On the Recommendation of Ovid we Tried a Weasel
It was the first mammal he ever gave me.
He must have trapped it late last night when the moon
disappeared inside a nightclub of clouds
and stars giggling staggered behind.
I found it in the morning, slung like an amulet
across the lapel of my winter coat, flattened to a strip,
satin lined, its snout firm like the tip of a snooker cue,
black tipped and bloody.
In truth he’d tried other things, such as the skins of a dozen
pulverized rattle snakes, the milk from a score
of white iced rabbits, a pot of crayfish.
Then there were the showers of flowers.
Oh yes, the flowers, barrow boy loads of flowers,
such as the biblical Selaginella,
a cruciferous plant that he said –
if I ever reached full term – was believed
as it bloomed to smooth out the suffering of delivery.
He was known to serenade me in my sleep
with those hollowed out Halloween
gourds favoured by percussionists;
for it’s said the loose pieces left inside
simulate the rattling sound of an embryo.
What else can I say- we tried and tried.
I practically wore the weasel to death.
Ask yourself, how many times can you scrape
the bottom of a barrel? He shocked me with a rat,
a dead cat dredged from a sacred river bed.
I drew the line. He gave up after that.
In Commemoration of a Live Birth
My Mother kept a set of maiolica – scodella da impagliata.
This comprised of a broth bowl and tray.
She kept it by her bed so that each morning
on opening her eyes, her first words were always Grazia.
My Mother had no time for the modern, the clinical;
birth scenes should be opened up, not wax sealed.
My Mother had no time for those who declared war on ornament
or soft furnishings, made short shrift of those who called for birthing
rooms to be stainless steel, all gesture and sound deleted.
She said they comforted, her eyes swimming lengths each morning
across the bay of the tray, clamouring up the sides of the bowl.
Inside the painted scene already set,
a figure of an attendant watching, the midwife snuggled
beneath the labouring woman’s skirt as she straddled
the rack of a birthing chair. A silent woman, possibly her older sister
in the Virgin’s blue, massaging her temples,
the delivery, so close, so close now she swears she can smell it,
the easing, the woman’s swollen hand signalling distress,
slapping like a ray the silt of the midwife’s headdress,
whilst in some quiet corner an astrologer cast the new-born’s chart.
Then afterwards, the infant swaddled, lungs tiny bellows in the dark –
breathing in and out – breathing in and out – yes – she remembered,
even though it was forty years ago, no more – it may be more.
She recalls as if it were yesterday – commemoration
through herbal steam, family floating through the broth,
so clear now. Piles of plates, bowls and dishes, riches
of salt and poultry, all this, the rattle of voices encouraging
to sup, sup, sup up by all and sundry.
Slip Road with Indigo Sky and Pussy Willows
It’s early evening as we step over the barrier
onto the relative safety of the verge.
Ahead, through a web of hawthorn hedge
a retail park throws switch after switch
until Vegas belts across our eye line
and we have to look the other way, start talking.
You about the possibility of bladeing in Dundee –
I about Enid Marx and a bag I just saw,
that you might like, morello cherry red,
piped with icing white and a transfer of a Lambretta.
The traffic slurs. Time passes. We stop talking.
The traffic slurs. Time passes. We start talking.
You talk about the stars – a bear constellation,
I about an idea I just got, design for a cotton print.
Look. Let me show you. See over there by the ridge,
how the artificial glow of the mall overflows
into night indigo then fades, in much the same way
as vegetable dye with too much exposure
to direct light or over-zealous washing.
That’s the best that kind of indigo
as it harbours no rust streaks.
Add those silvery wands to your right,
rhythms of pussy willow,
strumming the night sky – then repeat.
You start laughing at me – saying,
hopefully we’ll be long gone before a length gets finished.
Propped against a voltage box
we turn up our coat collars.
Tonight, the moon is very old and doddery,
milky as a cataract it gropes the stars,
a distant night owl.
The traffic slurs. Time passes. You stop laughing – stop listening
so I stop talking, stop inventing. The traffic blurs. Time passes.
Until ahead of us, within touching distance
the citron yellow lights of a breakdown truck,
fizzing against black, like lemons in the night
on the slopes of the barley twist groves of Amalfi.
(from Before Playing Romeo)
1916, Working With Red In a Field Hospital, Belgium
Back in the workshop I look
for any kind of flux, discrepancy,
or break from the uniform,
when dyeing wild madder with gromwell,
or common sorrel with bedstraw, but not here.
The men lie, abstract shapes & sizes
angled & shattered in beds,
a fraction between types & ages.
Without exception all dye red,
grimy sheets, make do blankets.
I notice little variation in shade
or depth of shade, or length of spread or seep,
or smear or splatter;
where the bandage unravels,
or the flesh stitches bloom & split.
Take this boy – he won’t mind me showing you.
His wound replicates early nineteenth century anilines –
look closely at his right buttock,
see mauve going green, going flinch black –
no amount of handiwork can stop
the corruption that imprints flesh,
there are no mordants for miles around.
(from Walking the Block)
Identifying a Pattern, After Treatment
The curator’s voice thin, weak watered-down bleach,
warning the cloth’s much leached, rat-nibbled, tank-trod.
Merciless, he draws down acid-free tissue
& I wish my eyes three times coated with Kevlar,
wish my ears stoppered by dead mens’ fingers.
The fragment shows pattern after treatment.
Part of the repeat lies in tatters, unfathomable.
Part of the repeat healed & thickened.
Some lines sacrificed
to close the throb of chevrons, staunch bleeds.
This leaves a pattern out of sync, lop-sided,
& expression gurning, a slight moon-lit asylum look,
whimsical, but not unpleasant
on a night with nightingales airing.
How long can I stay focussed?
I try turning my eyes from the black-shot border.
Turning eyes is a difficult business,
like a bisque doll I swivel my head several times,
until I face its glance full on, run with it.
I nod, I owe it this at least; though I’ve seen enough,
long before he sees I’d seen enough,
and finds mercy drawing the tissue back.
Jane Weir is Anglo Italian professional textile designer and writer, born in Manchester. Her first collection, The Way I Dressed During The Revolution was shortlisted for the Glenn Dimplex New Writers Award, and was the winner of the Wigtown Poetry Competition 2008. Her other collection is Before Playing Romeo. She has two pamphlets Alice and Signs of Early Man. Her allegorical and poetic biographies on the two Modernist textile designers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher are Walking the Block and Spine. The trilogy will be completed with Mood Indigo (2014). Jane Weir’s work is published by Templar.