Girl on the lamp

by Merlinda Bobis

An oil lamp with the face of a girl with wild hair inside the bowl of the lamp.

From Romana Córdoba, Siglo l — Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba

Who are you
that looks back at us,
lights us
saves us
from the dark,
knows us
each night
more than we’ll ever
know ourselves?

(At 11, 17, or 27,
knowing more or less.)

But on closer
look, it could be
your eyes are closed,
to be saved
from the dark yet
spinning into it
so knowing even more.

(Our deep hopes,
our long longings.)

Is it the witching hour
in ancient Rome or Córdoba,
and have the girls let out
their hair
like yours etched
on bronze and
chins up
with your resolve?

(Knowing Veturia married at 11,
bore 6 babies, died at 27.)

Artefact of girlhood
arrested, is this
your story too?
And did you light
her tears,
her blood
on the wedding night,
the births, then the vigil
for the dead?

(Hoping to sit by the fire,
longing to see Mother again.)

To be saved
or not to be saved
from the dark:
this is the question.
But even salvation
is in the hands
of men —
what do they know
of our dark?

(Bloodstain on the sheets even
before the monthly blood began.)

Girl on the lamp
from antiquity,
we think ourselves safe
in the 21st Century
when we spin,
light our own
or so we think.

(Mother said, trust only
the fire from our hearth.)

Girl on the lamp,
there is a hole
under your chin,
for the wick?
And another, for the oil?
Lit, perhaps your hair
bristled more
like the Gorgon’s,
awake and wide-eyed.

(Mother said, now stare —
stare down that man into stone.)

© Merlinda Bobis 2017