by Antonina Palisano
I. Holland Park
Thinking on affliction in the attic
of the widow Francis, she is rousted
by the younger son, doting John.
Nearly ten, and half in love
with mama’s tenant, he crouches
at her feet, attentive to the saint
beneath the eaves. Simone is fresh
from misadventure: her plan to camp
in a convent’s park was ravaged
by an April gale. Friends retreated
to the cloister; Simone refused,
shuddered in the damp
till dawn. There is a new substance
to the air of the garret,
with the hiss and insistence
of a static charge. Poor John,
awed by her spindle back
and wild hair. The child does sums
as she coughs in the light of the window.
He is watching motes of dust disturbed
by her breath. He thinks them
flecks of God.
II. Grosvenor Sanatorium
Eight days in Kent
in a room with two beds,
and with stiff limbs
and with the translucence
of a spirit made Word.
Friends urge baptism.
She aches for the sacrament
but will not convert.
She cannot reconcile the limits
of thought imposed by the Church,
nor the doctrine of unbaptized
turning on Limbo’s spit.
She will not accept milk,
asking instead that it be sent
to the children of occupied Marseilles.
She is coaxed with an overripe
peach, an egg yolk
whipped in sherry.
She asks for gratinée , made
by a Frenchwoman; impossible.
The wax of her neck,
impossible, opacity recalling a Madonna
stripped of polychrome.