Portrait of the Man as a Warm Body
Your face is civilised, like Plaster of Paris, and your mouth
is a strawberry, dying to shrink. Your blood is descended
from bears and lions. Your bones were built from fossils, the fossils
of the sea, of whales, and whale song reaches you through forests
as though your ears were attuned to only the big sounds, echoes —
the hugeness of things. Your feet were built last, from man-made
materials, from concrete blocks, and the mafia watched
as Jesus raised you, crafted and chipped your toes.
Your mother and father drew vials of blood
from hardened embers where the dinosaurs fossilised
and gave you thighs like a Roman, to make sure
you would not fall at Pilate’s feet. They picked new berries
for your eyes and stole oyster pearls for your teeth,
gave you the flayed tongue of a martyr to remind you
of the importance of being quiet and sharp.
On the last day, a skin was stretched for you
from the bellies of all creatures, and made white
by the spiritual alchemy of a progressive British scientist.
The grey matter in your brain was flushed with rainwater and holy
water, and you cried when they snapped your feet and held you
like a fisherman’s catch. All the dust fell off you and devoted
eyes smoothed off the rough edges and wept with joy
at the piety of you; the effable creature with blue blood
thicker than magma and ready as gunpowder
to kick-start, to give you a Greenwich pulse and a map
of the world and the determined imagination of an English explorer
waiting an age for the deep sky to open and roll thunder.
Melissa Lee-Houghton was born in Wythenshawe, Manchester in 1982. Her first collection A Body Made of You was published by Penned in the Margins and has been hailed as ‘a must-read for 2011.’ Her poetry and short fiction have been published in literary magazines such as Poetry Salzburg, The New Writer, Succour, Magma and Tears in the Fence. Her poem, ‘Jim’ was recently included in Starry Rhymes, a chapbook published by Read This Press, to commemorate what would have been, the 85th birthday of Allen Ginsberg. She is a regular reviewer for The Short Review, a website dedicated to showcasing short fiction collections. Her work is forthcoming in La Reata and The Reader.
4 thoughts on “Melissa Lee-Houghton: Featured Poet”
Melissa, what a wonderful poem – magical, mythical and earthy all at the same time. This has really made my Monday morning :-)) I haven’t bought your book yet but I’m just about to… Thanks so much for sharing this gem.
So much to enjoy here! The flayed tongue will stay with me, reciting the poem.
Fantastic imagination at work here, Melissa, coupled with the rich allusions to Pilate, the mafia during biblical times etc I’m left in a state of wonderment and awe. I love so many lines but the ears and the flayed tongue of the martyr are incredible. Must get your book…
I enjoyed this poem very much, Melissa. It feels like a strong, fresh interpretation of Genesis to me. Or Genesis if it were written today. I love how the title and the first three lines immediately catch my attention – they are so FULL of potent images- and they immediately set the scene. Origins. Conflicts. Warmth. Cold. Art. Science. History. Everything. Thanks.