In these poems the exhumation of Elizabeth Siddal’s body, a true historical event, is seen as the awakening of her creative force. The phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” definitely applies here.
When you died, he declared
to the world his muse was dead.
As the coffin’s lid lowered, he rushed
to place his manuscript beside you,
wedged between cheek and hair.
A dramatic gesture, befitting the first Dante,
whose solitude after Beatrice’s death
lasted an entire year.
At his command, seven years later,
your corpse exhumed —
his poems retrieved.
A bonfire was lit.
Hair filled the coffin, spread through
your fingers. Alive, a vibrant red fire
consumed your body, threatened
to burn the hand reaching in.
He was not present for your rebirth.
Still in his studio, he stroked
your canvased cheek painted
by his own hand. Imagined your skin
smooth like the inside curve of a petal.
For him, you had always been dead.
Death barely touches you.
Your bright hair, a tail of fire
that weaves myth through scarlet silk.
His manuscript, damp with black
circles of rot, once gently tucked
beside your bloodless face,
is now removed. Each page
disinfected. The stench of alcohol
dissipating as pages flap wet
on a line. Still, his soggy words
cannot be deciphered.
Letters worn through.
Ink smudged, as if
by a wet thumb.