He thinks she is made of a different kind of flesh than his: Flesh soaked in dusk, in moon, in heat, and in wine, Flesh anointed with cinnamon and ash and the promise of something just out of reach Yes, flesh is never just flesh Seen through the colonizer’s gaze, The price fluctuates Later, he might say that He lost his mind to the idea of an island breeze They offer their bread and butter, winter coats, and leather shoes That’s how all it all begins. Mine for yours, The appearance of a fair exchange The flesh of the occupied is a map on which The conqueror plots his new route What’s the refrain to the only song you know? One woman’s flesh is another man’s meat One woman’s flesh is another woman’s costume No, it’s not any song that I know (But was it love?) He scribbles it down: flower of hate, Venus of a dark archipelago Keeps her alive in the pages of poetry / a gift (For whom?) Remaking her again and again, for all of his eternity (Love? Maybe) Writing is one way to change a story Or, like that night in 1791 in Bois Caïman, of which she never knew, (or did she) one can make a new body out of many bodies and set it (the master’s story) on fire
(This poem was inspired by Angela Carter’s short story “Black Venus”. “He thinks she is made of a different kind of flesh than his” is a line from the story. It tells the fictionalised tale of Jeanne Duval, Charles Baudelaire’s French-Haitian lover, who was the inspiration for Baudelaire’s celebrated Fleurs du Mal.)
Subashini Navaratnam lives in Selangor, Malaysia and has published poetry and prose in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Mascara Literary Review, Poetika Malaysia, Aesthetix, Sein und Werden, minor literature[s], Anak Sastra, and Jaggery. Her writings on books have appeared in The Star (Malaysia), Pop Matters, 3:AM Magazine and Full Stop and she has published nonfiction in MPH’s anthology, Sini Sana and Buku Fixi’s ebook, Semangkuk INTERLOK as well as fiction in KL Noir: Yellow. She tweets at @SubaBat.