Discovering Iris, poems by Jane Williams
Jane Williams is an award-winning Australian writer based in Tasmania. Her poems have been published widely since the early 1990s. Her most recent book is Days Like These – new and selected poems. Her sixth collection of poems Parts of the Main is forthcoming. While best known for her poetry, Jane Williams writes in a variety of forms and genres for both adults and children, combining photography with poetry and collaborating with other artists. She has been a featured reader at venues in several countries including the USA, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, Czech Republic and Slovakia where she held a three month artist residency in 2016. She coedits the online literary and arts journal Communion with her partner Ralph Wessman. janewilliams.wordpress.com
Wearing white is all it takes for memory to snag me
like some dopey fish, for the years to slip and settle
into the low key center of my twenty-first.
A sister just old enough with parental permission
(our friendship in the wings biding time, gaining trust).
A brother who had yet to make the worst kind
of bad choice, his vanity still a stranger to mutant cells.
A baby (incredibly mine) somewhere in the background,
perfect dreamless sleep hers alone.
A husband I would take back twice in five years
then never again.
Friends loyally fixed in time, celebrating
in the flattering light. Conflicting truths unimaginable.
It was 1985. Someone gave me a bottle of Kahlua.
Pop music was trying to feed Ethiopia.
A hole in the ozone layer had just been discovered.
Orwell’s year of Big Brother had come and gone
I could not know then how much of life is spent striving
to bridge the gaps between the tenses, between the indefinite
wait to grow up and the missed opportunity of a blinked eye.
I was simply twenty one, between perms, a coral pink smile
rising above the collar of my white cheesecloth dress.
The boys drag their early teens
through the streets,
camouflaged in uniforms
they’ll soon slake off.
They’re talking about Iris or
at least one of them is
trying to make a point,
trying to illuminate
some memory or other.
You know Iris? he begins …
Blank stares, shoulder shrugs.
He tries again
separating the two syllables
of her name slowly
so as to not damage the whole –
Perhaps the old fashioned
has thrown them.
Now Brianna or Madison …
Like an eye? Like the flower?
Iris from school, from the skate park,
from last night he prods.
They’re oblivious, disinterested
and he can’t understand it because
Iris is everywhere …
then he too falls silent shakes his head
as the realization sinks in
some boyhood discoveries can’t be shared
not when there’s nothing
not when there’s no one
A rare one these days from my mother who mastered
social media before me. Learning in her seventies
to text like a teen, abbreviating the world in tiny bytes.
All the better to travel through cyberspace, to travel light
she might say. But not today. Today there’s this letter
ambiguous as the view from my kitchen window;
the peak of mountain, clouds at their springtime moodiest,
long wet grass. A rainy day minus the rain. A day of stasis.
Of inwardness. A good day for stocktaking or
soul searching. For opening and reading snail-mail.
Inside the envelope, two unwritten postcards –
images she thought I might like. One a painted kaleidoscope
of colour; a bull’s head tattooed between a woman’s breasts.
The other a black and white photograph; an old man nursing
a pint, one bar stool over, a small child clutching
a bag of crisps. My mother knows adaptation is the key,
that the heart can inhabit more than one life.
Still, she believes some are things are best served
with pen in hand, a careful measure of time through ink
on paper. Faintly ruled paper, centre folded.
In the top left hand corners trademark numerals underscored.
Her looping cursive slants right like rows of trees shaped
by wind. Then somewhere between talk of food and wine,
adventure and settling down, the question of where,
when the time comes, to scatter my parents’ ashes.
His in the Inch Abbey and out to sea. A return to roots.
For her any body of water will do. A tidal pool perhaps.
Any storm in a port. This woman. This man. Different breeds
of the same love. How ever have they managed – worlds apart –
their life? Through my kitchen window: mountain, clouds,
grass, not quite as I left them. Nothing ever wholly as we leave it.
If we’re lucky or blessed someone else to draw the longing
from our story, hold it up to catch the soft benevolent light.
Same same but different
(Hoi An, Vietnam 2017)
though they’re blue
speckled as sparrow eggs
I’m told my eyes are almond shaped
yours dark enough but everything else
sets us apart gives us away
Your long hair. My short hair.
The altogether too much of us.
Our wary gait as we navigate the gaps
between motor bikes and diacritics,
as we count the zeros on each note
stacking our wallets in ascending order
as we stand on a street corner
sweat-drenched by 11 A.M.
squinting at the tourist map
before turning it right-way up
as a family sits down to bowls
of breakfast noodles and I order
a double espresso with fresh
not condensed milk and do they
have anything in chocolate?
Here we are difference par excellence
and the people smile at us good-naturedly
and only sometimes do they laugh out loud.
© Jane Williams