Slow Burn

Denise Riley

Happiness, I consider in my papery season, did zigzag toward me
until later I got hated, in the guise of that demon I was held to be.

Now I forget much, in my white fog pierced by rare if brilliant rays.
My beard careens into spidery threads, long and light on the wind.

Let these scant years keep lucid, unclouded by the familiar sorrows,
and released from their rattle of verdicts, whether issued or received.

Whistling down a meadow path I was frank and easy in my speaking.
My will to trust limped off mutely once it heard honour canter away.

Yet even a single ‘But how could they have?’ is one plaint too many.
Or do they, like me, pick their consciences to ribbons? Behind my fan

I could weep for the bruised decades; then, I wouldn’t have quivered.
Secretly the intimate talkative skin seals over, turning to face the wall.

A halfhearted recruit to the sect of post-sexuals must quit her soft spot
for ‘devotion to something afar’ or ‘desire of the moth for the star’, but

what good to even the keenest-antennae’d of moths could any star be?
I’d bound my own feet in a luxe of all-giving, determined to offer them

everything I’d never been given myself. Was that one way of getting it?
The outcome was ivory trotters so polished a blade flips right off them.

Evenings float under television, rather than into amnesiac scholarship
yet my recall of his death threats to me still stays embarrassingly sharp.

As a boy I’d puzzled over what had brought out such cruelty in them –
what was it, I worried, in me. I had never thought of myself as young

so was sheltered by only my plywood shield of bravado. It splintered.
Unknowing, I once had a child ‘by’ a man who had strangled a swan.

Others grew thin-lipped when the world disappointed them and I was
at hand as its rep. Bad rep. Caustic love-agonists, complacently ageing,

wax savvy about therapy. ‘Whose are all these children?’ the benefits
officer asked me so scathingly it just wasn’t on to reply to her: ‘Mine’.