Unknown Provenance

Unknown Provenance
by Oz Hardwick

When Death and her entourage bluster in, all bitter tears and the stink of flowers, we instinctively make room, shuffling closer to the walls and rearranging furniture into unsatisfactory configurations. In these situations, it’s a matter of principle, and a matter of make-do-and-mind-your-language. Keep calm and carry the nightstand into the far corner, in hope that it will shrink. The deceased, of course, is little help, staring at the ceiling through closed eyelids, as if eager for Elysium, or perhaps the upstairs bathroom. But it’s never about the body, lying there like a worn suit that’s so out of fashion that even the Salvation Army wouldn’t take it; it’s about Death herself, caked in Gothy panstick, with Baby Jane eyes and an attitude that swats mourners like the last flies of a damp summer. She demands to read the will, she demands wine, she demands sad, sad music, and she demands to dance. One by one, we partner her, stepping and swooning about the open casket, while her flunkies shoo cats and squalling children from the path of our unsteady feet. It’s midnight before she stops, flopping to the floor – an empty frock by an empty coffin. It’s a scene engraved for a moral tract. We can add the caption later, but first we need to put everything back where it belongs.


This poem received the Editor’s Choice Award in our 2023 Prose Poetry Competition.

Oz Hardwick is a European poet and academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. He has published “about a dozen” full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and most recently A Census of Preconceptions (Dublin & Reggio di Calabria: SurVision Books, 2022). With Anne Caldwell, he edited The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) and Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022). Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University.


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