2 Poems: Barbara Holland


She is Swedish, and one of those,
you know. Big. Green eyes and red hair,
all clinging velvet and ropes
of beads in the front, with cold
and cleanly chiseled features.
Real Nordic beauty
with a chalk complexion —
and no back at all.

None. All coming at you, dead ahead,
and steaming down on you,
with nothing whatsoever
to back it up. In front, solid, but hollow;
a shell of half a woman is what she is,
and I ought to know
because one evening I got behind her.

It was at this party,
you understand; the one for the author,
newly arrived (who lost the address
and never did). She must have been tired
that night, or careless. She almost
never lets it happen.
Always back to the wall.
Back to a crowd of other backs.
Back to the fireplace. Back to the upholstery
of chair or sofa. So no one ever
gets behind her to check the rumor.

But this evening
she had been standing in a corner,
trying to make the stem of a sweating
martini glass behave between the thumb
and fingers of a cotton glove,
and while concentrating

on her problem, she moved a few steps
forward and outward. I immediately
squeezed in behind her,
and what I saw: —

Well, nothing. Or rather,
everything: you, the tall clock ahead of me,
my own red gown in the mirror. If I stared
until my eyeballs heated, I could just
make out the finest thread lines
of a drawing on the air: head, neck, torso,
and long, full skirt. I tell you,
not only does she have no back,
but the back of her front,
as seen from behind,
between her shoulders, is transparent.

from Barabara Holland, Collected Poems Vol. 1, PDF available without charge from The Poet’s Press

Attendant to the Queen

The axe had lifted, and the drums were stilled.
My body lay beside the block, grass-stained
and hemorrhaged. Where once my head
held court enthroned, veins, arteries, and all
the crude cross-section of a neck lay bare
to gallows eyes. I gathered up my strength
with the same scoop that gathered my skirts,
high-stepped the block, then knelt to search the ground
for tight-coiffed golden curls, now caked with mud,
for blood-smeared features. How I hated him
for my subjections to indignities
like these, yet loved him still for what he was.
But love was torn as I was hacked. The rest
must be forgotten, and my severed head
be taken up before that wracking day
had ended. Thus I found it, thus I walked,
erect and proud, among the courtiers,
my head between two hands, and climbed the stairs
to find my erstwhile cell, wherein I marched,
and straightway dropped my violated head
into a tub of water. As I pulled
it out again, it cursed. The water flowed
from mouth and nostrils. As it rolled its eyes,
obscenities and moisture, intermixed,
dribbled and sopped the lace around my wrists.
I wiped the excess with my kerchief, stopped
the snarling with one palm, and waited while
the door creaked open. Did he have to see
this separated thing? The dripping head
drew up its lip and sneered. How can I kneel
beside, him at the throne of God, my hands
lifted to hold the white flesh of our Lord
without the lips to touch it? Must I raise
this face above me for the wine? The Priest
will surely spill it. Yet God’s Blood will stain
my gown to no avail, since I must be
interred unblessed, and in unhallowed ground
for partnership in his adultery,
and thereby for his ruptured loyalty
to the insensate Queen. Yet he is come,
and here we are; the body that I gave
so gladly, and the head that offered first
the kiss that ultimately brought the blade
through bone and flesh, body and soul, through wine
and laughter interlaced with flesh and flesh,
though mine persists in shadow. He is come
to fetch some token of me. “There my head
sits on the table. Will you have that or
the rest, my Lord, crowned by the empty ruff
that frames no face? Now that you had my life,
take one or both of us in death.” He paled,
and wiped his glistening forehead. Laughter broke
my distant visage in a withered smile
of venomous contempt. My abdomen
contracted in a sucking spasm. He
will not forget this moment for some years,
nor will he ever pass this way again.

from Barbara Holland, Medusa, the First Lost Chapbook, edited by Brett Rutherford

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