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‘Green mantis’: a poem by Luke Beesley from In the Photograph

‘Green Mantis’ appears on pages 99-100 of Luke Beesley’s 2023 work of prose poetry, In the Photograph. The genesis of the work lies in a morning ritual Beesley performed while still a PhD student, where he would rise at dawn to write in the ‘slipstream of a dream’ in a Thornbury cafe. Beesley reflects in his author note that ‘over years of editing, the often-surreal images of these poems have become as strong, if not stronger, than my own memories.’

For the second time I went to the author and told her I had read her book. She said she’d only just finished it, waving her hand out at the room. I followed her frail hand, and it opened the space out to me. It was a darkly lit pub with numerous hollows and a waiter moved effetely with a long match and lit small tea-light candles in terracotta pots. What came to me was a memory of India, a decade before, twisting sideways to fit through the misty air between two hanging hand-woven rugs—a corridor.

Oh, look! There’s so and so, said the author (it was the editor of the national literary papers). I could see a review in his eyes. Recognising me, his face frowned thoughtfully in critique. But he passed on. Phew, said the author, and I felt her breath on the hairs of my forearm. My forearm moving across the page!

I sipped water provided by the pub and brushed biscuit crumbs. I said to the author, or I wanted to say: What do you mean you just finished it? I’d slept poorly. A mouse trap had gone off in the night, the night before, and I’d woken with my startled heart racing, listening for a thrash in the dark. I’d wondered whether to get up and check the trap. At this, the author seemed like she was again to open out her hand to the room, but she showed me the ink staining the inside of her arm where it had met the page. Her papery skin stayed in my mind as I looked up from her arm.

She was shorter than I’d remembered and had expressive eyes. Her voice seemed circuitous, but I’d begun to realise that it was often like this. I described the effect of her first paragraph, and I said yes. She raised a finger and dabbed at the side of her lip and the candleflame swayed briskly like a mantis on a branch or, to put it another way, I tried, again, holding my arms, elbows, to go over that paragraph. I pictured it in my mind—actually, I followed the sentence back before civilisation had a wheel—and there it was.

She stepped back with a polite expression as I turned. Here, writing again, tearing little knobs, bows and loops into the paper. Knitting on a line beside coffee, where I saw the actual author in the seam, and in the pub, and in the air.

Perhaps you reached the end? she said. And I remembered saying I’d only just begun and was savouring the book, but I must have forgotten my place. Heat in my face and the smell of stale beer and the pub’s sticky thick carpet. I stood groggily and held my hands out as if to say kudos. But she took them, confused herself, perhaps, and in my hands were pay packets—a few folded notes, small change, and she released her hands and gave me a copy. It was fresh. My mouth opened, not in joy but praise, quiet surprise—a shiver looking up to find the author not there.

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