Susan Bradley Smith
…tell us who you are, that walk exempt through hell—Dante
Of all the postcodes, this one explains what happens next. The suburb one over (and where is Virgil when you need him?) is full of sunny women, but in Sarsaparilla—since the plague and after the war—the frauen snap like whiplash with divine anger at the simony of their lives. Better and brighter than their employed husbands, they are by law housebound, by disposition dangerous. But Friday nights are glorious—
on Friday nights (for you might as well live) they party, masked, anonymous, un-curfewed, free, until dawn. Tonight, the bash is at Donna’s, so watch out wild world, and yeah, Not tonight Satan, and Not tomorrow either Santa. Dominus Domina Donna. But where is Donna? Marianne can’t find her anywhere. She’s not in the darkling plain of the pantry slumming it with the drunken servants where, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight and too much vodka, ignorant armies clash by night. ‘Give it back, give it me back, give it up you—’ and so on, their motto did not could not but maybe might. But life is not a Margaret Atwood novel, there are no endearments beneath the bed. The bedrooms? Upstairs she goes, singing—
‘Donna Donna Donna?’ On the landing the stairs split like two roads diverging in a wood. ‘I secretly long for the apocalypse. Then I could remember what is truly important,’ said a naked woman to a suited man. He kindly wrapped her in her discarded robe and replied ‘As uncertainty breeds anxiety and ill-being, we witness institutions reacting to protect the fabric of their existence rather than of our being.’ They kissed. Marianne took the empty stairs, to the left, less travelled by sadness, and that has made all the difference. Swelling from the living room below: breaking glass, crying, laughing, music, shouting, snatches of conversation—That was decades ago|Frenzied fists fighting to hoard toilet rolls, emptied shopping aisles|Even lying under a heavy duvet makes me claustrophobic|I have been putting off my dental work, but now I go|I love leaves. They are so reliable. There is, well, there was—this is absolutely true—a country that spoke in the language of leaves|Are they dreaming of escape? |Apples taste better this year, I find. Don’t you think? |I have the dog at least. Eventually, all faded to nonsense. Aside from the business Marianne found in every bedroom (where no time was wasted on love) and the party-drug laboratory in the bathroom (where devotees were being squeezed and dried till blue is black by that terrible dye, thinking of a dawn that might not come), evidence of—
what exactly was she looking for? Outside in the garden by the pool where she washed her eyelids in the rain Marianne began to drink, joining in, trying.But—Sorry this isn’t more profound I feel like everything is surface at the moment Our friends become dead announcements at the same desk where we stream our hope There is no ergonomic set-up that softens the silence of a just-closed collaborate Something’s happening in Laos The Rosedale eggs didn’t break if you dropped them on the floor—little made sense. She forgot to pray for the angels and held onto herself like a crucifix. The party was unfolding on the edge of itself. Shortly after 9pm—
Donna found her. They vowed to say yes to everything. In the kitchen, Marianne took off her bra, and kissed everyone in the room. She could feel her legs growing again. Her legs! All the better to strangle you with. Donna’s friend from Suburb Seven arrived, and talked too much. She was a bad smell, a bad bet, a bad joke, she was. Her breasts were enormous, planets demoted to dwarfs. The evening soured, knowing they were all, anyway, on a wagon bound for market. She was drunk, and bored with having legs, praying now for the return of her thick, shocking, private, fishy mermaid tail. She wanted everything back. The whole evening had become—
too much, too mournful eyed, too wallflower-at-the-disco. With the chef’s knife last used for necking champagne bottles, Marianne began to make delicate cuts on her arm. Just beneath her skin one gash revealed a howling baby, another a nest of gold coins, yet another (deeper now) five soiled petticoats. Cut cut cut—look! There is peace, how pretty it is!—until the opera reached its certain conclusion, the knife heading towards gooseflesh for the final act. We know how this party ends: this poem is an appetite. Dominus Domina Donna, mea domina.
‘One night in Sarsaparilla: 2050’ is a dystopian plague prose poem devised using a social poetics methodology referencing the cento form, composed by Susan Bradley Smith with original and mashup contributions from Sandra Adams, Deepti Azariah, Robert Briggs, Cathy Cupitt, Lucy Dougan, Madison Godfrey, Stewart Ennis, Christina Lee, Julia Mary, Bri McKenzie, Suvendi Perera, Rachel Robertson, Robin Teese, and acknowledging these artists and their work: The Divine Comedy by Dante; Rozanna Lilley on Facebook; ‘Call the Police’ by LCD Sound System; ‘Resumé’ by Dorothy Parker; ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold; Weather by Jenny Offill; ‘The Road not Taken’ by Robert Frost; ‘So Long, Marianne’ by Leonard Cohen; ‘Falls Country’ by Judith Wright; ‘Covid-19 and the Hopeless University at the End of the End of History’ by Richard Hall; ‘Dona Dona’ (popularly known as ‘Donna, Donna’, from the Yiddish ‘Dana Dana’, a song about a calf being led to slaughter) by Aaron Zeitlin and Sholom Secunda; The Season at Sarsaparilla by Patrick White; and ghosted by the party at the heart of Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.
Find Susan on Instagram: @bluepoetess