It took our shoes first;
we watched them rise like odd dense birds
into the indigo sky.
It undid buttons, habits, words;
twirled away the shadows on your face,
the lines engraved on mine.
It freed the magpie in your ribcage,
unzipped each one of my muttering scars,
opened our heads to the blazing dark.
And then there was only bright skin.
And then we were
Last night we were undressed
by the wind. This morning
we woke in our clothes.
This wonderful poem by Janet Lees was first published in the Write Out Loud ‘Milestones’ anthology 2017, selected by Brian Patten.
Here Janet gives us some insight into the writing of her poem:
I wrote this poem in a workshop on my Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University. We were given the line ‘Last night we were undressed by the wind’ as a starting point to free-write from. So the first draft was done very quickly and I think that’s why there’s some surprising imagery. The ‘odd dense birds’ for example – I can’t imagine ever thinking up this description, but it came flying unbidden out of the unconscious.
I think the poem is about two things which are essentially the same thing. The poem captures something of the time when I fell in love with Ian, my husband. It was a time of complete elation, when anything seemed possible and love felt boundless – not restricted to any person or thing. A few years later, I went on a retreat holiday to Greece. Through long solitary sea swims and hours of loving kindness meditation with a group of amazing open-hearted women, my poetry came back to me. I hadn’t written poetry for many years. After being mired in addiction for much of my adult life, poetry was one of the things I’d lost. But as I swam the words came back – it was as though they were flowing into me from the sea. Again, it was a time of limitless possibilities and boundless love.
It’s these times in life that the poem represents for me – the times when we are open without fear, and the edges between us and other beings soften and dissolve; when we feel and embody infinite love. Of course, for most humans, these times are fleeting and far between. Conditioned to protect ourselves against nakedness in all its forms, we inevitably default to the comfort zone of our clothes.
Janet is a poet, artist and workshop facilitator based in the Isle of Man. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologised, and her visual work selected for international festivals and prizes including Filmpoem and the Aesthetica Art Prize. She is currently working on a collection combining her poetry and images, and hosting a long-running series of community writing workshops funded by the Isle of Man Arts Council.