A Shrunken Head

Frances Leviston

In the cargo hold,
cruising at thirty thousand feet
above blue islands,
galactically cold,
I float between Oxford and the site
where I was found

then traded on.
I cannot see for bubble-wrap.
At this stage
in my repatriation
I belong to no one, a blip,
a birdy ounce in the undercarriage.

Only the curator knows I’ve gone,
and who is left.
She redesigns the tour:
lizard bones
replace me, indigenous crafts
distract with dyed feathers

from an absence. So
in me no memory withstood
the leather-thonged, moth-kissed
costume of an Eskimo,
its upright hood
ringed with reindeer fur like frost,

regarding me for years
without a face
across the Victorian cabinets;
or a cruel long spear
frozen in space,
dressed like a wrist with jade and jet;

or Bobo – as I named him –
his heavy puss
pursed like a clown’s,
like a freshly sprung mushroom,
observing silence …
I miss being part of the known

quantifiable index,
the massive mouths of children
smearing the glass case,
sometimes shocked
and crying, more often
delighted to learn of my fate,

sneaking pictures
for school reports. Their flashes
filled me up with light
like water
would a calabash,
or cauterising beams from night-

security did the displays.
For hours after,
I’d see patterns that couldn’t be real,
shadow plays,
huge birds fighting each other
up the loaded walls;

I’d imagine
hands to rub my eyelids with,
lift them, and feel
the cross-stitches holding me in,
my vengeful breath
trapped beneath their seals,

wanting for the first
time in lifetimes to exhale,
to spit red berries
or the prattle of a curse …
then that would fail
in the force of my several injuries,

and I’d seem to drop
towards a far ocean,
armless, footless, a seed-head blown
without will or hope
or wishing-upon
through the middle of a crown,

to land on my shelf
under rows of wooden masks
and blown birds’ eggs,
smelling the open jar of myself –
salt-sweet as tamarisk,
mild as figs.