Download PDF Here
Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2023
Before the Moratorium, poems by Dominique Hecq
Before the Moratorium
It starts with a rattle. Not wooden, but silvery. It’s not a song. Beautiful
people spring from nowhere. They hover in a no wo/man’s land between
the earth and the sky, the living and the dead. They head for the embankment,
jiggling coins in the pockets of gossamer robes, presumably hoping to return
from their Katabasis. They glide down three white marble steps and into the
ebony pirogue. One single obol, hollers Kharon, daggers in his eyes. The
daggers cut open intricately embroidered purses. The ferryman hurls all the
useless clickety coins in the black river, slick as oil. Out of time, and now space,
the beautiful people are a van Eyck painting. Ten beautiful bodies dangle from
the rafters Death makes with her legs; they arch their backs, contort, writhe,
grimace. One hides under Death’s phantom calf. Most squirm, wriggle and thrash
about among beasts with yellow eyes and sharp teeth. There are dragons and
snakes and panthers and rats, pumas and crows and hyenas. A beautiful woman
goes by on a stretcher in the solid grip of two firemen clad in royal blue. She is
propped up, almost sitting—serene, with grey hair, her face unlined. A blood-
spattered blanket conceals her legs and half her torso. She crosses the square
crowded with chidlers playing. Chants If the children are happy they are communists.
We are gathered here at De’Vine Escape, an award-winning conference and
vineyard centre in the scenic Yarra Valley. The organisers have transformed
the Melba room into our retreat shrine: rows of foam mats come in peacock
and canari. They face the person. Buddha-like, she sits in a time-warp,
oblivious to the drone of tout mosquitoes, smug in her orange draping robe.
Arms close to the torso, ankles crossed, knees apart, her body looks like a
mere frame upon which her robe is hung. She reminds me of a sculpture I
once saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I swear I’m not hallucinating
the right hand denoting absence of fear, the left fulfilling of the vow. Perhaps
I am. Snail-shell platinum blond curls encase her perfect face. With elongated
earlobes and eyes slanting upwards, her gaze comes across as introspective
to the point of self-disappearance. I nervously look around. We all wear gym
shorts or leggings and T-shirts. Our gifts to ourselves for the next ten days
include essential quiet time, meditation, spa, massage, detox and cleansing.
I look at the yet unnamed Bodhisattva. Recall spotting her at the domestic
terminal sculling Manhattan after Manhattan. A whisper: Namaste. We whisper
back Namaste. Bodhisattva demonstrates the Crow pose. This is the gateway,
she says. Coughs. Loses balance. Falls on her perfect beak. She splutters. Blood.
Session dismissed, she croaks. We file out. At the cellar door just outside the
Melba, we stop sudden front-on: feathers drop one by one from the sky. The
threshold is melting wax.
Belladonna people bloom in fall, like golden wattle. They shower pollen
everywhere below altostratus clouds that break the sky and the music
of the spheres in deadly nightshade. Belladonna people sip Noble Fellows
von Rockhop Grüner Veltliner from chamber pots all year round. The vines
in those spheres are cultivated from rich irony and grown under the breeze
of dry humour. With its fragrant white peach and almond praliné aromas,
the wine is to die for. With glass in hand and tongue in cheek, belladonna
people finger canapés of smoked seafood made by other hands. Salmon,
trout, lobster, swimmer crabs and yabbies are smoked to perfection.
Belladonna people favour the salmon and ocean trout varieties because
these have a higher oil content that allows to smoke the fish more intensely
and enhancing the luxuriously oily texture of belladonna people’s skin.
Whether on the snowfields of Trois Vallées or the beaches of Honolulu,
belladonna people live out of time. They spare their gene pool, preferring
adoption or surrogacy, their genomic footprints leaving no trail.
© Dominique Hecq
Dominique Hecq grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Hecq writes across genres and disciplines—and sometimes across tongues. Her creative works include a novel, six collections of short stories and fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, including After Cage: A Composition in Word and Movement on Time and Silence (Liquid Amber Press, 2022) and, most recently, Songlines (Hedgehog, 2023) and Endgame with no Ending (SurVision, 2023), a winner of the 2022 James Tate Poetry Prize .