By CASSANDRA ATHERTON.
Tokyo Panorama Suite
- Century Southern Tower
AT 5AM, THE sky wraps the bottom of our king size bed in a thick lavender stripe. Your hand is resting on your cheek, fingers fluttering against your eyebrow, as light from Docomo clocktower tints your pillow lemon and lilac. I have grown into a deep silence, and into the cramped voicelessness of morning. Time presses, but I’m the only one who feels its weight. I smooth out crinkles in the bottom sheet with the balls of my feet and you turn toward me—too early to rise, too late to dream, you fill the space between my arms and thighs in a tight enfolding of skin and bone. Later, we wait for the sound of the trains, imagine their coloured stripes snaking through the mazes beneath us. Just above the tip of my toe, Mount Fuji is a tiny white triangle.
IN AN INTIMATE handshake, the saleswoman fits the knife’s thick green handle into the crease of my palm. It nestles there as my fingers encircle it. I chop the air in rocking motions, imaging onions, heads of garlic, habaneros; and the rhythm builds in my hobbyhorse wrist. When I hold up the blade, my face is a bisected, matte rectangle. The woman places the steel in a vice, hammering my name, before I trace the hiragana’s indentations like reverse braille, learning its inflections and gradients. At the airport, as the exit doors slide open, the customs officer asks if the knife is for cooking. My fingers curl again into my palm.
- Yomiuri Land
ON THE FERRIS wheel, you pop a button on my long coat as you press your knee between my thighs. I hear the clink on the bottom of the carriage as the disc spins off the edge. We’re a third of the way to the top and the shadows of spokes and struts snag on our bodies. With your olive coat pulled up to your waist and my stockings binding my ankles, I free fall in your arms. Turning my head, I see the roller coaster climbing its track before catapulting into a cloudy sky.
- Narita Shrine
YOUR ARM IS a question mark around my waist, a curve that begins at one hip and ends at the other with the round of your elbow. We walk from the hotel lobby into the lucent morning as darkness lies between your arm and the small of my back. It’s a sort of beginning—squeezing down sloping paths as our footsteps count the years like a series of stretched ellipses. When an ending nags at my collarbone, I sweep it under my hair and touch the back of your neck. At Narita-san Shinsho-ji temple I perform misogi, rinsing my hands and mouth. You feed the gosanke koi in Ryuchi pond and I watch mottled sunrise bloom on their cycloid scales.
- Roman Icaria
WE SLIP FROM cool sheets into the bright Roman sun. You watch the black wings flap on the back of my dress as we walk to Testaccio market. Each step creates a shiver of feathers across my back, and you feel a slight burring in your chest. When I jog across the road, you tell me I’m flying and I imagine my feet lifting from the pavement. We guzzle Hugo cocktails with sparkling water chasers as the sun’s rays wave and loop, bubbles breaking on our soft palates. Small dogs on long leashes drink water from plastic bowls while we eat peanuts, leaving their cracked shells on the table. You say you are tethered to me but when you rise, my pinions are slick with sweat, their limp tips stuck to the shrug of my shoulders.
- London Hotel
YOUR SHIRT IS wet and the hairs on your arms stick to my skin in long straight lines, like em dashes. You tell me you’ve wheeled your case several blocks but the stickiness of your sweat, its gluey toxicity, surely indicates Covid fever. You fill my hesitation with desire and I slide from the curve of my question mark to its full stop. In a thick scent of raisin toast and melting butter, you kiss my earlobe and say I’m your raison d’être. Before I can express my preference for sultanas, you fit yourself inside me, your skin’s flush lighting up my collarbone.
- Madrid Morning
UNDER A FULL sun at Casa Dani in Mercado de la Paz, long lines of sweat start behind our knees and run into our shoes. The queue moves slowly until we snuggle against a small table and order the tortilla for two. It oozes potato, egg and onion like a viscous yellow lake. I think of pre-breakfast sex, a cosy stickiness on my inner thighs. When we ask the waiter for ‘Ribera’, he brings us two large beers. You say we should have asked for vino tinto but holding the beer up to the light, I scoop some golden omelette onto my fork, wipe a bead of sweat from my ankle and say it’s surely the perfect mistake.
- Alfa Romeo
I LEAVE A ring of salt on his car seat. Not a magic circle to protect passengers or ward off bad luck, just an outline, where my buttocks connected with the black pleather on the hot drive home.
CASSANDRA ATHERTON is a widely anthologised prose poet and scholar of prose poetry. She co-authored Prose Poetry: An Introduction (Princeton UP, 2020) and co-edited the Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Melbourne UP, 2020) and Dreaming Awake: New Contemporary Prose Poetry from the US, Australia and UK (MadHat Press, 2023). Cassandra’s books of prose poetry include Exhumed (2015), Trace (2016), Pre Raphaelite (2018) and Leftovers (2020). She is currently working on a book of prose poetry on the atomic bomb with funding from the Australia Council. Cassandra is commissioning editor at Westerly magazine, associate editor at MadHat Press (USA) and Professor of Writing and Literature in Australia.