S  e  c  r  e  t  s    blackmail press 24
Jenny Argante
New Zealand

Jenny Argante is prose editor for Bravado, and teaches on Waiariki Institute of Technology's online Diploma in Creative Writing. Her compilation of poems, Poetry Pudding, was published by Reed in 2007.
Cactus Flowering

Never would she admit
what had locked her in.
"It was choice," she said,
"my choice".

I did her shopping for her;
bars of soap
(she bathed ferociously,
scrubbed sills
to bone-white boundaries);
and salt in blocks
(she kept it there
to put on wizards' tails.)

She told me once
the desert was dried tears,
not sand at all.

She wrote out lists,
her arm curved over
and a secret pen
laying down needs.

I'd mark goods off
and stack them
to her direction.
Packets and tins made patterns.
She never broke them,
but would peck at bread,
sup milk, and riddle eggs.

I made lists for her:
a neighbour's knock,
a Woolworth's cut-price rose,
hours in the sun.
I never spoke them.

A fern with her would crave oblivion,
curl inwards, moulder,
feather into rust. I brought in cactus
huddled on a dish, bleak-grey, stone-edged.

That green made entry
on some fragile birthday.

We found her in the bath,
alone and clean,
her smile a signal, glad
to be done with hope at last.

On the far window ledge
a scarlet cactus-flower
bloomed unseen.


now is like a slice of toast
waiting for the knife to spread
butter, honey

the car horn screams
hurry, hurry! your bag's
not packed, the toast
cold & forgotten
as you rush out the door

a door not open & not shut
swings wide & closes Snap!
thrusting you in or out
a sternly-angled room,
the wild beyond

an invitation
teasing you for Yes!
you hesitate

the party's over & it doesn't seem
so bad to be alone

now is where the solitude begins
to be significant; you are
not caught by now but captivated

now floats within a bubble:
hold, and it disappears
faster in motion
than the whip-cracked air

secrets you felt uneasy with before
now turn to clichés
no one wants to hear

now gone, now coming closer
than a breath, a heart-beat
paused; perpetually
in the now.


When I was young I saw Cassandra stalking
with fretted lips and raincoat flapping free.
What was the little ditty
that she sang in the city?
"Sex is better in the head
than it ever is in bed,"
and I shuddered,
being sixteen and a virgin.

For I was reared on scandal in the playground
and myths they scribbled on the toilet walls
and Mother had a book
and I often had a look
while she was hanging washing on the line.

Oh, I was reared on Van de Velde and legends
and the stork lay dead
beneath the gooseberry bush.
I insisted on my rights
to wild, abandoned nights
when I was twenty, and a young man's bride.

I was perfumed, clean and sprightly
and we chased the mirage nightly
and I lay there good as gold
though I wanted to be bold
as the notes that I'd collated

       (But always I feared
        the darkness, feared the fall;
       the penis in the womb;
       the power of man for woman)

I took myself to valley slopes and wandered
in sun-shocked meadows;
but the darkness called
I played the game so sweetly,
fucked you deftly, screwed you neatly,
you were content, not knowing me at all. 

       (Is this the godhead
        this and this and this?
       The secret places wet
       and the fingertips' strong fret
       and me broken into limbo,
       stripped and bare?)

Cassandra, Cassandra,
is this your reparation
or some minor aberration,
being woman, being docile,
being human, being facile?

I was born neuter, and they made me female.
I was born artist, and they made me useful.
I was born poet, and they struck me dumb.

But I am truth, although I seem dishonest:
my truth is shame to show dishonesty;
for thinking to myself that lies were kinder,
I paid lip-service to your makeshift me.

Now I must face the mirrored doubts that haunt me,
withstand your bitter dread, the mask of ire;
and hear Cassandra sighing, down the decades,
"Sex is better in the head than it ever was in bed."

Sex was better in the head
than it ever was in bed:
and I join her in the chorus,
singing low.


brandy on his breath
as he bent to kiss her,
coming late from work

perfume lingering on his shirt
that wasn’t hers, or the office slut’s
pungent Chanel

sometimes he smelt too clean
for a man on overtime,
his armpits redolent of Protex,
not of honest toil,
his hair slicked down and
damply gleaming

now as he sat beside her
by the smouldering fire,
she sniffed and sniffed

whiff of betrayal on the air
as strong as cyanide
circling upwards
in the chamber of doom.