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   Jacket 33 — July 2007        link Jacket 33 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Michelle Cahill

Three poems

link The Accidental Cage

link Manhattan

link Poppies

The Accidental Cage

I watched two birds marooned in the barn loft.
          How they zig-zagged, butting the teasing glass.
One scooped an air draught from a hopper window
          left half-open, his small head twitching randomly.
Another rose like a silver flutter of banknotes in a storm,
         although the afternoon preceded a storm.
The air was brittle; piccabeen green was the foliage,
         the light a stunning plethora.
Butterflies with mechanical lips balanced on weeds.
          The windsock was a gesture of excess
and giant cockroaches glistened, waving wands.
          Here the mosquitoes had been bred by dentists.
The cabbage palms spread yellow fans sunward,
          and the sun’s motive was formidable.
But this was not theatre or art. Not in any way contrived.
          This was something more prosaic.

Perception is both bliss and indifference. I was drawn to kinematics,
          the arbitrary motion of the birds confined,
their ruffled choreography. The empty barn’s largesse,
          its insulated walls held nothing else organic, but
this kindred pair who shot tormented laps from beam to beam.

I, who had been schooled to think birds could not feel,
          did not feel their despair.
Besides I told myself, this was not death. These birds were saved
          by impurity, by dust streaks in the glass.
And surely I had seen death enough to know the difference.
          Once I’d found it on a salty headland,
in a bird-bone weft— fly-spotted, matted, de-plumed.

This beauty was not death but its living promise.
          It was the beauty of panic; its correspondence and design.
The pointillist shadows of gum leaves,
          light falling on the wrinkled sarking, which was foil
for the birds in their sporadic brush with air.
          Crepe myrtle swimming darkly in the prophetic glass,
the sound-proof sun illuminating the barn.
          The birds hovering in a void were winged silhouettes,
resisting the hours with each arrested flight.


Sunlight bounces off the windows
of oncoming cars. I want to scream
driving to work, with a scratch of lipstick,
clutching my cold cash heart.
Behind me the total sum of existence;
a half-fed baby, yesterday’s dishes,
a nanny glued to daytime soaps.
This heat wave. Time is unrelenting;
time is broken by the folding of prams
in shopping malls, where I dream
of flying to Barbados. I’ve learnt
to add, subtract and multiply ingredients
they never taught in home economics.
Later, a slip of Prozac, and the chaos of dusk.
I face Manhattan with that sinking feeling,
another fall approaching.
My flabby rear cushioned,
my navel winking.


Improvised design
like lovers’ limbs entwined
or cymbals, brassy curves,
the kinky straws
of mango daiquiris.

Furry pubic pods unfold
the exquisite shock, a flesh
proposition, blood semiotic.
Semiquavers syncopate to swing,
floating with fluorescent skin.

Inky hypnotic vials
insubordinate to genus or cause
jazz flower–
from the dark soil sprung
to the culture of love.

Michelle Cahill

Michelle Cahill

Michelle Cahill is a Sydney poet of Anglo-Indian origin. She studied Medicine at Sydney University and has a Creative Writing Arts major from Macquarie University. Her first collection of poetry ‘The Accidental Cage’ won Best First Book Award with Interactive Press 2006. She is coeditor of Mascara poetry journal which aims to promote Australasian writing.