- Richard Sanger in Forum
- Sandra Nicholls in ARC
The Invention of Honey Admit from the start: next to nothing is what we know about the bee. Some have argued that the sun cried, the tears fell, they took wings, took heart and went to work. Others have called this poetry — dismissing it as hatched by men with their heads in the moon: the bee is an ant promoted for good behaviour, given wings, a brighter suit and the key to honey. Very well. The debate continues and I do not know. The bee is to me as I must seem to her a complete mystery. small engines running on honey striped angels who fell for sweetness stars shooting into the corolla of a petalled sun _____________ A Small Spider Only a spider, a small missionary of sadness I swallowed somehow when I was distracted. Laughter broke easily her thin restraints the delicate geometry of the nets but, patient architect, she drew more lines, reinforced the structure until laughter ceased. Only a small spider who came in one day of rain or of sunshine one day like any other. Tongue-tied, moans were all I mustered: lugubrious songs, crippled lullabies. Only a small sadness on eight legs, an implacable seamstress with black thread working behind my eyes, but day by day the day becomes more like night. _____________ Francis’s Barn Laudie Waples, a neighbour, owns the barn but with husband dead and the livestock gone her farm is up for sale; the barn is his for use in winter. The whole of winter he keeps the herd inside; each held in place by a metal yoke. Disturbed by our voices, barn swallows fly zig-zags about the nave. Nave? Shafts of light on plaster walls, rows of stalls like narrow, private pews. Francis tells us of lightning — how, when it strikes the barn, the current moves through the yokes dropping the heard, stunned, to their knees; and once, when he himself was struck, how the bucket flew from his hands and a column of milk rose in the air. _____________ Gifts When I gave her smiles she gave me a wooden bell. I have never known such sorrow. When I gave her some tears she gave me a small drum. Now the neighbours know my joy. When I gave her silence, the green bird she gave me flew down my throat. It is with his voice and none other that now I sing in sleep. _____________ Ana Louca Antic prone and crazy breast-feeding her dolls through the streets or on Sundays marooned by herself in a pew, she offered her litany of curses and profanities to no one in particular. Thursdays she would come demanding that which habit had made hers by right: the warmed leftovers she wolfed down, standing against the green backdoor. Finished, she rattled thanks from the gates and was gone. A packing crate her bedroom, she slept by the docks. Amid rags and broken dolls, asleep and for once, quiet, a grizzled girl lulled by the ocean’s rhythm as if cradled in its blue arm. _____________ Buffalo I have wrestled a buffalo into this poem the least I could do for an endangered species. I have given him a tree for shade, a stream to slake his thirst. A hulk of night, stranded on my gold-green pasture he shakes stars from his fur, paws thunder into the ground. The reader is to blame who brings red into the poem. _____________ Guaratiba This is what it’s like to sleep by the rumbled syntax of the sea: the demagogue pours sounds into your ears that state nothing but so loudly affirm: the stretch and swell of a sentence rising that finally breaks leaving in its wake the immediate rise of the next one: speak in metaphors though you miss the point: the sea hammer strikes and strikes again until you agree this harangue will not brook your objections: by that roar seduced, spellbound you fall asleep: a blue pulse in a pillowed ear. _____________ Song of a crow, dying Goodbye to the sun my father who blessed me obstinately every day. I cursed not being made in the image of your brightness. My mother the moon did no better. Her love for white silk gown, slippers, betrayed her rejection. Goodbye to corn: minaret of sweetness. Farmers, forgive me my daily pillage. Forgive me also field-mice, my brothers, for I cackled at your fear when my shadow loomed large over those fields. My little sisters the ants: I leave you knowing that like Antigone you will come out and bury your brother. That you do it in self-interest will not diminish my gratitude. _____________ Thread and needle Stern, starched, moustachioed, my great-uncle spent the days policing the stones in his garden, the mangoes on his trees. He spoke to me of the emperor. Sinhazinha, my aunt, the seamstress, purblind with cataracts at sixty-five, would hand me the needle and ask: child, thread this for me. If I moved my head a certain way Sinhá was inside the aquarium lost among the ferns, sewing and muttering prayers oblivious to bright fish threading in and out of her hair. Silver needle, golden thimble I will sew your bride her dress. Sanctuary of boredom, that house was a world, a system complete, self-sufficient as the aquarium. So who was it that interfered introducing into the house a device that could thread needles? I no longer remember. But soon after I touched it the contraption would not work or would not work as well and Sinhá, suspecting a demon in those gears, turned her eyes towards one lost inside the aquarium and asks, again and again: child, thread this for me. _____________ Tia Of this one I now speak but soft and low for I do not wish to disturb her sleep. Were my words to reach her on that other shore she would be embarrassed to hold even this small a stage. Her role had been to always play second to married sisters. A fragile thing, she was myopic, rheumatic, prone to spells of dizziness. Once, under the mango tree that shadowed the entire house she began to fall but reached for a trailing vine, regained her balance and from behind thick glasses smiled at me: Tarzan, she said, and shuffled away. A believer in icons and in the appeasement of heaven through prayer and promise, she kept the household altar outside her bedroom door: A large niche painted blue, speckled with golden stars. Her patron was Saint Francis: A bird to each shoulder, the wolf curled at his feet. Paulo, her brother-in-law, a feisty bantam, an atheist, in arguments would threaten to make out of that niche, a cage to his macaw. In retrospect, I understand those were rituals enacted since before I was born, meant to alleviate boredom, understood, I think, as such. As when, soaked in cheap cologne, Tia drifted through the house on a cloud of rose or jasmine: upstairs rushed her sister then down some minutes later, a moist hanky to her nose to sit frozen in a sulk. But these were exceptions. Shuttered against the heat, the house droned and they slept. When I left for the States at fifteen, she whispered she would be gone long before my return. And was. But in my dreams she knits a dream that has no end: in a perfumed forest, a parrot squawking on his shoulder, Tarzan bows to Saint Francis, swings from a vine, and steps to her back porch.