11 Jennifer Maiden

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[The New Australian Poetry, page 131]

Jennifer Maiden

 

      CLIMBING

This shadow at my shoulder doesn’t shed
                    The substantial night.
      The rope twists all breath
            From the mountain
                    As simple as a bed
      Far above life in heavy wind you might
Fall beyond the common cliff of death.
With all my side and ear adhered to stone
There seems a place like hell to draw the dead
      Down so soft a body wouldn’t wither
But hear the desperate lute lament ahead
      To lull the dog across a bloodless river

 

      BRANCHING DEATH
      passing a church at night

One must not beg for alternatives
But exhaustion chafes my mouth, my hands
      Are restless to be hidden.
My upright bones were made to itch
      Against the kneeling passions
Here branching death


[The New Australian Poetry, page 132]

Jennifer Maiden

      Now blooms in nursery colours
Through orchard buds and wet grey violets.
Here, too, the sane are an aristocracy
      Polite, but dignified by absence.
The long stones wake as white as flesh
Below a bald facade of floodlit granite.
Alone inside a rector calls the sermon
His eloquence unlocked by privacy.
Losing his voice, my vagrant ear
      Abandons it: the timeless meeting;
The dead, the zealot and no listener.

 


      HYPOTHESIS

A woman with a fine ironic face
There in the corner sits relaxed and she
Is acutely in-love & acutely
                          embarrassed by it.
The oblivious hero wanders
Like a legend
About the glowing pastel rug
Explaining a terse theory of McLuhan’s:
That violence is the effort to create
A personal identity.
He pauses only when the lady sighs,
Adjusts her gentle hair,
                          smiles, stands,
has cracked a tumbler softly in her hands.

 


      CIRCE

The rain stops.
Her gate’s pink lichen of iron,
where hearts ripen on the vines with grapes,
dries like the scab from a fall.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 133]

Jennifer Maiden

I swing its maze of rust until
the heat stills my hand.

Her weird steep laugh:
so welcoming — but what? —
& an edgy whiff of sulphur in the hall,
perhaps from the floor polish, or her cat.

She always says ‘You trust too much
… you never will be told… ’
‘Well, no, but then my innocence
is purposeful: ignominious but chosen… ’
I relax, with my sleek head
bent to touch the wood,
grunt into my handkerchief, scared
to be understood & broken.
I needn’t talk tonight.

She’ll watch
the saccharine whirl in her coffee,
never offer to tell my fortune
now, as she used to do.
I thwart her trade — which is to listen — too.

She still thinks that I should need more
than sex &: pillows & a phenobarb
to satisfy my famine for the sea
beyond her garden & this ample trough.
One night again to calm her I’ll pretend
humanity &: lie it was a loss.

 


      THE SPONGE

                                              Radiator.
the warmth stretched her veins,
etched them puissantly on
her calves. Their daughter


[The New Australian Poetry, page 134]

Jennifer Maiden

under the coffee table,
                              kicked
the hem of the rug. Guilty.

The furniture
criticizes her limbs

His scrutiny maims
Her concentration forever

She bullies the cat prettily

                              Defensively
she rides the mop
& cackles, building
smokescreens of energy

                              He couldn’t
carry her enough

In her despotic arms the cat
twitched as if stroked by its sleep

At night he thinned
the child’s wine from
a carafe of mineral water

Boredom tightened her face
so close to tears & sleep
She munches something that is
splintery & loud

She meanders her crayon
on a colouring book:
                          the page
cuts her thumb,
thin & deep, & too neat
for belief or lamentation

                   


[The New Australian Poetry, page 135]

Jennifer Maiden

The child rammed the
pramside with her head

                   

The scotch maunders his tongue
                          his gestures try
to fling his own speech away

His wife oozes
clammy cleanliness
like a sponge, but

she trims her split-ends absently
with her fingernails in public,
he feels
that her listlessness almost
slanders him

He felt that she had ruined him
                                    & even
in an oddly Victorian sense:
                                      & so social

it entered his emotions
                          slowly
then flooded him like sleep

he floated as it formed him

in a dream he had tried
to murder her
                          with his car
                          lethargically,

& she scuttled
out of fender-reach like a hen.

                          He told her &
she brushed but didn’t quite burn
                              his forearm
with her cigarette,
                                but


[The New Australian Poetry, page 136]

Jennifer Maiden

she always touched him,
                          aimlessly,
passing by his chair

He had cashed his indignation
like a cheque. Pity
enervated him

She tossed the clean
towel onto the bed

                   

She dropped a saucer & watched
the pieces too long before moving

The sun fried the paint into bubbles
The faucet dribbled rust macabrely
The house was never clean

She bit the sides of her fingers
                          thoroughly

                          Tap.
She crushed some ants
 — it was going to rain —
with her foot, & regretted
the formic acid smell
                    on her shoesole

She pushed the pram forward, like
a soldier in a bayonet advance

The neighbours nag
each other flamboyantly
in continental tongues, admire

her son. The other child rammed
the pramside with her head.

She rounds the dough in her hands.
I am combining people.

His somnolence filters the words
to safer proportions


[The New Australian Poetry, page 137]

Jennifer Maiden

I have crossed the line

The cat punched its head
softly against the window

                          Alone,
he would cook breakfast
mysterious crisps of meat
& liquid eggs — proudly,
                    demolish
his meal like an argument

 


      TASTE
      (at the local show, 12 years later)

We eat
bread & stewed sausage,
curdled sauce,
rococo cream,
but the night
smells edible. We watch.

Without taste
the Spider’s gears
caricature some general
love of lethal metal.

Horseshoes crunch
blue metal tetchily. Neighbourhood
blue cattle dogs,
lost for years,
return to piss
                  in slashes
on the iridescent tar.

Outside the marsupials, an old
woman squats, petulant:
                  broken-thonged
& looking


[The New Australian Poetry, page 138]

Jennifer Maiden

                  like Bea Miles or
                  the wombats: chubby,
sensitive
                  & ponderous
& whole.

New chickens, dyed the pastels
of the fairy floss in packets,
peck her hand’s palm in minute
eroticisms long after
all excuse of grain has been consumed.

The horse-stalls smell hotly
of sweat & mulchy porridge.
Behind them, the Freaks
                  thrive like history
in tented calm:
                              the lamb
with 6 legs —
none too ample, but there —
still waltzes, as does
the four-pawed goat, the cat
with forked tail. The schizoid
axolotl
meanders from his think-tank
with expert novelty.

                  Their
impassive empathy once soothed
the boredom of a child. Here
I shrink from their staid martyrdom
& Quasimodo charm.

Satis. Still the night
is edible. We move
beyond it, & its tent-flap,
with toffee apples
                  … stroll,
tasting slowly what was
on the sharp sticks of pleasure.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 139]

Jennifer Maiden

 


      THE NOVELIST

‘Like a child’… struts,
confident
in her perpetual ‘eh?’
& subtle
blitzy whine — its threat
of sentimental chaos — & her gift
                        for total
strategic defeat, leaving you
the winner, & with nowhere else to go.

 


      FABRICS

      1
mordant
                  ‘etching acid or
fixative when
                  dyeing fabrics’

      2
a smouldering odour
a sinister cleansing
in the air, a pungency
of guano & tea-tree,
the gulls’
claw-marks splayed
on the dried salt-marsh.
                        You seem
to agree with the morning,
                        but
it is just a token,
to agree

      3
I keep remembering that photograph
of a girl Zealot’s corpse, she


[The New Australian Poetry, page 140]

Jannifer Maiden

against the Romans — BC something,
preserved in a thirsty cave at
                        a starving barricade:
          the sockets
void but fierce,
                  the face stubborn
quite vivid, blacked
& slender with menace

      4
an ease of rote

      5
                        You rub
an antibiotic itch, I quell
a brilliant coffee headache
with pink milk

Truce-tense, one yearns
for any avid lapse, but
valium-serene, the children
drift through shopping centres, hover
at the opulent smell of roast fowl

      6
‘she still had some
of her milk teeth’.

      7
try to detect some
     resistable
organization there

      8
The cavern has deep passages
linked to the mines — there’s
perpetual threat of firedamp
in its methane-rich crannies.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 141]

Jennifer Maiden

The sound of gunfire’s dense,
spasmic & barbed — much more
like static than shooting. The wind
builds static in the sky.

      9
lacking & liable

mordant

memorize

the mended guard

the least

                        fabric

in keeping

 


      FOR THE LEFT HAND

      1
(Things gentle & are gentling.
A woman’s face with qualities of servitude, refinement
& poignant ill-luck, the skeleton of it shadowed
superciliously beneath the cheeks & eyes. A reader,
a mistress, a victim, determined in all senses,
the voice s crambling but balancing, surviving
its rebellious march: small steps, back straight, hips in
across the obedience of its breath: a scrutinising voice,
low, knowledgeable, sly. Belonging to the kind —
the race, the family, the eucharist, the child,
the milker & the milked — the kind of being who could live
thirty years in a house with the bones
of something it had killed, & still obey it.)
There are compass curves of mirth but nothing
so arch as a dimple, the mouth corners set
in something too knowing for a smile, the lips
more relevant to people than to flowers. The dead
do sketch quirkish invisible lines on her face,


[The New Australian Poetry, page 142]

Jennifer Maiden

determining. The stubborn partial stars
dance like scalpels through the attic slates
& halo things in boxes, soft so quick.
If innocence were tangible & seen it would appear
as a natural fist: that of a baby or someone in torture or
a woman like her, observing. Long observed,
she provokes a petulance in nature, scalds herself
left-handling teapots & saucepans, & the taps
steam instantly from cold to hot, passim. The elements
in all the jugs are broken. The busy kettle boils
russet water. She implores like a musician, knuckling
the seamy sleep voluptly in her eyes. The dawn’s a listless
undressed probing thing, with numb hips & crisp hands, a
circulator of dusk-whiskers in the cellar, & between
sinister attic avenues. The sinistral block,
the reversal, is most solid in daybreak, can be blithe
as an operatic arrest, sometimes. She never knew,
thirty years in a house with the boxes, gentling.

      2
Thirty years in a house with the boxes gentling &
my right hand is cramped with rheum, but will write
& my left hand is helpless & whole, although
I have heard that the ring-hand is still
the stronger between the thighs & I know
that it falters out first to the light —
& it seems to find lids & knots
less strange than does the right.
Sometimes when the monsoons flow
it clutches itself as if struck
& my right hand fingers stretch
out, alphabetting the rain. Tonight
the left hand seems not to detect
the difference in music & pain, & so
the world nears another hand until
the sinister muscles uncoiling again
hiss up in their fork to fight:
when the boxes protest in their dusted row
that the rain brings too much light:


[The New Australian Poetry, page 143]

Jennifer Maiden

that the rain does not gentle, it shrills
like a clock set to punish the night. From sleep
the left hand will quieten the clock
although it was wound by the right, & then
the dumb dawn breeze will blow
thirty years in a house with the boxes, gentling &
my right hand is crippled with rheum, but will right
& my left hand is helpless & whole, although
I have heard that the left hand is still
the stronger between the thighs, & I know
that it falters out first to the light —
& it seems to find lids & knots
less strange than does the right.
Sometimes when the monsoons flow
it clutches itself as if struck
& my right hand fingers stretch
out, alphabetting the rain tonight.

      3
Out, alphabetting the rain tonight, &
at dawn the venus wind was sick & gentling
her when she had gentled it. Its eyes
were hers, depended like the sea.
She liked it at her mercy.
It knelt away its lap: it could
not nurse or patronise, it begged
& she was good. Her right hand stretched to grip
its left shoulder, half to reassure
& half to keep it down, the left
hand found its face too quick, was fumbling
out aggressive excuses, desire
resisted by the numbers which it cooed
as its glance eluded her, snaked away over
its free & fleshless shoulder, & she cried
thirty years in a house with avenues,
the wet as grubby as boxes, burning out
puffily like a star. This crying
gentled her as a lie would, & the dead
came with their fingertip-irony, smoothed


[The New Australian Poetry, page 144]

Jennifer Maiden

her cosmetic face as if their prints
stole each line they read on it. They left
some beauty-spots, black growths intriguing
the left side of her face, & left side
elbow, which was plumper than the right,
& jarred itself more often, comic
as an inadvertent curse. She knew
the right hand locked freely in logic, but
the left hand was a shifting, hurt, met thing
too responsive to its skinless counterparts.
The windy boxes sing a counterpoint
to the skin of the hissing milk she skims
above the fire, her cheekbones sharpening
with the smell & its smile.
In the attic & cellar the venus wind shrills
in new health, hungering.