Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Proper Diagnosis

after The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

"...the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, everywhere
Echo or mirror seeking of itself, 

And makes a toy of Thought."
                         -Coleridge, "Frost at Midnight"

Then look again, my Dear Caroline.
The Little Stranger is outside the parlor,
clanging candlesticks against the balustrade.
She emerged in gusty soot the moment 
you scolded the scullery maid
for leaving the boot-room strewn with straw.

Fire is not a trial worth tempting.
You have a weakness, Dear, like your 
brother (now under the care of the Vicar of St. Albans).
The brandy is not this weakness; only
an amber mirror that shatters
down the throat. 

The Estate was broken shortly after the War, the second, the flamethrower, that scorched the smutty skirts of London and menaced the greeny shires with invisible smoke. There was no more room for such a pile in the Midlands where rural families suddenly were in need of washrooms segmented plots. And here it must be said that an ancient home will become agitated when it's foundation is threated. Pockets of air, filled with things that have happened--like the dark space beneath the second floor landing where a small boy once bounced a pig-skinned ball over and over and over as his nursery-maid shouted for him from above--remain and beg attention in the silliest of ways.

Poor Roddy was never properly
held by his mother. That must account
for his abnormal admiration for the flame.
The touch of fire is like no other touch:
a blue kiss, a digging tongue 
that rewrites the skin.
For the starved of love, a lick
of ember is the milky nipple 
never pulled.

Poor boy. How he loved that
second floor landing, dark and
tight and warm like the red-lined
walls of flesh in which he began.

A skull is really a mansion, isn't it? An estate with the most complex configuration of wings: branches and barnacles off-shooting in fissured currents from plate of bone to plate of bone. And all that meat in between where our full-length mirrors reflect every instance, every occurrence from pink unwinding to grey goodbye...

...and the strangers that hide behind them, 
and the strangers that move within them.


Francis Scudellari said...

I'm not familiar with the Sarah Waters novel that informed it, but this is a really wonderful narrative with its lingering ghosts and tempting fire. I love the comparision in part 4.

Anonymous said...

This was long and worth the read. I like historical novels about this part of the world myself; reading about the Putney debates now.

Ande said...

This one contains so much. I really like the world you fashion.