Gwen John Dorelia in a Black Dress c.1903-4

Gwen John Young Woman Holding a Black Cat c.1920-5
Gwen John Young ‘Woman Holding a Black Cat’ c.1920-5


Elizabeth Bartlett

I think of the prisoners banged up
here, looking out over the Thames
from the dark side of the street.
As we climb the white steps together
and try to insert ourselves inside
one glass segment of the swing doors,
instead of two, I tread on dead faces
with my unsuitable clacking heels,
murdering the air with words.

We should have come with our eyes
held in our hands to meet the girl
holding a cat on her lap, who has,
after all, eluded us, leaving behind
an empty chair, a saucer of milk
on the floor, a note on the door.
There are cat hairs like brush strokes
all over my black jacket and bars
painted over all the windows.

We have been let out on parole
for a few hours. I have touched
her lover’s statue and had my hand
cut off. You have come eye to eye
with Ezra Pound at last, and we have
picked all the erotic fruit greedily
from the cake without first concealing
a file in the middle. Outside, the wind
is as cold as an iron bracelet.

Gwen John A Lady Reading
Gwen John ‘A lady Reading’

Elizabeth Bartlett, who was born near Deal in Kent, left school at fifteen to work in a factory. A doctor’s secretary for many years, she is now a free-lance writer, married, and living in Sussex. She has published several collections of verse including A Lifetime of Dying (1979), Strange Territory (1983), both published by Peterloo Poets, The Czar is Dead (1986) Rivelin Grapheme, Instead of a Mass (1991) Headland and Look, No Face (1992) Redbeck Press.

Gwen John Dorelia in a Black Dress c.1903-4
Gwen John Dorelia in a Black Dress c.1903-4