Messalina

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Dulcie Deamer
Australian
1890 – 1972

 

Cast back the doors! I stifle! Let the air
Of the outer night rush in and seize my hair
As with swift hands! My slender body bare

Stretches, and sighs, and tautens like a thong…
Oh, every hour of daylight does me wrong!

Why are the nights so brief, the days so long?

The days of mask-like faces, formalness.

Of downcast eyelid, pearl-entwisted tress;

I am the Emperor’s wife; the ceilings press

Downward trap-fashion; rafters sheathed in gold
Are as cross-beams of pits that take and hold—

Tall pits of marble, glassy-smooth and cold.

I am the Emperor s wife … I wore the hide
Of a she-leopard once; I rode the tide
Of splendid, savage seas, my glistening side

Compressed by triton-arms; I leapt and screamed
Where down the hill the naked Maenads streamed.
Beneath the droop of boughs, the faun’s eyes gleamed

Goat-golden. Oh, he found me where I lay!

I was a striving, but a laughing prey;

Crushed, conquered, wed—I knew not night or day.

Earth’s unmixed passion gorges all my veins—

The scourging suns, the blinding summer rains,

The breast-white mountains and the panting plains.

What do I know of templed gods, and laws,

Honour, and duty? All my essence draws
From older founts. I see the clamped, stark jaws

Of rearing centaurs in their mating-fights;

The smell of blood and sweat and love delights
My widened nostrils. Oh, those forest nights!—

The crying dark, the heavy blood-like dew,

The feet of Life and Death that doth pursue,

The lusty, rank, insatiate satyr-crew…

1 am the Emperors wife—no! I am I!

The hot Earth bore me: though I live or die
111 seek my old companions where they lie.

Stain both my lids with blue, my soles with red;
Sweeten with myrrh the black hair o’er me shed;

I will rise up and leave this empty bed.

A straight, thin, purple robe is all I’ll wear;

111 take no veil; unto my knees my hair
Falls. Am I pale and burning? Am I fair

As some lithe forest-thing with bloody lips?

Now—now to steal where the dark city dips
In reeking alleys, and the river slips…

My jungles! Quick with lawless, fearless life;

The teeth of love, the death-fang of a knife.

And satyr-brawls, and Maenad-women’s strife.

ril enter by some strait, scarce-lighted door,

Cross with bare feet the dank and wine-wet floor—
Ah! Now I am the Emperor’s wife no more!

Swordsman, Greek boxer, Goth—they wait for me;
Now does my body live—now am I free!

My shredded robe slips downward to my knee.

I am as naked as Life’s naked flame!

None ever spoke of law or coward shame
In that spring-fevered world from which I came
I fear no death. Let swift sleep end the game!

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