Private Parts

Pencil is less ambiguous than paint,
incising hard lines round the genitals.
I’ve seen art-students, broad-minded enough
to talk naturally to naked models
in their breaks from posing, become furtive
as they draw a penis – men too. Often,
like children cheating in exams, one hand
shielded the other’s workings from all view.
Others erased madly – they’d made it far
too short or long, then, found they’d worked
the paper to a grubby thinness there,
or left black rubber pills like pubic lice.

Marble’s cold and doesn’t change however hard
you stare at it – an easier task than flesh
to draw. Sketching a Roman Mercury
in the Fitzwilliam, I’d toyed with the thighs
for far too long, eyed by some soldier from
a US base nearby. He stood until
I gravitated to the balls, then pounced.
An ugly human, he’d identified
with the smooth body of a God, the image
on the paper, seeing my pencil’s touch
as a caress.

First Love

The object of my love sat half-way down
the church – tall, fair and almost twice my age.
A hardened choirgirl, I had all by heart,
and watched him through the seasons of the year
in anthems, collects, choral eucharists.

On weekdays I would cycle by his home
and stand up on the pedals as I passed
to see the garden he was never in.
And if the curtains stirred, I’d race around
the block, then slowly ride by once again.

At home, I only hinted that I thought
he looked like a Greek God. ‘Bit weedy, though!’
my mother said. I bored my friends. One pinned
a note upon his gate – our names linked with
a heart – ‘Is it requited?’ underneath.

His mother, meaning to be tactful, took
that letter to the vicar, who burnt it
in a bizarre ritual. ‘That girl ought to
be shot!’ he said – I think he meant my friend –
and bent to strike a match by the church door.

I didn’t cycle past much after that
and kept my eyes on psalters and hymnbooks.
I still enjoyed singing ‘Love Divine’ though,
and I still kept on making Freudian slips –
‘Lead us into temptation’ being my best.

I peeped from behind prayer-folded hands
as I knelt, thinking it a subtle ruse.
I also got the odd look processing down
the aisle behind ‘Old Humpy’ with his cross,
my Scholls clacking on the heating-gratings.

I started to pose a little, wearing
blue eyeshadow to match my cassock and
lilac on my bare toenails (cheap offers from
some magazine), trying not to notice
another figure sitting in his pew.

When I’d convinced myself that girl whose hand
he held must be a relative, the banns
were called. I hid my sorrow in a sneeze.
Back home, hysterical, I screamed, ‘Only
four years to wait and I’d have been sixteen.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
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London, WC1A 2HN

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Vol. 7 No. 22 · 19 December 1985

SIR: I have become totally charmed, zapped, entranced, amused by the poetry and wit of Miss Fiona Pitt-Kethley, whose work you have had the vision to publish from time to time in your estimable paper. Her drollery and delight in obscene piquancy appear to power the freshest voice I have read in years. Acid, too, has she. Although I am 60, a defrocked astrologer and recluse-about-town who meditates on the Self continually, I seem to be hopelessly in love with her, as I suspect one or two in your shop are as well.

I note that a book of her poetry has been published, The Tower of Glass, although you neglect to name the publisher. Since with free trade rampant there does not seem to be one bookstore in New York City that stocks English publications, I hazard the gambit of sending you $15 in the hope that someone in your office might have the good will to buy it for me and ship it to this country – keeping what’s left over for a drink in Fiona’s name. I would also like her date, time and place of birth, if such information is in the public realm, and should you be communicado with the young genius, will you tell her she is not without admirers in the New World.

Robert Hanlon
New York City

The publication details proved hard to obtain at the time: The Tower of Glass was published by the Mariscat Press at £3.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Vol. 8 No. 2 · 6 February 1986

SIR: Robert Hanlon (Letters, 19 December 1985) will be pleased to hear that Chatto will be publishing Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s first full-length collection of poems, Sky Ray Lolly, in April. It will, I’m sure, leave him – and her many other fans – even more ‘charmed, zapped, entranced, amused’.

Andrew Motion
Chatto, London WC2

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The Editor
London Review of Books
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