Poems by Geraldine McKenzie
The pot upon the window sill
The way the light enthralls my bench and all the jars, bowls, ladles and instruments
The sulky prow settling upon his dozy head
The path the world takes
I’m not an alternative
I’m that desire and criminal
in intent and deed denied
I wasn’t always sure what I was meant to do
but it usually seemed appropriate
and the men were pleased or took
advantage or privately sighed relief
it was always for him
which doesn’t wear well
salt and spicy
rolling his head between
my jaws, my thighs
so briefly girl
baggage down below
while the dark ships slice
the miles, the ties
his hand never far
a complete story
and even when I cut my brother’s throat and felt
most free in the net or night or never this
was most theirs
dumb bitch and damn hard
to shake off
someone walking along the shore line
birds in my hair
he turns into him
I fetch, flinch, backward turning
sun on my shoulders
all this talk of knives
slow oil to the skin
(and we sat and watched the setting sun
shift colours overhead
dizzy with insect noise and the
muzzy heat retiring)
what’s a man
any pig in the dark
what’s in the line, the swell
his glance aslant
a moment between glib and gristle
silence the beast I could hope for
slow pad, the quiet licks
rain falling on a solemn shambles
barely moving morning shadows
town laid open after victorious arms
massy metal sun’s at the gates and
where I was
whose I was
come freakish awake and
crooked in the bed
and he rolls in
slick as a baby
let the blonde bint have a taste of it
fair trade fair weather
electric passage over
and nestle spoon to spoon
queen I am
a thud to the thighs and thick between
whose hands these flutes in the evening air
as good as
cut the old man’s throat and pay
people want too much
miracles for supper
portents in the toppled jug
wine spreading like a rumour
walking in with nothing to say
drinking redmouthed and gaping
cooking up a storm and then
the scouring of the pans
why does success always seem like failure
glossy with spittle
my kids are birds now
they know their mum and pluck
each baleful day the song out
I live forever in the arrow lodged
nothing I could say would be right
nothing premeditated, that itchy trigger finger
nothing lush (again with the finger)
nothing that offers comfort to the comfortable though I
nothing that makes sense of it all but also nothing
that evades/denies/obscures what we might as well call truth
nothing that makes words badges, trumpets, cushions, doorways
nothing like the holy mountains, of which there are far too many
nothing like the sun
nothing that will last forever
nothing glib nor global
nothing that provides a good return on your investment
your warts ’n all insouciance
your unerring sense of the appropriate
no murderous glamour of celestial visions
no couched and ready pleasure boys
no drama of submission and ecstasy
of errant nights and turgid days behind the wheel
behind the desk
behind the smile
behind the news
It was not so much that events had turned out as she expected, indeed they had exceeded expectations in increasingly specific ways, but that it should all matter so much.
Under the circumstances, nothing could have been further from her inclination than to accompany this jovial imposter in his rented suit and dull shoes (even the carnation in his lapel seemed to wilt, as if unable to sustain another moment of this tedious imposture), yet it appeared she had no choice in the matter; those on whom she had once placed such reliance now stared back with a variety of permutations of the bland and the bemused.
“It’s out of my hands” one murmured, wringing those same hands with something very like relief.
If it were courageous thus to brave the widespread condemnation of others, disputing with a cocky flourish the daily contumely of priest and pagan alike, then certainly he showed all the marks of valour and doubtless hoped they would stand him in good stead with a citizenry more impressed by bravado than good sense, compassion, respect for law — in short, those tedious middle class virtues with which all sensible dictators dispense at the first opportunity.
Growing weary of prescription, she retired to the countryside only to find that that, too, had been spoken for.
Even the best-intentioned were confused by a rendition of events which seemed to indicate that, despite the performance of a bad thing, ill-conceived, and with an undeniably sinister motive, some measure of good had ensued.
While it was clear to all who cared to inquire, that many items of significance and with a capacity to disturb further prosperity (not to mention complacency), still remained and were plainly likely to continue thus; few indeed cared to inquire and they were generally overborne in the generally universal mood of congratulation. Indeed, one among them was heard to remark “It is a miracle we have all come through.”
One could hardly deny that the conditions of which she complained were but recent in their falling out thus and yet the listeners were unanimous in their private agreement that she had exhibited the worst possible taste in bringing it to their attention.
“I do despise such affectations.” a certain lady was heard to remark.
This is not a life, she could have replied, but it clearly was.
She never visited her father at work; the one time she had gone with her mother to Wall Street, had so overwhelmed her with nausea, she had resolved never to repeat the experience. The moment she had looked up, she had been struck by a sense of vertigo but in reverse, as though she was about to plummet into a huge pit, its walls sleek and shear. The buildings were simply monstrous and she thought how misplaced confidence was when composing a building. Stone and marble are sufficiently aggressive without the builders’ blustering pride. How she detested it!
She remembered Paris, its sins in gilt, a grotesquerie of gold on florid sculptures. You had to go back to Notre-Dame, she thought, to find honesty. Many would say it was built in faith, and thus a sort of confidence, perhaps the only important sort; and she would not disagree but add this was not the whole story. Terror had its niches, and empty bellies and burning houses and the endlessness of the night peered out from buttress and column. This was built by people who had just clawed their way out of the abyss and, still panting a little, had said, “I believe” or “Let’s make something.” or “This is our town.”
How awkward, she thought, rummaging through his desk, if the maid were to walk in. Or Henry himself. She adjusted the letter opener, a rashly incisive salamander, and stood back, gazing around feverishly at the countless shelves, crammed with books and hiding places. It was useless.
It was astounding, quite simply the most remarkable event she had ever had the good fortune to witness, truly a unique moment and one she would never, indeed could scarcely ever, forget and yet, in retrospect, she was not quite sure, certainly not as convinced as she had first thought, that it was altogether to the good.
How she loathed those dinner parties, the subtle lamps, the ravaged blooms moaning in extravagant clusters as the guests took their places, as they took everything. Reluctant though she was to do so, she could never stop herself from inspecting their eyes, whilst being careful not to catch their gaze. Even she acknowledged the value of rules while reserving the right to make her own.
Could one be both frantic and complacent? she mused. The truth was they were all so unpleasant, and the nicest were the worst. Her spirits, and her gaze, sank. She watched, as she always seemed to do, their mouths.
This is a mistake, of all the features to which one might reduce a human being, the mouth is clearly the worst and, to be caught in the actual moment of eating, why, how more than metaphorically ugly. She sighed, and her mother shot her the usual annoyed glance.
They sat long over their tea that afternoon, polishing metaphors with a diligence born of boredom. And yet, how could they be bored, it didn’t make sense, and yet there was no mistaking the droop of their long fingers, the idle feathering of the throat, the tea sipped as though languor might confer its own reward
He inquired whether this was not better. So comfortable, indeed so pleasant, to wander thus from phrase to phrase, from clause to clause and the road always riding up, meeting the well shod foot, the neat boot pointing its way on. To which she replied that the best part was the not getting lost and she attributed this to the being already quite lost and so it didn’t matter if one was occasionally a little confused. Was she not bred to deal with such occasions, to rise above, move beyond, and with the reassuring conviction that at least something was being done.
Would it be better if she thought more? If she thought, or so she couched it, about what she wanted to say. The difficulty that arose from this, however, was that she didn’t want to say anything; her mind was both empty and full, her heart in abeyance and her body stammered and stuttered from work to work. In short, dear reader, she had not an idea in her head beyond a memory of pleasure gleaned from the placing of words.
This not wanting to speak may seem to introduce the wanting to scream, but she had distinct reservations about screaming. Or rather, silent screaming, for, bristle as it may on the page, the poem, pinned to its own black mark, is silent. This peacefulness the page confers and she did not find that an inappropriate word, for the page seemed to her now to induce a sort of calm, feverish at first, undoubtedly, but progressing till she could sleep easily as books do, already slumbering in companionable mood upon the shelves. Certainly, some of these silences are indeed a silent screaming and she reflected that this business of mute melancholy, or madness, or whatever other variation on a familiar theme one requires, carries an unseemly cultural weight. How middle class, she thought, shrugging off the awareness of how spongy such a term was in a society as amorphous as this remote outpost of the Empire to which she had been bound in later years. Time to go home, she sometimes said, as though this were an option.
Edited by Pam Brown