Painting of a Bedroom with Cats
The curved cane chair has dented cushions, the cats
Catch spiders and craneflies on the wardrobe tops,
The guitar lies in its funereal case, the road is quiet,
The apple trees have dropped their fruit in the grass;
Lenin is alive and well and living in Brighton.
The pale watercolour of East Chiltington church
Is crooked on the wall, towels hang like limp flags
On the radiator, the typewriter lid is covered in dust,
The sunflowers are dying in the lime-green mug;
Virginia Woolf is alive and not well, and living in Rodmell.
The map of Sussex lies like a large whale among the dolphins
And the coats of arms in a curly formal freckled ocean,
Manuscripts lie like abandoned testaments on the table top,
The bright bedspread is folded neatly at the foot of the bed;
Caxton is alive and well, and living in Bruges.
The fluff stirs under the bed, and the drunks come home,
Singing under the ash tree growing near the iron gate
Which never shuts properly, frail Michaelmas daisies
Glow faintly, a late rose blooms, tattered and mildewed;
Hitler is alive and well and living in Notting Hill.
There is a crack in the ceiling, like the life line on a hand,
A green plant in a pot, but not a pot of basil,
Stands on the loosening tiles, warm empty clothes
Press against each other in the cupboard, like lovers;
Proust is alive and young and living in Combray.
Rain is coming in from the west, the garden is lush and damp,
The drought is over, and the day is at the eleventh hour,
Sleep is nearly here on fern-patterned pillowcases,
Books slither to the floor, cats are stretched on the quilt;
Gwen John is painting a lifetime of dying in a room like this.
from Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 1995), copyright © Elizabeth Bartlett 1995, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books Ltd