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Cover Library Poetry A Hot January

Real as Dreams

Margaret Wilmot
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapGolden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
for my mother
Your roses in the copper bowl
on the dining-room table, lemon yellow,
salmon, pink, all taking of
each other’s warmth to glow —
as a hostess glows in her guests’ warmth —
overflow, overblow on the empty table
which reflects cool light; beyond
the window a patio, rose-bushes.
In the patio the women chat.
Six of them, or is it seven?
One born in Alsace, one rich, one old.
The salad they enjoyed for lunch included
avocado heaped with shrimp of
a most delicate tint bedded on
watercress and romaine. Coffee now.
They chat for years, through grief, divorce,
children lost to drugs, dead in Vietnam.
Seeing this postcard of
Hélène Fourment With Children
not as overblown, not as “too” —
just seeing a woman with her children,
a young woman the paint
is swirling to embrace, with affectionate
folds, a soft shadow
screening part of her face,
sheltering even as it reveals.
This range of hills, fog,
eucalyptus... Roller-skating
along quiet leafy streets, past
small frame houses, brown shingle,
stucco, brick to a park
at the foot of the hills; climbing up
and looking back, the bay is still there.
Roller-skating to the five-and-ten
to buy a crackly green glass
pitcher for your mother, who came
from somewhere else and fell in love
with a man from somewhere else, who
was building a little house on
an empty lot opposite a school.
But if eyes stay open, see
the goat giving birth, see
the blood of birth, this mysterious
writhing beneath a bush in a vacant lot
on a hot afternoon, yielding
bloody issue which needs licking
into life, sees this wet thing
thrust a muzzle, butt
with violence, seize a teat,
suck with extreme violence —
If we see this wonder,
how do we not know
all the world’s not an Eden?
When the old Studebaker lurches
on another hairpin-bend, and the back wheels
spin, and all the while the rain
is slanting into the headlights and the sea
is roaring against rocks directly below,
it’s part of the lark, rather
than a precipitous and muddy
bank in darkness — as if we are
always protected, entitled.
And when we finally arrive, finally
in the electric light find a house
elaborate with wall-hangings, tall
curved-neck vases, porcelains and
screens carved with dragons —
find this oriental fairy-tale clinging
to the rocks, it too is part of the lark.
Not rock-pools so clear you can see
anemones, soft white crabs, limpets,
a blue mussel, fronds of kelp
and other fronds, so clear
between waves foaming or when
the tide is out that you can see
through salt-water, it’s transparent,
like looking at light on the clearest day:
Not the tide-pools — when
do we stop gazing into
those dark pools that just
throw our reflection back, haloed
in endless circles? When do we
truly see the air along the beach,
this glistening salt kelpy air, is alive
with small flies that live
in clouds waist-high, moving
like electrons in their universe?
A child waves a tiny drawing,
irregular dots on the back of an old
shopping-list, informs you gravely
these are “time-flies,” looks bemused
when you laugh. You adore words,
word-play, treasure “time-flies”
till the next patio-lunch when
you all laugh together over
the watercress-and-orange salad,
the cream-cheese sandwiches spread
on Elsa’s German bread. Words
are real as cooking friends
roses, you believe in words...
Even when it’s clear, seeing is
believing, hearing is believing —
but you insist, hold onto the words so
as not to have to face an absence
of love so monumental Hélène Fourment
turned from its chill wind, that wind
which blows off granite. She turned
her mind to her perfect roses.
Driving past fields and fields,
long fertile valleys, driving past
men and women stooped
tiny in the sun, picking
for hours and hours grapes
almonds plums, people from
somewhere else, oranges strawberries
beans broccoli lettuce...
Songs in the car and picnics
on the red-checked table-cloth,
smelling of pine-needles or kelp
or hot rock, with friends and tamale pie
and sourdough garlic bread, still warm
in its newspaper and tasting
like nowhere else. Once exploring
we happened on a shack at the end
of a pier where we ate huge plates
of cracked crab and it was so cheap!
We painted cornucopias at school.
“Land of plenty,” they told us, and
the word “birthright” was not used,
the word “entitlement” not used.
When we are all from somewhere else —
when all our inherited memories
are of different landscapes, different ways,
not of these hills bare even when
your parents arrived; when
cultural memory dissolves and
only the individual dream
remains —
                     There’s still place, we share
these hills fast disappearing under houses,
share the trail we walk Sundays
in a dappled light, and the views out
over the Golden Gate, Pacific
opening beyond, or out over
the reservoir towards land covered
within living memory by walnut groves.
The moment’s tiny shadows
shiver — our monuments are not
historical, not proportionate —
they are not of a scale minds
can measure: only bodies.
Four fly-specks cling
to granite high above —
Climbers, this is their third day
on the rock-face, a man
says, passing us his binoculars.
Sunday there was breakfast in the patio —
blueberry pancakes sticky buns
French coffee cake bran muffins, baking
endless baking. One year
a friend noticed you didn’t repeat
your menu even once. Smells
of bacon and coffee threading
the music, always a record on
and friends dropping in, and sun
beginning to melt the morning fog.
A laugh jagged as lightning
drains the patio light; its electricity
flickers, forks — not
the bubbling chuckle of a child
watching Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, not
that delight spilling everywhere
delighting — forced laughter
splayed across the moment
claiming this territory.
Driving and the rainbow spans
two mountain-ranges. Not peaks —
ranges which extend along each side
of the five-lane highway. The Honda
skims along, and the rainbow
speeds along too, as fast, as real
as everything else. Real
as the pouring light, or dreams
of voting lower taxes, or water
in the desert for a million lawns,
ten million showers. Real as
these gigantic pylons which sustain
cables thick as bodies.
When the printer died — and he was a fine
printer with long experience, much honoured
in his profession — his widow insisted
the shop not close: she would
take over, people would help, of course
they would, they loved him, didn’t they?
And despite expert advice that
jacarandas flourish at sea-level,
do not like height, insisted
four saplings be planted in front
of her house on the hill. “It’s that blue,”
she smiled girlishly, “we both loved it.”
The hills are almost built over
now, and it seems strange, a riddle,
that we who lived here so long, who
were born here, should be the ones
to lose our way —
                                 Even the deer
have nowhere to go, they roam;
five large deer can walk
down the street at dusk, wild deer.
Once it was magical to glimpse
a shadow sliding behind
a eucalyptus, know that large animate
presence so mysteriously near...
Deer forage in gardens, love
roses and each evening you cover
yours tenderly with plastic bags
you take off in the morning, out in
the mist floating up from the bay, in
your terry-robe and pink pyjamas.
When you were little, your mother had to call
you in from the garden to have breakfast.
Walking along the beach
talking — walking in the white
sand, barefoot one of you,
holding sandals by a heel-strap,
feet aware of the familiar
squeaky sand and how it moves
a little slippery beneath the instep...
Two old women walking
near the ocean in a clear light,
the pain of life hovering
like sand-flies in an own cloud
elsewhere, two old friends just
talking — about lunch and Edgar Cayce
and being together you have
no idea and Sheba getting old,
as they walk along taking deep
delighted breaths of kelpy air.
Words dropped onto the moment,
splayed against the moment’s
sweetness, beginning again,
the acid fountain which etches
where it sprays.
                              It’s impossible
not to hear but it gets harder
and harder to tolerate hearing —
pain spreads through your veins like
a fresh transfusion. You close
your eyes, turn it to ink,
blot everything out.
Next visit Gertrude greets us
with a heart-felt cry of relief that
we are not the police, they are pursuing her,
send notices, fines, and every time
the fine is higher, the last fine said $1,000...
She is dishevelled and the cat-box smells.
“Sheba” — her face hurts — “died.
And they steal, now my mother’s jewels...”
It was she who paid your way
out of the mess you got in when
your husband died. A head
she sculpted long ago gazes
down from a high shelf.
That evening the communal dining-room
glows with the shallow warmth
of tasteful murals and potted plants.
“You have no idea” — She picks up
a fork, gazes at it absent-mindedly
and tears infuse her voice —
“how wonderful it is to be with
people who know my past.”
One winter evening the young cousins
set the polished table
with Granny’s place-mats and deep blue
Arabia-ware; one found
pink napkins and candles
for the Mexican candle-sticks, one
picked a few late roses.
There was no avocado sliced
in crescent moons on a bed of
sunburnt lettuce near slender rolls
of paper-thin prosciutto, nor
the perfect wine sparkling in the Waterford,
everything sparkling, you too,
sheeny in turquoise as you present
the perfectly poached salmon
and once again bask while
your guests toast triumph.
Not like once upon a time, but
there was boys’ talk, a jingle of glasses,
pumpkin ice-cream.
Neighbours die, move. You stand
at the upstairs window gazing out
over the Banksia rose in full thick
blossom on the trellis that forty
years on you still think of as
Isabel’s, across the old badminton-court
Isabel built — now filled with rubble and
pepper-leaves... And the Banksia roses
provide respite from the noise,
the chaos below. You feast
your eyes, blot everything else out.
Minnie wondered if we
could come to her to say good-bye?
For years she came to you, chatting
as she cleaned — she knew you needed her
and even perhaps how much.
We glimpse a shelf containing
at least forty hats; she was always
wearing a hat when she arrived.
She pours tea, offers the two of us
enough cakes and sandwiches for
a small cafeteria. No,
she’s not a traveller; James
wanted to go to Africa with their church —
he was disappointed, but
no, she’s not a traveller.
Every surface, every space
is filled with things, loved things —
you can tell. Had we noticed this?
She always turns it on for
the grandchildren — and she chuckles
as a tall tube lights up blue
water where red plastic
fish bobble and bubble.
The hills are monuments which
will be there, always. The sea
sucks the lowering sky below
its surface, spumes forth greys
which turn to greens, kelp-mauves,
splash, shatter to foam-blue.
Deceive. Promise that this is sea
everywhere. Yet not even
warm seas in paradise ribboned
turquoise, azure, seas which mirrored
vaults of unblemished cobalt —
not even they were as rich and deep,
given like sleep in childhood.
Your father comes up the street
from the ferry in his familiar hat,
paper under his arm, and the cat
is waiting at the corner to escort
him home to the little house
which he built across from the school.
You know he has a gift in his pocket.
Planting daffodils in the dusk
the evening that the house stands empty:
cupboards bare, no polished table —
only a bag of bulbs
overlooked in a corner of the shed.
Planting daffodils in the dusk —
and a doe and her fawn appear
on the still street, miraculous,
dark weight beyond shadow —
and carrying that weight so lightly
on their delicate ankles.
Table of related information
Copyright ©Margaret Wilmot, 2005
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationNovember 2005
Collection RSSA Hot January
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