For Barbara Giles
You say there is a cold place in me.
Over the day’s first coffee
with a bar of heat in the kitchen,
over books, round mementoes,
it’s there. Blue graph like a nipple.
And you laughed like a girl
in among your poems
and the women and children your sons brought.
Your cushions jostled and your bread warmed.
Your backyard crawled with leaf,
the reaching towering vine.
When it’s cut back you find pegs,
the lost tea-towel, neighbours.
Your poems, getting it all in:
sharp on a word, the touch tender,
bold as principles and homage.
Your eyes unpaired for colour,
the weave and bossed jewel of Celtic make –
sky-web of light, earth-bowl of shade.
The goddess’s odd hands.
The nose-in kerb, walkover gate.
Flowerpots. The belled greeting.
Skewed in its perch on books
behind the opening door
an anatomical hand curves ready to hold,
models skin, blood-branching, tendons,
lifts away the layers to bone.
The blue-flowered china cat
nuzzles, now, the ghost of little Blackie,
guest of ‘eighty-five,
when snug in your back room a season
I traced the streets of Roman London late,
by a baseless bedlamp
condemned not to sit or stand.
I aimed its black-bonnet glare,
lay warm, went on reading.
You prowled the house at night,
like-minded, devoured paper;
in your brick gate-post’s hollow
– the letter-box, mortared, clammy –
snails moved in and set to,
shredding your steady mail
to colour their journeys.
Leaving or staying: cold
for my Grandmother, doubting her choices –
her children brought up abroad
awry, breaking the pattern,
at home in an unread pattern;
for Mum, the Company wife
through half a dozen transfers –
strong on tact and economies,
growing away from friends,
mounting judgement, stifling
news of herself young, her sisters.
Nineteen-eighty, you visited
rounding Arthur’s corner-shop
to my home, home I headed,
home of children and stories,
home of the dog and my young trees
the silly buyer cleared.
On bushfire days we languished in the long room
or by the lime-tree – light and thorns.
The dog crawled under the house
to doze at the dugs of shade,
or lay on the kitchen floor-vinyl,
always the same spot.
I came in barefoot. I lay down.
In a room innocent of ash,
the cold place. Breath from before us.
The house whispered its muffled things.
If you want my fire
stand on my hearthstone.
Judith Rodriguez (1936 – 2018) was an Australian poet.