Beneficent Puss appears atop a healing wound, a false sign of festering.

Lavinia: Beneficent Puss

There is something to be said for filth;
a dark coating of unscrubbed flesh,
cells collecting like scales on arms,
flaking in the creases, to be shed at last
in gray lengths like sunburn, peeling.

It is another kind of armour,
useless against sword swipes,
bullets, a hard thrusting strike.
The dried sweat flaking from
between your breasts is hardly
protective colouring. The scent
from your scalp is enough to draw
water from eyes, useful only
for blinding a possible attacker.

Walk the streets in a tattered
t-shirt, seven years old,
brought from the orphanage,
stained at the armpits
and sticky to touch.

Watch the flesh peel
from your foot-soles,
between the thongs
of hard-worn Birkenstocks,
your slack little teats
wobbling like half-filled
leather wine-wallets,
starved to shrivelling,
though you are young.

Even in this heat
no man dares offer a ride;
you could only be one
kind of prostitute.
not worth the risk.

Walking down this Kansas backroad,
the sun baking down unbroken
by trees, you are a nineteen-year-old
lungfish, cocooned in deep mud,
waiting for the healing rain
to wash you clean and free
on your way to the sea after a seven
year drought. Your dirt is more

than protective colouring,
holding the world at bay.
It is a scab, beneficent puss,
proof of slow healing,
preserving your scars.

If beautiful Lavinia,
warrior’s child, had lived
as long as you without a tongue,
gripping a pen with her bloody stumps,
watching her words slip and smear
beyond all reading, how much would she
have to say if her parts were restored?

The rage would spill first,
her spleen vented on all,
from grinning rapists
to Titus, her father, who
would not save her
in the way that he could.

The moment her brothers
found her in the woods,
her mouth unspooling
bloody ribbons instead of words:
this moment brightened indelibly.
Eventually she would
leave her raging and record

the transcendent colour
of the spring-light through
the forest leaves. Her own pooled
blood, divorced from herself,
puddled on maple
and edged round in gold.

If you bathe the wound too quickly,
you loosen the scab which leads
to worse scarring. Leave the filth
where it lies, no one will touch you
or disturb your healing. Keep up
your walking, nobody’s whore.

In this drought your new tongue
is blooming. Ignore the ache,
that pain you feel: like other creatures
who shed their skin, those scaled amputee
survivors, your hands shall regrow.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on June 10, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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