Kathleen Bell - Three Poems

Kathleen Bell

After de Chirico
(for S.P.)

There’s devastation, and perhaps a lake.

We’ve seen it all before
(charred landscape, fallen walls)
and so, instead

we focus on his suit,
her hidden gaze.

            A silence is played out
            then dropped

She leans a little, gracefully –
looks up.

Perhaps he’ll stay.
Perhaps she’ll slip away

out and over

            where the black earth


in the Marianne North gallery at Kew

Black wing, black head, sharp toes.
Feet clutch, stab at a fleshy stalk,
teeter on petal, grab, tear.
Then comes the lengthy curve
                                    – impossible –
                                                              of the slim beak

                        and petals yield,
fall outward to reveal
a deeper pink, and honey to the questing tongue.

Sun burns and melts.  Crinolined, corseted,
the artist sits.  Slowly, her brush moves.
Nature gives up her utmost secrecy.

Rules derived from art – for women, mostly
National Gallery, London, Route A – mediaeval and Renaissance

Be chaste and you will break your chains. See how man’s weapons fracture on your shield.

Resist him. Turn yourself into a tree. This has a record of success.

Unwillingness is no excuse.

Dance only if you must. And should a ruler grant your wish, don’t go too far.

Decapitation is too far. If you’re reading this too late, be careful of the head you carry.

Swoon at the grief that must be borne.

In case of danger, there is poison to be drunk.

When your spouse dies, combine his ash with wine. Then drink it up.

Under suspicion? Carry water in a sieve.

If you seek justice, you will find it in a blacksmith’s forge.

At Mass one day you may see Jesus. He’ll assure you he’s being eaten.

Don’t look behind. Hell’s mouth is open wide. (There is a tiny panel for escape.)

Now put that apple down!

A mystic marriage may be safer than an earthly husband – and you may enjoy it more.

The three permitted roles are work, devotion, mourning.

Martyrs have time to read.

A muse who holds a book may choose which page she points to.

A study has high arches. It holds books, parchment, ink, an owl, a pheasant and a docile lion.

You may look out on fields, city, forest, hills, or, on some days, a ruined temple.

Poets require homage. Bring them wine, food, a mandolin, at least one peacock. You’ll be repaid with soulful looks – perhaps an ode.

Pose for your donor portrait. Tell your daughter to behave. Saints will be added later.

Did you cry for baby’s future? This is the world you know. Tears are acceptable. Now live.

No-one will ask “why have they done this to you?” Bear it. You must.

Maybe a god will come with cheetahs. He will promise you the stars.

Wealth is permitted but avoid the snares of love.


Copyright © Kathleen Bell, 2021