I’ve been thinking recently about connection. The internet was made for it, and while in recent times it may have been a proxy for our physical presence and connection in the world, it can’t really replace it. A friend recently mentioned that on her visit to the dentist after 5 months of lockdown when they accidentally grazed her cheek, she registered it sharply. Like the first touch of an infant or the last of a lover. The memory of touch is hardly something we only have to deal with during social isolation. There are many kinds of loneliness our social structures force on us.
For today’s guest post I asked one of my favourite contemporary poets, Ella Duffy, to share her thoughts and her work.
Ella Duffy is a London-based poet, originally from Manchester. Her debut pamphlet, New Hunger, was published by Smith|Doorstop in May 2020. Her work has appeared in The Rialto, Ambit, the Guardian and The North, among others. Her upcoming pamphlet, Rootstalk, will be published by Hazel Press in November 2020.
The poem she shares here is one of my personal favourites. “Loneliness is intimacy told backwards” gets to the heart of the lack of connection we are now contending with. When I first read the poem I could feel in my bones the yearning in each word, the yearning we all feel to be seen and touched. It is privilege to be able to publish Ella’s words here.
Old stories made new are often interesting to us as readers; retaining what is familiar while adding a perspective to how we live now. I’ve always been half-fascinated, half-appalled by Medusa’s grim talent for turning people into stone. Now, more than ever, we’re aware of our need for physical freedom; how we experience the world and each other through touch, intimacy, the rough mingling of the senses. Although Medusa has created the world she is forced to inhabit, she aches for touch.
In my poem, ‘Chill’, Medusa’s talent finds her home alone, surrounded by statues of her men; her memories literally present as stone. A lover preserved forever in the bed. Another frozen mid-sip of wine. In the poem, Medusa not only looks at them, but touches, tongues, sucks; trapped between an unreachable intimacy and a strange loneliness.
by Ella Duffy
Medusa runs a bath
so hot it flays the scales
from her skin.
Soft, briefly more woman
than beast, she wanders
the house to suck
the stony fingers of her men.
One on the bed. One with his glass
raised to his lips. One in the hall,
gifted with grey flowers.
Her memories spit and hiss.
Loneliness is intimacy
told backwards. She tongues
their marble chests
like a graveyard dog.
Although I intended to explore the idea that Medusa’s fatal power was something perhaps out of her control, that she was not necessarily the villain she's so often perceived to be, Medusa’s sense of loss and regret emerges more clearly for me now, almost two years after writing it.
I hope this poem might speak of the longing for intimacy many of us have felt in these recent months.