Beta vulgaris

Meredith Wattison


at a desk overlooking

the slum-end of the universe.

‘The Clerical Angel’, Judith Beveridge



This is not the colour of prudence.

This is Emily Dickinson on steroids,

albeit, at seventeen, a ribbon at her throat like a kitten,

her hair spliced and pegged out by Lilliputians.


This soup mimics filling for a cherry pie.


This is – how can I put it delicately? – that first withdrawal,

that deepest sting, it is – oh dear – Plath’s,

of course, haemorrhage.


It is the apologising doctor,

you are a friend of his daughter,

small talk, mons pubis, cervix, a scrape of cells,

you Parvati, stirruped, contemplate the perfection

of his naked feet. You never forget them,

you hear of his death, years later,

repeatedly, in passing; you think of his feet.


It is his wife dyeing her hair in front of you,

she is psyching by numbers,

it lays on a towel across her shoulders

like blue tar on The Empire.

She is India in a small bathroom.


She combs it through, suddenly, seemingly,

aware of you and her need to British you.


“You should wear more apricot”, she says. And


“Your mother tells me you used to eat flowers.

They’re in the pink of your cheeks.


Will you change that light bulb before you leave?


My sister, Deep, is like you, a poet.”


Emily, this is, perhaps, your moon flowered linen, only.


The peeling and slicing of these

colours your hands beautifully.


Their hypercolour persists, their sweetness,

once through you, once tasted.


In this Utopian’s slum you eat with awe, a steel spoon.

There is no ordinary Plathian Latin.

You lick the spoon.


You do not write a poem and hide it;

you let it take you by the tongue.


You talk about the first tongue you tasted;

she was Russian, and as indelible

as your nine-year-old self.


You poked out your tongues and tasted.


Her deleted, fisty father drew Europe

with mermaids in the sea,


her brother transgendered,


her mother in a factory, glamorous,

without English, with lips


the high colour of beetroot.


Meredith Wattison, poet and essayist, her 6 books of poetry are Psyche’s Circus (Poetry Australia, 1989), Judith’s Do (Penguin Australia, 1996), Fishwife, The Nihilist Line (Five Islands Press, 2001, 2003), Basket of Sunlight and terra bravura, shortlisted for the 2016 Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, (Puncher & Wattmann, 2007, 2015). Awarded the 2017 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize.

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