at the temple of sisters*
— judy johnson
You ask me to decipher its meaning.
You were alone in the dream, imprisoned with trees.
I quote Li Po, something about the autumn moon
raking white bones– such poise– as if language
had found a way to walk
through the forest of self.
I too am full of dreams.
That you and I lived in a house
with many chambers: ramparts, secret boltholes.
When I woke
your phantom pulse rapped at my temples,
and I reached for those two ten-cent-pieces
of membranous skin either side of my head
where bone refuses to grow.
I sealed with a finger
whatever was trapped inside
and remembered reading how,
in order to draw out the Devil,
medieval priests held dog’s blood
to the temples
in copper chalices.
But snares and exorcisms don’t work.
There is nothing to offer your cancer
that it doesn’t already have.
And we were never ones for prayer, anyway
you told me once
when your children were small
you traced the whirlpools of hair
at those diminutive entry points
to the brain as they slept
and the yielding beneath the surface
seemed to spiral down
through their toes into earth
like the roots of some insatiable oak.
You felt like God, you said,
your finger on the soft-leaf pulse
at the centre of things.
While branches scratched
the window outside
and on the wall
your body’s shadows,
enticed through portals
*from Poetry Macao