Two poems



for dad


I have seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different

– T. S. Eliot



As it rose for the Magi, a pink flush through the gum trees

the bed that held his tortured, gagged body,

fifteen months after a stroke lies empty


     in a house of wheelchairs, commodes, sheepskin underlay, silver

     cutlery, catalogue of books, TAB coupons, crucifix, a rose bowl,

     teapots, chai wallahs, monotonous parrots.


My father gave me many gifts. Speech. Poetry. Mathematics.


A thousand miles from sleep’s past perfect, mouthing

rest, breathe as one, last, aware there’s no physical trace back,

death winnowing time; a dying born within me


Grief deepens, sullied by the crazed voices of race, persecution, mixed blood,

alcohol, the bullying of a dysfunctional family,


       I message a cousin, dust scraping my throat,


murmurings of Mozart, Brahms, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, ’70s rock’n’roll

rising from the basement.


       To devote a whole lifetime to vocation,

       the veritable body shrinks


       I suppose every family house has a vault, an attic,
       drapes tragically torn,

       tired upholstery, saggy pillows, bifocals, bric-a-brac

                     periodicals, pending the skip bin


I know no culture, language or law can escape the quantum dream

of a world owned by night, turning us from partial light, full circle.


       It is the way the day brightens yet summer birds dial out

       their gentle, plaintive rituals across the valley.

       Loyal and insistent, cicadas rouse, stuttering praise,
       hammering the point

       all morning and all afternoon,


              as everything falls apart. 


Friday, Victor Harbor


Streetlights are hunched sentinels spilling their orange glow

across streaky, puddled bitumen,

rude antennas over the Comfort Inn logo

at Victor Harbor.

I think of eagles tracking high, hovering, as I drove across the mallee,

yellow finches, shot after shot in the crimson eucalypts

then settlement of sight. Crush the witness within.

Evaluate with a distrust of simile, it’s too colonial. I don’t ask

to bewilder myself in lyric,

but wake in fear of this bond, wind screeching, dawn’s escort,

the melody of solitude as magpies offer praise:

Norfolk pines, Brisbane palms, bins, outdoor furniture,

stainless steel mesh, terracotta music.

Breakfast digested with desire’s anxiety of being desired,

and Telstra fuck-ups,

My SIM card pending authorisation, the

magpies defying social

distancing with their duos, remind me of

an act of everyday cruelty in childhood, (not being the signature

narrative) when a gardener came devotedly to mow the lawn

and my sister pitilessly mocked

until, like paired magpies, we could not

suppress laughing, until

he walked away, leaving me shamed.

Now driving to Cape Jervis, sunlight illumines

pine needles, talons

clutching the lumpy remains of roadkill

I pay my respects to the Ngarrindjeri, Ramindjeri and Kaurna peoples,

rightful inheritors of this unceded land.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 10, 2021 as "Two poems".

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Michelle Cahill was born in Kenya to Indian parents. Her most recent awards are the UTS Glenda Adams Award and the Red Room Poetry Fellowship in 2020. Her novel Woolf is forthcoming from Hachette.

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