The Unmade Bed

She sits on the unmade bed, just right
of centre, with something in her hands.
Her dark hair hangs in one long pigtail

down over her right shoulder, the left
her white nightie, décolleté, leaves bare. 
Her dropped face, that winsome, downward stare.

On the floor near her naked, crossed feet 
are two petite brown boots: one lies flat,
the other toes a blur of paper.

If the scene were contemporary,
she could be holding some flash iPod
or iPhone. She could be listening

to Leonard Cohen, Gillian Welch.
But this almost homely bedsit—wood-
ceilinged, clothes flopped on chair, wash-basin

tucked away in the hearth (what’s that shoe 
doing on the crumbling mantelpiece?)—
must surely be nineteenth century.

Not English though with that crucifix
hazy behind the open shutter.
Continental? Some provincial

French town, perhaps. A miniature,
that’s what she is holding: his picture.
Does the paper—a letter?—announce

he’s died or loves another (‘Ma chère
Lisette ...’)? Could that black aquascutum,
angled beside the chest of drawers,

have been his? His features swim, she feels
his touch, quickens, finds her mind go numb.
Sunlight slants through the window, catches

the pretty, floral bedspread, picks out
a painting above it on the wall.
Shadows. Steps. A locked embrace. She wears

a blue dress, he a red cape, jaunty
plume in his cap. She is leaning back 
to receive a last, quick, lunging kiss.

This is how it should have, should have, been.
Not here, alone on an unmade bed,
in this room, bright, sad, slightly shabby.

Harry Ricketts was born in London in 1950. He came to live in New Zealand in 1981 where he teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington. His poems have appeared in journals here and overseas, and he has published nine collections, most recently Just Then (2012). His other books include The Unforgiving Minute: A Life of Rudyard Kipling(1998), Strange Meetings, a group biography of a dozen British WW1 poets (2010), poetry anthologies, personal essays, and a critical book with Paula Green, 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry (2010).

Ricketts comments: ‘“The unmade bed” was prompted by a colleague asking me to take part in an ekphrasis exercise and write a poem about a particular painting without knowing either the title of the painting or the name of the painter. This poem was the result. The painter, it turned out, was Gerolamo Induno (1825–1890), the title of the painting Triste Presentimento (1862), the context the Risorgimento period in mid-nineteenth-century Italy.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file