Claire Gaskin: 3 Poems

Sheltered: Dominique Hecq reviews Claire Gaskin’s Ismene’s Survivable Resistance 

Ismene’s thirsts

in this binary library
a murder of fictions
crows gather in corners
it is work to witness
question marks
polished apples

one side limp
I called an ambulance
this memory smells nutty
the first line I trusted

hot under a tree in the outback
a bag of lychees
declarations of love are not love

front teeth crack the husk
translucence of trace

the bee on my chest witnesses the space between beats
I dusted my brother’s body
the dandelions nod affirmation
the butterfly heavy with the want does not land

the day I went to get results
my notebook opened an incision
lay lined
an inky river

the little boy runs into
my failure of ground
there is a beach where the two rivers meet
the Jamieson, the Goulburn

not remembering protected them from the birds, their crimes

a woman on a horse tells us one river is warmer, one faster

standing in water two arms end in a heart

their crimes fell like coins out of holes in the lining
yellow leaves are boats moving as fast as the colluding current

I have to stay till I arrive
medicated into the seams
two elbows on the table
the wood smells like old books
my notebook spread flightless

a muddy pond of tea cools in my hands
sitting in the wind of hospital corridors

cockatoos rip apart the morning
the river swallows the fall
my mother raised her arms in prayer to the clothes line

blood flows from the left atrium to the right
flies land on my denial
the privacy of grief

she took her two hands off her walker
onto my shoulders
pegged me with prayer

the two rivers don’t meet
the Jamieson ends in the Goulburn


Ismene in a Twelve Step Programme

I can tell you about powerlessness
step one
knowing it is going to happen and being able to do nothing
Antigone chooses to die rather than survive abuse
pinned down his sweat dripping in my face
saying you may as well enjoy it
something severed it
wasn’t love and sex it was abuse from love
he didn’t love me
all my abusers before that had loved me
I dreamt I was walking through the rubble of my family home
seeking shelter there
I loved them that is what children do
consequences of knowing things I could not believe
I had sex again with him to make him feel
I could have learnt
not spent a life trying to make my abusers love me
if I’d been able to be present
my boyfriend’s parting words it’s not the same
he came back thirty-three years later
said he could have dealt with it better
believing it I knew it was not true
sitting on the steps of ourselves
cleaning my feet
constantly re-traumatising each other
I did my best not to survive it
meet and repeat the annihilation in addiction
I am here because I know about a life time of refusal
I dreamt I was painting
I wasn’t in control of my medium and I had the wrong brushes
you don’t have to believe to pray
survival is the radical act
wasn’t I reason enough for her to stay alive
what is survivable resistance
Polynices was already dead
I know the Greek Tragedy thing once it is set in motion it
must play out

but I’m still here to feel the sun on my body and the water to
witness my blaring heart

my abuser was giving me admission
something my family could never give me
I have to grip the arms of my chair to stay present
I use sex to avoid intimacy
did she love Polynices more than life
is that love
she made him her god
I get that she felt like he was irreplaceable
what was I
but so was she
I could bury my dead in private
she needed it to be seen by other
is to survive it to comply
she died to what they call sanity logic law so I could live
she covered up that the first burial was mine
I couldn’t stay in the house with Creon
I took off
got as far as Sydney before I met someone
we swam drank had lots of sex moved on to the next beach
whenever we wanted

a job at a magazine the editor had sent everyone out
lying on a hot rock by black water
the sound of metal bowls being placed on the ground
I am left I am what is left
my body a bargain with presence
where things move in the breeze
it was the gaze of the train
the inevitability
the lake hollows the sound of voices


Ismene loves

to love is to truly have survived

she has her head bowed
and her palms are open
but she is standing on a serpent
a serpent that wraps the world

she has subdued it

I know why you drink

I drank a bottle of scotch a day after I was raped
and my boyfriend left me

you drink to celebrate life
but you get drunk to annihilate it

I’m standing on my serpent
my head is bowed and my palms are open
it writhes beneath my feet

I pray to her who has subdued
to step into her
with my head bowed and my palms open

I know why you drink

my ex-husband quoted
first you take a drink
then the drink takes you

now he says
I’m not going to drink anymore
and I’m not going to drink any less

the irony is that’s the humour
I love for him

I know there is and has been your wars
I know what you drink for

my wars go on behind closed doors
against women and children
in the halls and kitchens of honoured institutions

behind closed lids
where the serpent rears its head
and wraps around my dreams
where the memories mercury


Mother of Mercy



Sheltered: Dominique Hecq reviews Claire Gaskin’s Ismene’s Survivable Resistance 


Claire Gaskin received an Australia Council Literature Board grant in 2003 to complete her first full-length collection of poetry. A bud was released by John Leonard Press in 2006, and was shortlisted in the John Bray SA Festival Awards for Literature. Paperweight, was released in 2013 and Eurydice Speaks in 2021, both published by Hunter Publishers. Her fourth collection Ismene’s Survivable Resistance was published with Puncher & Wattmann in 2021. Her poetry has been anthologized in Australian PoetryMotherlodeAustralian Love Poems 2013, Best Australian Poems 200920102013 and in Contemporary Australian Poetry and Contemporary Australian Feminist PoetryShe has been a long-term teacher of poetry in universities and adult education.

Claire Gaskin latest collection, Ismene’s Survivable Resistance, is available from



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