In this gorgeously giddy piece, Jess Moody revels in the queer aestheticism and poetic freedom of Michael Field’s Works and Days.
After ‘Works & Days: the Diary of Michael Field’ by Michael Field (aka Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper)
We shall wear Sappho’s fragments like armour, you say. Take her lines, die-cut by time. Place them atop each other. Here and here and here until the seam falls silent. Cover the places others would wish to wound: the heart, the gut, the neck, the river-veined wrist. Leave enough room to move, in our own way.
We shall write our words for her words, you say. Take our place in the literary hall of mirrors. Strike a new pose. Let the light refract off the gaze of new eyes, the metal of our adornments, the warping wry smile of a true pearl.
We shall join their Masque, you say. Take the new words, bind them in gold, emboss them with man’s seal of approval. We shall become Michael and become ‘Greek women’.
We shall dance around the shrine, you say. Crown ourselves with purple flowers. We shall lie and laugh with those like us. We shall write the story of our stories: Michael’s diary of what Michael was and could be.
We shall make a home, you say. We shall sit before the grate, take tea with Charles and Charles, laugh at whose crafted hands hold whose on folding silks. We shall talk of the state, the census, so much blandness, so many lines and forms. Yet within, our curled mischief in ink. Define a Household. Define a Guest, a pair, a pairing. Look again. Look again. Dance. Turn. Dance.
Our love light-stepping on ellipses.
We must take Care, you say. We know what truths are lies. Reputations are so many missteps in the dance. We regret the company kept in The Yellow Book. We damn Browning’s betrayal. Dangers of cliff-top falls will stay in our dreams, always, always, the threat: remember poor Oscar.
We must change, we say. Leave Greece and turn to a new Rome. Find a new path, devotion to a new Lady, mother and saviour. Speak a new catechism, breathe new scents.
I have my own steps. My own reflection. A counterpoint playing in our diary, our name, our rhymes. A buffeting breeze bringing a new tale. One of many. We know (more than most) that a telling is a choice. With some choices, my mother’s sister, might we be shamed?
[…..], you say.
So let us rest in lavender fields. Envy bridegrooms. Listen to the waves lap at our words, gently smoothing secrets, the who, and the why, and the when.
Let us be Michael, Long Ago, and one moment more.
About Jess Moody
Jess Moody is a Wulfrunian in London. She likes her words and worlds a little weird. Nominated for the Pushcart ‘19, Best of the Net ‘20, & listed in the BIFFY 50 (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction Awards). For more information see Jess’ website: www.jmoodywriter.com or follow her on Twitter @jessmoodhe
This piece was commissioned for our latest guest editorial, BAROQUE
The ‘baroque’ is an intemperate aesthetic. Once a period term to describe the visual arts produced in the seventeenth century, its use and significance has exploded over the last fifty years. No longer restricted to the fine arts, the baroque has fallen into pop culture and become an icon.
Inspired by the work of Shola von Reinhold, this series takes ephemera and excess as its starting point for a new exploration of the b a r o q u e. It wants to look back at the past and queerly experiment with it, to rip it up and reclaim a new space for the future – or, in von Reinhold’s words, ‘to crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past’. The b a r o q u e is present in moments of sheer maximalism, in ornament, frill and artifice. It celebrates the seemingly bizarre and the unintelligible, the redundant and fantastical. Disorienting and overwhelming, it offers a decadent way of experiencing present and past worlds.
Click here to see the full Call Out and submit to b a r o q u e, Guest Edited by Frankie Dytor.
Feature image: Study of Sappho (1862), graphite on paper, Tate.