poem01 Aug 2016 07:59 am
Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Every night she bathed in a tub
afloat with crimson roses.
She broke them at the throat,
set them to ride the tepid water
like boats at peace
before she let the soft robe slip,
let herself slip in, slip under.

Opening her eyes, she saw
the bodies of the blossoms bob above,
blood slowing
then crescendoing
as she held her breath,
took herself to the point
where lungs demanded answer.
One beat beyond.

That’s when they came to her.
The women.
The water a wavering barrier between them,
she remained unseen,
as if a dreamer moved amongst her dreams.

The first woman huddled underground
in a wet woolen coat,
shoulder to shoulder against anonymous others,
hat quavering while bombs shook the dank tile walls.
The bather tried to comfort her,
words bubbling out till she choked on them
and surfaced spluttering,
the connection severed.

The next night she tried again,
but the Londoner was gone.
Instead a woman in skins kneeled before a fire,
starry sky glimpsed through smoke,
heeding an elder’s tale told in an unknown tongue,
while she beaded the long black tail of her daughter’s braid,
each bead a response to the teller’s syllables,
the woman beading her own history,
a tale of love and kinship.

The bather wandered each night,
sampling lives.

Someone in green velvet and a long pale plait
fled through stone corridors,
hands red to the wrist.
Someone met her lover
in the forest shadows,
shedding jeans and vows.
Who were they?
The bather stopped asking.
Accepted them as hers.

Afterward, hair dripping onto terrycloth,
she would arrange her collection in her mind
like a gardener planning a herbaceous bed,
pretty maids all in a row,
day-lilies amongst the dormant daffodils,
ragged child beside the weeping queen.

One night rose-water brought her to
a true garden.
Somewhere. Somewhen.
Night. Summer.
Almost she could smell
these other roses, candle-white,
star-burning in the darkness
where a lady waited
in lilac silks.

The bather swatted away
the moth-thought that this time
she had been seen.

Grey eyes insisted
on being met.
The woman spoke.
“Where are you? In what world
do you float among red roses?”

Underwater, the bather could not answer.

“Who are you?” the silken woman asked.

For the first time
in any world, someone asked,
saw her.

The next time the bather stayed under,
would not rise past the floating roses’ heads,
ignored the urgency to breathe.

Splutter and violence and upheaval done,
she opened her eyes to
the white-rose world.
Night. Summer.
Ready to answer.


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