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Margaret Bradstock – Living Statues

P Margaret Bradstock LE P&W Vol 2 2019

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Poems by Margaret Bradstock

Margaret Bradstock is a Sydney poet, critic and editor. She lectured at UNSW for 25 years and has been Asialink Writer-in-residence at Peking University, co-editor of Five Bells for Poets Union, and on the Board of Directors for Australian Poetry. She has eight published collections of poetry, including The Pomelo Tree (winner of the Wesley Michel Wright Prize) and Barnacle Rock (winner of the Woollahra Festival Award, 2014). Editor of Antipodes, the first Australian anthology of Aboriginal and white responses to “settlement” (2011) and Caring for Country (2017),  Margaret won the Banjo Paterson Poetry Award in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Her most recent book is Brief Garden (Puncher & Wattmann, 2019).


Living statues

I could be silver, I could be gold
breathing beneath an outer skin of paint
stiff as a silken top hat
cut of my coat
the lacquered folds of cloth
but you don’t see me.

I am here with the rising sun
the early flower-sellers
and an indifferent rain
treading the boards, the broken cobbles
a tiger pacing his familiar cage
to arrive at the sticking-place.

Sometimes I am tempted
to rise up and roar.
All day standing, unmoving, for beggars’ dole
unbending before the tourist crowd
their probing fingers, nerveless gaze
the hollow shell of myself.

I am Colombine, cold body taking shape
from stone or marble, love trailing
like a sorrow, face hidden
behind the tragic mask
my trancelike state
telling you nothing.

I am Pegasus, ephemeral
as dust or ash, flying
between this earth and the salt moon
breathing poetry, bequeathing to death
life’s numbness, awakened to the magician’s trick
of Saturn’s icy rings.

I am here with the late ferry
the fog-lit frieze of moon
over the white-shelled harbour
and will be there
artiste extraordinaire, tomorrow.
But you won’t know me.

The Grieving
(i.m 15/3/19)

Staid city of churches, now also mosques,
still in earthquake recovery mode,
the green world renewed
a place where one might think
to worship undisturbed.

Christchurch, the very name calls up
Crusader battles in the Holy Land,
Saracen hordes, ‘the infidel’, cut down
by ‘lion-hearted’ knights,
Krak des Chevaliers rising, like a clenched fist,
from the top of its mountain eyrie.

We thought we were better than that.
Those veiled in prayer might also
have believed their faith impregnable,
a stronghold against terror.
It was never about religion, the rivalry
of false gods, but the random xenophobia
of someone whose only claim to fame,
the capacity to amass guns, and fire them
at point blank range, sets him apart.

He will be nameless, says Jacinda, denying him
that notoriety. But not to the parents, siblings,
infants robbed of life,
the brief oasis in our eternal silence. Its moment
burnt into memory like a firebrand,
the living won’t forget.
Wearing a hijab, she walks among them,
sharing their loss. Volunteers take part
in Muslim burial rites, help to wash the bodies.

That same morning, I marched with school kids
and supporters, of different race and creeds
waving placards and hand-made banners,
inflatable planet Earth held high, their hope
for the future.


Mountains of the Mind

‘the weird white realm’ – Francis Ridley Havergal, poet.
‘thin air and wild terrain were restorative’ – Ruth McCance,
jazz singer & champion sailor.

The mountains swarming
with a conga line of climbers, a human
traffic jam, trophy hunters stampede
in a surge to the summit, bypassing
empty oxygen bottles, litter, excrement,
dead bodies frozen in time, crammed
into their last useless shelters.

Forget the mystique, these sojourners have paid
for bragging rights, the T-shirt at the end
their best reward. ‘Here’s the deal,’ says one.
‘I’m not stopping on the way to the summit
to help someone…I’m here for one reason.’

Chomolungma (Tibetan), Sagarmatha (Nepali)
Mother Goddess of the world and sky,
her power to kill just part of the allure.
Is it a man thing, this need to conquer mountains?
Greg Mortimer and Tim Macartney-Snape*
ascended without oxygen, having
‘the entire northern valley system of Everest’
to themselves, the formidable
three-sided pyramid of rock and ice
in isolation, silence.

Looking across the jagged, snow-covered peaks
of the Himalayas, they could see clearly
the curvature of earth.
Below, the windswept saddle
linking Everest to Lhotse plunges
into thin air,
a jumble of teetering ice towers
the size of office blocks.

 

*Survivors of the first Australian ascent of Everest in 1984


© Margaret Bradstock