States of Poetry 2016 - TAS | 'Woman in Bath' by Louise Oxley

Woman in Bath

 after Brett Whiteley’s Woman in Bath (1964)


There was fog on the windows,
inside and out.
She wound her hair into a bun
and eased into the shallow water.
I stood in the doorway, squinting.
                                          I wanted her
curled into that ceramic curve
like an embryo in the shell.
I stood, squatted, paced about
and stood again at the door, deciding
what to give her and what to take away.
                           The head I’d reduce
to a dented ellipse, tender as a crowning baby’s.
Over the M of her raised knees I’d order an accident,
a blessing and violation: the showerhead
became a crescent moon that creamed
the wine-red cloth I’d placed between her legs;
                                        behind her back
a pair of voyeur taps in housecoat blue.
I’ve captured something of the foetal bird
in the angle of the neck, a subdued alignment
of head and shoulder. Her breasts I figured
full and solid, a nipple hardening
beneath her arm.
                             And for the limbs I thank
Modigliani: buttery dough rolled thin.
I could push them through my fingers.
She kicked out one cramped leg,
swung her haunches to the other side.
                                         I got that right –
the movement she’d just made
and the one she’d yet to make. Later
I painted the living daylights out of the walls
till they were flat and still as the lake at Sigean.
She lifted her chin. You still there, Brett?
I’m freezing my tits off in here!
In art alone I could becalm us.

Louise Oxley