First Prize: I Still Dream About My Ex-Lovers, By Fern Beattie

Our 2022 Open Competition first prize winning poem, by Fern Beattie Twitter: @fernbeattie

I Still Dream About My Ex-Lovers

My heart is a wooden doll’s house
and in the top right chamber I’ve set off an alarm,
so now I’m sleeping in the left ventricle downstairs
hiding from the incessant ring of your accent.
It woke my parents but they’re not trying to turn it off
and my girlfriend hasn’t noticed though she suffers
from sleep paralysis, and I wonder how you’ve managed
to get away with this for so long, hiding up there
behind a locked valve like Mr. Rochester’s wife in the attic.
Although it isn’t Mr. Rochester you’re married to,
and when I open my eyes to compound my disbelief
that you’re still safe here, I see you sneaking up to my atria
with your husband. I think that if he is allowed entry
then I can’t be such a bad person. In 5 minutes
he will realise where he is, where his wife has been leading him
all this time, into the thing that pumps love around the woman
who stole her from him temporarily. In 5 minutes
he will smash a lilac vase over my bed, china shattering everywhere;
will set off a bomb inside my chest that kills only himself
because you’ve always known to leave me right on time,
green sweater slipping out amongst the blast.
My parents and girlfriend will rush down the grand stairway
in their silk nightgowns like middle-class guests of the Titanic
and I’ll follow, though for a moment I won’t know if it’s them
I’m following or you. It isn’t this that haunts me most,
though it does, so much that I wake up.
It’s that for all the ways I’d imagined him, in the split second
before he recognised me, he looked at me and smiled.
Genuinely. He must have had shards of glass for teeth –
the monster – or maybe just a mirror in his mouth.
But in that moment I saw what I had done.

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