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When Sulis rose from the open ground
and entered Minerva, she mastered that shape
with such perfection she seemed to vanish
under history's golden heel,

as if Minerva sank one foot in the fountain
and poured her rival off—
only to hear in her victory-moment
a worshipper offer verbatim the prayer

Sulis drew from his mouth before,
as lovers change loved ones more than words,
only to find her eyes in the mirror
swam with someone else's tears.

The gap between Senuna's teeth,
which took a thick coin or the edge of a sword,
the slit between worlds, a problem
and a wish, gushed with water day and night

into the trampled midden she ruled:
Sulis's mother, her predecessor,
recipient of plaques and the clasps of hoods,
songs and bones, the model of a lion,

who vanished after Sulis did.
There are several ways of dissolving:
to soak yourself in the baths is one;
to let the mud meet above your head is another.

That owl gone hunting is the ghost
of Desdemona, or at least her after-image:
corneas domed, a dropped
hanky breast in the dark. Sulis would love her

credulous glare, the warm
mouse making its way down her gullet,
surrendering fur and ears and claws
the better to join her entourage,

and the story of how she started flying
her own feather bolster and long white ribbon,
displaced from the palace
not by a mistress, but by an avatar.

Pellets indistinguishable from seed-husks
tighten round an emptiness.
Hands without another hand to hold make fists.
Under the willows

discarded vessels, void of fluid,
ache for Sulis to love them again, not leave them
there in the succulent grass.
Already she is forgetting their faces;

she leans to spit in her lover's mouth
and makes a bridge, a casual suspension
involving them both,
like spider-silk draped from cactus to cactus.

Here they are, Pallas, Minerva,
with hair so heavy it bows their heads
and grey thick ankles they cool where the river
slows its rush in a kind of pond.

Nothing beyond their bodies concerns them,
nothing beyond the pools of light
their own lamps throw.
They did what they could in their time, and now

the boys who briefly rest in their shadows
cannot matter much to them,
as much as the veiled
flies on cows' faces bother the cows.

Water's not particular, but where it passes is;
water like wisdom resists capture,
never complacent, revising itself
according to each new container it closes.

The heart thrives on syncresis. Sulis
hearts each man she kisses,
each costume she wears, each nakedness;
like formal dresses

she carries them with her into the cloud,
its floating parade
of people who laundered her difficult feelings
until she put them aside.

Frances Leviston

Poetry London

Autumn 2012

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