HALCYON DAYS: for my late mother
The Star of David crowns
the old pine tree,
a woman waits;
grass sprouts from her,
she’s taking root.
A piano swims through
an ocean of glass, takes
residence again, watchful.
Small fingers bridge ebony
Someone on hands and knees
polishes the floor to honey,
small bed-socks glide
together, apron-chic, polka-dot
wooden spoon stirring.
THE REHEARSAL: For Claire
In yesterday’s mossy garden
on small girl knees, entwined
in childhood’s kiss, we conjure
fairy cakes of earth and petals,
our mother’s kitchens close,
our bedroom walls transparent to
our wills and wedded beds,
our nightly whisperings
an unheard rehearsal
for the day.
like her prized Samoyeds,
For her daughter,
a confection spun of
satin and tulle, she has
to rival the show dogs.
Wants her to be a winner too.
Father, beaky as a bird,
cross-eyed behind Coke-bottle lenses,
his presence an absence,
My ten year old self surveys
this mismatched coupling –
brittle as eggshell, bright as steel
has leashed them all!
Tramping around the lake
sensible shoes, discarding
layers in the gathering heat.
Elderberries dangle on
bright sprigs, blackberries
I grasp an overhanging runner
prickled as a fish hook-
it snags me.
And in the untangling,
a childhood tumble of
plucking pine-forest mushrooms
…and from her basket
my mother’s story spills –
your grandmother scavenged
in the Wienerwald,
all the men away,
fighting the Kaiser’s war.
The Jews were good enough for that she says.
On her father’s return she broke
to tears but in all my years
I never saw her weep,
the grief too deep.
The Fuhrer had other ideas.
The mother stern, thin
no sun within.
Small daughter stands
hiccup- helpless in kitchen
head thrust back, water glass
shoved to mouth.
The mother, persistent, towers –
something about drinking
Witness to this horror,
at eight I‘m already resistant
to her tyranny.
It’s well the father has no hiccups-
she’de tip him backwards too,
his roly- poly warmth succumbing
to her steely will.
Fast forward >>
no surprise to hear the
teenage daughter breaks,
But wait, perhaps the snapshot’s
too black and white, a little
blurred around the edges, for
only now, six decades later,
I make no sense of the
Still, my feeling was right and
I’ve no tolerance for standover tactics!
I know nothing of the Gunai
or Boonwurrung people,
nor of sealers or whalers;
no memory of dolphins or penguins
playing the cold ocean of Bass Straight
where promontory juts, though
I’ve shared their sheltered coves and
But clear in mind’s eye, sweeping
beaches, a tidal river, my almost-cousin
and the salty lick of summer.
My émigré parents make bush and beach
their own. Seated at camp table, eucalypt
and canvas our constant companions, a
Tilley lamp throws light white as stars,
its mantle transparent as jellyfish.
Mama serves dinner on bright plastic plates,
my ‘cousin’, fair as I am summer dark,
reddens, tongue-tied, then bursts to tear.
Startled, I look to Mama who works her magic.
It’s not spilt milk that’s made a small girl cry.
‘I.. I.. I..don’t..like.. cooked.. carrots’ she blurts!
Her teasing family will have had a field day with it!
(for Claire: and in memory of my photographer father)
A proof sheet image no larger than
a Thumbelina doll fetches me back
to an unremembered day
seven decades past.
Dressed in summer flimsy we stride
a grassy paddock scattering air, my
younger head bowed in uphill concentration,
one foot determinedly follows the other.
Eucalypts clump dark on distant hills.
Her hair, tender as citrus blossom, drifts
over shoulders, a satin bow peeks like
rabbit ears, skin pale as moonlight
high contrast to mine.
Our little girl arms slung round each other
as if we’d never part, a moment
captured in black and white,
my father, camera welded to hand,
invisible behind us.
Hitting below the belt with
Quite a little bitch,
let me tell you.
The milk bar man scoops
ice cream to cones, then
with flick of wrist, dips
into rainbow sprinkles,
our after-school treat.
Beside me in mama’s car
my school friend’s plaits
frame her small face.
There’s something limp about her.
She licks her way to
sweetest end, each day surprised
to see my still-heaped cone,
and I, with tongue of practised forger,
delight to have fooled her