Penguin: First third
Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets
(1986) The Poems
The poems in the Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets (1986) are copyright and it would be too difficult to obtain copyright clearances for them, some thirty years after publication, so I shall publish only the first eight lines of each poem here, a small proportion of the whole 293-page book, which falls within the doctrine of ‘fair use’. Published here under the Creative Commons licence Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives: CC BY-NC-ND. Bear in mind that due to the intractable problems of converting poetry from the page to a blog computer screen, line indents and line turnovers will inevitably be compromised. Note: the biographical notes to the poets are contemporary with the publication of the book in 1986.
from WUDAL-MAIMAI SONG SEQUENCE
Bambudmi yuru-yuru eee Ngurmili ngalia-giyin wangaa wanga-ngu Bambudmi-ngu Bambula-ngu Lalamandja-ngu ee Ngurmi-ngurmi Gundjimul-ngu
eee yelala giyin wangaa Bambudmi-ngu
Djerambal wangaa daraag Ngudngud Gurgayubdun-ngu…
waguu laidjinii waguu miil waguu daraa-gunyau-rinya-rau
marga-miri ligan-djirlbangi waguu rumbaal wunyeyun
eee wangaa Ngurmilii Lalamandjaa Djerambal-ngaa… […]
[ page 18, 14 lines long (1 page and three lines long,
with translation and comments) ]
Ah, the Wongar bird is speaking, through Djambarbingu country.
There at Bambudmi, at Bambula and Lalamandja, Ngurmi-ngurmi,
Soon he will call out, through all those places…
Hear the cry of the bird!
There at Djerambal, and Ngudngud and Gurgayubdun…
Ah, my daughter’s face! Her eyes! My daughter, there alone!
My daughter, her limbs and body dead and lost to me!
Ah, there at Ngurmili, Lalamandja and Djerambal…
The blood-red sky at sunset!
Comments: ‘The song from which the extract is taken comes from the Wudal-Maimaia sequence, that is closely related to the dua Wawalag myth and song cycle. The brown djurwarag bird calls out at sunset when it sees the red sky that symbolizes menstrual blood, and the blood of the Wawalag sisters, or the blood of kangaroos killed and eaten by men in Wawalag country, far inland. The version here is Djambarbingu.
The singer, D. was a yiridja Dayur’yur woman whose mother was Djambarbingu, like D. -’s husband, B. -, the dead child’s father. She was weeping for this child, her only daughter, who was just starting to crawl.’
from North-Eastern Arnhem Land:
Naadiri numa lugayana-mii
Nganabru wagurinyin… Wani ngara lagarangu ngati-miringu waid-gurgu ngadili. Ngara yindi maragaridj, ngara yindi maragaridj! Naa ngaragu yudu, barba? Wunggaan? Ngaii gung-miri duwali! Dju’yuru ngara gawal-wirinyin wo’waid-naa… Gabu lugiyei (namaa)… Yaguya ngaraya niniraa, baaraag! Waguu ngara gulgurau. Ding’waid! Gurugu djamarguli-na waangi! Daramu-na ngara wangiya! Ding’waid! Gurugu ngareya wandirii, wirigi ngareya waniya Marmin-ngura Liwa-liwadab-lari wanga, gawal-miringu-waid!… Yaga nii bragbragdun bapa-miringu. […]
[ page 19, 22 lines long as prose (two pages long,
with translation and comments) ]
How can all you people go on eating and smoking, when our child – oh, I’ll go, straightaway, and tell my father! I am angry, really angry! What is my daughter, is she rotten and stinking? Is she a wild dog? No, she’s a human being! I’ll send my uncle and my brothers here (to attack you all)! I’ll put poison into your drinking water! I shan’t stay here, I’m off to the west! No, I’ll wait for my daughter’s bones. You women! All your children are alive! Men, I’m speaking to you! You women! I’ll leave here as soon as I can, indeed I will! I’ll go to my country, to Marmin-ngura, and Liwa-liwadab-lari[ … ]
Comments: ‘The speaker was Y. a Ridarngu-speaking woman married to her third husband, a Marangu-speaking man, G. -. (These are dialects in the north-eastern Arnhem Land constellation, where marriage rules stipulate that people had to marry outside their own set of named dialect and clan groups. Y. – had been deeply upset by the death of her youngest child, a small girl named Mararawi. She did not utter the girl’s name, because of the name-tabu following a death. But usually a woman would not use her husband’s name (or a man use his wife’s name) publicly, as she did here, except in times of stress and anger. She vented her anger on her husband, accusing him of showing too much interest in other women. In particular, she was jealous of his latest wife, a young girl who had not yet reached puberty… Y. – carried on much of her monologue in a mixed-Djambarbingu dialect of the dua moiety (set of dialect-clan groups); her husband was dua, like her own mother, a Djinba-Mandalbwi woman from the west, towards Milingimbi; and so were her uncles, her mother’s brothers. (Y. – and her brothers were yiridja like their father and father’s fathers.)’
The Female Transport
Come all young girls, both far and near, and listen unto me,
While unto you I do unfold what proved my destiny,
My mother died when I was young, it caused me to deplore.
And I did get my way too soon upon my native shore.
Sarah Collins is my name, most dreadful is my fate,
My father reared me tenderly, the truth I do relate,
Till enticed by bad company along with many more,
It led to my discovery upon my native shore. […]
[ page 21 / 22, 36 lines long ]
Novelist and poet, born 1844. She has been called ‘the first Australian writer… to whom social problems really mattered’. Died 1926.
Bright eyes, sweet lips, with many fevers fill
The young blood, running wildly, as it must;
But lips and eyes beget a strange distrust.
Electric fingers send the sudden thrill?
Through senses unsubservient to the will;
The flames die down, and leave a dim disgust;
Unfragrant kisses turn to drouth and dust;
I kiss; I feast; but I am hungry still. […]
[ page 23, 14 lines long ]
Nay, ask me not. I would not dare pretend
To constant passion and a life-long trust.
They will desert thee, if indeed they must.
How can we guess what Destiny will send —
Smiles of fair fortune, or black storms to rend
What even now is shaken by a gust?
The fire will burn, or it will die in dust.
We cannot tell until the final end. […]
[ page 23, 14 lines long ]
Political activist and writer, born near Goulburn, New South Wales, 1865. When she was in her thirties she joined the group of Australians led by William Lane who set up a new society in Paraguay in 1902. Widely published in political and literary journals. Created a Dame of the British Empire. Edited the women’s pages of the Worker for thirty-three years. Died aged ninety-seven in 1962.
My children cry to me for bread,
And I, what can I do?
I cannot bear that they should starve,
You who reproach me, could you?
I cannot bear that they should sink
And die before my eyes,
Or cling to me with shrunken hands,
And stab me with their cries — […]
[ page 24, 12 lines long ]
I am not very patient,
Yet patient I must be
With him beside my pillow
And the babe upon my knee.
I am not very patient,
I would have wings to fly.
Yet I am tied to cradles
Until the day I die. […]
[ page 24, 16 lines long ]
His eyes looked into mine,
(O, look that made me wise!)
I hid my own, although
My world lay in his eyes.
I turned away my face.
My breath came like a sob;
And to his heart my own
Gave answer, throb for throb. […]
[ page 25, 12 lines long ]
Lean over the fence and kiss? Not I!
If the tide leapt up to a kiss
The fence were a bar too low.
Or the kiss was a lie!
And a kiss that’s a lie is none
When everything’s said and done.
Lean over the fence and kiss?
Philander and play the fool? […]
[ page 25, 15 lines long ]
It’s singin’ in an’ out.
An’ feelin’ full of grace;
Here ’n’ there, up an’ down.
An’ round about th’ place.
It’s rollin’ up your sleeves,
An’ whit’nin’ up the hearth,
An’ scrubbin’ out th’ floors,
An’ sweepin’ down th’ path; […]
[ page 26, 36 lines long ]
Honing up the Hill
Blue were the waters,
And bluer was the sky,
Warm was the clover,
Where the lambs loved to lie;
Not a sound I heard.
In the morning so still.
But an old woman honing,
Honing up the hill. […]
[ page 27, 32 lines long ]
Old Botany Bay
Stiff in the joints,
Little to say.
I am he
Who paved the way,
That you might walk
At your ease today; […]
[ page 28, 27 lines long ]
Mary Fullerton (‘E’)
Born Glenmaggie, Victoria, 1868. Published four books of poetry. Died 1946.
This is a world of gadgets.
Neat, and fiendishly cunning;
One will do ten mens work.
And keep indefinitely running
On a meagre ration of oil.
How long will God bother with men,
When there are gadgets enough,
To do all the jobs of the world — […]
[ page 29, 21 lines long ]
Mary Fullerton (‘E’)
Why bring him here?
To this foul lane,
Where husbands know beer.
And wives know pain.
They’ve nothing to learn
From a puppet’s knack:
Who drink half they earn,
Know how to thwack. […]
[ page 29 / 30, 12 lines long ]
Mary Fullerton (‘E’)
I watched a spider spin
A mystic rope
Made from his very self
I saw a human soul
By a gulf stand,
Praying the farther side
Be land. […]
[ page 30, 12 lines long ]
Mary Fullerton (‘E’)
There was no ceremony
When the last god died.
No dramatic moment
When a new Faith slew;
But slow, undeified,
The once feared and cherished.
Lion Life never knew […]
[ page 31, 13 lines long ]
Mary Fullerton (‘E’)
The poet was exuberant.
Along his labyrinth shouting.
‘Good fellow, you must trim,’
The critics came a-clouting.
And so he cut and pruned,
At the behesting…
And now remain no bowers.
Nor sweet birds nesting. […]
[ page 31, 8 lines long ]
Born Leamington, UK, 1883. Lived in India for a long time before coming to Australia. Published six books including Squatter’s Luck and Other Bucolic Eclogues (Melbourne University Press, 1954). Died 1958.
I sit by the Tranquil River;
Looking in the eight directions — snow;
On the eastern edges — ice-hummocks.
Woebegone, I sent to the sunrise
A memorandum imploring aid;
I have reason to suppose it unread.
To the bird that sits cracking stars
On the Saena tree – my appeal? […]
Between one hunger and the next — three hours.
Between one book and the last — three years.
How can I expect my pen to satisfy my stomach?
I will go to Bombay and become a gaslight lady.
Sweet as a trail of honeysuckle
Frail and slender the gaslight ladies
Sway past on tentative feet,
Pearls in their ears, long gold hair, […]
Thrusts, from Calcutta to Kabul, the Grand Trunk Road;
Blows, from west to east, fiercely, the autumn tornado;
Who is this battling woman with the twig besom
From sunrise to sunset sweeping against the wind?
The Grand Trunk Road trails right across Asia;
The Banyan leaves litter the bitter sky;
The Indian dust presages — soon, soon, the Earth-moon;
Who is this creature of so much hope, so little wisdom? […]
[ page 32 / 33, 35 lines long ]
Born Wimbledon, UK, 1884. Grew up in Australia and returned to Europe at the age of twenty to study singing. Knew many luminaries of the period such as Epstein, Frieda and D. H. Lawrence and Augustus John. Died 1947. Virago Books published a collection of her works in 1985.
The Sick Assailant
I hit her in the face because she loved me.
It was the challenge of her faithfulness that moved me.
For she knew me, every impulse, every mood,
As if my veins had run with her heart’s blood.
She knew my damned incontinence, my weakness,
Yet she forebore with her accursed meekness.
I could have loved her had she ever blamed me,
It was her sticky irritating patience shamed me. […]
[ page 34, 18 lines long ]
Note on Rhyme
Likeness of sound,
With just enough of difference?
To make a change of sense;
So we have contrast,
And a certain victory of contrivance.
But Heaven keep us from an inevitable rhyme.?
Or from a rhyme prepared! […]
[ page 35, 12 lines long ]
The Fired Pot
In our town, people live in rows.
The only irregular thing in a street is the steeple;
And where that points to God only knows,
And not the poor disciplined people!
And I have watched the women growing old,
Passionate about pins, and pence, and soap,
Till the heart within my wedded breast grew cold,
And I lost hope. […]
[ page 35, 16 lines long ]
What a great battle you and I have fought!
A fight of sticks and whips and swords,
A one-armed combat,
For each held the left hand pressed close to the heart,
To save the caskets from assault.
How tenderly we guarded them;
I would keep mine and still have yours,
And you held fast to yours and coveted mine. […]
[ page 36, 33 lines long ]
Born Sydney 1885. Famous for poem ‘My Country’; her other work is much less well known. Died 1968. The Poems of Dorothea Mackellar was published by Rigby Ltd. 1971.
Two Japanese Songs
The Heart Of A Bird
What does the bird-seller know of the heart of a bird?
There was a bird in a cage of gold, a small red bird in a cage of gold.
The sun shone through the bars of the cage, out of the wide heaven.
The depths of the sky were soft and blue, greatly to be longed-for.
The bird sang for desire of the sky, and her feathers shone redder for sorrow:
And many passed in the street below, and they said one to another:
‘Ah, that we had hearts as light as a bird’s!’
But what does the passer-by know of the heart of a bird?
What does the bird-seller know of the heart of a bird? […]
[ page 37, 14 lines long ]
A Smoke Song
There is a grey plume of smoke in the horizon.
The smoke of a steamer that has departed over the edge of the world.
There is the smoke of a dying fire in my heart.
The smoke has hurt my eyes, they ache with tears.
[ page 37, 4 lines long ]
The title ‘Arms and the Woman’ is no doubt a play on words relating to Shaw’s play ‘Arms and the Man’: a comedy by George Bernard Shaw, whose title comes from the opening words of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin: Arma virumque cano (“Arms and the man I sing”). The play was first produced on April 21, 1894 at the Avenue Theatre, and published in 1898 as part of Shaw’s Plays Pleasant volume, which also included Candida, You Never Can Tell, and The Man of Destiny. The play was one of Shaw’s first commercial successes. He was called onto stage after the curtain, where he received enthusiastic applause. However, amidst the cheers, one audience member booed. Shaw replied, in characteristic fashion, “My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we two against so many?” ‘Arms and the Man’ is a humorous play which shows the futility of war and deals with the hypocrisies of human nature in a comedic fashion.
Arms and the Woman
What if I do go armed? she said.
Where’s the law that you say I’ve broken?
Firearms, yes – but my weapon’s steel,
A two-edged dagger, and more by token
Its supple keenness that seldom slips
Is mostly quiet behind my lips.
Life’s not often a peaceful job,
Enemies lurk or else attack you, […]
[ page 38, 30 lines long ]
The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft, dim skies –
I know but cannot share it.
My love is otherwise. […]
[ page 39 / 40, 48 lines long ]
Born 1890. Published extensively: A Song of Mother Love (1916), Songs of Love and Life (Angus and Robertson, 1917), The Lilt of Life (Angus and Robertson, 1918), Elegy of an Australian School Boy (Angus and Robertson, 1921). Also wrote plays. Died 1964.
Thou Shalt Not
Woman, pausing on the marble stair,
Come down one… come down two;
Death is creaking through the doors of air.
And a red, red knife for you.
Woman, lying on the gleaming floor,
Warm the blade… cold your skin;
Love’s a madman when he loves no more.
And a heart is hot with sin.
[ page 41, 8 lines long ]
from. Love Sonnets
And then came Science with her torch red-lit
And cosmic marvels round her glowing head —
The primal cell, the worm, the quadruped —
Striving to make each to the other fit.
Tongue-trumpeting her own unchallenged wit.
She offered me the woof of Wisdom’s thread,
And Truth and Purity that hourly tread
The paths where sages in their wonder sit. […]
[ page 41, 14 lines long ]
Born Melbourne 1891. Graduated in Arts and Law from University of Melbourne. Worked for political reasons in a clothing factory while being politically active on behalf of women’s rights. Died 1927. The Poems of Lesbia Harford edited by Nettie Palmer published 1941 and Selected Poems (edited Drusilla Modjeska and Marjorie Pizer) published 1985.
I’ve had no man
To guard and shelter me,
Guide and instruct me
From mine infancy.
No lord of earth
To show me day by day
What things a girl should do
And what she should say. […]
[ page 42, 16 lines long ]
Sometimes I think the happiest of love’s moments
Is the blest moment of release from loving.
The world once more is all ones own to model
Upon ones own and not another’s pattern.
And each poor heart imprisoned by the other’s
Is suddenly set free for splendid action.
For no two lovers are a single person
And lovers’ union means a soul’s suppression. […]
[ page 42, 10 lines long ]
You want a lily
And you plead with me
‘Give me my lily back.’
I went to see
A friend last night and on her mantle shelf
I saw some lilies,
Image of myself,
And most unlike your dream of purity. […]
[ page 43, 18 lines long ]
The Invisible People
When I go into town at half past seven
Great crowds of people stream across the ways.
Hurrying, although it’s only half past seven.
They are the invisible people of the days.
When you go in to town about eleven
The hurrying, morning crowds are hid from view.
Shut in the silent buildings at eleven
They toil to make life meaningless for you.
[ page 43, 8 lines long ]
I am making great big skirts
For great big women —
Amazons who’ve fed and slept
Such long skirts, not less than two
And forty inches.
Thirty round the waist for fear
The webbing pinches. […]
[ page 44, 20 lines long ]
I can’t feel the sunshine
Or see the stars aright
For thinking of her beauty
And her kisses bright.
She would let me kiss her
Once and not again.
Deeming soul essential,
Sense doth she disdain. […]
[ page 44 / 45, 16 lines long ]
My friend declares
Being woman and virgin she
Takes small account of periodicity.
And she is right.
Her days are calmly spent
For her sex-function is irrelevant.
But I whose life
Is monthly broke in twain
Must seek some sort of meaning in my pain. […]
[ page 45, 21 lines long ]
Ricketty Kate (Minnie Agnes Filson) Born (?) 1900. Published under name of Ricketty Kate because she was handicapped with arthritis. Published Out of the Dust (undated) herself.
Via the Bridge
If you come often to Sydney via the Bridge
And have studied the racing notes
And scanned the headlines,
You may glance at the Cables
Or the crimson pointed nails
of the woman opposite.
But, if you have not passed that way before,
You will look at the Pylons […]?
[ page 46 / 47, 41 lines long ]
Born (?) 1900. Work published by Meanjin and Jindyworobak.
(My sisters, let us go mad for God. – St. Theresa.)
My sister, let us drink methylated spirits
out of the beautiful pliant glasses
of the colour of canals.
That will be a little shout
beneath the plated cover.
Let us tread grapes in the streets
’till the red wine runs to the gutter. […]
[ page 48, 29 lines long ]
Born Geelong, Victoria, 1906. Work published by Jindyworobak, the Bulletin and Overland.
My bones are cursed by centuries
Of Scottish mist and wild Atlantic gale;
So now in this dry land they still remember
In pain those far off days when never a tree
Could flourish, though black rock
Came gold with lichen on the southern steeps.
Small wonder that I long for the odd flood year […]
[ page 49, 9 lines long ]
Born Forbes, New South Wales, 1908. Wrote a number of novels, including The Peapickers (1942) and White Topee (1954). She believed she was a reincarnation of Oscar Wilde. Lived as a recluse in the bush near Katoomba for some years. Died 1974.
n a white gully among fungus red
Where serpent logs lay hissing at the air,
I found a kangaroo. Tall, dewy, dead.
So like a woman, she lay silent there.
Her ivory hands, black-nailed, crossed on her breast.
Her skin of sun and moon hues, fallen cold.
Her brown eyes lay like rivers come to rest
And death had made her black mouth harsh and old. […]
[ page 50 / 51, 40 lines long ]
Born Napier, New Zealand, 1910. Journalist and poet who has travelled and written extensively. Published Forbears (Angus and Robertson, 1961) and Poems (Ure Smith). Lives in Sydney.
Occasions of Birds
I heard on the radio how birds in Assam
lifted like a cloud over the camellia forest
and flew to a village in the last light.
There it was warm and filled with other wings
transparent and flickering.
They dashed themselves against the smoking lamps and fell
into the street
on to the trodden stems of water hyacinth. […]
In Dar es Salaam the morning lay on us like wet silk.
We bought fruit in thin slices and yellow bead rings,
waiting for the news of the tornado, the hurricane,
the cyclone, the typhoon
crouched in the opaque sky.
We ran before the hurricane
to Malagasy, to Reunion, to Mauritius
where it caught us, cast us on the beach […]
Governor Hunter despatched
many a live bird to England
to bleach in the fog, attempt a trill
in Hove or Lockerbie
and marvel through the bars
at rain on the pale honeyed flowers
and at honeyeaters dancing on the rain.
As Governor Hunter and his men marched west […]
We were in a foreign country
reading in a newspaper about another foreign country –
well, hardly foreign at all
since once we saw it from a deck,
a smudge of cloud on cloud, Mangere Island in the lonely Chathams
twelve thousand miles away in the long fall
of grey seas. Reading about the five black robins
last of their race,
news because they were about to die. […]
[ page 52 / 54, 101 lines long ]
Seeing their listed names I place features on them,
eyes, mouth and nose, the occasional ear
decorated with a gold ring or sunburn. I place suits on them,
black suits on men who sit on bentwood chairs to play guitars,
and suits for drinking in half-empty bars
entered through bead curtains and peeling painted doors
over thresholds separating mud and rain
in gutters of twilight streets. […]
[ page 55, 24 lines long ]
Reminding me of the giant trees falling
bleeding red and yellow into the swamp
the tourist film shows (was it like that?)
a man splitting kauri into shingles
to make a roof to cover a wife and child
and the old mother and the fishing gear
and the fireplace and the rack for pipes.
The Maori’s face is mild. […]
[ page 56, 24 lines long ]
Born Manchester, UK, 1912. Educated in Auckland and then at Sydney University. Published in many literary magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Teaches poetry workshops and writes critical reviews. Has completed a book of poems, Tapestry. Lives in Sydney.
To-day I cannot write a poem. I am in a brick cell.
It is empty.
I have measured the bricks with the span of my hand –
one span and a bit. Nine inches.
Do not ask me what it would measure in millimetres. One
day if I stay in this cell long enough I will tell you.
As it is, I brick-measure space and I brick-measure
My cell is sixteen brick-measures long and nine brick-
I pace up and down in my cell. It is five paces long.
Space is sixteen brick-measures and five paces long.
And time? […]
[ page 57 / 58, 40 lines long ]
Born England 1912. Novelist and poet. Has edited Luna magazine, Melbourne. Has published Eve Rejects Apple (Angus and Robertson, 1978) and Earth and Solitude (Pariah Press, 1984). Lives in Melbourne.
Fireworks and Champagne
I pass among you disguised, you’ll scarcely see me
in this slack envelope, unremarkable,
heavy with the dull purviews of age,
warmth, the next meal, the next step.
Ah, if you knew, I am in my second childhood,
each flower incandescent, the sky bluer and bluer.
Spring is a star-burst, the trees whizz up like rockets,
the children are jumping-jacks, girls are fountains. […]
[ page 59, 12 lines long ]
Learning all the Words in the World
Baby, aged two
Walking accomplished, so much energy
goes into words. Each object named
with glee, each name a part of object,
each object recollectable by name
for her admiring listeners.
She sits on the edge of conversation,
practising. ‘Shattered,’ she says and ‘Tipsy,’
‘Wild goose chase,’ ‘Naive.’ The talkers
glance at her and stop their talk of rape, […]
[ page 60, 19 lines long ]
Born Wimmera, Victoria, 1913. Worked as pharmacist for thirty-five years. Poetry published by Sisters Publishing, 1979, and Abruptly from the Flatlands (Pariah Press, 1984). Lives in Melbourne.
Winked at by stars, Miriol’s smallness
Walks away to the open country of yellow moons.
From childhood’s props outgrown, carrying
the young girl leaves the white sleepout,
the privet hedge filtering wagon dust.
She travels alone. Itinerants […]
Round the campfire in the frosted wilderness,
the group sings drovers’ songs to dingoes,
nomad ghosts rustle in Miriol’s night.
Cold at sunrise, she overtakes
the cough-racked prospector
heading for a final dig in the abandoned mine.
She offers donkey work, a partnership.
Ten days the tunnel squeezes them […]
Lightning over the abyss
defines the clouds,
forks the gap’s dark gully.
Listless men wait for reveille,
a grave-digger unsleeping
drops clods. Apart
chain saws are stacked, machinery rusts.
Ears pitch to groans,
peg no consonants to vowels. […]
The devil’s scraps
scattered like vegetables
seduce her. He balances
on the punchbowls
lava slopes, and lighthanded
reaches for her pack.
I’ll shoulder it, come
sip my light.’
Thank you, no.
I keep my soul
Homesick for the plains, she slides cold hands
through her grandfathers hot bagged wheat.
A bush fire envelops her, sweat-soaked
volunteers beat madly for nothing.
Morning. Dogs bark at cars
settling in shade beside the house.
‘We’ll fix the fences, be finished by lunch.’
After the drought, they re-hang doors, […]
Mountains lift. Blue explodes orange-lit
over the trees, the sun, a golden wheel,
spokes the peaks. Night’s forerunners
grow dark fingers. An elderly full face,
clear of clouds, drops unreturnable paths.
Baggageless now, she walks
in the open country of yellow moons. […]
[ page 61 / 63, 83 lines long ]
Dreams for Wheat
Wheatland pioneers, they camp a night
beside the swamp, Gentleman Johann
trading a weedless slice of Germany
for flies and dust, black mud clay. Dreaming
Caroline transplants willows from Silesia.
She sleeps uneasily on the wagon-bed, uncertainties
shuffle over frosty grass, horses stamp.
A mopoke mourns for lost landowners […]
[ page 64, 25 lines long ]
Born Adelaide 1913. Journalist, playwright, novelist, historian, biographer and poet. Awarded OBE and DBE. Lives in Nedlands, Western Australia.
Lament for the Drowned Country
You hear them kids over there laugh this old woman?
‘She mad, old Maggie. She sit there fishing all day —
talk to myself and when she got a catch she let him go.
We seen her let’em go.
Mad Maggie! Mad Maggie! Poor old Jilligan, Numbajina,
Mad Maggie. You look now – she let that fish go… ’
They can laugh at me, old Maggie, old Jilligan -?
Numbajina skin woman belong Mirriwung tribe. […]
[ page 65 / 68, 128 lines long ]
Born Armidale, New South Wales, 1915. Conservationist also involved in the Aboriginal land rights movement. She has published eleven books of poetry, a family history Generations oj Men (1959), and Cry jor the Dead (1981). Published also Collected Poems (Angus and Robertson, 1971), edited anthology A Book of Australian Verse (Oxford University Press, 1956). Lives Moongalbie, New South Wales.
At a Poetry Conference, Expo ’67
This was the dream that woke me
from nembutal sleep into the pains of grief.
I had no hemisphere, yet all four hemispheres
reeled in a number-neoned sky,
over the grieved and starving, over the wars,
over the counter-clicking business corporations.
And round the cliffs of one grey vertical
squares of uncurtained light […]
[ page 69 / 70, 68 lines long ]
Those who have once admitted
within their pulse and blood
the chill of that most loving
that most despairing child
known what is never told –
the arctic anti-god,
the secret of the cold.
Those who have once expected […]
[ page 71, 24 lines long ]
How write an honest letter
to you, my dearest?
We know each other well –
not well enough.
You, the dark baby hung
in a nurse’s arms,
seen through a mist – your eyes
still vague, a stranger’s eyes; […]
[ page 72 / 73, 64 lines long ]
Report of a Working-Party
Ladies and gentlemen, we have returned
from our foray into the future.
Our report is appended.
The final peaks are impossibly steep.
It took us all our mathematics
to climb those exponential slopes.
We finally had to turn back
because we were starting too many avalanches.
We feared for your safety below. […]
[ page 74 / 75, 37 lines long ]
‘I love you,’ said the child,
but the parrot with its blazing breast and wing
flaunted in the high tree, love’s very beckoning,
and would not be beguiled.
Look how first innocence
darkens through shades of knowledge and desire!
– the bait, the trap, the patience! When the wire
snaps shut, his eyes’ triumphant insolence! […]
[ page 75, 16 lines long ]
Eve to Her Daughters
It was not I who began it.
Turned out into draughty caves,
hungry so often, having to work for our bread,
hearing the children whining,
I was nevertheless not unhappy.
Where Adam went I was fairly contented to go.
I adapted myself to the punishment: it was my life.
But Adam, you know…!
He kept on brooding over the insult, […]
[ page 76 / 77, 61 lines long ]
I saw a tadpole once in a sheet of ice
(a freakish joke played by my country’s weather).
He hung at arrest, displayed as it were in glass,
an illustration of neither one thing nor the other.
His head was a frog’s, and his hinder legs had grown
ready to climb and jump to his promised land;
but his bladed tail in the ice-pane weighed him down.
He seemed to accost my eye with his budding hand. […]
[ page 78, 22 lines long ]
Born Sunderland, England, 1915. Has worked as academic and journalist for many years. First woman lecturer on the staff of Monash University, Melbourne, taught at Duntroon Military Academy, Canberra. Ulysses Bound, her analysis of the novels of Henry Handel Richardson (1974) is a landmark in Australian literary criticism. Published The Dolphin (ANU Press, 1967), The Music of Love (Penguin Books, 1985). Lives in Canberra.
A Problem of Language
How praise a man? She cannot vow
His lips are red, his brow is snow,
Nor celebrate a smooth white breast
While gazing on his hairy chest;
And though a well-turned leg might please,
More often he has knobbly knees;
His hair excites no rapt attention —
If theres enough of it to mention. […]
[ page 79, 20 lines long ]
‘Nothing can ever come of it/ he said.
— Outside the window, the white rose waved its head,
A late bird sang, insouciant, in the tree,
The sunset stained the river red.
‘There is no future, none at all/ he said.
— She stretched her arms up from the tumbled bed:
‘What future has the river or the rose?’ said she,
‘The bird’s song is, and nothing comes of red.’ […]
[ page 80, 12 lines long ]
Born Adelaide, 1917. Novelist and poet. Published The Darkened Window (Lyrebird Writers 1950), The Dancing Bough (Angus and Robertson, 1957), All the Rivers Run (1978).
You planted wheat and you reaped white gibbers
You ran some sheep but the crows were robbers
Of eyes and entrails and even the wool,
Plucked from the carcass before it was cool.
You cleared the mallee and sand blew over
Fence and road to the slow green river,
You prayed for rain but the sky breathed dust
Of long-dead farmers and the soil’s red rust. […]
[ page 81, 12 lines long ]
Day’s ending had enough beauty without this.
The full moon rising slow in honeyed light:
Fantastic suns that set in separate globes
Through bands of distorting cloud, as streamers, lanterns,
Lozenges orange and red; and a pure sky
Distilled to luminous green. Where the dripping tap
Has made a shallow pool for the thirsty birds,
I lean on the rusted railing and idly stare […]
[ page 81, 12 lines long ]
Born Coolangatta, Queensland, 1917. Painter and poet. Published The Cleaving Wedge (Queensland Community Press, 1982). Died 1986.
from Writers and War
In Memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
How could she know as she dug
the plot to lay the tubers
in, their quick eyes to the light,
she would cut them when they stood?–
their buds so full of promise —
and carry them to break and
star the prison of her son.
Locked within the fortress walls […]?
[ page 82, 21 lines long ]
Born New Zealand 1918. Grew up in Melbourne and was a solo dancer with the Borovansky Ballet. Died 1976. Publications include For the Record (Hawthorn Press, 1972) and Crazy Women (Angus and Robertson, 1976). The Anne Elder Memorial Prize is given for a first book of poetry by an Australian writer.
On the first day of autumn Euterpe called to me:
I am the Muse that sits musing under the lyric tree
plucking and plaiting the thoughtful branches
deep in the heart of the public gardens
where I first saw you, a queer child with your grandfather.
It is nice here, you should be with me.
We can sit alone.
I will pluck you and suck you the fruit for a serious poem. […]
[ page 83 / 85, 76 lines long ]
Some of them evil, most good,
all nice people with various eyes.
They are The Club.
The band has packed, the white cloths discreetly
being flapped and the dregs of the bubbly
drained in kitchens. The smoke
has been forced with the gaiety
up to the lofty ceiling; but some still sit
masticating the last rags of conversation.
The fine brain bends to its neighbouring dome, a frontal
obeisance as though to the Privy Council, sharing […]
Born Kensington, Melbourne, 1918. Published Not Crab but Butterfly (Raphael Arts, 1977). Lives in Adelaide.
The Night She Explored Her Psyche
[ page 86, 30 lines long ]
You must you know explore your psyche —
he offered her a cigarette.
Oh so correct spectacles
behind the polished desk
with the kleenex and her file
which he started to read on the hour
came to the door at five past
showed her in with the small chat to get her started. […]
[ page 85, 29 lines long ]
Born Brisbane 1920. Black political activist who says, ‘I am of the Noonuccal tribe of Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane, my totem the carpet snake.’ Published We Are Going (Jacaranda Press, 1964), The Dawn is at Hand (Jacaranda Press, 1966), My People (Jacaranda Press, 1970), Stradhroke Dreamtime (Angus and Robertson, 1972).
No More Boomerang
No more boomerang
No more spear;
Now all civilized —
Colour bar and beer.
No more corroboree.
Gay dance and din.
Now we got movies,
And pay to go in. […]
[ page 87 / 88, 52 lines long ]
‘I will bring you love,’ said the young lover,
‘A glad light to dance in your dark eye.
Pendants I will bring of the white bone,
And gay parrot feathers to deck your hair.’
But she only shook her head.
‘I will put a child in your arms,’ he said,
‘Will be a great headman, great rain-maker.
I will make remembered songs about you […]
[ page 88 / 89, 16 lines long ]
We are Going
For Grannie Coolwell
They came in to the little town
A semi-naked band subdued and silent.
All that remained of their tribe.
They came here to the place of their old bora ground
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.
Notice of estate agent reads: ‘Rubbish May Be Tipped Here’.
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.
They sit and are confused, they cannot say their thoughts: […]
[ page 89, 26 lines long ]
Ballad of the Totems
My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.
Now one lived right inside with us in full immunity,
For no one dared to interfere with father’s stern decree:
A mighty fellow ten feet long, and as we lay in bed
We kids could watch him round a beam not far above our head. […]
[ page 90, 32 lines long ]
Born Sydney 1920. Has published several books of poetry, including Child with a Cockatoo and Other Poems (1948), Selected Poems (1973), Over the Frontier (1978) and The Three Fates and Other Poems (1984). Has edited four anthologies, including Sisters Poets I (Sisters Publishing, 1979). Given Robert Frost Award for Poetry 1979. Lives in Canberra.
Good Friday, Boston
After all my travelling I think this:
Looked at from the sky cities are orderly
Prove the straight inheritance from the Roman.
Bridges hang from compass-lines.
Buildings are boxed, cars slotted into car-parks.
But amongst and below them, the muddle:
Feet stumble, sleeve-ends catch, cinders
Fret at the eyelid. Turnstiles deceive us […]
[ page 91, 15 lines long ]
One day the dark fell over my eye.
It was like a blind drawn halfway down
A holland blind, dense, a sheet of shadow.
Afterwards it frayed and dipped at the edges
Filaments thinned and broke away, drifting —
Seemed to be birds with the motion of swimmers.
I think of last year as the year of the clouds.
Great cumulus gathered at morning gravely […]
[ page 91, 15 lines long ]
Child with a Cockatoo
Portrait of Anne, daughter of the Earl of Bedford,
by S. Verelst
‘Paid by my lord, one portrait, Lady Anne,
Full length with bird and landscape, twenty pounds
And framed withal. I say received. Verelst.’
So signed the painter, bowed, and took his leave.
My Lady Anne smiled in the gallery
A small, grave child, dark-eyed, half turned to show
Her five bare toes beneath the garments hem,
In stormy landscape with a swirl of drapes. […]
[ page 92 / 93, 41 lines long ]
Lying in the hospital I heard the white-veiled sisters neigh,
Tossing their veils like fillies, stepping high
On the long bright shiny floors. Oh, I heard them
whinny and say —
Captain Svenson will be admitted Monday,
Captain Svenson has rung to know
Does his room have a view of the harbour,
Can he listen to the radio?
The yacht-race starts on Wednesday morning —
Oh, and Sister, Sister, Sister,
The Mariners’ League is on the phone,
When is the Captain’s operation? […]
[ page 93 / 94, 38 lines long ]
I sit beside the bed where she lies dreaming
Of pyrrhic victories and sharp words said,
She will annihilate the hospital
She will destroy the medical profession
And, kicking her feet free, walk into the world.
She moves her fist to her mouth as a child does.
Suppose her smouldering thoughts break out in flame
Not to consume bed, nightdress, flesh and hair […]
* C.S. – the novelist, Christina Stead, eds
[ page 94, 15 lines long ]
Born Brisbane 1920. Has published Poems (Angus and Robertson, 1963) and Poems Volume Two (Angus and Robertson, 1968), Selected Poems (Angus and Robertson, 1975), The Lion’s Bride (Angus and Robertson, 1981). Won Grace Leven Prize 1975, Robert Frost Award 1977 and Patrick White Award 1977. She is librettest to composer Larry Stisky and lives in Tasmania.
An Address to My Muse
Dear Sir, or Madam, as the case is,
blest being of so many faces,
known to the Furies and the Graces,
don’t be a clown,
just slip off those artistic braces
and settle down.
Please put off all your other suitors,
the ponces and the lusty rooters, […]
[ page 95 / 96, 48 lines long ]
Night Thoughts: Baby & Demon
Baby I’m sick. I need
nursing. Give me your breast.
My orifices bleed.
I cannot sleep. My chest
shakes like a window. Light
guts me. My head’s not right.
Demon, we’re old, old chap.
Born under the same sign […]
[ page 96 / 98, 84 lines long ]
‘I am the Captain of my Soul’
The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
But the Captain is drunk, and the crew
hauling hard on his windlass of fury are whipped
by his know-nothing rage. Their terror
troubles the sunlight. ‘Now tell me,’
the Captain says, as his drunkenness
drifts into tears, ‘what’s to keep me
at ease in this harbour?’
‘We’ll tell you,’ say Hands, ‘in our headlong chase through a fugue […]
[ page 99, 33 lines long ]
Carnal Knowledge II
Grasshoppers click and whirr.
Stones grow in the field.
Autumnal warmth is sealed
in a gold skin of light
on darkness plunging down
to earth’s black molten core.
Earth has no more to yield.
Her blond grasses are dry.
Nestling my cheek against
the hollow of your thigh
I lay cockeyed with love
in the most literal sense. […]
[ page 100, 36 lines long ]
Suburban Sonnet: Boxing Day
Gold, silver, pink and blue, the globes distort her,
framed in the doorway: woman with a broom.
Wrappings and toys lie scattered round the room.
A glossy magazine the children bought her
lies open: How to keep your husband’s love.
She stands and stares, as if in recollection,
at her own staring acid-pink reflection.
The simple fact is, she’s too tired to move. […]
[ page 101, 14 lines long ]
‘The days shall come upon you, that he will take you away
with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks’ — Amos, IV, 2.
Cod inert as an old boot,
tangling dance of the little shark,
perch-nibble, flathead-jerk —
blindfold I’d know them on my line.
Fugitive gleam on scale and fin,
lustrous eye, opalescent belly
dry and die in the undesired
element. A day will come, […]
[ page 102, 20 lines long ]
Born Harbin, China, 1920. She matriculated in Russian and has studied a number of foreign languages. Worked as a journalist in Hong Kong. Published Even Though (Hong Kong, 1975). Now lives in Sydney, and works as a translator.
I died yesterday on a Tel Aviv bus
and cannot relate to the person in
this cool home dusting, cleaning,
switching things on, turning on,
breathing and even loving: alive.
In hail of bullets I fell,
clutched at nothing, thought:
hot – dusty – sore. […]
[ page 103, 18 lines long ]
End of the first third of the Penguin Book of Australian Women’s Poets (1986). JT.