The Lady and the Unicorn Series

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In order to avoid the touch in dance

one must move with the delicacy

of a Swiss mechanism

I learnt the steps in childhood

as I learnt to sew

mother fed me stitches with the milk

my sampler – the only deterrence

don’t

before you begin.

The sustaining fragment has been

preserved as carefully as an

heirloom from the family works.

Every member guarding their peculiarities at home

embroidering a homily for public consumption,

while our parents laid waste to the loungeroom.

By the lamplight,

by the TV glow,

by the increments of family traditions,

we were trained in renunciation,

just for kicks.

Everyone who disobeyed

was shown what-for with the subtlest of gestures –

a contraceptive pill with the morning juice

the flick of an eyebrow

(alongside ritual humiliation)

the cracking pace of your mother’s dishwashing

and never speaking of this thing again.

All three of us were victims of that atmosphere

without a thought for growing up.

School wasn’t much better,

unless you were one of the haters

or particularly good at softball

or algebra.

Someone might have picked you up at a school formal,

taken you away from all this and

comforted you in his circle

but who wants a good man

when you are full of shame?

So I did my own waste-laying,

for fear of getting too intimate.

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In the suburban tapestry,

the low picket fences and over-grown mille-fleurs

covered a multitude of sins,

while virgins were pitted against antlers

in creative play on shady lawns.

I waved off the knight

approaching the white fence in

The Lady and the Unicorn –

after all

who would straddle it without injury?

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