Mari Ellis Dunning
Mari Ellis Dunning is an award-winning poet living and writing on the coast of West Wales. Mari’s debut poetry collection, Salacia, was published by Parthian Books in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year award in 2019. Mari is a Hay Festival Writer at Work and PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University, where she's studying the relationship between witch-hunts and reproduction/fertility. Her work has featured on The Crunch Poetry Podcast and the BBC.
I couldn’t stand the cedarwood stench that grew
in your absence, so I migrated
to the smaller back bedroom. Each night,
I hear your shallow breath seeping
through the thin wall, picture you, one leg
cocked, reaching for me through darkness.
I found your keyring under the sofa, gathering
dust, forgotten, and on it – that photo of us,
of you, a bearded stranger, and me, girlish
and unsure, cloaked in a vintage dress
awaiting assurance of my beauty.
With oversized marigolds and an old tea towel,
I bleached your skin cells from the skirting,
swabbed your residue from the foundations.
You clung like smoke to the wallpaper.
Part i. The Queen
When I couldn’t recover the self
that flaked like dust
from paper-thin wings, my children
turned against me, they pummelled
my body like ash, suffocated by song.
Face first, my daughter waxed from
her peanut-hollow cell,
crawling through its open hinges,
a ghost, a crook, I saw her
coming, that tiresome usurper;
the virgin Queen, swift as an intruder
at my mantel, honey-sweet
and baby-eyed, her allure so strong,
they let me wilt, let me starve –
matricide on the edge of a comb.
i wake to your emaciated form,
your smile smug and self-sure
even as you pale and weep,
your serpent’s hair maps
the pillow, body quivering,
rocked by sticky tentacles.
i could have sworn i’d shaken
you off years before, dislodged
you with a hard gulp
and a strapped wrist,
nevertheless – here you are
again, the same dead form,
the same shirking shoulders,
damp with river-water, lemur
eyed, splintering bone,
your features a mirror of mine
even as your ragged breath sucks
air into rotting lungs.
You roll smoke around your tongue,
lean back –
the mattress hollows for you,
an old lover welcomes you home.
All poems: Salacia (Parthian Books) which won the Terry Hetherington Young Writers' Award and was shortlisted
for Wales Book of the Year 2019