3rd, Open Category 2006 - Linda Lamus

Madame Emilia and the Crocodile

(After 'Madame Emilia Never Lies',
linocuts by Chris Pig)

Madame Emilia never lies -
except, naked, in the arms of her crocodile.
They lean on purple cushions while she plays
the concertina skin beneath his neck
with extended crimson nails.

Almost every day she burnishes
his scales so tenderly that people swear
they must be lovers. And she, a married woman;
shrill the widows at the well.
Madame Emilia and the crocodile

smile, share pomegranates.
In his stubby arms she dreams
of muddy rivers, how his lips would kiss
the throats of deer and goats and butterflies;
the rush of waterfalls

and his claw railings holding her safe.
He bares fine, jigsaw teeth, wraps his tail
about her legs in that warm, reptilian way.
They puff a hookah in slow-motion, watch vapour
condense on blue-tiled walls.

Judge's comments

Sometimes you just want a poem to work its magic on you by sheer surprise, with good humour, and with a wry eye on the following challenge: if you can’t take a risk in a poem then where can you? This poem seems to achieve all of those things with a charming laugh twinkling in its eye. It was without doubt, the most unusual poem in the bunch. If ‘unusual for unusual’s sake’ is seldom good, then this poem cleverly avoids that pitfall through its concrete detail, its neat lines and phrasing, its well measured stanzas and its lovely, playful humour. Surreal and frightening by turns, the image of Madame Emilia playing ‘the concertina skin’ on her crocodile’s neck is satisfying, just as it is plainly odd to those inhabitants of the poem who gossip about these illicit, animalistic goings on: ‘And she, a married woman’ – touché! The ‘pomegranates’ and the ‘puffing hookah’ add just the right touch of sensory exoticism and an illicit, fairytale-like quality. The bittersweet image of ‘how his lips would kiss / the throats of deer and goats’ is chilling in its detail, even as it is given a further delightfully strange twist with ‘and butterflies’. I’m still not sure what it’s all about – but then that doesn’t seem to matter, the risk has been taken and the risk has paid off. Lovely strange stuff!

Andy Brown