My eighth book, Marriage, contained two sequences; the first was very loosely based on the relationship between the painter Pierre Bonnard and his lifelong companion and model Marthe de Meligny. I came to see that the sequence is concerned, as are many of Bonnard's paintings, with what lies beneath the surfaces of the quotidian, what I call the mysteries of domesticity, and with the unsettling intensity with which an artist focuses on his subject. This is from the sequence, 'Marriage'.
Marriage – an extract
I perch on a ‘Bauhaus-style’ chrome and raffia
stool as you drop your knife and pause to consider
this fish and its fistula,
this fish with its deep deformity, its head like a cosh,
its raw flank and blood-brown eyes,
its lips of lopsided blubber,
this fish we are having for supper.
You laid out cold cash
to have them deliver this fish, close-packed in ice,
a glacier coelacanth preserved against all the odds,
as if some throw of the dice, some coin
turning a thousand years to come down heads,
had brought to the marble slab in our kitchen
of all kitchens this fish, sporting
its jowly truncheon-lump of sorbo rubber
and the great wet ulcer opening beneath its backbone.
As you start again, flensing good from bad, you let spill
a viscous flub of gut that slips
from your wrist to the marble, where it spells
out the hierogram most often linked
with the once in a lifetime, miraculous
descent of the goddess, her gills
crisp enough to cut as you trade kiss for kiss.
Flesh of her flesh, I’ll eat it if you will.
from Marriage (Faber, 2002), © David Harsent 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher.