Endless Coil


Ten Ways of Looking at a Woman

After photographs by Deborah Paauwe

Still-life of frock
and nape of neck, stilled
dervish, debutante
before the Ball, afloat
upon a polka pond.

Faceless subject,
human object,
pull the pin and detonate
that tight grenade of hair
and everything is changed.

I saw you down there, Leda,
swan-necked and swimming
in the lake of your own gown,
I wanted you from mighty high
above. What else could I do
but change my shape?

Your pale unzipped back,
your spreading blot of hair
are Rorschach mirrors
of my darkest attitudes. Despite
years of corrective education.
Despite the full chador of words.

Overspun top, broken doll,
which is Before
and which After?
Look me in the face
just once, or once again,
and tell me what went wrong?

Yes, the world is a bathhouse
of steamy sex objects.
Yes, fearful the power
they hold within their symmetry.
Yes, absurd that I am old or dead
or neutered ox without them.

Is it just possible
my personal demons
are in the detail? The bitten-down
nails, the toes that peep like mice
beneath a hem of crepe?

Truth was never beauty,
but neither was its opposite.
Still I worship Its false image.
Even when It makes me buy products.
Even when It lies to me of perfection.

A face at least might make
a She of It, a You of She.
But if you wear a dress
like that to bed
what can you expect?

I do not know which to prefer
The Beauty before the Ball
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The Beauty before the Fall
Or just after.

© Peter Goldsworthy, 2008