Lynne Burnett: “The Colour of Bruises”

2019 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize winner selected by judge Eric Morago

When an image from a poem sits with me long after I have read it, I know that poem is something special and is one I’ll want to revisit again and again: “rouse the girl I knew, get out—the only net / for such a high-wire act.” There is so much that this simple metaphor implies about being in an abusive relationship. The compassion of one being abused to something as breathtaking as a trapeze act creates a delicious complexity. It is a surprising, yet also apt, comparison; the getting out as “the only net” image elicits such wonderful visuals of that moment when falling gives way to catch—and fear turns into relief and safety. But make no mistake, this poem has a lot more than one stunning image carrying its weight. The poet makes use of many tricks: rich use of language and sound, reoccurring imagery, and excellent word economy (every word is necessary and intentional, moving the narrative forward). Craft and creativity aside, I also commend how the poet calls attention to domestic abuse in a way that does not come across as didactic. There’s a lot of heart in this work, for the “women pinned to silence.” Every time I read it, I too am left with an ache for “this kind of story to end.”

— Eric Morago


The Colour of Bruises

He didn’t mean it (again?). She hangs up.
I’m fireside on a cold night, chilled further
by a secret that burns to be told—an old friend
under the mumbo jumbo of a drunkard’s spell.
Wood crackles like the crack of a heavy hand,
tongued by flames the colour of bruises. Flicker
of blue: her eyes, shame’s orbit of dark glasses. 

What has passed for love, wounding its name,
turning it into a blasphemous heat, no mercy?
Douse it before it consumes you, Diana:
rouse the girl I knew, get out—the only net
for such a high-wire act. Listen, you’re not alone—
in the wings: other women pinned to silence,
dying for this kind of story to end.

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