He marveled at her skin's softness.
Longing for another, she replied,
'there are thousands with soft skin.'
Nick was returning to Brisbane: warm sea and rain,
fruit heavy on the tress. No time for recompense.
His cousin, a gardener, was bearded,
sleepy-eyed, alert to his own beauty.
Two men sat on the sofa, ice-blue polish
on their toe nails, skin wine-flushed.
Everyone wanted a part in their silent dialogue.
The cousin, Darragh, lay in Nick's room
beneath a white sheet, the knowing calm
of a religious icon. Nick sat on the edge
of the bed, eyes huge, indigo and Darragh said
tell me a story, you know I love stories.
She imagined his hands cupping heads of flowers.
A voice in her cried I can tell you stories
but she left without speaking, the two men outlined
behind orange rice paper.
It was her throat - the way it filled with humour,
arched back, gleamed across the room.
And bones: a fractured tibia and fibula
The sounds entering him as she spoke,
vaguely botanical like the names of alpine voilets.
He worked the syllables into a song
with her wool chiffon dress the colour
of a mountain pool, the dark pink
resin bracelet - a spine of silver inside.
He tried it on his own wrist, the small click as it bit bone.
And he kept thinking of hers - the violence of a somersault -
how her bones cracked beneath her.
He felt the fall in his own body,
snatched a breath, ankle swelling within the boot
and everywhere her hair.
She made him bread and the dough - separated in strands
to braid - looked like bones against black tray,
yet had the pliable warmth of flesh.
He imagined holding her pelvis, sinking his mouth deep,
the notches of her hips evident beneath the stretch of skin.
for Maria Zajkowski
A sweatband on her wrist, a faux fur hat,
her nose a crescent, lips slightly parted
in a room of masks and Madonnas.
Gazing at the plaster relief of two retrievers
over the heater, she waits for a poem to take shape in her.
The dogs are without feet, legs sinking into marshland.
Drinking out of Poole china, a half pear on a plate,
black seeds like eyes. All of this clamouring
for attention as she begins to write of ice,
ancestors and a coat with striped lining,
bone buttons, moth nibbled cuffs.
A coat her grandfather was not allowed to take.
It's this garment that's the sticking point.
As if she were stitching a winter scene:
the woman's grey wool stockings,
a railway platform. These details are clear
but the coat and destination - Siberia -
are burs and the needle will not go through cloth.
He didn't take the coat and much later
one of his sons - a small boy -
arrived alone in a distant country.
There's relief in poems; the forming of a line,
an internal rhyme, shapes and colours below ice.
Relief in ordering something untidy and monstrous.
She can see the coat, knuckles white against
charcoal wool as he hands it over. She takes a brush
and paint. The dogs are a bland, random shade
- she colours them Byzantine gold, lapis sky
behind and, thinking of the coat,
she paints in the dogs' unformed paws.
Sometime in the eighties my father cut his hair,
bought false teeth, gave away his homespun jerseys.
Our hitchhiking days were over.
Yet there was a residue: an insistance on chopsticks,
barely known guests: a playwright from Dundee
who never bathed, a woman trapeze artist
who smoked a pipe, others who slept
on the floor, talked into the night.
My father sat in bed and wrote, typewriter on lap.
Above a child's drawing of an armless woman,
a painting of two men kissing;
one blue, the other pink and white.
Hardly a less peripheral existence than before,
only now we were anchored by a house.
Then Alice; slim and pale as a stem of wheat
stepped into the disorder of our lives.
There were fewer guests.
Alice wore red, sat cross-legged,
a row of polished stones at her throat.
Voice filling the rooms as she called
my father's name from the garden.
The last guest, my mother returned
from Paris. She lay with a fever
as my father juiced chickweed and carrots.
Alice's pressed, cotton shirts, bobbed hair
emanated capability. my mother, stubbonly, a child.
At dinner all three sat as if at a bus stop,
raising their implements in unison.
I sat opposite, thought of Alice's inheritance:
our past unchosen by her, spoken in gesture,
in the scrape of chopsticks on china.
Swathed in memory I leant against the rose-papered
wall and it collapsed, sodden against my back.
All works copyright Paola Bilbrough