Tuesday Poem: ‘First loss’ by Joan Fleming

First loss

When we met, all the songs were about loss,
all the television shows contained it,
it was in everything, like sugar. We’d come home
late, after passing through the gates
of the day, its shocks and offerings,
and you’d close your eyes a minute under the river
of my voice.        The spell of loss is heavy.
It is a kind of gift, also a kind of theft.
You can be with someone for months, a year, and not know
whether you’ve lost them. Sometimes,
you keep on losing someone even after they’ve left.

The first time you said         I think I’m losing you
you were inside my mouth. I wondered if that counts.
But I could plainly see how it was filling up your chest,
your eyes gone hurt and biscuity with broken
light and hunger and all of what
you would have, and will now be full of want,
to give me.

From then, we hardly knew what to do
if we couldn’t lose each other. Everything
that looked like you I paid for
and carried on, I sent you messages with loss
as the subject line, I sent you pictures,
two women in an attitude of loss, one face
in a deep and pedagogic pleasure, the other
body lean and strong as a hammock.
You can tell what she knows
by the shadow at her back.

I went away, but I came back. You painted
your room. You tried on all your clothes
for me, and made a heap of all the ones
I would soon come        to know and lose:
the greens, the browns, the animal-skin vest,
the neon running shoes.                      And then,
you split me open, you lost me like I was a key,
a precious book, a scrap of note where you had written down
some shining phrase you couldn’t now remember,
not in the heat of losing me so fiercely, so devotedly,
your face in tender disintegration, and me
calling out for you to lose me faster,
to not stop losing me.

‘First loss’ is from Joan Fleming’s second collection Failed Love Poems (VUP), which was one of my favourites of 2015 (and many other poets had it on their best books list). It’s such a wonderful collection; the poems are tender, erotic, and mysterious, and they somehow evoke the headiness of love and lost love.

Joan Fleming completed an MA in Creative Writing at Victoria University and won the Biggs Family Poetry Prize in 2007. A chapbook, Two Dreams in Which Things Are Taken, was published as part of the duets series in 2010, and her first poetry collection, The Same as Yes, was published in 2011. She mostly lives in Melbourne, and calls New Zealand home.

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