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Jennifer Maiden

Three poems


Telling this fiction,
         finding the thing,
dressing one story
        once I would have been
defeated by each dying
novel of your skin.

‘In its unspun knots of water
the sun in the harbour shows
leaf-embossed like a sideboard of silver
an antique’s ominous glow.

commuting back on Sunday
to the ecstasies of sleep
tw voices edge & flicker,
as one scar of cloud
gells in a dusk current
to bed the vales in blood.

irritation’s pincers set
new flesh between her brows,
& the girl’s moist hair clings, bundled
by her knuckles from her nape.
he listens as if gentle
& withdraws to concentrate
on her tired shrugs of walking
in the canna-rooted slime,
then glances down, impatient
at the wristed beat of time.’

                                                        (from TACTICS, 1974)

The Problem of Evil

Part four

a field of flames patrols
the jeep’s periphery. We drive
approximately, annexing the night.

                          Their guide again
I drank my drugs for fear
that sleep would seem the woman, show
her laughter a reunion: tactile
as comfort — my illusion built
perfect on its absence, by this dark.

A copter skims. Its antennae
ply hidden blood in diffident
& velvet dalliance. ‘What’s close
is causal’ to their aim, which soon
must ‘simplify’ her own.

A rubbery whine, our axle scoute
the incandescent road. We stop,
investigate the prang, then group
together against death.

Supporting us, the chopper voids
in driblets on contorting leaves.

I huddle to run, with the mauser
creched in my lap, & brush
side-on a trigger timed to splice
fuses, & the sulphur mauls. I crawl
on my own ashes, lost, to reach
her convoy in the trees.

Behind me now, on the encounter site,
the soldier’s bullets buzz short, without aim.
The earth, not overtaken here,
soaks my scrabbling limbs & hugs,
to anaesthesia, the bone.

I’ve met a settlement, & sleep,
acid-silent in this netted grove
of her guns as olives pulse
like hives — the barricaded fruit
from chasms that the foremen cut
& lost before they died.

The partisans, in wind-black scarves,
surround me as I wake.
                                        They stand
impassive in their disbelief. At first
I knuckle my burnt vision senselessly
reiterate to them.
                                 ‘I know ... I know ...’
or warn against a plague celled under clay.
The woman, summoned, walks from long campaigns
of paper in headquarters at the caves,
& speaks to me as if I’d never gone:
incurious & causal, but armed.

She dimples with clinical tact,
                                     to probe
me like a playful diplomat, her skill
as conscious as a cauterizing knife,
                ‘I predicted you’d be here
as soon as an emergency allowed.
I’m glad it took my putsch to let you come
although that confrontation wasn’t
                                          . . . kind . . .’

She shrugs away the aftermath of luck
to supervise some progress in my wounds,
& nurse back my credulity of will,
before my output suffering begins.

I harsh on wordless phlegm to warn
these keepers from their soil

Outside the living honeycomb
of caves my veins relax,
forget cloud-salt & toxic seeds/
                                                 The guards
still tend to my sedation, choose
mechanically to prove their strength
in the abandoned base, which glints —
a dome like mercury —
                                     the pulse
of all the taken sand.

                                                         (from THE PROBLEM OF EVIL , 1975)

Madeleine Albright Wears Two Lapel Pins

Madeleine Albright wears two lapel pins.
Her lapel pins before this were increasing
self-definingly in size but not in number, their
distracting from her comments on TV,  Speak
like a threatened but affectionate
schoolgirl and wear $10,000
worth of lapel pins, said mother,
to match your golden hair. I am
increasingly interested in roses. Any roses.
Old roses. Older roses. The oldest. My daughter’s
Empress Josephine porcelain doll in my lounge may have
seeped into my soul: the queen
as she was of growing roses. I refuse
to give them plant food, only water.
A rose must find its level, not ever
be forced. I am always seeking “ Souvenir
de la Malmaison”, the gentle pink Bourbon
named after Josephine’s garden. One hopes she
loved roses more than she did Napoleon. One
pities two gold lapel pins.
Madeleine Albright likes Richard Butler,
who is soon to be “ Diplomat in Residence”
at the Council of Foreign Relations in America.
On it are people like Kissinger, Rockefeller
and Albright.         Butler’s Australian
workplace nickname was always “ The Black
Prince”, which sounds like a rose.
Australian roses when Butler grew up
had names like “ Black Boy”, not the sort
of thing Empress Josephine would have done: a rose
should be named for one place or person.
“ Pax Americana” sounds like a modern rose.
“ Souvenir de la Madeleine”, perhaps
would have intrigued the Empress once.
When she was talking war but not bombing
quite so much, the secretary’s brooch
became a huge dragon. She has worn a gold snake
to torment Iraq, which called her one. Mrs. Rabin
hopefully gave her a dove pin.           The two
smaller pins must be an omen, hinting
maybe about splitting.     I will have
a face that means I must have a brain
when I am older. And use it. I will wear
roses of gold at my shoulder, my heart, and my hair
will explode like the first gold rose.

                                                         (from MINES,1999)

Jennnifer Maiden, photo by Katharine Margot Toohey

Jennnifer Maiden, photo by Katharine Margot Toohey

Jennifer Maiden was born in Penrith, New South Wales, Australia on the 7th of April 1949. Thirteen of her poetry collections (one including short stories) and two of her novels have been published. She has won the New South Wales’ Premier’s Prize twice, the Victorian Premier’s Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award for a lifetime of achievement in poetry, and many other awards. She has been Writer in Residence at the Australian National University in Canberra, the University of Western Sydney , Springwood High School and the New South Wales Torture and Trauma Rehabilitation Service. Her novel Play With Knives has been translated and published by dtv in Germany. Her next collection, Friendly Fire, is forthcoming from Giramondo Press in 2005.

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