Marion May Campbell – Sleep of the old she-wolf

P Marion Campbell LE P&W Vol 1 2019

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Poem by Marion May Campbell

Throughout her work Marion has tried to challenge the politics of representation through a poetics of resistance – in poetry, (third body Whitmore Press 2018; Fragments from a paper witch Salt 2008, a finalist in the 2010 Adelaide Festival Literature Awards: Innovation), novels (the most recent of five being konkretion UWAP 2013), playscripts, and memoir (The Man on the Mantelpiece UWAP 2018). Her novels have been shortlisted for major Australian awards and twice for the Canada-Australian Prize, with Not Being Miriam winning the WA Week Prize for fiction back in 1988. Her critical monograph Poetic revolutionaries (Rodopi 2014) explored intertextuality and subversion. She supervises graduate writing projects at Deakin University.

Sleep of the old she-wolf

sky’s turned to dirty ice
she’s still out on the plank
where I drove her in the dream
of the pirate knives

the headless body I dragged
from the waves
is my own

(pall bearer / caul bearer

this need to cast off
affliction to denude
& redraft but there

is no blank sheet

(don’t mention the mustard
the anecdote so trivial
that started it all

I hear her pleas her promises now
the clothesline where it flutters –
the threadbare damask tablecloth
I rolled as ersatz pillow those nights
we’d bought wine & spent our fury
& I slept out on the camper’s mat
under the sheepskin coat from Nellie
the Pied Noir who at seventy
still mourned the loss
of l’Algérie française

Nellie’s Siamese cat rarely left
her invalided lap
their four eyes hives of life
Nellie’s amber Jeannot’s blue
but there were topics I knew
I must not broach beyond her boast
Algeria didn’t exist before
we went in there & when
I contemplate the dereliction –

I mouthed of course not –
we know that borders
are a fiction

yet under Nellie’s sheepskin I
still lie grey she-wolf
& getting orn as they say

the damask on the line is the
shredded remainder of my grandma’s
aspiration – a little finesse
she was widow of the eleventh son
of David Gordon who did time
for larceny & fraud
& especially for abandon
of wife & kids for drunkenness

the one crime Grandma avowed
since that showed taste
was stealing the design of a Cobb & Co
coach & selling it off as his own
to some dignitary in Geraldton

I draw my criminal descent
as leaf by leaf the Fuji
apple tree sheds

for winter’s slow crawl
& rain tinkers the roof metal
through Joni Mitchell’s far-spaced guitar notes

(Amelia she mourns
it was just a false alarm

her hopeful gestures planting
eggplant planting zucchini the curved
gravel paths she bordered with bentwood
reproach me for this helpless
determination to leave

at the tram stop I see myself
in the woman with
tan hatchet profile the bleached
hair & galactically white hose
her eyes rivets against the cold
under the shelter’s inverted L-glass

or else I become the old
guy baring his false enamels

(the returns to tenderness
she reproaches me with
as if the current cold war rendered all
kindness in rearview a lie

but perhaps I’d rather be
this one with horizontally
fanned orange frizz topped
by the startling
optimism of red bow

& all of us tapping
sticks or leaning to future frames
on the chewing gum-spotted pavement

(to go or to stay
can an old woman

the tram has come

(or might I sing like Nina Simone
will I find my love today

other riders hijack this heart
as the tram brakes squeal & the driver
nods as one after the other mounts the step
– didn’t reckernise me did ya – lost ten kilos!
– like me new tatt love?
– you know that Malaysian man
who served in the Portuguese restaurant
on Johnson St? he bought
new knickers, socks & shirt each day
because – you know – cheaper than the laundry
he slept in the pantry but every
few days he’d drive back to the second
wife’s flat – his first marriage
was to the Welsh cellist – she swung
a golf club at him – that’s why I have
a scar here he’d say

(is it forever the same wound
as Dylan Thomas wrote
after the first death
there is no other?

I remember the quicksilver
exclamatory being loved
as a child & betrayed
in a book – to have genius
is to be marked by enthusiasm
to be en-thoused to have
some sort of god in you
or the principle of thou as beloved

(to have breath as Luce Irigaray says

to be full of vowels
& liquid light the name of love
irrigates is full of vowels

is the wound perhaps an aperture
to host the thou

& now the cry the chained
animal howl all through the night suburb
over the improbable emerald lawns
answering sheep or she-wolf both

on the tram he says she’s used
dumbness as subterfuge
the best disguise
for the canny witness she is
she’s as dumb as walls
– I’d say she’s co-dependent as
she leave him? you’ve got to be

(the house is falling down around me & I
can’t stop writing
can an old woman

even as the tram takes a wide curve
& under the sheepskin coat I sleep

now a plume of white
flares up
through that woman’s black hair &
from the fixity of her pose
I feel her as a dancer
in a petit mal seizure sending
SOS messages
from the centre of hallucination

she’s there again in Morton Bay
fig shade fissures in her heels
so radically cut it’s a wonder
no blood spurts out

(to dance in stillness & radiate – to hold the haemorrhage
in the interval
to pulse with the expansion gaps
to blaze back from deepest
shade to give & give
& not exhaust the giving

as if this long she-wolf’s rumination
under sheepskin had cloaked me
somehow with abundance

beyond all borders – as if everything
were to dance wide
as the night revolving
with all those fast retreating suns
red-eyed at my back

(& I taste again the mustard that
coated our tongues
split the table
blew off the roof
brought down the walls
& lets us travel

© Marion May Campbell