"A Poetic Space Reclamation" by Alice Sholto Douglas
(dedicated to the women who walk and run in public places)
It’s been more than a decade since we forgot
the clairvoyant clarity of our red rover races,
The Kirstenbosch grass tickling like pepper until
our still-winter skin blushed pink-and-crimson.
betraying us our charming allergy,
Prismic canvas of hypersensitivity,
All cardinal rosebuds and purple points of contact–
Knuckles and knee, acorn and midfoot, bee sting and back.
But even then we were warned not to wander.
To associate: woods, wolves, witch ovens.
Try to recall how you’d float in blackberry darkness,
Like the midnight fairies strung up in lilac bedrooms, like the
purple plum dreamscape shape,
To which we flew to eschew the entrapment of painful panniers and cramped corsets–
Hardwire methods to frame us and tame us and render us Barbie cake decorative, but
like swifts, when we can sleep on our soles and the rhythm of movement is our slumber
When he’s got you between the trees, between the knees
When he’s finger painting with red-stained hands that look the way your fingers looked
Beneath the mulberry marsh, clutching a shoebox of silkworms,
French manicure tips you promised you’d keep until they could fly too–
But what were you wearing?
Rote memorisation–How to be a Heroine:
All you have to do is lie yourself out to die
Lady Godiva, but with the death mask of Snow White.
Shape your limbs, that’s right, lady-like,
to the mold of an anthill.
All you have to do is stand like a statue with your Venus physique
for those prodding and prying eyes.
From there, it’s women’s work, that is, apple-pie easy:
Glorious glacier, wind-chime-charming erasure and fight,
Bear witness to the sublime sapphire-star night,
No ash, no cardinal flame, no Icarus flight–
just frost-bound, saccharine self-sacrifice.
And then, come morning, when you’re still fawning
Over the yellow and yawning dawn,
Mulberry mush on feminine fingers,
Hackberry shush but evidence lingers–
The trees are on our side.
Is it our softness?–talcum powder peach cheeks with bones peeking through?
Full charcoal lips, soft and holy as Shakespearean shrines?
Or is it the cherry-sweet sap-blood congealing in our veins?
Void of haemoglobin hinges on which to pin oxygen,
Butterfly boards, Cadbury egg-hollow hearts, and sugarcoated throats.
The carbon of baby’s breath
Inhabits our lungs, pixie-like parasite,
And replete with sylvan stuffing
Painting the roses with real red fluxion.
A microscopic muddle of cosmetics does wonders for
Even our tears are trace evidence;
Crystals and chemicals and crime scene debris
and stories, and secrets, and solidarity.
So we slather on Maybelline and pull up our soccer socks
Tired of the sweaty palm-prints on the treadmills of out-of-harm’s-way,
All to discover this delight:
That mutual exclusives are merely a myth.
Latch onto that ardour, of sugar pine scents,
and moons, and dirt, lest we forget,
that like Athena, we were born in our armour
And built to sweat.
Alice Sholto Douglas is a Masters student at the University of Cape Town studying English Languages, Literature, and Modernity. She is currently writing her dissertation on the journals and visual art of Sylvia Plath, though she is broadly interested in postmodern and postcolonial women’s work and visual hybridity. She likes figs and running and reading and cellos and unapologetically writing stuff on the Internet that no one should care about. She is also a hoarder of note due to overdramatic tendencies and an extreme fear of forgetting. Her ginger cat is the love of her life.