The Lady and the Unicorn Series

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In order to avoid the touch in dance

one must move with the delicacy

of a Swiss mechanism

I learnt the steps in childhood

as I learnt to sew

mother fed me stitches with the milk

my sampler – the only deterrence

don’t

before you begin.

The sustaining fragment has been

preserved as carefully as an

heirloom from the family works.

Every member guarding their peculiarities at home

embroidering a homily for public consumption,

while our parents laid waste to the loungeroom.

By the lamplight,

by the TV glow,

by the increments of family traditions,

we were trained in renunciation,

just for kicks.

Everyone who disobeyed

was shown what-for with the subtlest of gestures –

a contraceptive pill with the morning juice

the flick of an eyebrow

(alongside ritual humiliation)

the cracking pace of your mother’s dishwashing

and never speaking of this thing again.

All three of us were victims of that atmosphere

without a thought for growing up.

School wasn’t much better,

unless you were one of the haters

or particularly good at softball

or algebra.

Someone might have picked you up at a school formal,

taken you away from all this and

comforted you in his circle

but who wants a good man

when you are full of shame?

So I did my own waste-laying,

for fear of getting too intimate.

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In the suburban tapestry,

the low picket fences and over-grown mille-fleurs

covered a multitude of sins,

while virgins were pitted against antlers

in creative play on shady lawns.

I waved off the knight

approaching the white fence in

The Lady and the Unicorn –

after all

who would straddle it without injury?

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The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant

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I get your text this morning,

cancelling Wednesday –

your son’s girlfriend is delivering early –

she’s been ambulanced to Melbourne with placental blood

down to her ankles.

I burst into tears even though I have never met her.

*

It is too reminiscent of my own birth,

our bath piled with blood-soaked towels

marking my imminent arrival,

the whole house shaking with terror.

I nearly killed her with my eagerness to be born.

She nearly killed me with her eagerness to be empty

while my sisters never let me forget.

II

As I came to term under glass, I risked the judgement of science

and put a spanner into domestic bliss.

Shaken with the intrusive clamour of being alive,

too fragile for the workaday world,

I shed my rough red skin by squalling out of spite.

I was the ghost of reflections made large

in a nursery full of the nearly born and the nearly dead,

the frost breath of masked attendants

quickening my pulse through the glass.

For the longest time, I was laid with mechanical hands

on a rough schedule,

rubber tubes spiralling out of my body

my father delivering expressed milk

in the evening on his way home from work.

When I returned to the hospital at seven

I remembered the blackness, and nothing else –

my psychological birth into a void.

*

My parents brought me a mechanical

monkey with a tartan waistcoat

his shuddering gait gaining the front step of the hospital

whilst my momentum was winding down.

On the first night, I cried into the blackness –

no-one came.

II

I was born into domestic turmoil

Where a spade was not a spade,

my every move watched by the weird sisters

who would have cut off my budding self,

but that job was already accomplished by my mother

who needed perfection like other women need air.

Her eyes were always unchained, digging deep,

gouging flaws like cancers,

a spectacular satisfaction guiding her words,

her gaze, her social misapprehension

so profound not even a shrink could sink to those depths

and still come up for breath.

*

My sisters were always careful to twist my braids

into familiar patterns,

to bite where no marks would show,

to hold me down until I cried

when no one was watching. The whole tribe

had a casual mode of abrogation

which reigned until I turned red

with an allergy that split my skin

and then it was because I was too strange.

Down to the clothes on my back

and the hair on my head

and beyond even that I was the subject

of a communal flank,

a Greek chorus

and an army of nay-sayers

who couldn’t wait to say no.

Not so much a void as a pit

but black all the same.

When I came to make my way in the world,

the colour stayed with me

grabbing all the hope –

my psychological birth into the void.

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Mildred Pierce

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She’s not a bad person, really

caring about all the surfaces

protecting her pride from the upwardly mobile

cradling her daughter’s whims

perfectly as a crepe de chine afternoon dress

wafting perfume through a crush of superfluous flounces

under womanly hips,

the tender folds all riding up.

*

A pony and grand piano childhood

singing lessons and polo with your ex

you could have saved her just by saying no

*

Rejected by the finest maestro in California

scorning her tripping fingers with the blunt

sensation of a closing lip nearly crushing her knuckles

she’s sobbing in the courtyard

prostrate over tangling vines and Spanish stucco

if she can’t be the best who can she be?

*

Taking up with the fast crowd

a mink hanging over her receding figure,

she’s smoking with casting agents

shaking down the heir to a director’s fortune

California’s finest flashing their badges on a morals charge.

Pictures, how wonderful darling!

*

Carrying pies and waffles across the diner,

Mildred is sensually engaged,

as much as under Monte’s caresses

sunlight sweeping over the decaying grandeur

of the family pile while they stand in the corner

naked, tiffany lamps swatching the mahogany of late afternoon.

*

Veda blossoms into a radio coloratura,

Lakme floating through the seaside steakhouse

arresting the plebeian throng –

a snake so beautiful she stops traffic

returning in triumph to drain her mother’s resources

a coup de gras to beat the drab torture of suburban Glendale.

*

Bickering over the adornments

to reflect adulation as a diaphanous mirror

she will have all the accessories or nothing at all.

*

In the stalls,

Mildred glimpses familiar contortions through opera glasses

taken aback by the raw viciousness in her daughter’s face

a strident note alongside the perfect trills.

*

In the end she throws herself after Veda’s car

you can’t ever come back here, no way!

she is howling in the road

her guests spilling out of the wedding party

non-plussed.

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Enormous changes at the last minute

Its Christmas Day.

Haven’t written for a while. So much has happened. Had surgery, got my braces off – and now I am a new person – emerged fully reformed with a perfect bite. Funny, I cant seem to get used to having such a symmetrical face. I see myself in the mirror and wonder who I am.

I have a new job. Working with young people – something I have always wanted to do. but this blog wont be about that.

I have done a bit of writing – some intensely personal poems and some more movie-based ones. One based on Todd Haines’ version of Mildred Pierce. Such a strange, low-fi, sensual, textural reading of the story. Florid and low-key at the same time. Its clear from Haines’ direction that he sees the central relationship as narcissistic – and homo-erotic. Is Mildred the narcissist or is her daughter?

Have thought hard about some new artworks and I have some ideas which may be malleable, transferable, do-able.

Need to put the chickens on.

Amanda

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