Rich Men’s Houses
I have quoted myself once already in a poem,
Uses of Live Odds, that poor men don’t belong
in rich men’s houses. I said it first in an essay,
Death by Persona, about John Forbes. I say
he spent too much time in the houses of those
friends financially better off than he was.
I will tell you how I witnessed the Luna Park
Fire, because I’m thinking bleakly of those
new things I know about it: Lionel Murphy
being friends with the crime boss of Sydney,
Abe Saffron, who is said to have ordered it
so that he could take over the land, a set up
to be approved by the Labour Party. Poor men
are a danger in rich men’s houses. But then
when the fire burned the ghost train, a man
and some children, I was young. I saw it when
I’d had to transfer an opera ticket from my
usual cheap matinees to a sleekly wealthy
First Night of The Girl of The Golden West. It was
the only time I saw Donald Smith sing, his voice
less harsh than the recordings, much more tender
in focus to his soprano, directed only to her,
as if a small fat bald man were ideal lover.
We’ve moved into triplets: I must be nervous.
There was reason to be nervous, but the guess
I had then was only about some fire as such, if
intuitively looking at the exits, fearing smoke.
When it was late and we had left the Opera House,
there was a light reflected in the Harbour
like the shuddering of autumn leaves on tar.
And no one left the pier. One followed their gaze
and saw the flames three times the height of the head,
and clown’s face leer underneath. Next day the dead
were numbered. But I remember the strange tallness
of the pure thick flames, no blackness and no breath
of creeping smoke: all looked intentional.
Someone else there that night was Phil Hammial,
who was a carnival hand. Many of these were out
of work a long time, but he may have been too close
to really see the nature of the beast. I was across
enough water to measure the scope. Poor men
do not belong in rich men’s houses.
‘Rich Men’s Houses’ was published in Appalachian Fall (Quemar Press, 2018).
It was the eve of winter solstice in Australia. Silkie
seemed still safe with the Lithgow Coven, was still eating
bits of the vegan feast they were preparing. In Mt Druitt,
Clare’s mother, Coral, hugged the baby Corbyn closer
and sang to his hair some lullaby in a murmur
like the soft sea at Thirroul outside a window, probably
the sound, Clare thought, in which he was conceived.
She was lulled in a cold armchair with a cup of tea,
which she caressed lingeringly with her fingers,
as it was warmth from her mother, but relieved
that Corbyn like the tea was a conduit now
for the illusive love between them. Perhaps she
was conceived in the same sound, she drowsily
remembered when she was a baby the lullaby
Coral sang next to her cot as much the same noise
as the croonings from the bedroom when her mother
placated one angry husband or another.
. Clare’s second-last stepfather
killed himself when she was in prison for her murder
of her younger siblings. George had told her later
using the truth as he did then like a hammer.
But she had never felt she was the cause.
Nor had her mother been the cause of her deaths.
Near her arm there was a square fan-heater, flame effect.
Paper on wire inside turned round, as if the breeze
blew delicate flames on ashes. It also had a mutter
like immortal sea, the room’s noises swirled together
with the midnight wind outside to slow the heart
until the air was beyond time and space. I wonder,
she considered, if this is when and how
I should talk to my mother about jealousy.
Jealousy, too strong for just one object was searing
like an amputation again inside her body,
at some apex of feeling and lack of feeling,
in a skin that was unchosen and imprisoned.
Their gazes relaxed at last in meeting, briefly.
Then they both looked down to concentrate on speech.
Clare said, ‘I don’t know if jealousy is a simple matter.
Do I want to be the baby in your arms, or the you he
trusts and nestles into maybe over there as much
as he does me? If I were only one of you, is that enough
to soothe me? It wasn’t that you didn’t care enough, but
there were always others. You asked me to babysit,
and not go to the movie. I knew at the time you thought
you were helping me to love them, letting me be you,
as if my ego boundaries were too narrow.’ Her mother
said, ‘When you brought up children then they told you
that they learn to love by having responsibility, as if
all the numb ones needed were pet rabbits. I never
thought you did it on purpose.’ The solstice
rain fogged like filmy swaddling on the window.
. In Coral’s accustomed arms, the baby
stretched away arms-length: bored, fickle or understanding
his mother’s defeated sadness. Glow, from wire and paper,
flickered on him as Clare took him back in keeping.
Jennifer Maiden’s ‘Solstice Eve’ was published in Play With Knives: Five: George and Clare, the Malachite and the Diamonds: a novel in prose and verse (Quemar Press, 2018, pp.105-107).
One thing among the many things I love
about Gen Y is that they’re ready to accept
transgender in anything, as if Caitlyn Jenner
was the best fan fiction ever. I’m thinking of Emily Bronte
having baked the bread for her family,
charging over the moors, with a rapturous dog
and a headful of Heathcliff and Cathy. I’m thinking
of the first and one of the best English
novels, Defoe’s Roxana, written in a saucy
female first person: never marry a fool, she says,
ladies, whatever: you must never marry a fool. I’m
thinking of Alfred Hitchcock, after Marnie, eager
to film Barrie’s Mary Rose. He’d seen the play
in England as a boy: in England, where the police
locked him as a child in a cell, to frighten
any trace of crime away, his parents quite okay
with that: Oh, God. The plot of Mary Rose
is that a little girl on a remote Scots island goes
AWOL into mystery, returns the same, but later
visits as young bride with baby, does
the moonlight flit forever, until one
day her grown-up son returns to find
her, by accident: the child-ghost-mother,
perching on his knee: a little ‘ghostie’,
transcending any fear. I think, from memory,
they part again, but everything seems better. He
should have made that movie, despite
studio screams about money. After Marnie,
he was opened like an oyster in the dark. The Hitchcock
blonde, of course, is Hitchcock, hence
his tendency to beat her, but now here
Marnie was allowed an understanding, maybe
relief from retribution: we escape
those hours in the killing cell at last. I’m
thinking of Gen Y with real thanksgiving. When I
was young and used male first person in my
novels, my feminist critics – as if I wasn’t one –
were horrified that I seemed to want to be
a dull man when I was still really such an
interesting real-life woman. Really. Now they’ve
grown old as me, some still seem to disparage
transgender as if they had monopoly
on anything female, or indeed maybe
on all things that can stop the living body
claiming its other half in any way. Gen Y
would have no problem with moorbound Emily
in perfect English hymn metre writing ‘There let
thy bleeding branch atone’, or Keats, becoming
Lamia so he could face the autumn, writing ‘You
must be mine to die upon the rack
if I want you’ to an unfazed Fanny Brawne. The psyche
well-expressed splits like an atom. It’s energy
flies wild as the unconfined electrons
of lightning finding home.
‘Mary Rose’ was published in Selected Poems: 1967-2018 (Quemar Press, 2018).
Jennifer Maiden was born in Penrith, NSW. She has had 29 books published – 23 poetry collections and 6 novels. She has won 3 Kenneth Slessor Prizes, 2 C. J. Dennis Prizes, overall Victorian Prize for Literature, Harri Jones Prize, Christopher Brennan Award, 2 Melbourne Age Poetry Book of Year, overall Melbourne Age Book of Year, and ALS Gold Medal. She was shortlisted for Griffin International Poetry Prize. In 2018, Quemar Press published her Play With Knives quintet of novels, Appalachian Fall poetry collection and Selected Poems: 1967-2018. Quemar will publish brookings: the noun in 2019.
Appalachian Fall, Selected Poems: 1967-2018, and Play With Knives: Five: George and Clare, the Malachite and the Diamonds: a novel in prose and verse are available for purchase from Quemar Press and selected bookshops.