It must have been shortly before Karen was due to leave Varuna (early June, 2006?) that we began to speak about the possibility of some kind of collaboration. She was due to come to Scotland the following September. As it all seemed quite definite at the time, I borrowed a small suitcase of hers to accommodate bits and pieces (mostly books) I’d accumulated in Australia. The plan was that she could then fill her little suitcase with anything she’d picked up in Scotland. The suitcase at this moment, awaits her visit (in spring 2007). In the meantime, since midsummer/midwinter 2006, we’ve been writing a poem a month and corresponding in between times with news and gossip, queries about how the poems were going, suggestions. I sent Karen a collaboration between two Scottish based poets, Tom Pow and Diana Hendry (Sparks, Mariscat Press) to get her opinion on what we should do. In Sparks, the poets gave each other alternate tasks, often quite formally specific. We decided to go for doing the same task, writing monthly on the same topic, the aim being to find points of comparison and of contrast between our geographically distant lives. Neither of us was particularly keen on formal stipulations and have found that the more open the remit, the better the results. We began very simply with a poem about midsummer/midwinter because it was happening, at the moment we committed ourselves. It’s been a great way to keep up a long distance correspondence, not to mention generating new work. I think we’re both now looking forward to speaking face to face and, later sending Karen’s little suitcase, filled with things Scottish, on a return journey to Tassie.
Light has squeezed the darkness
into a narrow seam of night.
Birdsong features 20/24.
You sleep differently: dreams
are shallow, fleeting, restless;
as if you should be up all hours,
getting on with what needs doing.
Grass challenges the lawnmower.
The cellar booms for mop
and broom and rubbish bags.
Shrubs whinge for the pruning shears.
The laundry nips your ear:
Peg me, peg me on the green.
Windowboxes beseech the watering can.
Weeds taunt the trowel.
The kitchen windows, last washed
- admit it! – on Christmas Eve,
still bear the wingprints of a robin:
on Christmas morning it flew indoors,
trapped itself between two plates of glass
(then, treacherously clean) before
you eased it out into the snow.
Get busy. Delay and you’ll miss your chance.
The moment, hovering in the wide bowl
of the stilled sun, will pass;
the world will turn on its axis;
night will spill its ink once more.
But if you go for the squeegee
might you wipe away forever
that wintry, red-breasted moment?
The annual Antarctic depression
wrapped in a thick gauze of cloud
rides pillion with the Bridgewater Jerry
across the Derwent River
over the tops of hills
round as a nudist colony
like a fog snake
it sheds its skin
trails a giant smudge through the city
The homeless stand between
freeze and thaw.
They are frost shadows
holding the ice
long after their sorrows
have melted around them.
Now that the fairy lights have been stashed
for next year and the tree, brittle, scentless,
sprawls on the pavement, a Ne’erday casualty,
what will offset the darkness pressing down
like a heavy hand? I fetch the Java plate,
shipped home by grandparents before
the red gong of The Rising Sun,
the camps where anything to hand
was sold for food. Meant for cakes,
the plate summons: gin and quinine,
fields of tea; two strangers on the veranda.
The price of privilege almost killed them.
The price of poverty was even higher.
Slowly, tarnish – a year’s worth – ingrained
in the ceremonial skirts and headdress
of a long-nosed deity loosens, pools
on the dull brass disc, soaks
grubby rags, leaches into my hands.
The more I buff, the more pours out:
such an intensity of blackness.
No stopping now, not until the plate gives up
its last black bead of memory, not until
my bent reflection overlays an alien,
androgynous deity. It’s mine, this heirloom sun.
Early this morning
when the air was a lavender farm
he came in a Giorgio Armani suit
with a briefcase of summers.
He offered me the Bay of Fires
where the heat of the ocean
has been elbow tested
and the shallows are x-ray green.
Where the late sun paints
the sea rocks scarlet
and the sand is white
as English skin.
His spiel was flawless.
He sold me a summer
without any shade.
I felt the subcutaneous sting.