Issue 25: Zoë Brigley Thompson

Aubade After a French Movie

Tomorrow’s film will be an act of love.

                                    —Francois Truffaut

Sexuality reaches into something very beautiful. It's the duty of a filmmaker to show that this is not impure or ugly. Only artists can see that pornography is only a commercial invention of sex.

                  —Catherine Breillat, 2008.

That night if you’d wanted,

she would have let you

fuck her. You knocked

into each other

quite unexpectedly & something


open, set free

after that. Dear troublemaker, she writes,

if you were here with me, I’d

run my lips over

each part of you, kiss

every inch. Remember

the French film, La Fille Sur Le Pont, where the lovers

are separated but go on

talking in their heads? If I feel close,

it’s because I am, but under a black veil.

So much that is erotic

about lace... so much that is

intimate about stone. How clever

sculptors are, revealing in marble nudes

what we are not allowed

to see as we go about

our days. A veil can both

hide & reveal

a woman’s sex, might suggest

what we usually

cover. She woke before anyone else

that morning & sat

in the garden

with the shriek

of blue jays. Yesterday

was a blue bridge, a river & you

walking towards her & how shy

she was when the breeze rushed

under the velvet of her skirt, across her thighs, desire

carried like a sharp

intake of breath. Then there was no peace

without your body

across hers, no peace at all

unless you lay over & under

& with her. Being completely honest

was both the easiest & hardest

thing in the world & you gave her

such feelings. Here

it begins: with Eros as trouble but

still it draws you. When

you wanted to take her,

to carry her away, she didn’t

struggle. She stayed

quite still with her arms around you as

you travelled away into the night. But can

she trust herself? She is piecing herself

together from snatches

of films she’s seen. In dreams, she will dance

like Emmanuelle Béart in Manon des Sources

naked in the water, knowing herself &


is wrong. As Béart/Manon,

she will know what kind

of woman she wants to be: a woman about

to combust. Or she will conjure Amelie,

herself as Audrey Tatou when Amelie/Audrey’s body folds

to water, splashes

in a puddle on the floor. Even

the most cynical

are touched by it—they just

won’t admit it. Above her

the moon pulls with heightened

sensitivity & longing. You begin

entering her dreams when

she is near water: swimming

or in the bath, wading in lakes

or rivers & she will have no peace

unless she undresses

before you, unless

you undress before her. Too restless

to sleep or eat, shivering

in your bed. Years ago,

she could bring herself right

to the point of orgasm just

by thinking or

imagining, or she would come

in her sleep, unusual

for women. Is it like that

for everyone? she asks you. So much

out of the brain? She looks

in the mirror at

her pretty body, the sweet,

little breasts. The last time

she heard that song, she

was naked

in your bed & when

it was over you sweetly

fucked her

c'est vraiment dégueulasse

& she loved you

in spite of what others

might say. Il me dit 

des mots d'amour… des mots

de tous les jours. But it’s no good

saying it over and again, when

she finds herself running

a corridor in La Belle et La Bête,

her cloak fogging

movements, hands grasping,

mistrust flaming the candlewax

so it falls on you

painfully. She sees the mistake

far too late, but now

she is cast out

naked on the grass in the morning light. 

Because This Love

In lips she is sweet; life is in her mouth.

                  --- Hymn to Ishtar, 1600 BC

because this love is strong as a rope;

because words on a page are not kisses on the mouth;

because I am strong & I am not strong;

because there is a crack in the eggshell;

because something is tapping its way out;

because I climb to hang from you;

because my body ornaments yours;

because I dreamed in the little hollow;

because you stood over me;

because you unwrapped me;

because my skin was grey & silver under the moonlight;

because I talk too much;

because I say too much;

because there are times when you say too little;

because there is a space behind text where emotion should be;

because I cannot tell what feeling lies behind these letters;

because I pour myself out;

because nothing is left;

because it seems unlikely that I would be that lucky;

because I fly like a goose feather on the wind;

because I cross oceans carried like a seed pod;

because I am the wind itself that blows across the flat land;

because I am visiting you now while you sleep;

because I came out of the water naked to find you;

because I watched over your bedside;

because I left wet footprints on the floor;

because I am looking for you behind my black lace;

because I have given you my body to look at;

because the body is bathed in salt & white fire;

because I am not here, but away in the greenwood;

because you were delivered to me on a hot day in July;

because it was a circling swallow that told me;

because the Lady Ishtar wishes it;

because Our Lady of Paradoxes forces me to bend;

because I am bleeding for you each day;

because you are close, perhaps in the next room;

because I carry your voice inside like my own voice;

because I am as tender for you as I would be for my own child;

because I dress in blue & look down at the ground;

because I am innocent, but I am not a virgin;

because they tell me that whores are holy;

because I can help what I am no more than a willow can;

because I spend too long predicting what you must think;

because I have laid my armor down;

because I put my armor back on;

because the armor is off again, silver in the grass;

because I took off my clothes in the light of the camera;

because I stood in the window of the studio naked;

because I looked out through the glass with no fear;

because, in mirrors, I could be a cloud or a succulent;

because sometimes in mirrors, I see a woman;

because I laid the length of my body along the studio floor;

because I wore only tulip petals veined with yellow;

because I am soft & smooth & blank as the page;

because I am stripping myself of my skin;

because I am the one who will write myself;

because we could not give each other what we promised.

This love will be the death of me, but now I know

that it will be a good death: one without too much

pain, the pinch when it enters. I still hope for resurrection.

The Men We Are Meant To Love

we were told about them as girls those men

who would fuck you gently or hard depending

on what you wanted men who never shamed

you for the choices you made when you didn’t

know those men going down on you in

the shower one hand on each of your thighs

and a tongue in your vulva men washing

your hair gently with long firm fingers the men

who would spoon you on nights when you slept

with your fear or men who wanted to kiss you

for hours or spend a day on each part of you oh

those men who would cook delicious food that

you would eat in bed before fucking again the men

who sit and listen and say something in return

that cracks open the egg of your knowing

that coaxes out something that you didn’t

see a shiny voice that makes you shudder

with the great surprise of it what we wouldn’t do

for those men what lengths we would go to what sweet

intimacies we would spread before them what delicious

ways to please we would find for those good men

who feel it too who open up who read books and

share who never spread their legs on the train or

mansplain at meetings men who maybe groan

at housework but do not expect a fanfare when

stacking the dishes or plates do not grow bitter

because they must do what their fathers never

did those men who do not laugh with the boys at

the stolen photo of a naked lover that a friend

flashes on his phone do not shove a woman into

the spare room at the college party do not touch

the behind of their co-worker do not force

their lover to have an abortion do not prevent

their lover from having an abortion do not assume

do not seize do not feel entitled do not do not do not

and you my lover staring into the red distance

are you one of those men

or not?

Zoë Brigley Thompson (b. 1981) is a poet and critic. She grew up in Caerphilly and studied Creative Writing, Gender Studies and Welsh women’s poetry at Warwick University. She is Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University, and she has three Poetry Book Society recommended collections: The Secret (2007), Conquest (2012), and Hand and Skull (2019) (all published by Bloodaxe). She also published the nonfiction essays Notes from a Swing State (2019) and a chapbook, Aubade After A French Movie (Broken Sleep 2020).

She is committee member and contributing editor for Poetry Wales, and, with Kristian Evans, she is co-editing the Seren anthology , 100 Poems to Save the Earth (2021). In 2021, she will publish another poetry chapbook, Into Eros, with Verve Press.

Copyright © 2021 by Zoë Brigley Thompson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.