The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Portrait of a Woman Walking Home by Anne Casey

This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Alaina Hanchey, is from Portrait of a Woman Walking Home by Anne Casey, released by Recent Work Press in 2021.

Red hot sting

content warning for surgery and birth

I felt it all the way—
no pain, just the icky press and separate
as my flesh gave way—
all seven layers—to the
razor-sharp scalpel—
two minutes of cutting,
shaking and trying to breathe,
then the pushing and tugging
and there he was aloft under the light.
My soul reached up to hold him,
all slimed chalky white and bright, bright red.

But black fell down sickly stealing our first meeting,
steel wool filling my throat and ears.
Awakened by my body thrashing
and lashing itself
off the metal table, rebelling against the invasion—
rushed voices, golf stories giving way
to a strange spewing of ccs and pressures
and then I was sailing on a crashing sea,
shuddering uncontrollably,
floating under swimming lights
into an alien lab
planted with human heads strung with wires
atop rolling white waves, watched by small, round, winking eyes.

Embracing him later in a daze,
the red-hot horror of the aftermath mangled up in new love,
nestled next to me in the soft white clouds—
then the rip and scream
and I was the lady sawn in half at the circus,
but without the magic—
clasping the creeping rose at my middle,
a pale-faced aide leaving me holding my two halves together,
trying not to let escape the dark crimson slithering thing I feared might be my liver.
You’ve ruptured, said the nurse from Waterford
what felt like hours later,
letting it slip into a kidney dish—
the paradox lost somewhere in my state of mind.

A nurse from Waterford, turned reiki healer, later told me
I hadn’t let go—
that’s why I had failed,
in the way it happens—
the switchblade wounds of women’s tongues
stinging more than any surgeon’s knife,
salved over and over by my children’s laughter.
I saw on Facebook years after
that she had a son:
I wonder if she birthed him standing in a field,
then walked away into the sunset clutching her prize,
a cherry-bright stripe glistening on her forehead.

Originally from the west of Ireland and living in Sydney, Anne Casey is author of five poetry collections. A journalist and legal author for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally, ranking in The Irish Times‘ Most Read. Anne has won literary awards in Ireland, Australia, the UK, Canada, Hong Kong and the USA, most recently American Writers Review 2021 and the Henry Lawson Prize 2022. She is the recipient of an Australian Government scholarship and a bursary for her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney where she researches and teaches.

Alaina Hanchey, known as Harley to both friends and foes, believes rhetoric is intensely important and the way we speak can change the world. That belief was shared by her best friend, Quinn Arielle Kerlin, who inspired her to volunteer and immerse herself in those words that matter, and the connections that matter.


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