The Exhumation of Lizzie Siddal

A fire is lit beside the grave:
Officers of the Court, the diggers,
the poet’s representative, all look in…
The body is raised – and, miracle,

she is quite unchanged. The book wrapped
in her lovely hair is mildewed – and the friend
leans down, weeping, and lifts the book
and, with it, some hair parts from the head.

But perfect. Perfect. Trembling, he holds the book.
The coffin lid’s replaced: the guide ropes
are let down again, lowering the resealed box
into that damp, rectangular, glistening place.

He clutches the book, the book –
a small, square shape containing words:
the flames, dwindling, gather to one last blaze
and shine and smoulder in her red-gold hair.

‘You Must Know Everything’

(The title of a story by Isaac Babel)

Babel was ashamed, when young,
to admit he knew the names
of none of the singing birds,
or trees, or flowers – and was told:

‘A writer must know everything.’
Even, at the end, the numbers stamped
on the pistol’s barrel, the zero
of the muzzle

– from which a bird will fly,
a creature with no name,
lost in a dark place, piercing
through voice and memory,

obliterating song;
at last to break, and fall,
spent, into the high-walled yard
of Everything.

But then…
to be picked up,
brought to the slanted light,
to flutter and rise again

the yard floor shadowed
first, then lit by absence, flight.

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