How to re-enter the nineteenth century
with its better class of axe murderer,
its limitless supply of tubercular
courtesans, its autonomous moustaches:
pass through the cervix of a too-hot towel
folded and pressed to your flushing face,
the apparatus of the chair cranked back
like a car-seat in a suicidal layby.
Small panics soften as the lathering brush
approaches with its cool aquatic kiss,
a giant otter on the Tyne’s soft bank.
You find there is still more to be relaxed,
vertebra by intercostal cog, your shoes
loll outwards as the blade – an eyebrow of steel,
the moon’s regard – begins, as wielded by
this nun-battered Dublin Geordie lass who lifts
your jowls gently in the snow-lit morning
and strums upon the fretboard of your throat.
For this is where all opera takes root,
the pulse of your nostalgia for unlived-in
eras, that sin of breathing elsewhere than
this greedy moment’s need to blame, verismo
is only conjured by proximity
to blood. All chatter falls like an old key falls
and cuts the slush, the orchestra of combs
and scissors seems to pause, to concentrate
on this small nearby risping shifting note
as though to cracklings in an infant’s lung.
She is the diva of scrape, the spinta of slice,
her tessitura runs from jugular
to nostril till she smacks you back
into the day you’ll haunt with alcohol
and soap, anachronistic neck,
shaven and shriven and white as a baton.