NO GIRL SO SWEET
(after PJ Harvey)
No kisses, no light—just a first name that clings to the tongues of men, ready to be spell-cast in times of need. Much has been praised about the modern world by those who have shaped it—its glass barriers and bottled water, the instantaneous traps to fulfil humankind’s need for connection, be it real or imagined—but she finds it increasingly harder to claim her place in it. The marrow in her bones belongs to another hazy era, one where a song could measure a man’s joy for life. Why does she stand still while the world is constantly reimagining itself outside her door? Perhaps she is most afraid of not being able to keep up, even with the day/night/day/night. The men, too, assume their own aliases, conscious of the fact that neither party has need for a real name—a wealth of wicked words is enough for some. She is neither lover nor mistress, not when she finds herself in the company of these secretive beasts and their wayward hands.
She is wedded to the wind and in debt to the surrounding hills. When she sings in her morning voice, the wind hurries to her bringing scents of the furthest coasts and tales of the villages below. Once upon a time, she denied all their men the chance to gaze upon her untouched face. Their collective memory has not been kind to her. The weather sings the most heartbreaking songs—the thunder always has its complaints to lay—the rain beats its tiny, fleshy drums. If her pity were a song, it would be an endless loop of whales calling from the end of water, a generous but misunderstood melody that finds itself heard thousands and lonely thousands of miles away.
The nightmare is always the same: always the runner-up in the world’s most corrupt beauty pageant; always dancing in an icy spotlight, but never able to win their affection with her rehearsed smile. She too could have had a heart of hay had her timing been a touch lighter. But she prefers steel—its colour, its silence, its slow decay.
As soon as she saw him, she knew he would have all the questions, but when the time came for her to extract, he would deny her answers. He left the way he had arrived—hungry and uninvited. Instead of working through it with her therapist, she took an axe to his name and let the splinters torture her for years. Much later, when she found the hotel key buried at the bottom of a handbag fallen out of regular rotation, she realised he often used the distance between them to his advantage—that convenient excuse to sidestep guilt and responsibility. Whether she washed his kisses from her lips or left them to linger is an ongoing debate.
She collected me.
She promised me.
She tested me.
She broke me.
She destroyed me.
And I still wait for her.
People are entitled to their terrible, evil thoughts, particularly if they keep them to themselves, like fugitives harboured in the attics of their fears. If she assumes the position—on her knees with face raised to the blank skies—will these thoughts be drawn from her? She lifts her tired hands, ringless but covered in blood blisters—juicy, crimson peas threatening to burst. Oh the cruel things she would like to tell the world, to wake it from its idle slumber, to free herself from discipline.
Where once was a woman with eyes the colour of metamorphic rock, another takes her place. Both women fell for his wicked charm and both sought answers on the cliffs above the deafening sea. The water below calls out: ‘Bring her back to me—every part of her.’ Its words are not to be ignored, not when they have been shared as a warning from mother to daughter/daughter/daughter/daughter. Witnesses have watched helpless men and women fling themselves like ragdolls into the water’s empty embrace, all to escape mad love. Life repeats itself in so many ways that we can’t help but turn our heads when the repeat is no longer worth sharing.
One day, she came to the bay with a debt to repay, but the forgiveness expected of her was not what she lay at his grave. No matter what his dead tongue has to say about the life they shared together, she can give no more of herself in life or death. And yet the grief vibrates through her like the groan of a dying machine, spoiling everything she touches while he sheds dust in his final bed.
Nina grew up in a gentle household filled with music and art. When the stars came out each night she and her family would take turns to guess which was the furthest away. She had a pet dog, a fidgety thing with an instinctual thirst for adventure. When Nina’s dog ran away, her dear mother told her not to cry, but to instead think of all the wonderful places that her dog might be visiting. Nina began to imagine just how far her little dog could roam, and recorded his journey in the back of her favourite novel.
The darkness took its time to extinguish the desire in their limbs, the years of push and pull gathered with every waking touch. She asked him to find a place for them to rest their aching feet, even though she knew he would protest. Without light there was no way to tell whether they were making progress or whether they could trust each other’s voices. In her mind, the lips and tongue that whispered to her belonged to an altogether stranger man, a man with danger in his past. The darkness spread, hiding every tree, every signpost, every chance at waking. He said that she was just the ideas woman—though some say she struck the match that set the night alight.
Chris Tse is the author of How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes, which won the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His favourite PJ Harvey song is ‘The Dancer’ from To Bring You My Love.
‘No girl so sweet’ was inspired by the characters that appear on PJ Harvey’s album Is This Desire? and its associated b-sides.