Harry Ricketts


The unmade bed

She sits on the unmade bed, just right
of centre, with something in her hands.
Her dark hair hangs in one long pigtail

down over her right shoulder, the left
her white nightie, décolleté, leaves bare.
Her dropped face, that winsome, downward stare.

On the floor near her naked, crossed feet
are two petite brown boots: one lies flat,
the other toes a blur of paper.

If the scene were contemporary,
she could be holding some flash iPod
or iPhone. She could be listening

to Leonard Cohen, Gillian Welch.
But this almost homely bedsit — wood-
ceilinged, clothes flopped on chair, wash-basin

tucked away in the hearth (what’s that shoe
doing on the crumbling mantelpiece?) —
must surely be nineteenth century.

Not English though with that crucifix
hazy behind the open shutter.
Continental? Some provincial

French town, perhaps. A miniature,
that’s what she is holding: his picture.
Does the paper — a letter? — announce

he’s died or loves another (“Ma chère
Lisette…”)? Could that black aquascutum,
angled beside the chest of drawers,

have been his? His features swim, she feels
his touch, quickens, finds her mind go numb.
Sunlight slants through the window, catches

the pretty, floral bedspread, picks out
a painting above it on the wall.
Shadows. Steps. A locked embrace. She wears

a blue dress, he a red cape, jaunty
plume in his cap. She is leaning back
to receive a last, quick, lunging kiss.

This is how it should have, should have, been.
Not here, alone on an unmade bed,
in this room, bright, sad, slightly shabby.



Your beady eyes take everything in.
You don’t say but I know you know I know,
especially when you switch to the weather.

In Malaya, a krait slides over your sandal. You read me:
“Pit pat, paddle pat! pit pat, waddle pat!”
Your beady eyes take everything in.

At school, two blue weekly aerogrammes gossip
about picnics on junks, your pinafored pupils,
some soupçon about the Hong Kong weather.

On long summer afternoons over lapsang souchong,
you note my long hair, flares, girl friends, gay friends:
your beady eyes take everything in.

Once, as I manoeuvre the pushchair, you announce:
“Did you know more couples argue about money
than anything else?” Now I’m never sure whether

to ignore or pre-empt that same old refrain
(“Well, we didn’t have any rain; that’s something”),
not sure how much your beady eyes take in;
you mostly prefer to talk of the weather.



Harry Ricketts teaches English literature and creative writing at Victoria University of Wellington. He has published nine collections of poems, most recently Just Then which came out from Victoria University Press earlier this year.

Ricketts writes: The unmade bed was prompted by a colleague asking me to take part in an ekphrasis exercise and write a poem about a particular painting without knowing either the title of the painting or the name of the painter. This poem was the result. The painter, it turned out, was Gerolamo Induno (1825–1890), the title of the painting Triste Presentimento (1862), the context the Risorgimento period in mid-nineteenth-century Italy.