White cover with bright coloured patterning in large block in centre; centrepiece of this is a white peacock featherWife of Osiris, Meryl Pugh

Verve Poetry Press, 2021      £7.50

Discovering who you are

In this single prose-poem pamphlet, Meryl Pugh considers the evolution of the power balance in a marriage across a series of sections. The nameless protagonist, the ‘Wife of Osiris’, slips, slides and collides with the mythic Egyptian God of the Dead. This reminded me of the relationship between Du Maurier’s Rebecca and the nameless second wife in its tension and confusion.

We meet the couple in ‘a field of flowered and seeding grasses, waist high.’ Her motif of red and his gold dominate and recur through the pamphlet. Then a surge of movement drives the reader forward towards underlying dangers:

why does she wake with heart thump and trouble in mind?

Pain is suggested by the images of metal, clicks and screaming. The mention of Isis the god-sister adds to the menace.

Throughout, there are clearly parallels with domestic violence, economic dependence, and coercive control. An indifferent world incites bad dreams and war images. A complex work, imagery sways from the aura of light  to landscapes of undulation, wooden links, ‘spreading to the horizon, a red-orange line against the dark sky’.

At last, the Wife seeks her liberty, ‘saying now, here, you, this only, this body, breath on this earth now. Claim you.’ Breath, pulse, limbs move. She swims under clean air, in lightness:

It’s better than being hobbled again.

Meryl Pugh’s pamphlet deploys a fascinating mix of lyrical, surreal and prose forms and language. The journey takes us through a range of themes: power, fidelity, self-respect, violence, and inequality. Best of all, she offers us hope and the joy of freedom in the natural world.

Maggie Mackay