The JRB is proud to present a poem from Megan Ross’s new collection Milk Fever, published by Uhlanga Press.
A premonition of a past we haven’t written yet
We spit our contempt into the copper pipes and
feed each length into the grass, until their
damp warmth wilts with sound, soft
trombone, leaking. Each note: tea leaves
coiled to night adder. Hissing and kissing.
Chalked in high accent. Sprinkled with attic
salt. From their mouths a small library
blooms, an encyclopaedia of stems and ears.
No blueprint. A dead architect. Only blush,
no bride. We lick our forefinger and thumb,
page our precedents: drunkards and nobles,
singers and queers. Our forebears keyed
cars and siphoned colour. Sugared engines.
Smashed windscreens. Practised black magic
in orphanages and inked saints into tanned
arms. Fed homes eucalyptus and beer. Built
cities from copper buckets. Warmed milk on
angry stoves. Measured time. Plotted stars.
Served pale queens on wicked thrones. Lit the
first candles in the first synagogue of this land.
Killed lovers. Faced the noose. Survived. Died.
As did everyone, really. How then does anyone
stand this template? You and I, we have no peace:
you fight until your lips blister. I have thrown more
vases than I can count. And I wish I was being
hypothetical: you almost left how many times?
We’ve got no damn mettle for mould. No stomach
for imitation. Not in these skins. We bruise too
easily, the evidence stays. I for one would hear the
spiders before their webs crackled with stars. You’d
split mercury. Attics are merely pretty prisons. Glass
can look like bars. And milk blackens in burning
chests. My nightmares always wallpaper themselves
in floral frieze. Right, then it’s decided: I set the nursery
alight. Sell my rhinestone icons. Consecrate our new
gods in words like Saturn and Lust. When our thieving
neighbour receives incorrect accounts of a shotgun
wedding I show the empty barrel. No diamond lust here,
I tell her. I marry for money. That’s why I haven’t. At the
locked gates, I seize. A restless post box gapes for news.
I can’t reach its mouth to pull out its tongue.
Our building chant rises like steam.
We bathe in the heat it brings,
remembering the sting.
In light soft as smoke,
light gentle as fronds unfurling;
damp to the touch like the unknown curve of cheek
& the sweet, unmeasured weight of new flesh,
we glide through the rooms—
premonitions of a past we haven’t written yet,
licking the plaster set soft and sticky,
sweet pudding in the crease of your spine.
In our mother-of-pearl kitchen is a sink bristling
at the silverware; a drawer of tines & blades ancient
as rings, cups and saucers: a history of lovers
He orbits the bathtub, our son of suns—
round & slick as the roof of our mouths,
this star cut from our marbled gums,
a drink of caudle and rhyme.
Rumours raised us, hearsay our parent lyric,
and naturally we understand the caveat: that ghosts and
will enter our
& by midday the ﬂoorboards hum
notes polished into oak & lime,
a tooth-&-bone hymnbook
written across time.
& the builders tut-tut here, murmuring from the pavement,
searching for the lolling concrete tongue, for facts to cure
and seize in their spluttering of machine
& we give no breathe to their leave or need for certainty.
Sun turns heavy into the sea,
and tired, but not beat, we fold into brick and rust
& at dusk
we pull the ceiling taut over a ribcage of beams,
eyelid closing softly into eternal dry-wood sleep.
© Megan Ross, from Milk Fever (Uhlanga Press, 2018)
- Megan Ross was born in Johannesburg in 1989. She is the 2017 winner of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction as well as a runner up for the Short Story Day Africa and Short Sharp Stories prizes. Her writing has appeared in New Contrast, New Coin, Sunday Reads, Brittle Paper and Aerodrome. Megan lives in East London with her partner and son. Milk Fever is her first book.
The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain