Dancing with the Matriarch
I thought her dead,
laid in the morgue’s blue shroud,
mouth closed for once with no complaints,
You should have come to visit less.
I venture close, press lips against a chilly ear,
whisper child-held secrets,
feel a pulse, jaw loose,
saliva drooling from her lips.
As I step back, they open even more
revealing the fierce shards
incisive as her final words,
You were never worth the labour.
My back seeks wall for spine
as she begins to shake,
flesh bouncing on lithe feet to stand,
corns gleaming fire opals.
Withered arms slip through the air,
her voice alive with song,
Dance with me, my dearest daughter –
words I never heard before.
But our bodies fit – not doll
inside a doll: women parallel.
She sings, Breathe on me, Breath of God.
Fill me with life anew.
The morgue spins wild. As I hold tight.
Her shroud, a Cinderella gown
sweeps the floor
flashing with blue light.
She falls down in a heap. At last
I turn to leave, singing to the ceiling,
Breathe on me, Breath of God.
Fill me with life anew.
Her body is a jewel inside the casket,
sleek as burnished gold, lined with purple velvet.
It seems another skin, soft, crushed, alive.
The face is hers but from another time
before my birth. I’ve seen the photographs
thrown in a drawer. That woman’s smiling.
Hard for me to understand the hair,
once full and brown, now grey and thin,
delicate as lace in fading light.
The skin is changed, miraculously smooth,
especially near the crown and neck.
Features, you could say, are much improved –
mouth pressed shut, keeping her a secret
as she kept her life. Nostrils do not flare.
Eyelids draw me close, wanting them to move.
If she raised her hands, they might well attack.
Hard to think of it, the reaching she would do,
the wanting. There is nothing more.
Up she jumps out of the grave,
mother with her dress all loose
as it never was in life, stiff-backed to the end;
death another chance
to set down rules: Don’t cry at my funeral.
It was easy to obey till she dances free,
kicks away the dirt, flies towards the congregation.
All of us step back. Priest lifts up the bible.
Does he mean to throw? Or is it a shield?
But she is too fast, moves away from him;
dances to my father, arms around his neck –
stranglehold or warm embrace?
Their first public kiss. Open-mouthed,
he cries her name – not a dirge. A hymn –
Glory Hallelujah! high above the ground
as she takes my hand, twirls me in a dance, dizzy
till I shake her off, run behind a headstone,
watch the way she moves, waltzing through the trees.
Then she flies above them all, waving
both her arms, acting as if wings.
Jenny Mitchell is winner of the Segora Poetry Prize 2020, the Fosseway Poetry Prize 2020,
a Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2020, joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize 2019, and a two-time Best of the Net Nominee. Her work has been published in The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, The New European, The Morning Star etc; and broadcast on Radio 4/BBC2. A debut collection, Her Lost Language, (Indigo Dreams Publishing), was selected as one of 44 Poetry Books for 2019 (Poetry Wales) and a Jhalak Prize #bookwelove 2020. Twitter: @jennymitchellgo Jenny Mitchell -Indigo Dreams
Banner: Flying (over London), a digital image by Robert Frede Kenter