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Cassandra Atherton


I liked it when you said ‘Stradivarius’ in the dark. And the odd way you said ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’ with a long sounding pash at the beginning. For three years on Saturdays I’d come to your apartment and eat iced vovos while you played Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2. Until the cut on your finger opened and dropped blood on your fingerboard. Sometimes you’d reward me by playing The Devil Went Down to Georgia and I’d dance around the living room singing, ‘Fire on the Mountain, run boys, run!’ You’d put your violin in its case and lick rogue flakes of coconut from my eyelashes. In bed I called you Paganini, whispering ‘devil’s violinist’ in your ear as you played my backbone. Twelve bones per second. I loved the feel of the calluses where your violin rested below the angle of your jaw and above your collarbone. I nuzzled their redness while your finger pizzicatoed up the back of my thigh. I liked it when you ran your bow across the sheen of my hair, imagining the music. But as you played the single string in the cadenza, I realised you didn’t need any accompaniment.


There was something about a cockpit, something about its root meaning. A pit of fighting cocks. Poe-esque. Like the pit and the pendulum, but with cocks. Deplaning from a flight to Boston, you asked me if I’d like to see the flight deck; touch your flight instruments. You steered me into the cockpit like I was attached to your tiller, telling me to follow my nose wheel. The golden stripes on your sleeves and the celestial wings on your hat were backed in deep blue. You slid into the pilot’s seat, tiny computer screens moving with maps and measurements. I liked the switches on the roof; you wanted to show me your thrust lever. But every time we had sex it was like you were on autopilot. I wanted some throttle but you always seemed to need guidance. You said our relationship had too much of a negative feedback loop. I told you the experience was a real yaw dampener. I’ll miss the Krug in the first-class lounge for breakfast and the iconic deconstructed pavlova in a glass, served with seasonal fruits and topped with Persian fairy floss but I needed more hands-on approach whereas you liked to watch. 


I like to be written on; savour the feeling of long lines of sticky ink trailing across my skin. Turning me blue-black; black and blue. I wrote about it once; about the way I liked my lovers to inscribe their names on me. So that even when ink washed away, the signatures would be detectable under black light; ultra-violet. You loved my indelible secrets; wrote them in Kanji on my stomach with a bamboo brush. Flourishes of deep ink softly branded me; pine soot ink fluttering on my solar plexus. You were careful about the angle of the brush; started and closed off each character with a perfect parallelogram. You painted the horizontal strokes first and proceeded left to right, top to bottom, drawing tiny arrows to show me the direction of each line. For a time, my flesh was your washi; your pillow book. As you wrote, I rotated; your human scroll. When I was covered in your markings, we made love and you read my narratives into the night; a literate oshouji. Later, as I slept, you left to find an unmarked canvas.

Art Collector

You called my bruises paintings; saw their yellow and purple hue as paint on the canvas of my Impressionist thighs. If I can’t be Lizzie Siddal or Jeanne Hébuterne, I choose Victorine Meurent. She was all shoes and flowers as Olympia; all creamy skin and white bed sheets. The first time we had sex, you laid me sideways across the bed. The flower in my hair came to rest on the floor between your sock and my underwear. But you filtered life through art; responded to the artist who squeezed your heart the tightest. Five weeks and four days later, I didn’t stand a chance.

Cassandra Atherton is an award-winning Australian writer and scholar of prose poetry. Her books of prose poems include Exhumed (2016), Trace (2016), Pre-Raphaelite (2018) and Leftovers (2020). Cassandra co-wrote Prose Poetry: An Introduction (2020) and co-edited The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (2020). She is a commissioning editor for Westerly magazine and series editor for Spineless Wonders.

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