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 of poems is Parts of the Main. While best known for her poetry, Jane Williams has written in a variety of forms and genres for both adults and children. 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
As always it begins with an idea and because I still write
by hand in the first instance I reach into my bag only to find
what’s missing. Without the tool of my trade I am less myself;
a ballerina off point, a sniffer dog with anosmia.
I scan the laminate tabletop willing my predecessor
to gift me from the pages of an abandoned crossword
but I am just the first absent-minded doodler of the day.
The newspaper before me mechanically folded,
woefully pristine. The Planes Trains and Cars
coloring book merely a tease of motion. What to do but beg?
Looking up from the salad bar as if it is a question
he has never been asked, ponytailed and tie-dyed
the waiter offers hope in the form of a barely concealed
caveat – this pen he undertones is my one and only.
And this serves to divert me even further, duty bound now
to expedite whatever it is I simply must write.
Already the original kernel is dissipating, shape-shifting
into what else but a study of the implement itself. The way
the faded hotel name begins in a golden C and ends
in the breaking bite of someone else’s eureka moment.
There is a disconcerting wobble and a vague stickiness
I cannot think on. Overall too thick for comfort but
an optimistic super-hero-green (think Ninja Turtles …).
Now and then its rightful owner looks over as if
to make sure I haven’t left the country or found the secret
imbedded button which if pressed with just the right
lightness of touch could send me rocketing to a time
and place where everything revels in its element:
the sauerkraut, tabouli, writers and their pens –
the next great work just a few more short orders away.
Suspension of disbelief
At sixty-five my bachelor uncle
gave up smoking six months
before his bypass and wonders
tongue in cheek if there’s a link.
He tells me this over the phone.
We haven’t spoken in 14 years
because life happens we tell ourselves.
I tell him I remember how
he introduced me to Harry Chapin
when I was still in my teens and cats
in the cradle were all the metaphor
I needed for the world’s sorrows.
How he once took his girl on a double date
after the car accident but before
her face had been fully reconstructed
and his mate wanted to know what happened
and he told him in detail then casually asked
So…what’s your date’s excuse?
What I don’t mention is that Christmas
he walked out, disappeared, reemerging
well into the new year as if he’d just been
to the corner shop for cigarettes.
How as time rumoured on through affairs
of the heart, one loan shark too many
I crafted my own version of events –
Some kindly alien abduction,
no invasive probing just a few
randomised questions about life
as he/we knew it.
Aussie Rules, TV dinners,
what it means to outlive your brother
then your sister. The countless ways
we’ve come up with to enhance
and numb the senses.
Then before we even noticed
his absence, he’d be returned to us
absentmindedly stroking his beard,
heart in a state of permanent ceasefire,
memory and his slate wiped clean.
This isn’t a poem about eggs
but growing up we learned to walk
on their shells.
If our family was a circus
then my father was the ringmaster.
We slipped our knots while he slept,
became limbo dancers and funambulists
clowning around the borderlines.
This isn’t a poem about eggs but with six
kids, a house cow and a surplus of pancakes
it seemed we were always racing for the first
or reaching for the last of anything.
This isn’t a poem about eggs though the line
I recall the most often from Angela’s Ashes
is Malachy McCourt asking what a man
would be doing with a whole one to himself.
This isn’t a poem about eggs but if it was
it might simply describe the way they are shaped
for safe landing, the joy of watching one crack
from the inside.
When I find myself in doubt
a wise friend advises
Lie back and think of pancakes.
Once upon a stone age…
cattails and ferns were mixed
with water and baked on hot rocks.
Epochs on the Elizabethans enhanced
the palate with sherry and rose water.
Twentieth century Catholicism favored
lemon and a liberal sprinkling of sugar.
By the time I reach the parlours floating
buttery stacks through the caramelised air
I am returned to my senses and the gift
of accepting each day as it arrives;
flat-packed, some assemblage required,
choosing to believe whatever is left
over or missing ensures the continuum.
Sometimes the only way to neutralize
the mind’s trickery is to hole up awhile
in a corner of the knowable world –
surrender to the elemental
comfort of its thingness…
One thing leading to another
If at just that moment you
(daddy longlegs) had veered
some other way and not the way
of my keyboard where nothing
but where my fingers rested
anyway out of habit,
I might not have wondered…
All my life I have been naming you
wrongly: star of phobias,
Halloween décor, superhero.
You are more closely related
to the scorpion, the mite even.
No silk-glanded webspinner then.
Eight legs yes, but fragile as time.
And just the two eyes like me.
At last count your kind was
four hundred million years old.
Give or take.
Oh ancient one! What do I know?
You crawled the alphabet to disappear
inside a man’s dressing gown.
The man rose slowly from the table
carefully undressing though it was
a cool enough autumn morning
and just yesterday there had been
a sprinkle of mountain snow.
And this –
When the man sat back down
in his singlet and shorts and waited
to see if you would reemerge,
whole, it was then, one thing leading
to another, that I was reminded
of his kindness –
vowed to love it more fiercely.
© Jane Williams