Flat Mate
My shadow rolled up her loose, grimy sleeves,
slid off the stool where I was sipping juice,
picked my pocket with a hooked finger,
crept back with bagels and a worse habit.

My shadow stayed faithful until lunchtime,
watched GMTV upside-down in bed,
clicked the wheel of her lighter and vanished.
The air span with stringy, puckered habits

I'm not her mother. I can't stalk her
from street-light to dustbin in muted shoes.
She ducked back through the cat-flap for dinner,
chewing on black wine-gums and her meek leer.

My shadow pressed a hot-water bottle
against my ruptured side and tucked me in.
Her mobile phone shivered like a habit.
A shred of stocking caught in the flung door.

My shadow dragged another shadow home,
their eyes dilated with rotten sunlight.
I slept under the bed with the secrets,
watching bed-springs flinch from their ghostly weight.

In the morning, I packed my clean notebooks.
my crisp underwear, my health magazines.
My shadow called me a fair-weather friend.
She scoffed: "you want to live like a palm-tree?

You want to walk with redheads on the beach,
drink milk with men in white suits, and smugly
pride yourself on being ashamed of me?"
I fumbled the door-knob with my limp wrist.

Shadowless, the following years were a blur.
Blessings dissolved on my tongue like habits.
A degree, a smoke-free house, two bright kids,
a sun-dial in the back-yard, chiming noon.

Hours before my death, I found my shadow
frozen-stiff on the swing-seat, skeletal.
Her feet were webbed from walking. Rejection
had fattened her habits, suckled her bones.

I offered up. Let her prepare my lids
with war-paint, shade my ribs with murmurs,
clip my door-keys to her belt. When night came
I lay beneath our cradle, cowering.

--- ©2002 Caroline Bird
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