The Desolate Garden
The Lightness of Moondust The universe will hold you – let breath spin its soft cone of life. Filigree stars wreath your brow, whether or not this is your last hour, your echo will resound among green-crazed trees, reflections of you glance from shady, shallow pools. Your footprints have colluded with the dusty earth, and we have done our best to hear you in our all too human way. There’s a twinkling of moondust at the deepening of night where you hold a place forever filled with light.
Waiting to Die We eat sliced strawberries blazoned with cream, chopped nuts, and thick curls of chocolate. The gardener doesn’t leave her bed now, cannot see the bright lips of fruit, but eats the bloody flesh eagerly from the spoon I offer. The doors to the garden are open, the settle of birds feathers across jasmine’s buttery scent with its azalea and daphne garnish. The sky boils to embers over night shade and twitch that encroach on the water feature
where a stone maiden watches carp. In the distance a stallion screams. Death is a blue man with ulcerated cheeks falling slowly.
Curing the Thief.
When I trained in hairdressing I hated doing my motherâ€™s hair, inflexible twigs that sprang back from the rollers. Now it ripples down her back, in silver mist trails, bundles into steel wool pads in my comb. I sneak them to the bin where she canâ€™t see. The illness steals her life, the cure steals her pride. One hair for every day, one for every breath, until only naked skull is left in a tangle of rose bush roots and soil.
Another Mother i Here I sit with this pale woman who looks elsewhere, forgets my name, and tells me there are creatures gathered at my feet. Her face has slipped sideways, her fingers have lost her mouth and the mouth searches everywhere, but finds only conversation intended for someone else. ii My mother has gone away, an Indian maiden, stars of lobelia and moonflower wink from her lightless hair, eagle feathers paint her feet. iii A carved jade bird sits in the window and wishes he could lift his stone wings and fly home.
Mozart Seashore My mother sits in bed dancing her hands. Mozartâ€™s sonata, first movement
in C major twirls beneath her fingertips seeding flowers all along this wasted shore. Her roses flounce in ballerina skirts and tight tutus. Driftwood bones entangle limbs, overcome by pianissimo fingerwork, tiptoeing among shells. Each moment drawn beneath the notes hisses like sand in swan necks round her feet
Sweet Dream Sleep deep and dream let your eyes, gray-blue sky, linger over lush fields and long limbs of youth. As you run through this final night, silver hair flowing on the breath of graves sweetened with rose, your days tumble like petals in the last spring breeze. The riverâ€™s whispers kiss your toes calling you to fresh water. Memory sparkles along streams as your ferryman slowly rows, his mossy boat tangled
with iris and wild poppies. Fragrance of lilies bathes the air, birch leaves turn in slow whirlpools alongside. Maiden drift and dream an endless dream of paradise. Stars alight on your fingertips, this river returns you to arms that rocked and cradled before you knew.
Loose Mooring Tears slip beneath my skin. My sorrows sail there in little boats. The doctor says when the leukemiaâ€™s white fingers reach far enough into my mother's brain she will go unconscious and when I think of it all my little boats go into a frenzy, run pennants up and sail in circles. The woman with two-colour eyes and the dark northern woman will join hands with me. Weâ€™ll cast spells, weave baskets to carry shells with my mother's music carved in their grooves. We'll sing the ocean and shore where she can run barefoot and send messages to her in bottles, float all of our sorrowful little ships to her.
Breakers Watching you, I return always to the sea. You seem to have cast adrift already, as if by accident slipped your moorings. Your attention is focused on an alien dimension, though you come back to me in occasional waves. Your familiar hum, no longer the comforting mother's croon to her child, still strums sonar chords along my bones, strokes a memory deep as the waters of my birth. I watch you float softly off and try to catch your hands as they flail like startled birds; try to fix your face in my mind, like the back of my hand. The things that make me cry â€“ finding the first poem I ever wrote carefully folded away in your desk, you catching my hand to stroke my arm â€“ are sudden and surprising. When you're gone there will be no one who knows the scrambled lace of scars fretted beneath my skin. An ocean wave rolls from my eyes and you sail away upon it.
My Mother’s Hands. When I was a child my mother’s hands had ivory fingers, wound in wood. Rooms filled with sound, classical masters all around. Strong and supple runs down the keyboard and back, Moonlight Sonata flowing out, background for childhood play. Smooth brown, with half moon nails, her hands would mend a scrape or sew a dress, but music hovered always, like the heat shimmer on summer days. Now weeds bind and trap, music imprisoned within. The fluid runs that danced so lithe are slow and gray with age. My mother’s hands are silent now, when anyone can hear. To mar the sound she loves so much – is more than she can bear.
The Shadow of Death. I saw a woman today wearing my mothers dress. The white one, with birds and flowers. We chose it together, she said I had such good taste. This woman was big and healthy. The dress looked good on her. She reminded me of my mother. Hair dark and white swept together in sweeping lines to a knot on top â€“ awful hairstyle. Dress falling in draped folds around curving brown legs and arms. My mother is tiny now, a birdlike creature with a shadow upon her, that walks, now beside, now behind her and mocks her movements. Her rosewood Indian skin has subsided into tree-rings, a line for every year, seventy now â€“ I hold my breath and cross my fingers for seventy one, seventy two
The women in my family grow flowers. Rainbow colors bowed over ocean gardens and fresh young girls in hand stitched frocks. The fragrant scent of germination washes across velvet lawns. Careful hands tend the earth and teach the love of seed and sprout, coaxing forth tender morsels and bouquets of fresh faced daughters wreathed in petals. Tigered lilies, ivory arumâ€™s, flexy vines with swanlike necks that stretch and twine in floral divine of chiffon, silk, and denimed prime. The women who tend flowerbeds and daughters, deeply-earthed, content.
The Ring Gift As blood contained by skin, so these rubies are held in gold. They encircle my finger, a precious circle that binds me in debt to the ring giver. Bound by frosted diamonds, in allegiance to childhood memories, forgiveness of past and future sins is purchased with this band. My inheritance comes wrapped with strings.
The End Game
The colours of death paint your face. You walk this corridor alone past beckoning fingers of ancestors. Your path is laid with torn pages of Holy Bible written in Hebrew, indecipherable, but magnificent. Angels await â€“ you could stretch branches to the sky and blaze glory in the orange spiders of hell, spit serpents from your mouth and seed poison in the garden of God, or cringe whimpering to a soft hollow of earth, and concede to divine superiority at the last breath. My money is on the serpents.
Openings Fingers brush my heart, feel for easy openings. They hover over the dark crevice of my mother. Her feet open wounds, she is crystal petals beneath a hand. Stone eyes of death glitter as the smooth granite curve of his palm lowers to crush. A seraphic smile, metamorphosis of acquisition transforms his face.
Pines Beach Domain March 2004
Pines needle the sky along the edge of the domain. I sit on a bench in squinting sunlight and think, if you were here we’d giggle about Zac last night, telling me girls at school nicknamed him ‘teddy bear.’ I’d show you the poem I wrote and you’d make me feel like Maya Angelou. We’d talk about story ideas 12
and you’d pretend to frost your words with lilac tints, all the while the flame tips of your phoenix feathers reaching up so bright they’d make the sun seem to dim. But a cool draft shimmies the dunes as though someone left the door open and the seat beside me is gray with ash, gritty on my fingers where I sit trying to create feathers. I should have gone with you.
Slippery Edges six feet down the worms whisper as I frost another blossom colored cake and weave a swift net through the streets of my day from hospital’s spitshine waiting rooms to doctor’s germ central glancing at my watch sprinkling children in my wake strands tighten around woven edges of the hole growing in the center of my sphere where I slither and clutch not to fall and six feet down the worms whisper soon.
The Bird In dreams I take your hand in mine lay my cheek against yours, loved, loving. But reality is a bird of hardness that pecks my eyes. His dense nest stacks around me, metal twigs and concrete lined. One small opening of possibility for blue sky wideness before all is lost.
Iâ€™m watching you go, feeling you fade. Clutching tight with both fists, still you slip through my fingers like afternoon sunlight.
I sit here fallen open, counting razor blades, metal-bright in sun, slender against the red petals of my fingers. So light against the dark weight of secrets in locked drawers they fly in circles, higher and faster until they are a silver tunnel. In the flickered sound like rushing trains I journey, travel home again.
She is becoming one-dimensional, wafer thin to float upon air and slip more readily beneath heavenâ€™s door. Small bruises mark her. Places where night has touched his fingers impatiently.
She cannot save herself any more than a rock can save itself from water, or sand from wind. She will be eroded and only her echo will remain, sounding around the hips and thighs of her daughters.
pink blue white wildflowers soft disarray on granite angel small pearl droplet rolls gray on stone cheeks a summoning spell to call lost love back it spills spins down singing its sticky chant of longing 16
through warm earth to sound in tombs rouse sleepers, rings around bowls of bone and echoes back from empty halls. The secret of the dead is that they are not there at all.
As children, we shuffled over foot-hopping sand on towels. Mum slicked us with Coppertone and fed us sand-grit sandwiches as though we were oysters that might grow pearls. This February, ducks swim in rain-filled car parks. Wind ties my skirt in a reef knot around my legs, and my mother has abandoned her babies amidst the clutter of empty shells and gone to reside in memoryâ€™s beaches.
A chill seeps into me, begins at my fingers and toes and moves glacially along my spine. My nails sparkle with frost, hair tinkles icicles. I feel my blood thicken, breath whiten, my eyes reflect snowflakes. When the coldness reaches my heart I will be the snow queen, lying to a small frozen child in my ice castle so that I wonâ€™t be alone.
Feathers My mother has become a baby bird beak open, tongue exposed beseeching sustenance, her bones hollow ready for flight. I gather her into my arms and pray, ask the great eagle for feathers to weave her a cloak so that she will soar. ii Her talons rake my heart the gray lines hold seeds of loss, grow a flower of emptiness 18
that sheds moments we might have shared and casts off memories like pollen lost in a low wind. iii Essence ascends lightly. Spirals in streams of rose gold winding through fields they expand and disperse like feathers into the sky.
Coffins and Roses
The sky is patterned with cloud like the spread of eagle feathers, and colored with a scarlet flare, a bloody opening on the curve of bone at the base of the throat, rising across frosted blue. It changes to diamond bright, as day leaks into night. White as a single button-hole rose placed on a coffin, petals dissolved to ash in the crematorium incinerator.
A woman stands on a black needle of rock that spears into the marbled sea and empty charcoal sky. Ice paints faint trails under her feet and sleet furrows her cheeks. Slivers of glass are embedded in her palms. They sing a grinding song as sand trails down her fingers, her open mouth is an abyss.
My Motherâ€™s Tongue
Sometimes my mother opens her mouth and makes a sound like a breaking bone. Words poke between her lips like skeletal splinters through skin. I try to push them back, stretch edges across the wound to seal it shut. But my child hands are not enough. Sometimes I think I hear that sound echo in my own voice, touch fingers to my lips to hold them closed.
Last Long Tunnel
The entrance to the netherworld is a mouth of stones that chews us through. Wild dancing toys jerk and sway zombie steps. Our feet try to turn us, double back, induce the mouth to regurgitate. The toymaker winds our keys and drives us on, silver tongues spat to pay the ferryman. No time to haggle, the songs of the dead are not sung by silent mouths, but brushed on bones rolled down eyeballs and gurgled in a cup of hemlock. The slithering sound of the serpentine Styx. A river of worms, where the ferry boat glides with the steady business of death.
A Dream to Grow On
I float like milkweed, face up on a green river. Hope braids my hair with dreams and secrets I dare not speak. White flowered upon my breast light burns, opens blue ribbons of skin. No pain only light, then lighter, as though I could raise the dead with a lift of my finger. I will seep into deep and deeper green, till I am moss on limestone, lichen on pine, beyond time. My fingers spread through soil, quicken seed and fire it skyward. Ascendant dreams reach for moons and freedom.
This copper road patched in penny puddles stretches into sepia distance inviting incandescence and the flurry of wings. The pins that hold my life together rattle loose. The four cornerstones stand, backs together, ready to march asunder. A foot tap begins to dance in my middle. Not peeking around doors that were slammed shut, but opening new ones to look into the garden. My arms are spread. Like great eagle wings they reach to glide, scoop up those who have the courage to fly alongside me, far above this faint gleam of pathway into a larger vista.
Her life slowly leaks from beneath my eyelids. Her garbled word salad of past and future twist together like cat tracks across a lawn. It’s 2am, I’d go back to bed but every time I move she wants her drink again, tips it over herself like a two-year-old. When I hold the cup for her she strokes my hand. If I close my eyes, her touch is still my mother’s, familiar as cotton against my skin. I crouch in a chair as the clock ticks on and rain falls in the water-cylinder beside us.
Snow Globe i This house, swathed in a winding sheet, smothered with weed enmeshed miasma, waits, breath suspended. ii Death is a spindle-legged insect who walks lightly enough not to disturb the skin on water. What chance to escape the embrace of one who steps so softly.
iii Snow falls in polystyrene chips, spinning through silver liquid night, as though we are within a glass bubble, turned upside down at the whim of a child.
Dark Flowering death is a dark rose that blooms only once the petals fall forever
Rice Paper he still carries the mark his fatherâ€™s hand made on his cheek now imprinted on a rice paper memory when he talks about his father scarlet fingers blossom rain-fresh petals
About Lions and Dragons Death exhales lion’s breath and glares from dragon eyes, squinches hold above ground, dallying over his errand for the brief moment in sunshine. He opens a red tulip on the tip of polished collarbone at the base of the throat and draws back slowly, an extrusion of soul. He’s left a look in my father’s eyes, like the one in my mirror after seeing pictures of Indian women laying in snow, babies frozen in their arms. Like the one I saw in the eyes of the slave in a sepia photograph sitting, shirt off, back to the camera, looking over his shoulder at us looking at the signature of a whip signed over and over itself in his beautiful skin.
Harvest A pearl nestled in a brittle shell of sheets, my mother awaits the diver. Here on the ocean bed angelfish flick by. Coral wreaths amber arms to catch the liquid breeze. A cathedral of light stretches above us. At the top of the spire thereâ€™s a clock drowning in minutes.
Gather Flowers When I go to my motherâ€™s house now, I want to gather flowers from her garden and bring them inside. I choose royal blue Dutch iris, soldier straight, turkey-giblet heads vivid against leaf blades and dizzy roses flouncing voile, layered petticoats, littering petals in sudden falls. Gypsophila trails between like white veil. Each scissors-snip of stem begins a slow floral death, an inward curl amid the over-ripe scent of decay.
Jokerwoman I am my own cliché, a joker of a woman. Running through my day like sand off the back of a hand. A hand across the back of my head, always my mother’s last resort, never a woman for inappropriate humor. And what could I have done differently? Realized they weren’t that funny it seems, T.V shows and magazines. Life was a far more serious business of good china, properly washed dishes, men, the enemy, and the possibility of pregnancy, not to be thought of frivolously. But you could have a good laugh over tea, with the bones of small daughters trapped in your teeth.
I sit beneath this blossom tree writing on petals one word on each they have to be small words or they won’t fit they have to be written gently
or the petal will tear eventually I hope to have a book of fragrant pink bees will love it perhaps someone will sit here after me and know that I loved you. Five days later my words are gonebruised fragments in the norâ€™ west.
White Shadow Songs Specters sing around me, creep fingers beneath my eyelids and pass white shadows across my dreams. They hide in light, bring flowers and tap their bones against my forehead. Great-grandfather in his ghost-dancer shirt speaks in the chirp of morning birds to remind me loss is bitter seed from which memory grows. My grandmotherâ€™s hand blends with mine as I sew; guides my stitch, binding skin and blood to our family quilt. My shadow host show me futures with their spider vision, roll from my tongue half-remembered wisdom, and forbid I should come to harm.
The Breakfast Shift Elton is playing Your Song – piano tinkles of glass threads adrift on the breeze. A woman in front of me gives Eftpos instructions to her Mum. I keep my eyes down so she can’t see the saltwater sparkle in them, a wave that suddenly threatens to wash small villages of freckles from my cheeks. They watch my fingers forget themselves, stumble over everyday tasks as small-town New Zealand rolls past to purchase toast and orange juice. I weave my way between tables once weighed with plenty, now laid to waste, and remember last night’s dream – a ghostly mother playing my son’s toy keyboard, a song she used to play with him. The sounds are sharp, like glass threads snapped in the breeze.
Last Ember Mist licks dusk from your lips like a cool drop of night. You embrace the silent water with open arms breathe reflection as evening light drowns your eyes their silver floating sea pebbled and bottomless.
Necromancer Here in these stone fluted catacombs you rest amidst dusty ribs and winding paths. Commune with bones, your dreams mutated, fossilized in the stasis of graves. What do you divine here mage? Whispers of Morpheus, songs of derision, or the drum beat of demon chants to bind you here encased in marble.
My face reflects from the car window beside me. I gaze into my dreaming eyes, pupils fat with dark as it falls in fleshy folds around us. Car lights finger the road ahead as I wind down the window and disappear. Night licks my cheek with a cool tongue, winds herself through my arms and pulls me into her silky womb. Curled, thumb in mouth, I float beneath the moon, a pale circular paradox, simulacrum of myself, nose pressed against forever. Lifeline umbilical cord Tugs me through darkness toward a thread of light.
The flight of the night seagull rustles gray stippled trees below. His wings catch every lift and push of sky trails, their satin strings ripple pleasure through his feathers and carry him over the boy eating fruit on his patio, hair faint gold as his head tips up, imagining the swift, soft rush of ghost to grave. The gull flies on rejoicing in the hollow song of bones, dark curve of beak, as his glance farewells the moon. In the wild teeth of the sea sirens sigh and monsters rise from storybook depths at his passing. He alights on the great tree in uncharted sea, amidst branches broad as highways. Home nestled around him, he folds feathers and tucks head, once again a pale egg.
Your Lucky Green Cap. Across a field of grass your trail spins out. Stars light tips of my hair and swirl behind your absent face, suspended in crystal sugar sky. Love sits on my head, like your green cap twisted back. My happy thoughts in the peak, bereft of you, your residue residing in the sparkle on the dew, and the echo from this favored shell that cloaks my memories. How can I believe you when you tell me you are dead? When you’re here with me, so real, and I can touch your smile inside the floating espers of nostalgia that melt their slender tapers into shallow bowls of loneliness. A fat and sluggish waxing of forgetful flame. It’s not the same I know, but the pain destroys my freedom and confines me here. Across this field a warm wind blows and teases through my quiet wounds, blood still fresh. The bitter howl of empty air passes over bones you left; this cap, a ball, a thumbprint on your bedroom wall. I can’t believe you’d leave me here, alone after all.
Dusk Draws In Begin with an outline in lead. A woman walks along a road, leans into the wind. The bamboo along the roadside leans back the other way. A child follows behind her. I shade a little with a softer darker pencil, add depth, curves; smudge in with a fingertip. If I add some color, the womanâ€™s hair will still be dark lines, white interspersed. Her clothing beaten and dull against the clay road. She is yesterday, walks toward her sunset of pansies and marigolds vibrant behind a landscape faded in shadow. On the land, only the child is bright, fluttered behind her like a silk scarf. He carries green seeds in his hand, flowers of dawn spring up behind his footsteps where he scatters his seeds. He is tomorrow, yet to arrive, full of promise.
The Seventh Scroll.
The echo of a word hangs in the silence between sleeping and waking. Were you conversing with God or some subtle spirit as you slept? And what was the word he left â€“ if you could just remember. It might be the secret of the seventh scroll, seal unbroken as it waits to unroll. Dripping slowly patterns repeat, cycles revolve history echoes, genetically. Lip-locked, land-locked, time locked, dead-locked, we slide into eternity, and into that silence the echoed word falls â€“ if you could just remember.
Magpie Pines I stray across the rosy screen of my eyelids to a sun-dropped park of childhood. A wooden raft suspended from iron bars big enough to hold twelve squealers, clinging to its splintery wear-shined surface. Such lion-tamer adventurers, higher and wilder we dared swing, past the tops of magpie pines, till it seemed the sky must crack and God spill upon us.
The Sea Will Give Up Its Dead. Shingle shoals rattle ashore turned beneath bare toes. My legs veiled by a net of spray, I play a necromantic tune to summon the rolling thunderhead over haunted steps of those long dead. Directed by the black silk bride of Morpheus a finger glide across a lyre will bridge the drear unbent divide of life to death. The sea gives up with baby ripples all the breaths therein expired. The many-headed beastieâ€™s hoards are forming in the foam and froth expelled by the Behemoth Sea
my song returns them home to me. Elixir Open your mouth to the rain, suck its silver darts into your wet-speckled throat. A taste of wild, snowballing to luxuriant life in a race of green. Steel hubcaps spin out of control, a molecular surge of spicy fire. Freedomâ€™s flavor, down the road at ton & ten with stars falling row upon row. Spread your glistening wings and rise into the red wine heart of the sky.
Passing Time Why are you so sad when time is woven fine as silk, and you are just a glisten on a teardrop passing clear between the strands.
The Child of Me She lies in darkness listening to the unspooled thread of myself; a magpieâ€™s fluted warble in her ears. Her limbs are green stone beneath water where trees crack the sky. She is so small I wear her like sackcloth a benediction to heal wounds. She is twilight moth and dawn star; her eyes are burning white ocean, the journey home. When I fall deep inside myself she is my staircase.
Dancing in the Storm I am writing this to you from the eye of the hurricane, while you are in the hot breath of her face. From black countenance she spits teeth and flicks her hair, la Donna Isabella. I am writing to you from the calm white eye, the immaculate heart of the hurricane.
You who dance through the frenzy of the outer edge, while I scoop fallen corpuscles into my left ventricle in an effort to resuscitate.
Tomorrowâ€™s Child Dance in the pleasure of your skin, palest camellia flesh. A spring garden glistened with rainbulbs and cobweb skeletons against wet black boughs. Feel your body bloom in expansion, ticklish fish slip between cells. You are the powder of stars, in the course of your dream tuatara and deer spring from your feet swallows and marigolds from your palms. You are the child beyond the seventh scroll, bitter belly soothed and sanguine, the trumpets of angels silenced in your hair, your song a circle of memory.
The Gift Breathe and breathe, pull silvery air into you and feel it melt the sweep of storm, stigmata banished. Love does not depend on this, to cut or slice, no sacrifice. For blood the treasure, gifted from the dragon's tongue drips into your flesh chalice. Hold it, tender sweetest brew the essence and the mystery of only you. Power lies behind the blade. Beneath the slide of red a lotus blooms fresh and strong, petal open, the wine of you cupped inside, so precious none would ever dare to tear or cause a tear. Beloved, hold yourself in your arms, tender-wrapped in sable, gowned in satin. Lilies wreathed around your breath, defy that bastard death the way you would for any other helpless babe.
Night Roads Entering evergreen forest now, trees encroach on the verge. Roots protrude through the outer rim like toenails. The night road is black velvet ribbon we slip along. My sisters draw closer, limbs pale and shiny. Our farewell song comes piecemeal from cracked lips. Power thrums as we interlock, our chant spins above treetops and blue haze descends. Wraiths weave among the trees igniting memories â€“ the Selwyn river, sunlit in soft leaves of childhood. Wet day indoor picnics and Slappy Duck stories flicker from the branches. Our mother etched symbols into our palms and around the edges of our nails with fire-dipped iron so we cannot lose our way. We color this road like flowers refreshed by rain, breathe the scent of bark and gum as air thickens with goodbye.
Fifty Meters From the End of the Earth There are snow flurries and rain in bitter squalls fifty meters from the edge of the earth. A boy in a red t-shirt beats a drum, tapping off minutes, now fast, now slow. Time is an idea that breaks with speed, like glass in heat. Weâ€™re exceeding limits running parallel to the edge, our arms steel girders, we try to buy ourselves time with speed. Black masts of ships wreck the skyline rising above the broken border. Junk machinery skitters past suicide victims trapped inside, those who choose death over life, love is the grit that stops the rest of us slipping over.
Previously published poems Another Mother, Mind Mutations Anthology, 2004 Slippery Edges, Verse Libre, 2002, nominated for Pushcart award. The Bird, The Green Tricycle, 2002 Terminal, Peshekee River Journal, 2002 Feathers, Blackmail Press, 2002 Lonely, Verse Libre, 2002 Dark Flowering, Lotus Blooms, 2002 Rice Paper, Lotus Blooms, 2002 Gather Flowers, Gold medal NPAC, January 2004 The Sea Will Give Up Its Dead, Blackmail Press, 2003 Little Princess, Two Moon Quarterly, 2003