Lilac Chaste-Tree
Fiona Benson

Monk’s Pepper, Abraham’s Balm
planted in the physic garden to keep down desire;
good for menopause, that vector of trouble
and inflammation, which I am fast approaching –
peppery, splenetic, volatile,
with headaches round the womb, and bleeding.
The doctor has put in a coil and now I feel
terminal – agnon: unfruitful, barren.
It is hard to break with childbearing,
hard to unlearn the circle of menstrual flow.
I do not want to be chaste, or free from desire;
desire was never a prison, but a wild
emancipation. My breasts are tender and swollen.
Pour on a teaspoon of gently warmed oil
to soothe them. I want to grow near with you
and peaceful, spread on cool bedding.
Apply yourself like a poultice to the rough
uneven places. I need your skin on mine,
like balm; I need you to drink me ritually,
like wine, to love me well, now that I am beyond
the auspices of the moon. This is my complex,
late-summer flowering – long sprigs
in the riverbed of purple, bee-kissed spires,
their scent of nectar and mint, their scorched
belated grace; these are my dog days.
We can choose to go deeper or stagnate.
I choose to go deeper; pray your hands
might keep me from flying apart.
Fiona Benson lives in Devon with her husband and their two daughters. She has published three collections of collection, all of which have been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize: Bright Travellers, which won the 2015 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry's Prize for First Full Collection, Vertigo & Ghost, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize and won both the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Collection, and Ephemeron, which is shortlisted for the 2023 Rathbones Folio Prize.

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