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8 Apr 2024



New Moon


Apr 24th

How Many Miles
to Babylon?

Mar 25th

After an etching

with the same title

by Paula Rego

                        Why they want to go there, 

                        none of them can remember, 

                        only that there’ll be time to get back again.

                        So one girl follows another,

                        each breast pulsing with candle flame,

                        until lightness tugs at their heels,

                        tips them star-wards.

                        It only needs a leap, a stretching out 

                        of arms to be caught up by the dark

                        and if they have any cares, they see them

                        whirled away like rag curls on the path below.

                        Soon the girls are rolling, tumbling, 

                        skirts flying and if they could shout their hearts, 

                        it would be one long hurrah.

                        To the girls below, still hurrying to catch up

                        they cry be nimble, be quick,

                        one leap by moon, another by star, 

                        jump over the candlestick, come far.

                        When at last their toes dip towards the earth 

                        they’re ready to fall into their rumpled covers

                        and the moon will softly drop

                        a word of light on each sky-brushed head.

Behind the poem...

In her introduction to Paula Rego’s etchings of nursery rhymes, Marina Warner suggests nursery rhymes are uncanny. Yet ‘to be uncanny – unheimlich – there has to be an idea of home – heimlich – but a home that’s become odd, prickly with desire’. I love the weirdness of nursery rhymes: the juxtaposition of the everyday and the surreal. Paula Rego explored childhood and the stories she was told ... though not in a sentimental way.  She said she painted, ‘to give fear a face’. Her etching, How many miles to Babylon is filled with strangeness, as well as female energy. This made it irresistible to write about. 

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