A Shrunken Head
by John Levett
won in 1991
He's been stitched-up; two gummed, black-threaded eyes
Squint back across the decades in surprise
Through spiteful chinks of sunlight, acrid smoke,
Screwed-up against some wicked tribal joke.
His rictus has been sewn into a smile,
A tight-lipped dandy, puckered into style,
The clearing where his grisly fame began
Still broods beneath the kinks of wood-stained tan.
Flayed leather now,
his features smoked and cured,
His niche in culture gruesomely secured,
The needled grin is fixed, drawn back and set
Bone-dry in its reflective cabinet.
A hundred years ago he strayed alone
Towards this room of ritual skin and bone,
Believed in spirits, drank, was secretive
With knives and fish-hooks, dreamed his seed would live,
Sheathed his penis, sweated half the night
On invocations, prayed, prepared to fight,
And felt, perhaps, the moon's leaf-parted shine
Move up his legs and bathe his severed spine;
His head hacked off, half-baked into this face
That swings and grins inside its airless case.
Hung-up, he seems to twitch at each dropped word,
As if, although we whisper, he had heard,
And stares through us to what we cannot see,
Our unstitched smiles, their pale atrocity.