(Harriet Westbrook Shelley, 1816)
Early December and the moon bloats with milky light.
Hyde Park sleeps, silvered in ice that wraps the naked elms—
all the lampposts and curved benches. Inside her, heaviness
like the thick silt and mud on the Serpentine’s bottom.
What creatures, she wonders, burrow in that cold silence?
Through winter? Or waiting, still as held breath, for a death
that moves, cell by gilded cell, toward each purple, thickening heart?
She thinks there must be bliss in such surrender,
cradled in a hush of fallen leaves, the dull shimmer of fish
scales like faraway stars. Each thing transmuted but sustained.
She knows that bliss is mindless, unconscious of what possesses it—
a lesson learned at Shelley’s side, through pewter clouds of opium
smoke, the two of them pressed, hip to hip, lungs swollen
with oblivion’s heavy breath. And will the weight of water
be the same, opening inside her?
It is the memory of that sweet forgetfulness which has brought her
to this moment, just past sunset, the hem of the ivory dress,
soon to be her shroud, caught on the balustrade
as she stands on the bridge lip’s slight declension. She thinks about
the soldier she met in June, how, in his fumbling rush he’d only partially
disrobed. And the sound his medals made—like faint applause—
when his body shuddered above her.
Later came the queasy, seasick mornings, the dark, almost bruised
areolar blush—and now the flutter and kick of the small swimmer
beneath her belly’s dome. This secret she can no longer keep.
She pauses, not from fear but from desire, holds her breath in
and then, in, to build a greed deep in her lungs so they will not refuse
the water’s cold intrusion. One moment. One last unbidden intake
of breath on its slender plume. One more glint of silver and then a simple
the blue of her chenille walking shoes going black in the water’s wick.
A hoop of ivory skirting, brief air trapped in the swell. Then
the darkening velvet belt. Swollen breasts, corded throat, the delicate
loveliness of her face going under, mouth open—swallowing new
atmosphere. Frigid. Mindless. The Serpentine pours through blood-
thick lungs, the shocked and clamoring heart. When she is still,
that other heart thrums a few moments more, being no stranger
to water. Though soon enough the silk-thin veins will carry only
what is vacuous…as may be the bulk of any bliss.
Art by Evie Lovett
Frank Paino’s first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press: THE RAPTURE OF MATTER (1991) and OUT OF EDEN (1997). He has received a number of awards for his work, including a 2016 Individual Excellence Award from The Ohio Arts Council, a Pushcart Prize and The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature.