Jane Downing – A Widow’s Weeds

Downing LE P&W June 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing June 2023

A Widow’s Weeds, poems by Jane Downing.

A Widow’s Weeds

Out on the verge
kneeling on Marilyn Monroe’s face
not praying
not in any ordinary way anyway
Making wiry green rings about
her fingers before
each yank
of the blades
sends her rocking back
the smell of fresh onions rising

He hated onion grass
growing high unchecked in his lawn
she loves the tiny star pink flowers
come spring
Their war
No amount of tugging at the roots
can clear them all
unlike life this work will never end
the yellow throats in the pink
have a chance to call out again

Her job to try and get it done now
he is dead
his false teeth still
on the bathroom sink
A daily ritual it reassures
the neighbours
no need to call another ambulance
she is up
she is out
she is pulling the onion grass out

The underside of the novelty pillow
dries out on the verandah at night

I have found my final form

I have found my final form –
the outer carapace
of a matryoshka doll
hiding my former selves
locked within me

On the outside I pose
my babushka bust
as wide as my ample hips
hair a wisp under a knotted scarf
and beneath this hardened skin
my younger self less
faded less grimed by dust
with rose-spotted cheeks
still smiling

And within her
is her younger self and within –
pazhaluysta – please search us out
all the way down
crone mother virgin child
to the swaddled babe
a solid nut of wood without

We have not died
our paint shines fresh
light on memories – one of us
stands an almost adult
in Moscow at the Beryozka
buying her first doll
listening to the crack
of each new waist
anticipating the reveal
through sawdust motes

Soon to grow an outer
shell around herself and
another and another and
yet and yet I still can see
the world as through
her eyes

Well / Unwell

He takes the stairs
Lifts: the domain of the frail trapped
in wheelchairs / triangulated with drips
reminders and forecasters
of what awaits on the fourth floor

The stairwell whispers
a lie about healthiness and wishes
that-might-come-true wellness not
deep and dark and falling-to-the-
bottom-of-the-pit wells

The fire door fits the frame
with precision / vacuum seals
the cement stairs’ clickety
clack after the carpeted hush
of hospital corridors

He takes two steps at a time
spending the energy / surplus
to requirements up there
Collapses three flights up
lungs bust, shins malleted to the bone

His child, his sleeping
beauty lies eyes never open
amongst the spaceship
controls / the alien lighting
like you find nowhere else

He will read a book by
the bedside, make the voices
of wizards and forest animals
A drip snaking into her / strapped on
with mummifying bandages


Ghosts materialise in the darkened doorway
one enters a godly shaft of light

is revealed clothed in a crimson gown
beneath a flowing white surplice

A candle burns on the high altar inside
it is firefly bright and flickering

The road dividing this café from the church
drowns in its river of noise, the hymns sung

As the coffee machine hoots
like an anachronistic steam engine

Frame of the arched doorway parishioners
perform shadowy rituals of body and blood

for a moment witnesses too
enfolded into this celebration of life

Coffee arriving with a heart drawn in its creamy foam

© Jane Downing

Jane Downing’s stories and poems have been published around Australia and overseas, including in Griffith Review, Big Issue, Antipodes, Southerly, Westerly, Island, Overland, Meanjin, Canberra Times, Rabbit, Cordite, and Best Australian Poems. In 2016 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. A collection of her poetry, ‘When Figs Fly,’ was published by Close-Up Books in 2019 and her novel, ‘The Sultan’s Daughter,’ was released by Obiter Publishing in 2020.

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