When fixing the bedclothes
I always remember to pause
by the fighting fish’s tank:
Om mani padme hum, I intone;
and at least it helps me feel calmer.
I’m careful to give the cat extra pats
now that the dog has come. The dog
was a gift for the children, but of course
it’s me who shovels his shit.
I cup his sumptuous neck in my hands
and jiggle the swathes of skin so he knows
that it’s going to be ok; we’re his family now;
no need to roll those accusatory eyes.
Still, he keeps following me
around the house, always pining for — something.
It bothers me because will there ever be enough
something to make him happy?
My husband’s not happy. When he tries
the tension of his pretence rises and rises
till it bursts.
I’m not sure where my eldest is:
only want drives her home.
On her first night on earth, before I knew her cry
she squalled for hours from the nursery.
Why doesn’t someone shut that baby up?
I thought, before the nurse brought her to me.
Here, she said, you’ll have to take her —
Now it’s my job to shut her up.
My youngest child still gleams like dreams in dirt.
When I clutch her to my heart and pray
for the impossible, my tears
make her glisten.
Seventeen quick years ago
on the other side of that wall
you came through me.
I’d no idea what to do
when you cried; I couldn’t stand
to rock you — an epidural
still pierced my spine —
numbing me, but not enough:
one side fire, the other running
cool with anaesthetic;
the faulty machine bleeping
every ten minutes, precluding sleep.
Turn it off, I begged,
take it out, it’s not working.
The nurse did, and offered Panadol.
I swore then, and cried,
But I’ve just been cut open!
When I called for help
your father was unreachable
(and is even more distant now)
so I was left with your screaming and my pain —
In the darkness I grabbed the half-drunk
bottle of celebratory Champagne…
When the breakfast-lady
came with tea in the morning
she saw me cradling my perfect bundle —
Healthy? she asked. Yes, I replied;
All’s right with the world then, she lied.
Tonight, to stave off your own suffering
you’ve drunk too much also —
your body soft, as I once again undress you,
as a mollusc without its shell;
your looking-glass face in dissolution
after the world has dropped its cruel stones in.
And after all these years
still I don’t know how to soothe you
still I find myself paralysed —
caught between numbness and burning
still I can only sit and stroke your hair.
I retreat to this land whenever I need healing —
to ingest its molecules into my lungs
its light-waves into my pupils,
black-holed mainlines into the suffering brain.
Supplicant’s fingers raking
rough rock in a prayer of taking and giving;
barbecue smoke entering my throat
swallowing breath in a taste of oneness.
Today I stumble the bush in gumboots
sunglasses shielding swollen eyes
clumsy after the rancid wine
pulled in desperation from the back of the cupboard.
One part of me sinking into grief
the other rising inexplicably above —
gazing in awe at the ball of the sun
until it’s all that I can see.
On Reading Bishop
after Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Giant
Snail’ (for PS Cottier)
A peaceful life is arduous
to attain; desire’s
not enough, nor positive aim —
one side’s withdrawal is always the other’s gain.
What germ inside us inclines towards hate?
It seems to me there must be something
rank and spindly
tangled in the hub of our hearts
disordering their true rotation
until we become beings whose frequency
is attuned to blame.
Therefore, I hold my words
on a parsimonious rein.
Reading Bishop, a distinctive stillness comes.
Like her giant snail I too inch forward
my own amorphous, unguarded
foot absorbing sharp barbs of gravel
avoiding rough spears of grass
as I push, bull-headed, to gain a crack
in God’s sanctuary before sunrise.
Michele’s first collection of poetry, Endgraft, will be launched at:
- Sydney – Saturday 6th February Friend in Hand Hotel, 58 Cowper St, Glebe upstairs bar 2.30pm.
- Wagga Wagga – Saturday 5 March Wagga launch 2 PM Wagga Wagga City Library
- Melbourne – Saturday 19 March Dan O’Connell reading Melbourne 2 to 5 PM 225 Canning St Carlton
Copies can be ordered from Island Press http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm
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