Four of Ellena Deeley’s poems are featured here. They are ‘Electrotherapy at Steinhof’, ‘After the Attack’, ‘The Arborist’, and ‘Whitchurch’.
Ellena Deeley is PhD candidate at the University of Exeter. Her thesis explores representations of conjoined twins in contemporary literature and screen media. She was a runner up in the 2015 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition and specially commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition in 2012 and 2014.
‘After the Attack’ was specially commended in the 2015 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition (and published in the magazine). ‘The Arborist’ was specially commended in the Welsh Poetry Competition in 2014. ‘Electrotherapy at Steinhof’ was published in Ink, Sweat and Tears in 2019.
Electrotherapy at Steinhof
Under the light of the sanatorium window,
The red curtains impersonate a woman
Wearing her nerves on the outside
Of her dress, like a bridal train.
The door to the machine swings open
And she treads into heated wires;
Filaments sparring between electrodes
Send tremors through her pale blue feet.
Walking to her bed, she can recall nothing
Except when someone at the piano lit a match;
Blooms in the lace, passion flower,
Scattered into a confetti of ash.
After the Attack
She has forgotten her own face.
The head sitting dreamily in the white room,
Waiting to be photographed in the same spot
The doctor took the portrait of her illness.
A slice of human meat with the skull
Top slotted off like the lid of a ceramic pot –
The thoughts flat as decapitated flowers,
Hanging from the edges, could be her own.
After the attack, the nurse held her underarm
From the ward to the courtyard
And someone took her portrait;
I see her only in a series of beige borders
Treading through the grit of the albumen,
The wicker basket clasped over cobbles
Might hold a letter bundle, her own
At the head of the garden,
Trees go up like shocks of hair –
Women strung up by their feet.
You say I want grooming.
I have laid low for so long,
I am sprouting eyes,
I am becoming houseplant,
Rooted in the living room,
My scalp a coil of grown-out peroxide,
The Xanax buzzes on me like a gnat.
You spritz a fine mist,
Start with the gel, scissors, tortoiseshell
Toothcomb – raking up each knot.
Folding my sweat-sour,
Forever Friends nightdress
Flat as the white paper flower
On the side table. Is it the current
Of static running between us
That spits out
“You used to be a very pretty girl”?
Soon I will be a topiary woman,
Clipped in a smiling pose
My nerves a hanging basket.
And when, at the top of the garden,
The trees blocking the view
Are left limbless, streaked with amber,
Hungry for air,
I’ll wash it right out of my hair.
The clinic floor is polished almost to a mirror;
A corridor extends to a vanishing point,
And glimpsed, like a speck across the eye,
The dust so thick it seems to exist in greyscale;
A ward, bordered with a flimsy strip of tape,
The paint sloughing off like a layer of burnt skin.
An Arabesque carpet with angular flowers.
Though startled by a stray scrap of crumpled linen,
A man sits silently as an unmarked grave.
The piss-coloured light floods the floorboards.
On the field, faces lost in a blur of frantic motion;
Eyes and mouths erased, as in a failed daguerreotype.
 This poem is in some respects represents an ekphrasis of an image that appeared in the Iconographie Photographique De La Salpêtrière that is entitled Apres L’Attaque (After the Attack). The narrative of the poem is also indebted to an anecdote that appears in Georges Didi-Huberman’s Invention of Hysteria concerning a patient who fell to fitting after walking in on a head being photographed in the photography laboratory at the Salpetriere (55).