for Mary Graham Carmichael Marvin
At first I assumed it was the motion.
The stomach lurch as I felt my way
along flickering hallways
with dark wood cabinets.
Brow damp, stockings itching,
the varnish and turps searing my lips.
I took hungry gulps of sea air
tried to clear my blurred vision,
make sense of the figures in the fog.
Sipped tepid tea from brittle bone-china
knotted ginger steeped in perforated globes
to calm the waves.
To turn the surface to glass.
My senses caught alight
a nub of fire on each nerve ending
like a match struck then discarded
as we stood together and counted stars.
I pierced the flesh of the egg with the tip of my knife
whilst the pianist played Ständchen to an inarticulate
array of guests who buttered fresh rye bread,
cracked pink prawn shells with their teeth.
Yes, I remember now
in a fit of pique I stabbed asparagus spears on my plate
the ghostly green against my mauve veins.
I scratched the days on cabin stationery like cave carvings,
the calendar now explained each straining satin button
and bulging strap, a map of red lines on my expanding skin.
In the evenings I emerged in the finest Venetian silk
under a cloud of Guerlain’s L’heure Bleue
clutched pearl strands to my throat at dinner.
I pictured my world smaller.
Tucked inside the circumference of a napkin ring,
a passage re-routed—time running out.
At night I woke and gasped a thin breath
shouted for water for a double measure of
glacial drip into this bleak Atlantic trough.
The capping rails were hard to catch, greased with salt
and stung the tiny cuts in my bitten nail beds.
It all stung, from initial retch, to final heave.
Boat no 10 askew on ropes
the inability of you to meet my eyes at lunch
as I held myself taut in a mahogany swivel chair
wondered what was normal any more.
A child, your perfect match, so soon to be a teenage widow.
No, I can’t forget
the visions on my walls for years to come
my body on a bed splitting in two and sinking
The lead latticed windows kept out the ocean’s glare but
there was no light in there, no fresh air.
Where was the moon?
In New York, in the house, I had to paint all panels white
and the heady smell of scallops with a mousseline sheen,
or a boudin sausage, dripping crimson grease on porcelain
sent me darting down the curved staircase again,
to chase fractured beams on cold marble steps.
When she came, Mary, our Peggy,
which of course we knew she would—
it was a quiet death for me—of old rage
the pain, the relief of solid ground underfoot.
At least it ceased with her birth, I knew a calm day again.
No more shifting shapes beneath the waterline.