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Three Poems by Jenny McAuley

Dr. Jenny McAuley is a writer and academic currently resident in Oxford. Since receiving her doctorate in English Studies from the University of Durham, she has held postdoctoral research associateships, and taught English literature of all periods from the Renaissance to the contemporary, at Durham, at the University of Oxford and Queen Mary University of London.


DAY BY BIRCHLIGHT (WINTER)


Rose-gold at daybreak,

through morning’s length

gold-white—this light spilt

down shining limbs

reflects like milk, by noon

lies still, bone-white

on paler flesh, chalk-soft—

late afternoon, this body

moulting light, rattles

its naked quills, admits

to stains, scuffs, slits—

ribbons of peeling skin;

trails their fluttering shreds

from dull red scars,

lets gaunt contours

thicken grey with evening,

assert themselves

in fleeting monochrome—

Dusk shakes out

its tangled blackening crown,

spins itself to glittering filaments

twisted in rose-forms

for the eyes of night.



‘QUESTO È IL BACIO DI TOSCA!’

 

The point is

jealous vigilance—

 

the good falcon

sights my presence

 

gracing the rapist’s table,

eye in the candleflames,

 

glancing blade, sharp

as a lover’s suspicions;

 

patiently glittering

under her hovering fingers—  

 

her spread hand hunting

my flamelit length

 

beyond her abandoned wineglass

while dark eyes track the prey.

 

Good falcon, strike:

feather this rousing hilt with flesh,

 

administer your kiss—

sacred weapon of justice.



A MEMENTO MORI (after Ann Radcliffe)

 

Stopped in an atmosphere of cedarwood and mildew,

cold fingertips unpinch, let slip a black silk veil—

sink back, mid-gasp, in shocked collapse of limbs

below the massive frame where morning’s light

has coolly revealed to ma’amselle’s inquisitive eye,

and unveiling hand, an outrage of vermin upon

unliving, undead flesh: a nose gone, a mouth

foaming with maggots; sunk eyelids weeping

through ecstasies of decay, meticulously

formed from bees’ work with sculptors’ tools. Wax worms

adorn the wax face, and the moulded hands;

wax figures itself in the rotting cerecloth.

And here lies ma’amselle, still as this effigy, senseless—

her thoughts arrange themselves into no stanzas.

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