
to hitch the skirts of little girls
up out of the spray. I paddle.
He watches with his uneven eyes.
The books discover me. The Red Queen
Sweeps in one morning, demands
the Dodo’s letters. And those photos he took
the day he fashioned a mouse
from my handkerchief: a mouse
with a long and sad tale, lace ears.
I ride my blue skirt,
through thick air, sour
smell of worms. Broken
finger nails scrabble;
passing roots clutch
at my hair – it is grown long
and yellow as fever.
If you fall asleep in the noonday sun
you must expect nothing
will be as it was
when you wake again.
I woke on the riverbank
reinvented. Bleached, banded,
I was everyone’s favourite blonde;
zebra ankles crossed
with the syntax of an Oxford don.
Curiouser and curioser
Someone hangs his grin in a tree.
I hold up my hands.
I can’t pass a bottle
without taking a swig. The cards
are stacked against me.
And if I hold up the glass
the words will all
go the right way again.
In the glass
I see me
I try lemon juice
but I am peeling.
in my hands
( A note: I’ve had problems with the lineation, and the only way I could stop this being all left-justified was to faff about with a snipping tool to turn bits of text into jpegs that I could set where I wanted. It should all be in one font. Forgive me. I should read Josephine Corcoran’s blog posts more assiduously)