Big Bridge #9

Poets of Australia


Kate Middleton

Last Poem

        For P.

I went to pick a rose for you
and found there were no roses—no symphony, no cherish.
                The seasons are lost in a brushstroke now,
the blankness of my inattention. And I wanted to give you
those easily crushable petals (they are so easy
                                   to grieve for) but the morning frosts
have seized us all. Instead I gave you the tissue
of my thin words, and said
                                          I wish these were roses.
Brought like Josephine rushed roses through the blockades,
the giddiness of bringing those buds into a new country.
                         The gentle, pressable flesh of them
an explanation for my warring self. We sat together
in the cold house, the words between us withering,
                            having lost the libraries of eloquence
they used to hold, the pattern of sunshine dropping through
the red lace shawl hung suspended in the window.

Letter to Melissa Ashley

I could send you the ticket stub
from the film I saw yesterday (or should
I say movie?) or I could just write
all my guesswork into this letter—
did she die or not & anyway, did he
love her? The movements of the clock,
the swing of the weathercock & vain—sure
he was vain as vanity can be measured.
Proud, too. Ivy wrote about it
in her thesis—husbands & wives (writers)
& their entangled writing lives: the upshot
seems to be that whether or not she did it
first or lagged behind (taking time to consider
carefully the heaviness of a certain tread) or
whichever of them made it over the line
with the word scotch, or pelt, let’s face it—
she was the one who got it right.
Anyway, his love for her was obscured
(& made more poignant) by various
incompetencies. Like the Sibyl who never
reassembled the wind freaked & scattered
prophesies, he’s left it all where it fell—
books piled & poised to come to dust
on the stair, & the champagne still sits
with its Christmas bows left on in June.
Was it love, this marriage, or rivalry?
I can’t forget Koch’s injunction
‘Have some friends so good it scares you.’
I read about O’Hara’s walk, & how
even that was unforgettable—the elongation
of tiptoed, stretched neck & angled
head (with a little sass in it).
Have we learned nothing from dusting off
our thumbprick sleep? We still walk
to be looked at (& still we’re never noticed).
& of course I’ve left it all out—left out
scuffle & squall & tumbling out
onto Lygon. & I’ve left out Cassie
gathering her lessons learned in homage
to her dead teacher—the smile rustled
by finding the anthology she first read
the poems out of, secondhand. & after all,
her writing eloquently about the memory
of what he taught, like the glint of light
on the face of the water, concealing the submerged
body—this is all that love can hope for.
It is not trying to recall a more perfect way
of saying the thing, or dancing on fancy, but
breathing through an assertion just as troubling
as the words ‘Anyway, I never tell the truth.’

Remembering Water

        after H. C. Anderson, for Bernadette Young

It begins like the vagary of a rippled reflection,
the memory of having a voice—the memory
of things unhidden,
             a gurgle, or a hiccup rising unbidden—
now that speech is as secret
as a bound foot. Being broken, the pain
is the body’s language. Dancing on a blade
I sometimes stray to water.
Remembering water
I have no comprehension of the verb:
                                          to drown.

The sea is like something woven:
Penelope’s fancywork done and undone by the cock
of a determined clockface.
the measure of distance. Now, crossing bridges
my feet fail—remember something
                      of the ocean’s fidelity.

Buried alive in the air, my own image is a map,
the mirror a revelation of emptiness,
of waiting for a glance. The duplicate:
sans voice, sans noise
                excepting the rustling of foreign silks.
It is a map of wishing to come unstrung
on Penelope’s timeline, of the failed mathematics,
the botched equation for footwork
which doesn’t burn. Nightly, homesickness unfolds
                                             like a book of new cities.

Kate Middleton is a Melbourne writer and musician. Her poems have appeared in Australian newspapers and journals including The Age, Australian Book Review and Heat.

Previous Australian Poet      Australian Poet Index      Next Australian Poet