Orion in the Tropics

by Natasha Bailey

I knew a boy once, he used to take me out,
not to the picture-house, not dancing
nor to hear a waistcoated man play jazz
and tip me a wink over his trumpet
(You with this lady? You a lucky guy, man)
Nothing I’d have wanted to do, he liked to stargaze
to laugh at those lonely blue stones,
their feeble imitations of lanterns.
He’d point out Cassiopeia, poor bent queen,
her daughter pursued by a monstrous whale,
Hercules and his slaughtered lion, the discarded lyre of Orpheus.
Dead music traced out in points of ice.
We’d lie in the spaces between the fallen mangoes
come back smeared with sweet pulp, red lumps on our arms.
(Mosquitoes do not care for distant chunks of rock.)
He liked to hunt the frogs. Rubber-legged, slit-pupilled like sheep,
too fast for his clumsy male hands. That’s how it happened.
He couldn’t have known it was there; jointed tail, black plastic armour.
Androctonus. Man-killer. I can still hear him howl.
Sometimes I drive back at night, to park and hang my head from the window,
to follow a white meteoric streak, to map the trajectories of planets.
He can’t kiss me now, his constellation is headless.