Sayings Of My Mother


They've let the blinds down, a brazen afternoon,
rattle of slats, dot-dash sun-spots on the boards.
Over shandies, the girls have got out the mah-jong
from the dresser drawer, they're tangled up in flowers and winds.

The English salesman roped in on his weekend breather
from selling vacuum-cleaners at Leonora
puzzles, takes a dash at it, making the party go.
The quiet girl comes out from talking with Iris –

she is about to surprise herself – and bends
her bobbed head to study the pieces. Out of the blue
(retort to tennis-court valleys) she taps his shoulder.
"You don't want to play that silly game!"
So hands are re-dealt, patterns whisked into change,
the new world essayed. And no revokes.


Now to the albums. We've tried blowing up the photos.
The screen can take them in to a dust-storm of dots
and out past the eye-pitched view. Adjust, adjust –
suddenly posed by the bus at the tourist-lodge

there they are, she peers, she recognizes
two elderly figures. Something in the stance. We've done it!
She's leaning through years, tapping the dark glass
like startled moths: "Come back! Let's have some fun!"

Decades crumple to a night in the zippy thirties:
off the road and over the small-scrub plain
skitters his Willis, jibbing at burrows and tussocks,
headlights jumping, hoyed rocks, rabbits playing games.
All the lighting we can manage won't hold the image
galvanic, the freckled print, a blur, Dad's face.

The sisters

Seventy-five years on, blind, sitting in her kitchen
the bright young thing is cajoled to speak of her dead
sisters. They all married out. Their mother died young
between the first defection and the next.

The heel-tapping eldest – the charmer! – it was broke faith,
her killer was a faulty mitral valve.
The next, brooding and shy, a canny bidder,
rounded a gentile life with jewish rites.

My atheist mother's questioning her fast-fixed
past the beloved mother didn't have to face.
And had she lived? "It would have broken her heart.
I never would have been brave enough." Aghast
I scan the tides, the rock-passage navigated,
the chasm, the narrows, the odds I slipped through, me.