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July 27, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage | [ssba]

Josephine & Leila


That morning she lifted the lid
of the jam-pot to find very bitter
marmalade. She placed it in the
corner of a silver breakfast tray.
In the dark shell of a bedroom
her sister’s face a pale lamp by
the bed. Their father’s grey hand
so thin like spindly bones in a
small purse. She found it awful
to look upon his face, but she
could hear what may have been
half a breath nearly forming half
a word. Then it put itself out.
Constantia wept emptily and
Josephine was struck suddenly
by the memory of being told to
please finish her plate of crumpets
and marmalade and she had
begun to cry because she quite
hated how it tasted like a sticky
sweet residue of candied burnt
candle wax.



The second violin dropped his instrument
when the last song finished on a long note

that went melting all over the ballroom.
Leila thought she heard a string break

before being rushed outside in a wash
of girls’ dresses painted golden cream

in the glow of the window. A pearl button
from her sleeve snapped off its thread.

She knelt, feeling for it in the dark,
when Laura’s fingers clutched at hers.

They were off home. The other girls’ cheeks
weren’t so fearfully pink as hers. They

laughed and laughed, clasping invisible
hairpins like roses. Leila looked out

the carriage window at the moon, flickering
on and off behind macrocarpa trees,

too marvellously bright to look at straight on.
But not as bright as the hot white glow

bursting somewhere inside her chest, sending
currents of lightning to her lilac gloved fingertips

and her toes enfolded in satin. “Nearly home!”
cried Laura, yawning into her cupped hand,

and Leila almost forgot that a silly thing like a yawn
could possibly exist — not just here, where

the wind rushes the ivory folds of her dress
in enormous circles — not just now, when

she gets goosebumps just remembering
she is only at the beginning of everything.

Nina Powles studies English and Chinese, is Books Editor for Salient, and has a poetry chapbook forthcoming from Seraph Press later this year.


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