Not Fade Away
In an overgrown cemetery, slipping downhill,
an impossibly steep hill, held in place
by a low wall, the views of the canal
running its clogged-up artery through the village.
I walk through darkness even though
it is mid-afternoon. The stumpy trees
cling to each other, the graves slant
awkwardly like drunks. Here, nothing
speaks or creaks or rustles. It is like
being in a silent film, black/white,
distorted by the dark green light
that comes from I can’t tell where.
The only angel is sad-faced with scarred
limbs, looking down as if heaven were mud
at her feet. She is petrified, her head bowed,
her hands wrung stonily together in prayer
as if god had promised her the earth, pretending
that this included the leaving of it. Sick,
that sharp sting that brings me face to face
with you, as if my veins briefly brought us back
to life, back to memory which was not how
it was supposed to be. The trees are closer
than ever as if they had grown for a century
and never been pruned back. Have we been
sleeping for one hundred years? Faces float
like moons: Mae Marsh, the girl with the bee stung lips,
bee sting, gentle bee sting, blonde, beautiful, bee stung.
Now the afternoon light is a shining halo of blonde
then as the sun slips down the chorus line,
Clara Bow, flaming youth personified,
all auburn hair and scarlet smile bursts out
dancing her frantic Charleston.
Night, and we are alone. I touch her chipped neck,
her verdigris eyelids, her weatherbeaten hands,
her broken wings, wings of marble. She
can barely tolerate their weight. I
almost think she will speak to me for
I have shown her kindness, but her lips
are closed forever and underneath the stiff,
white shift, her heart is broken.
The gates of what could have been
a low budget heaven are rusted shut,
browning flowers entwined and crumbling.
The script is torn and scattered, The stars are dead.
I feel a rush of rain, then nothing. My eyelids
are far too heavy to open. My back is bowed
and my hands won’t move. My face
is an ugly, cracked blankness.
from Not in this World (Bloodaxe, 2015), © Tracey Herd 2015, used by permission of the author and the publisher