The Familiar Demons
(Virginia Woolf 1881 - 1941)
There is a crow—or the oiled shadow
of a crow thrown up against the garden gate,
& the metallic gasp of the latch closing
just a breath short of her fluttering skirt.
There is the clean, sun-warmed-fruit scent
of her skin which floats in the almost imperceptible
breeze of her wake & thirteen diminutive moons
strung through with gold which light the open
question of her unbuttoned collar. In her belly,
like fanned cinders, a small ache begins to grow
as she moves across the water-meadows, under branches
where fragile vespiaries hang like faerie lamps
from which the fire has been plundered. The taste
in her mouth is blank pages, ash, the sour burn
of despair which drives her to the river’s dark lip
where she will begin to live through what she will
never live through. Seven stones, seven shy graces
she gathers from the silt & razor grass, her silhouette
already neck-deep in rising tide as she buries
their heft in the lush pockets of her fur coat
which is the color of brandy in firelight.
What worth is a life, she reasons, where the arguments
for tomorrow come stillborn? Where the body remembers
being broken & broken, as a bottle pounded by surf
is shattered into tiny galaxies, a dangerous beauty
like an iron maiden whose golden form belies
the tearing blades inside. The familiar demons have
stirred from their sulphured sleep. Demon of Doubt
in her tattered gown. Black Demon of Madness.
Demon of War stumbling through London’s ruined
streets. Twin Demons of 1904 & 1913 holding
out their handfuls of summer sky & Veronal.
Better then, to let water bracelet each
pale ankle, delicate wrist, the heartbreaking
cygnet throat, to surrender to the mouths
of eel & gray mullet until each bone becomes
a distant star’s reflection. Strange comfort
in the embrace—chill but amniotic.
The deep thunder of a great bell tolling
rushes in her ears as she takes the first
terrible breath beneath the river’s scarred
surface. She is only a little afraid
as her teeth clamp fast against her tongue,
salt warmth washing her throat. She cannot
stop breathing, sinking, watching noon’s light
recede to a small coin, a pinpoint—then out.
Days later, cool rain & rising tide will unstitch
each print her feet embroidered along the muddy
bank, though all those singing, silver needles
will be unable to touch her as she drifts
below, hair bound by long grass & dead wood,
her blue hands waving a silent benediction over
each sagging pocket, each stone resting within--
that sweet weight which tugs back at the moon.