I’ve said before that Carol Ann Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife has been a long time favourite. It’s a collection full of the voices of either female versions of known fictional, historical or mythical figures (Queen Kong, Kray Sisters) their less-heard of female companions (Mrs Icarus, Mrs Darwin) or other female figures (Red Riding Hood, Medusa). This echoes another of my favourite books – The Red Tent – a novel by Anita Daimant which tells the story of various women from a chunk of old testament – women who are only mentioned in passing in the actual bible, if at all. I’m not a Christian, not really, but I love the stories. It’s such a rich cultural tradition, I really appreciate retellings or subversions of bible stories.
The World’s Wife was published in 1999 – a year after this poem by Jo Shapcott:
Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood
I can’t sit still these days. The ocean
is only memory, and my memory as fluttery
as a lost dove. Now the real sea beats
inside me, here, where I’d press fur and feathers
if I could. I’m middle-aged and plump.
Back on dry land I shouldn’t think these things:
big paws which idly turn to bat the air,
my face by his ribs and the purr which ripples
through the boards of the afterdeck,
the roar – even at a distance – ringing in my bones,
the rough tongue, the claws, the little bites,
the crude taste of his mane. If you touched my lips
with salt water I would tell you such words,
words to crack the sky and launch the ark again.
Noah’s wife, by the way, is never named in the bible. I might have more bible themed poetry tomorrow. Sorry if you don’t like that kind of thing. I think you should read it anyway.
View the intro/roundup.