Poems by Michelle Cahill
Charles Dickens Weeps for His Last Child
Beyond the coach, the open reaches of the Thames summons
ravens, gulls, otters, and the Sussex docked at Gravesend.
Mothers fiddle with their baskets and bonnets, children herd
cattle and goats, undaunted by din, the rank, soggy earth.
Autumn with her rich unleaving of oak, elm and maple
measures my bleakness. For days the wind has refused to speak.
My youngest, Plorn, waits in a boarding house with his dog,
his armoury of rifles, revolvers, saddles and family portraits
which will decorate the saloon. But when the fiddler plays a shanty,
when the sails are unfurled, the anchor raised out of mud
that other world begins with its nautical discipline. So remote
from landfall or the idleness of London, strange things can happen.
My advice is to write furiously in the evenings as Wilkins Micawber
— while shooting seagulls you may become your own fiction.
I’m fascinated by the arc of falling stars, eclipses, the way words
permit the undertow of shipwreck, gambling, child mortality.
I grieve for this farewell, to which my self is tethered, as letters
tied to pieces of coal are flung aboard a home-bound craft;
the voyage south to Melbourne both searing and cold. How still
the ocean is, a perfect fleet of ships, the distance quite imaginary.
for my mother
What words to fill the day? How to resist sentiment,
balancing dream and the recklessly blue sky?
Spring arrives with its allegro swell of trees, pollen,
a novel open on the kitchen bench, breakfast aromas.
Outside, the garden languors in laundry, agapanthus,
our swimming pool in need of chlorine turns emerald green
with insect wings, serrated jacaranda. What colour is truth?
I dip the soft sable in powder to dust away speckles,
cover shadows on my face, and yesterday’s mascara.
Cleanse, tone, exfoliate. At all times, brush downwards.
I’ve disregarded my mother’s beauty tips, her lessons
in permanence or grace. Her body slow, involuntary;
her eyes widened by Parkinson’s, a fine tremor in the jaw
while the heart arranges, steady with belief and forgetting.
I take comfort in this. Mother, show me the other way back.
How the gravel is imprinted by the wind, by human steps.
Walk with me this evening, the sky crepuscular, rose-tinted,
the drifting scent of wild freesias like something strange,
half-known. You shuffle, sight weakened, wanting
to observe the fallen shingles, twigs, and the scarcity of birds.
‘Charles Dickens Weeps for His Last Child’ first appeared in Blast, December 2010