Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy

Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy

Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy
for Judith Radstone

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm then, until evening
when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of
her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk*
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She’s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing*
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head…Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does…And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.*

-CAROL ANN DUFFY

Salome by Carol Ann Duffy

I’d done it before
(and doubtless I’ll do it again,
sooner or later)
woke up with a head on the pillow beside me – whose? –
what did it matter? Good-looking, of course, dark hair, rather matted;
the reddish beard several shades lighter;
with very deep lines around the eyes,
from pain, I’d guess, maybe laughter;
and a beautiful crimson mouth that obviously knew
how to flatter…
which I kissed…
Colder than pewter.
Strange. What was his name? Peter?

Simon? Andrew? John? I knew I’d feel better
for tea, dry toast, no butter,
so rang for the maid.
And, indeed, her innocent clatter
of cups and plates,
her clearing of clutter,
her regional patter,
were just what I needed –
hungover and wrecked as I was from a night on the batter.

Never again!
I needed to clean up my act,
get fitter,
cut out the booze and the fags and the sex.
Yes. And as for the latter,
it was time to turf out the blighter,
the beater or biter,
who’d come like a lamb to the slaughter
to Salome’s bed.

In the mirror, I saw my eyes glitter.
I flung back the sticky red sheets,
and there, like I said – and ain’t life a bitch –
was his head on a platter.

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