“Reader, there never was a choice. The air between these pages is sucked out each time we watch her go”
Along the road, a flicker in the dark,
the tarmac starts to swarm. It is not
tarmac, it is alive—a colony
of baby frogs, uprising, where the light
catches. Before, they were jelly, the kind
you shouldn’t stab at with a stick. Now
they are an army, grey and solemn;
elbows out, eyes front. They know
what they must do.
Catch them if you can, like water
in a cup of hand; be careful not to spill
the frogs. Chariot them across the murder-
road. That day, I saw a little one undressed
down to its guts out on the lane. Nothing
princely then. Back to jelly again.
Unkiss me back to that first frog-ness, my legs
and arms all wrinkled in the bath, floating
pale and fleshy, thick as reeds. I won’t mind.
I’ll hunker in my hedgerow, pulsing throat,
till jerky limbs are galvanised, strike out
ungracefully but sure—I’ll know I must
keep on. And if I falter, somewhere in the dark,
some giant hands will stoop to lift me up
and I will not look back, and they’ll be gone.
“This is not thy deception, nor thy witchcraft: it is the work of nature. She was roused, and did—no miracle—but her best.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
There never was another choice for Jane;
out on the moor, she’s cageless and unclaimed.
What was the wind that whimpered through her ribs?
Not screaming in the night, not that wild thing,
only the small gasp of a church door, opening
forever, like a wound, and letting in
what never can get out. Jane got out.
Red Room, dead friend, you learn to be alone.
She broke the rope that bound them, bone to bone.
Umbilical, this tied and tearing love, unbeautiful
as moorland, hard and true. To find all that
and cut yourself away—no screaming rage, no blood,
just tell it plain. You do what you must
know you’ll never do: begin again.
Smash up the slate, break morning ice; fetch
water, hold your nerve—no compromise.
Jane was the girl who stood up on the chair,
that word albatrossing round her neck—liar.
She knows herself; no bird, no frightened wings,
though small and trembling, she’s feet set firm,
she’s earth and rocks and putting out of fires.
Reader, there never was a choice. The air
between these pages is sucked out each time
we watch her go. Jane Eyre lay down to die
out on the moor—it would not take her.
Her and him apart, and bleeding inward.
And still the thread, stretched, blind, across the hills
would find her out; would snare her on his voice.
Perhaps the whole world’s bound fast by such strings—
Charlotte, awake at Haworth, draws them in.
Woman, why are you crying? That voice
like tendons tearing. I’ve heard all things
that voice could do, I heard it reach its close, lose
its humanness, turn creature, screecher, stop.
I heard it stop.
The sky was skinned to pink. It was a kind
of skinning. A layer being cut and torn
away. They screwed those nails through—the crack
stung the backs of my eyes. Even then, the others softly spoke
of great white wings, an offering of light.
The rain was nails, and the wind was nails.
Their voices, they were nails, and their hands
lifting me away from that hard ground
taking me to take the body down. They saw it too.
They knew it dead. The thing they prayed for
I knew that I can’t bear. The worst has happened—
you’re digging in a wound that will not scab.
Leave it alone. There’s things we are not meant
to understand. There is a high shelf of glass
we must not touch. Don’t speak to me of angels.
Leave him alone.
I saw his mother, see.
Down in the dirt—her face a perfect oval
of nothing at all. I’d always envied her.
I met him too late. The cardboard star,
the shepherds, three gilt men, their palms
heart-shaped and open; mystic gifts.
I never saw the baby wrapped in white,
bandaged like a wound in space and time, like Lazarus,
who I also never saw, and when they ask
I’ll tell them—the dead should not come back.
I’ll die believing that.
The voice I hear
is close enough to touch. It feels like a touch.
Like tendons tearing. A hand inside my belly
clenching tight. I do not turn around, I don’t
look up. If I could have forever, I’d choose this.
A moment when it’s all still yet to happen.
They have taken him away. They have taken
his body away. It is not his body
I came here searching for. Some sort of comfort
in knowing it is over. I saw it sealed, felt the cold
creep in; the skin clean and pearlised, pale as stars.
There is no blood here, there are no screams.
If they ask me, I will tell them—he is gone,
he’s gone, just let him go. A gardener
may have his voice—but so may trees, and wind, and burning
leaves. His shadow falls between the sun and me. Woman,
why are you crying? It is a common thing
to think you see the dead. To think you hear them
gently call your name.