i leaned
against yours

as though my forehead were a mouth i could share
secrets through. i was never a good person though
somehow i am surrounded by angels.

as children we weren’t twins but we dressed almost
the same in clothes mum made from remnants of bewildered
reds, injured blues, disquieting yellows. too
often there was enough fabric for matching headscarves.
with our monobrows in our grey scottish swing parks
we were the frida kahlos of our time.

when i no longer knew what to do with it i breathed
my secret into your forehead

                                       then careened through the
                                       fog of the swing park, my
                                       bulkhead taking on water
                                       pulled on a puncture repaired
                                       life jacket with a red light &
                                       a whistle for not attracting
                                       attention. in the shadow of
                                       a marooned shopping trolley
                                       i tore the wings off butterflies
                                       drowned bees
                                       in a jar.

in the days before anti-caking agents my grandmother
kept her salt cellar on the hearth of the fire, her blini
ingredients behind the fluted glass doors of the kitchen
cabinet. two ceramic swans swam lazily across her
sideboard, their hollow backs transporting house keys,
fisherman’s friends, silver shillings down the river
to nowhere––

                                       the last time i saw him was
                                       in my dreams––

                                       ––wrapped in curtains that don’t
quite reach the floor, shuffling towards a roaring log fire.
i watch on, hoping he’ll trip & be engulfed in flames. instead
he pirouettes from the curtains & turns to face me,
his pink fingers, fat like pork sausages spread terrifyingly
across the mantelpiece. i wake thinking of bees.

in the blackpool boarding house the landlady wipes
down her condiment sets after breakfast, stores them
away behind the fluted glass doors of her kitchen
cabinet. the five of us sleep in the same room

                                       in the absence of a telly
                                       my father, itching for a
                                       drink and not knowing
                                       what to do in a room full
                                       of his own children makes
                                       sad shadow puppets on the
                                       wall––a one eared dog, a
                                       not-preying–drowning mantis,
                                       a peace dove having a heart
                                       attack mid-air

after breakfast we stroll along the seafront filling
our lungs with the good sea air we’re instructed to
inhale deeply. we pause by the amusement arcade with
its shop selling lacklustre starfish, brightly embarrassed
crabs, fragile seahorses that once danced to the music of
the sea, a solitary shaved coconut transformed into a little
hand bag, golden rapunzel braids dangling off each side,
its womb-like interior lined with warm velvet––a place
to whisper my secrets, to bury the bees
i’ve yet to drown.


This poem is in response to the photograph 'Untitled (Denise and Diane twinning) 2018',
by Emma Phillips which is part of the Shadow Catchers exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales 2020.

Ali Whitelock reads 'i leaned by head against yours'