Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

And while London burns...

The Ballad of the Raising

Her governess had coughed herself to death.
She kept the handkerchief red with her blood
knew even as a child that nothing good
would come of this. And she would hold her breath

and almost faint to keep the memory clear.
While she could dream her, see her in her mind
the woman was not dead. If words could bind
her back, closer to life, there'd be no fear

in raising her like that she might forget
a single smile, a single lock of hair.
She thought of her all day, and held her there
and would not let her go. At least not yet.

She studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew too;
her father feared she'd never find a man
but was too sensible to try to ban
her studies. In her books she found a clue

spirits are raised by blood. She'd lots of that.
Blood on the kerchief. Eight pints of her own.
She searched the attic – found a knife of bone
and tried its edge. She tried to kill the cat.

It scratched her and ran off. She took a rock
rough-sided; rubbed the knife against it, round
and round. She finished with a belt she'd found
holding the dead girl's trunk tight. And the clock

ticked in the room as she worked with the strop
then rock then belt. Her hands began to cramp.
It grew dark and she worked on with no lamp
to see by, just by feel. A single drop

of blood came when she tried against her wrist
the new and perfect edge. She licked it clean
carefully. To bring back the dead might mean
danger, and she sat down and made a list

of things that could go wrong, and thought them through.
Zombies will bite your throat down to the spine,
vampires will drain your heart like claret wine.
The dead are hungry. She was hungry too

to see the woman live that she'd seen die
and smell the petal fragrance of her hair
and hear her soft strict voice. She could not bear
that these would fade, as gently goes a sigh

out of the world. She dug into the grave
for coffin splinters and the body's dust,
with the bone knife she scraped what looked like rust
off of the kerchief. She had thought to save

hair from a brush and clippings from a nail.
She'd saved no tears; her own would take their place.
A pencil drawing of the woman's face
she'd made from life. With these she could not fail

to bring her back. She pulled the shutters down
rolled up the rugs, pushed chairs against the wall.
And cut the bell pull so she could not call
servants for help. Her father was in town.

One circle of dry things. And one of wet.
Herself stripped naked, and her eyes bound shut
with the dead woman's scarf. She slowly cut
her wrist with the bone knife. The fire she'd set

in a small burner flared bright with each drop
that she dripped in. She saw it through the scarf
heard whisper without words and then a laugh.
A finger stroked her thigh and did not stop

for decency. Lips touched her neck, so cold
but dry as bone and dust. No hint of breath.
To raise the dead is always to bring death
into your life, and choke on coffin mould.

She breathed it in, choked on it. Pushed away
the flame, the flask of tears, the bloody knife,
the picture. Broke the circles. And her life
was dull thereafter, and her hair was gray

when she was twenty. She had made a choice
to look where dead love followed her behind
on white bone feet, and put it from her mind.
Soon, she had quite forgot the woman's voice.
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