The Mulberry Tree (circa. 1600)
Beneath the mulberry tree, the ground moved
and I looked up at the dark tangled limbs:
arms and legs of children who’d ever played there.
Mulberries fell about my feet;
my mother’s voice intervened Mind where you walk
dog-dirt on the hop-scotch pink pavement
outside our house, the cold lounge, aroma of gin and orange,
roast turkey on Christmas morning. Always at eleven o’clock,
dong dong of the grandfather clock.
Raise your glasses, father would say To absent friends!
Names that followed, gone away, killed in wars.
The carpet with maroon roses, squashed mulberries,
and up above, the grown-ups lifting their warm arms.
Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!
Beneath the mulberry tree,
the children who grew up and went away sang sang.
Here we go around the mulberry bush,
the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush...
Someone offered me a bottle of homemade mulberry wine.
The ground moved.
It does, she said.
Much later, you and I at the table with the wine,
plain label, printed name.
We discussed how to soak it, to save it forever.
Pulled the cork, poured the wine,
raised our glasses To absent friends!
It tasted awful...
At the house where my father was born
‘It hurts to go through walls, it makes you sick,
but it’s necessary.’ − Tomas Tranströmer
I’d expected a labyrinth of small dark rooms, yet
the house was lit marigold scooped out like a pumpkin for Halloween
Flames flickered and spat in a wide fireplace
a seaweedy stench had swept in brushed walls with sea mist
Oak beams as broad as shoulders seemed safe
the floor dipped like a ship
There was a tavern of voices outside
laughter bickering sniggering
gossip in the street lingering Victorian morals
Crash of sea over rocks din of death bells
It was 1917
I was through that door that painting that wall to god knows where
A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
a crinkly unfolding of paper sound
a letter that never came after the Somme
Her sigh swish of skirt
I turned she passed the mirror a silvery blur
a light crunch of shoe on wooden board
I saw the horror of her unwed shame in my own face
the same mirror that once held her
O to curl into the stillness of that blue velvet chair
its painterly stopping of time
Walls giddied me terrified me the emptiness of that room
She was banished
He grew as his grandma’s thirteenth child
* * *
I went through silence a room bathed with pale sunlight
It was late afternoon in winter
From a window across a meadow towards the sea
I saw him walking away
He carried the burden of those walls
on his dark days dark, dark, days
he went towards the sea
the openness of the sea
Above a Seedy Bridal Shop
You never know what to expect in a holiday let
booked on the internet.
The Dickensian street had a decadent feel.
Flat two I found above a seedy bridal shop.
The door was ajar.
A vestibule whiffed of mothballs and peppermint breath.
Then as I went up the stairs the air took on a hazy tint.
A glass table opaque as an iced cake. Dusty.
A spray of whitish flowers
anemones roses campion forget-me-nots
stuffed in a vase as if hurled by a bride and caught
by a girl with cautious hands. Then ditched.
A chipped vase had a nipped in waist laced at the back
twisted and wrung like a dishcloth tight as a corset.
Even the spiders had fled.
The ivory clock had stopped at a twenty to nine.
Despite what the website implied:
a clock wound each Saturday (on changeover day)
a barefoot Isadora with flowing dusters
fresh flowers tied with blue satin ribbons
fluid baroque folds a möbius strip the turning of wrists.
And something new a window view:
a Rodin replica La Cathédrale in the street.
A scent of summer flowers lifts skyward the blurb said
ethereal choral voices in a medieval church.
Left in the lurch
that clock too had stopped at a twenty to nine.
Doris Lessing, 1959
there she is fag in hand
pensive dark bobbed hair
shirt-waister frock crimplene
i caste my eye along a shelf
faded paper-backs titles
intricate as vertebrae
i touch a spine take a book
parched pages crack open
the mustiness of vintage shops
other people’s houses last night’s cooking smells
i am immersed in dystopian tales
(vivid as yesterday)
bravery of women in science fiction
the era of golden notebooks
yet surely this photo is incomplete
she is about to speak
The promenade is monochrome. We push through sea mist.
Poppy was six the year she had TB. Now she asks
what it was like for me. My raincoat clings like dank seaweed.
My lips part but don’t speak.
Outside a shut door I hear a doctor murmur sanatorium.
Our mother’s nurse-voice: No!
We push through blindness my ring clinks a chrome railing.
Old people in parked cars peer through half moons of windscreens
sip thermos tea wait for mist to lift −
hush of the shore sanatorium sanatorium. No!
Creep away slink in shadows corridors flat against walls
make myself scarce. I am selfish.
Words won’t form.
Our shoes crunch crunch a storm has thrashed pebbles across the path.
Wrenched apart like an arm from a doll for a year. No children near.
Her room is quiet as daisies in grass. Mine is drab. Dark:
a ship’s horn booms through the gloom.
I search for words.
We link arms a breakwater emerges down the slope of the beach.
I push further into thickness of the past
darkness heartens hearkens ...
opens into a softness the warmth of mauve.
An oval mirror veiled with silk. Auntie Phyllis smells of lavender.
Her silver-backed hairbrush is heavy she lets me brush her long black hair
down to her waist it has threads of white. At night we listen
to the swish of the sea sew sequins on damask.
The chalk cliff towers above craggy and bright.
Our mother washes salt-encrusted windows with a sponge and soapy water —
pale sunlight seeps into the house on the edge of the cliff.
Poppy’s hair has grown into a cascade of gold.
Daffodils laughed I say.
(in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, 1959)
The wood was out of bounds.
Strange people lingered there and stared.
But Poppy and me crept out the garden gate
raced through summer grass
quickly trampling stinging nettles.
The trees much taller closer-up!
Cow parsley made us sneeze
we squeezed through a brambly gap.
In the cavernous wood sky disappeared.
Moss grew underfoot the air was dank as mist.
We stopped and stared:
a lake of deep violet-blue.
Trees towered all around
dark-coated men the dead.
A breeze stirred the blue.
We stroked a silken surface smoothed a tepid lake.
Picked a single stem to have a closer look:
five frail pendulous bells.
A hush of insect buzz leaf rustle.
Sparrows flitted strung their words in dares!
We looped our gingham skirts into apron pockets
picked the pretty bluebells irresistibly.
Our mother was aghast at where we’d been
but poor bluebells was all she said.
No more than girls like us turning drab already.
We put fist-fulls of bluebells in jam jars
for a last drink of water.
At dawn we stared at the dead.
Miss Philipou’s Class
I travel back and forth through years different hemispheres.
Poetry began in this little book.
The maroon linen cover faded brick-pink gold lettering dulled
but clear as Braille to touch the radiance of everyday words.
Leafy-patterned endpapers eggshell speckled with mould
Left in the rain. A blue-inked name.
I turn pages
Miss Philipou’s voice switches on like a radio song.
Narrative Poetry she cries with darting eyes
pushing-up her black-ribbed sleeves jingling silver bangles.
We shop in Goblin Market skip through streets of Hamelin.
Listen to a wedding speech. Marvel
at the wingspan of an Albatross. Repeat the O!
of The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies O!
Help build a canoe for Hiawatha’s sailing.
We chant by rote: Deirdre alongside a cast on her arm
scribbled with autographs. Susan Beryl Gina.
Margarita in pink plastic spectacles her empty seat
remedial classes with Sister Bernadette.
Helen went out with a boy from the Secondary Modern.
But Jane Hallem her long red hair in front of me
died in childbirth at just sixteen.
Her mother wore a grey serge coat pushed a black pram around town.
An Attic Window (Montmartre)
11pm: a midsummer Saturday night.
It was a giddying height above the hub-bub the whooping it up
shrieks laughter along the Place du Théâtre.
In a café with an olive green awning an accordion played Piaf.
A dog yapped on a wrought-iron balcony a flame geranium.
Shutters flung open like an advent calendar a lamp or two
a room lined with books a woman poured a glass of wine.
I pondered a rear window line for this poem a cinematography
but a child wandered onto a balcony.
I couldn’t look. A cobbled street below.
I turned from the window the ceiling sloped to the floor.
I heard motor-bikes roar revelry the night punctured with sirens.
In a dream I recalled a box-brownie photo of me beside a swing
three badges pinned proudly to my school blazer lapel.
I thought I was tall but I was small
blue ribbons on my tight plaits flew back.
I swung high and dropped from a starless sky.
I had no idea how melancholy the morning would be.
I thought of the day after Septimus fell.
Trees scattered leaves in the square a deserted theatre door
a closed boulangerie tiny boutique a silent school.
Shopkeepers swept rubbish hosed pavements
rivulets ran down gutters.
I climbed steep steps in shadow of the Sacré Coeur Basilica.
The bells dong donged and swelled ...
Anemones (black & white)
In the momento mori of the photograph
heliotropic faces of anemones are raised adoringly
stems clasped in a vase invisibly.
Prior to the moment let’s call it 8pm a summer’s night.
I watch from the wings
midnight-blue velvet drapes along the window ledge
an oblique angle twist of the head.
The photographer on the ceiling rests
flat as a bed peering through the crystal chandelier.
She wears camouflage shell-pink chiffon and pearls
the shadow of the chandelier
dapples her with lacy cloth.
The wind-flowers flit in khol-eyed and wild
pushing-open French doors
petalled frocks from the fairy shop.
They form a corolla choreography
for a ballet score or game of musical chairs
stop gaze at a single spot
an aureole of wispy foliage spins around their heads.
A pleasing arrangement the photographer says
harmonious hues a hazy reflection in water.
After the moment in the stillness
we fill our arms with flowers.
after The Secret Garden
During the interval of the Haydn choral concert,
my sister (once princess of the dress-up box) said Let’s go...
We went down the side of the church,
slipped through a gate —
the brass padlock a fake for those in the know —
into a flint-walled garden, a kind of overgrown underground.
The light was green.
sparrows finches coo of wood pigeons,
bees on hives and cabbage-white butterflies.
Trees tall as stilts connected earth to sky,
roots tipped ancient graves almost merrily.
I craned forward but could not decipher a name.
It was a dead-quiet afternoon. No traffic.
We looked at each other;
we’d gone back in time, she was nine. I must call her Mary.
She wore a print frock, green herring-bone braid around the hem.
Mine, identical in red familiar soft lawn against my skin.
Thunder rumbled in the distance (furniture moved in heaven).
Bees swarmed overhead.
I said I’d read bees are losing their olfactory sense,
pollution is the problem.
But the information had little application;
we were in a novel from 1910.
Grasses and buttercups whispered to one other,
the wind puffed at dandelion clocks.
When it was time for the concert to re-commence,
we trailed back inside,
slid along the pew waited in freckled silence.
Some of the poems have been previously published in journals, anthologies, and/or placed/commended in competitions.
‘At the house where my father was born’ was published in Breath of the Sea, 2012, and H/Commended in Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre 2012 Patrons Prize for Poets.
‘Above a Seedy Bridal Shop’ was published in Rabbit Poetry Journal, Issue 12, June 2014; and Commended in Karen W. Treanor Poetry Awards, 2013.
‘Doris Lessing, 1959’ won the Creatrix Poetry Prize, 2013; and was published in Creatrix 20, Autumn 2013.
‘Miss Philipou’s Class’ was published in Rabbit Poetry Journal, Issue 10, December 2013; and in The Best Australian Poems, 2014.
‘Anemones’ was published in Sotto online Poetry Journal, December, 2013.
‘after The Secret Garden’ was published in Writ Poetry Review 03, 2015.