Having sex with the dead

How can it be reprehensible?
The looks on their dead faces, as they plunge
into you, your hand circling a column

of one-time flesh and pulsing blood that now
has long been ash and dispersed chemicals.
The half-glimpsed mirror over their shoulders.

This one on the floor of his sitting-room
unexpectedly, one far afternoon;
that one whose house you broke into, climbing

through his bathroom window after a row.
The one who called you a mermaid; the one
who was gay, really, but you both forgot.

They have all forgotten now: forgotten
you and their wives and the other mermaids
who slithered in their beds and took their breath.

Disentangle your fingers from their hair.
Let them float away, like Hylas after
the nymphs dragged him gurgling into the pool.

LISTEN to ‘Having sex with the dead’ by Fleur Adcock

Fleur Adcock was born in New Zealand but has lived in England since 1963. Her previous collections of poetry, now out of print, have been replaced by Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe, 2000), and a new collection, Dragon Talk, appeared in May 2010. She has also published translations of Romanian and medieval Latin poetry, and edited several anthologies. In 2006 she was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.

Adcock Comments: ‘The following extract is from my journal, 20 November 2009: “I sat up in bed in the early hours of this morning and wrote an instant stream-of-consciousness poem called “Having Sex with the Dead”. When I had finished the first 15 lines, I got up and went downstairs for a slice of toast and some hot milk, over which I wrote three lines more. (I was well aware that if I'd interrupted the flow of nocturnal dictation by getting up earlier it would have vanished). And that's it, more or less: I can't think of anything apart from the odd word that I want to change. It's such an odd production in any case that it would be difficult to judge it in the reasonable light of day.” That afternoon I added: “But now, thinking about it, I realise that it has a lot in common with my other middle-of-the-night poem, ‘Over the Edge’, which really was based on a dream, not just surfacing thoughts from the deeps. However, as they were both sent from the subconscious I suppose it's not surprising that both feature water and dead people. I guess that's what we have down there.”’

Poem source details >



Author page on the Bloodaxe Books website
Author's Contemporary Writers page