‘Mary Magdalene Touches a Gazelle’ and other poems

Jennifer Robertson

2022

Introduction

One of the most powerful ways to love an art form is to be deeply uncomfortable with it. To suffer its flaws, to live its biases. I’ve often had long discussions with writers on how they would change this or that about a deeply loved classic. How a particular character infuriates them or a specific action does not fit within the story. What I really hear in those conversations, is the power of the piece to drive these writers to arguments, reimaginings and rewrites.

When I read Jennifer Sigler-Robertson’s set of poems, I was struck by that same energy. The pull of art, music and history, and all their combined injustices, to set things right. These poems belong to the muses. The women who have traditionally been slotted into passive, unresponsive roles in the creation process. Sigler-Robertson, repositions these women as creators, speakers, doers. And how Keats and Fiona Apple get together for a podcast on Spotify. Marthe Bonnard, the subject of hundreds of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings, remembers, touches, knows, whispers. While this impulse is not new, Sigler-Robertson lends it a unique subtlety. Instead of a heavy-handed revisionist approach, the poems come alive because the women remain vulnerable. Through music, art, touch, the muse turns verb. She begins, finally, to muse.

— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Mary Magdalene Touches a Gazelle

See that woman, holding her scarf clumsily,
pale rust pinafore blowing askew ––
who believes that sandstorms are epiphanies,
and winds once nimble, now rustle in her ears,
for a reason.

While the skies spume and spray,
her wind-swept eyes witness an anointed foot.
The graphite withers. The vellum crumbles.
Imagine a plumbago portrait restored
to black and white.
A silent film.

Untamed grief often turns feral, runs wild.
Becomes a gazelle.

The wild world would begin again,
like a sudden sighting of desert willows,
if she could touch him once ­––
a tactile summation
of everything
that was so eloquently unsaid
while speaking about the Sirocco.

 


 

Août

After Marthe Bonnard

It’s late August and she can’t remember her name anymore.
A man who paints the familiar asks her a question.

It’s a question that startles her.
He likens it to the end of a poem.

She slowly remembers the soft machinery of his hands,
the tension in his brushstrokes –– a visitation more than a gesture.

She sorts the answers by serrated interiors,
records them by tentative nudes, gives them a provisional hue.

Each desire flickers, flourishes, combusts.
It’s still a colour but not yet light.

A sea of starlings begin flooding the edges of her body.
She traces a sleepy silhouette of a dancing flame,

holds its bewildering wildfire in the small hollow of her palms
and whispers: cerise, claret, blush.

 


 

Two Fishes in Fingal’s Cave

A Fiona Apple &Keats podcast

She dives into the ocean,
till the waves furtively curve
to permeate the page
(from a past life)
to permute a slow-burn overture
to return as an echo
in a cave
in a slowly dissolving cathedral.

Let the first taste be audacious.

Basalt, Gypsum, The Holy Ghost ––
on your tongue
on your slowly dissolving tongue.

She releases herself, yes
deep into the sea, perhaps ––
not as a fish, no
but a soft-bodies syllable
or a spuming fricative
close to a fringing reef
of wind-blown draperies
–– billowing
–– slowly billowing
sea anemones on her midriff
with layers of diaphanous tulle and corals:
Like an underwater Chagall bride.

But Daddy Longlegs,
while you shuffle your songs on Spotify
& wait for the dulcet dusk for deliverance,
she’s waiting too, for the turtles to return.

For the first touch to be your first word.
For it to be more than audacious.

Contributor

Jennifer Robertson
Jennifer Robertson is a poet, critic, and consultant based in Bombay. Her poems have been published in the US, UK, and India: Poetry magazine (USA), Emma Press (UK), The Missing Slate (USA), Domus (India), Almost Island (India) and others. Many of her poems have been widely anthologised: 40 Under 40: An Anthology Of Post-Globalization Poetry; Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians published by Sahitya Akademi and The Penguin Book of Indian Poets. Her critical essays and book reviews have appeared in The American Book Review, Scroll, The Telegraph and elsewhere. Jennifer has convened the literary chapter for the PEN All-India Centre at Prithvi Theatre. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming in the USA and India shortly.

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