16 May 2022
Hidden in Plain Sight
Inspired by Isabella and the Pot of Basil
by William Holman Hunt
I would not keep it in the bedroom
in a skull-swagged majolica pot; I
do not need the constant reminder
of living death—exhausted, sleepless
nights— nurturing the mementos
of your cruelly spent love.
Corruption is always hidden
underground. It flows like the dark
taste of tears, salting the earth.
A bitter scent that grows green,
lush and flourishing; leaves blood-
red petals strewn on the ground.
No one knows where he has gone.
He is something buried in the past
now; part of another unheard tale
of untold ears and mouths filled with
dirt. On the windowsill in the kitchen
it attracts less notice, less suspicion.
Behind the poem...
In William Holman Hunt's 'Isabella and the Pot of Basil', a woman mourns her lover, murdered by her brothers. She has concealed her lost love's head within the pot on which she lays hers. This story of love, hate, violence, abuse, chronic bereavement and mental breakdown has many present-day social resonances – some of them personal. Far from portraying his subject as an archetype of fragility, Hunt answered critics in his time by saying he wanted Isabella to look as if she could cut off a head. I've played with the story somewhat . Who's to say her lover wouldn't have ended up like other men in a world of such toxic masculinity?