Six months on, I don’t know when you were born
nor what you’ve been writing, though you tell me
when you’ve been writing. I’ve been writing
sonnets again, but this once fail-safe form
dismays me now. A/B/B/A/: I forge the chain –
or force it. The closing couplet seems too slight
to hold the weight of rhyme ranged down the right,
and always, always, in the third quatrain,
a change of subject, so conversation
can’t probe too deep… I like to think you’re doing better,
writing villanelles, perhaps, fettering
fresh sense to each elegant allusion,
ensuring all confusion is contained
in one wild line between two cool refrains.
Last night you vanished, and left nothing
to prove you’d been here except the glass
you drank from. Our delirious words
resounded in the empty bell-jar body
and gold specks shone where it drew light
from all the lamps. The room’s shadows
gathered, and tumbled out again, becoming shadows
of shadows which spoke of things
that we have no frequency for, words
like whale-song, which old sailors make light of,
running their fingers round the rim of a glass.
There must be tears in the blown body
I’d never noticed, as holding your body
I missed your fingerprints: shadows
that bloom when you touch something.
Now, here’s a gelatin silver print on glass,
skin cells suspended in sweat; daylight
exposes your gestures and all the words
that you dispensed like moonshine. Neither words
nor works convict you of a thing,
yet darling, I know that were my body
a vessel you’d see my silica skin
scaled with rainbows, just as sunlight
lured through lashes casts a shadow
on the lens. The theatre of shadows
played your face; tireless bodies
danced all night, as if drawn in lamplight
by a puppeteer. You knew every word
in every scene by heart: nothing
escapes a clairvoyant. Only a glass eye
can outstare the scrying glass.
Did you mortgage your own shadow
to see that mirror’s dark delights?
Let me redeem the debt – these disembodied
whorls, my fortune. Give me your word,
and you need cross my palm with nothing.
I’ve seen the glass spell sweet nothings
from shadowlands, bypassing your body.
Wait, while I fetch ink and paper and light.
Nancy Campbell’s Disko Bay was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2016. Her latest work The Polar Tombola is a participatory live lit project funded by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts. www.nancycampbell.co.uk