Three poems by Michelle Cahill

Featured Writer Michelle Cahill: Biographical Note

Michelle Cahill. Photograph by Nicholas Walton-Healey.


When the kitten with a dislocated limb is euthanized,
you’ve stopped reading my blog, my sister refuses the call,
a bargirl on the south side of Sydney is being shagged,

when every contract is optional, the Ping-pong game is over,
the flat day reeks of a stinking premonition on the pretext of
afternoon teacake, vanilla-iced, served with the luminous smiles

of a stay-at-home mum to reprise me of the stakes I’ve gambled,
make-up too bright, or remind me falciparum malaria hooks up
to maggots glossing the trash heaps on Manus Island, page 6 –

when the slush pile of supplier statements, invoices, failure-to-pays
I’ve ignored becomes a pylon, having clocked up as many as twelve
angry men who’d expect equality and dignity are unconditional?

When I’ve almost crossed the desert hallucinating Lasseter’s cave,
with a parasitic strangle when poetry raids every layer of self-respect
so I can no longer read newsprint, let alone the opening sentence

of my tenth surplus draft, syllable by syllable – I’ll start over like
a teenage boy with secret admirers in the back seat of his mother’s
4WD, learning to curse before my voice breaks for the first time.

First published in Overland 215


Because there are no shoals of haddock spawning
he spends the night cutting timber to repair a keel,
gathers faggots in spit rain, in floodwater fields.

The sun’s parachute silk settles over chimneys.
Pale clouds hang crowding the sky like driftnets.
Up, up, the black-backed gulls arc into draughts.

A heron hunched on the rocks like an old fisherman
in a raincoat snubs the hushed foray. The tide measures
time as Autumn cobbles the town, deserted by tourists.

Dawn tarnishes roofs, their curved gables, furred
winter trees. Safe from the saltmarsh, the intervallic
hedgerowed fields, he unloads bags of firewood.

He is not the sea’s signature, its memory of human
coal, its middle passage of linen, tobacco, gold.
When he is beckoned he leaves the harbour quietly.

The traveller enters the banal to haunt the empty
creels, his seaweed hair. She hears in a pipe rinsing
flagstones, Zambia’s swamps─all the drowned past.

First published in Shearsman 103/104, 2015

Death in Bloomsbury

All day I struggled with the ambiguous weather
as the sun blistered through uncut layers of cloud,
as wind shook the overhanging boughs of plane trees
which had forgotten how to caramelise their leaves.

By dusk I walked along the canal passing barges,
stray cats, cyclists, giant cranes, creels, geraniums,
granaries, lovers kept in sanctuary between locks,
girls in absurd heels holding hands, daisy saplings.

I had been thinking of Jacob Wainwright carrying
half a white man from Africa to Southampton Row
when by coincidence a friend appeared from nursing
her demented Mama. We bundled in the windy street

like dirty laundry, thirsting the future. It hailed swift
as a bullet embedded in the brains of a Syrian foetus,
precise as the quirk of meeting a stranger I once knew,
fatal as a woman being mugged while I drifted home.

I slept in a swoon, tipsy, tranquil, vomiting my words.
The night I was offered the world was the night I died.

First published in Shearsman 103/104, 2015


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