Monday, 19 November 2012
inside every woman is a sappho loving her own
image. let us say then, for the sake of argument,
that i am a mirror. and that in me you see yourself.
why do you suppose i live behind locked doors?
inside every woman is someone's little girl gone
bad or mad. this is what she told me and i believe
it to be a truth.
and inside every woman is a scribe wanting to
set the record straight.
in rooms and cells up and down the country women
whose throats are dry, who are unable any longer
to speak, pen notes to themselves. they tell tales.
and in the night, in the deep part of the black
night the women come and go, doing a soft shoe
shuffle. walking down valium alley heads bent
and penitent. keeping an eye out for angels and
the night nurse riding his charger. and in the
night when the corridors sting with silence they
come and go, lulling each other. eyes zipped wide,
they go in file down librium mile and back.
and in one-roomed flats and beazley homes they
sit in locked lavatories scribbling fast in time
to children. they write poems on tables littered
with crumbs and jam to the beat of the AM band.
they record the songs of all the women in the
each one an image of her sister.
Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark.
The first time I came across Mike Minehan was in 1992 after I had left the hospital finally and come home with my twins. It was a cold June that year (winter in NZ of course) and I was completely focused on my two new little boys. I had no time for anything but feeding and changing it seemed, and when the wee lads were finally sleeping I would rush around getting the housework (especially the laundry). For company I turned on talkback radio and there was Mike, her slow careful voice creating a community amongst her listeners. It was probably the nicest chat I have ever come across. Outside was dark and cold, inside we were caught up in the cosy world that Mike created. Once when an old lady rang and said she was listening from her bed because it was her only way to get warm, Mike and her husband John Blumskey took firewood round to her the next day. We knew this only because the old lady rang that night insisting on telling the rest of us about their kindness.
I later found her poetry book, Embracing The Dark, (from whence came the above poem) and bought it.
I believe (although I cannot verify this) that her first marriage was to an American and she lived in the US for a time. This is an excerpt from a very long poem...
san francisco bay blues
... a young girl i lay in the arms of a man old enough
to be my father and he played me like a harp.
he dressed me in fur and fine wool. he placed
a diamond on my finger and signed a contract.
i married an old man who steered ships by the
stars but who never managed to navigate my harbour
of silences. he said i was his lorelei. the song
i sang lured him onto the hard rocks of his own
despair. i was a siren killing him with lyrics
he had no stomach for ... in a tongue he could
... and a letter arrived from Saigon.
i did the dishes and cut my hair and burned rags
and incense for days. i bought max factorand
prince matchibelli. i opened an account at magnins.
i trimmed my toenails and shaved under my arms
with a remington. I stocked up on steak and whisky.
I read newspapers and watched merve griffen. i
bought a nightdress instead of fires and changed
the sheets. i hid my poems in an old shoebox and
dusted off the piano.
and the old sea dog who was tired of fighting
wars, returned, to talk of battles and bombs
and saigon bars and dance hall girls with long
black hair that fell about their faces like a
veil. brown eyed girls who lay down for sailors
on american flags and watched napalm blister the
river and light up the city.
and when i lay in his arms i smelled smoke. as
i lay loose in his arms i smelled death. he slept
on my breast heavy and spent and as old as sin.
and as i watched his slack mouth open to snores
i thought of other breasts his wet lips had suckled
in my absence, the brown bellies he has seeded
in his truancy from my bed. his moist tongue
tipping as he probed smaller ears than mine and
how this was the way of things...
Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark
Much later I realised that she had once joined that famous New Zealand poet James K Baxter at his commune at Jerusalem, Aotearoa/NZ. I think this was after she returned to NZ from the US - after her divorce. She gave birth to his son. (He of course, was married to Jacqui Baxter at the time - another man who had no idea of not straying). She wrote about this experience many years later in James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem (2002)
... He says in a manner of speaking he has,
'Look sister' and she does. Into her heart and his and she thinks she
might follow where he beckons and listen to the music of his language,
his words, and find a place for her soul's rest, for a time, somewhere
up there in the hills he speaks of and this becomes a decision and she
makes it there ...
Mike Minehan (2002) excerpt from James K Baxter: An Intimate Memoir - O Jerusalem.
Getting back to the Sappho thing, I think this short and succinct poem is one of my favourite poem of hers.
one morning i woke &
told god to bugger off
i packed his bags &
gave him a one way ticket
& a cut lunch
i swept the cave &
lit a fire
invited some women to share a meal
we sang & told tales till dawn
Mike Minehan (1990) Embracing The Dark