Poem of the week this week comes from Fiona Benson’s Bright Travellers, published by Cape Poetry. Bright Travellers was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear Fiona reading from this collection here.
‘Portrait with a Bandaged Ear’
You show up at my door weeping, exhausted,
a rag tied under your chin like a corpse,
mumbling chérie, chérie. I draw you a bath,
soak your dirty underclothes, heat soup.
You sit by the fire in my mother’s old housecoat
and doze. When you wake you’ve turned.
You tell me I stink, open every window to the wind,
throw water all over the bed as if our old love
burned, shout whore, whore, whore as you leave.
You show up at my door, drunk but lucid,
your right ear healed to pearly pink buds,
the naked hole in your head flecked with wax.
You eat stew right out of the pan and keep me informed:
mannequins talk filth, they are hungry and bored,
they would like to be saved; birds ventriloquise the damned,
sins that make you muffle your head and shake.
You say you’d like to be well. You shove bread
in your pockets for later and walk back into the cold.
You show up at my door. The veins stand out
on your temples, your nose is pinched and thin.
Angels have voices that spin and shine
and must be listened to side-on; these window-box
geraniums, for instance, spilling crimson petals
on the road, are a counsel for bloodletting, leeches –
you’ll interpret their signs for the world. Oh you choose them
over me then come stumbling home, three toes
lost to frostbite, a crust of blood on your upper lip
and I let you in and I let you in and I let you in –
remember the long afternoons of our youth
spent wrapped in the covers as if night would never come,
how fierce you were and clear, back then.
Now I find you stirring in the chamber pot for signs,
or stood in the kitchen, your bare blue limbs shining,
looking for knives. Chéri, chéri, we’re running
out of grace. Men will come and ask me to confirm
your name. I want you strong and well. Please stay.