Scenes from the photographer’s childhood: wardrobe
She kneels in the red light of her wardrobe, leaning
over one tub of chemicals to pull out the dripping
sheet from the one in the far corner, the space so
small, the smell so sharp, the image not that
of her mother, poking her amused face
around the bathroom door as she heaved
it open, pushing across the floor the barricade
set up to keep her out, nor of her own fury, still
sharp days later, but the shot she had taken
seconds earlier of her body, her legs
half shaven, still half dressed in foam.
Every night, without fail, whatever
time she takes her bath, within minutes
her mother suddenly just has to wash
her hands. It is this, even more than the
ruined image, that makes her scream
when her mother opens the wardrobe now,
an extended scream that the exhausted
mother next door, in her faded blue thrift
shop dress, covered in spilt milk, thinks will
never end, and so joins in, even though
it will wake the baby, which it does: and now
they are all screaming, the girl in B, the neighbour
in G, and the baby in F, a long, tense chord
of such helpless rage, almost a panic, it seems
it must rise up, it will ruin them all, there
can never be any release, their throats, all three,
scraped raw, the scream continuing, the
exhausted mother holding, perfectly, her note
of G, as the baby drops to E, the photographer
rising to C, holding for four beats and then
stopping, just as the baby stops, and so
the mother stops too and for the long moment
before the baby starts again, stands rapt
in the most perfect silence
she has ever known and will ever know
again, milk all through her dress, blue
jug in pieces on the floor,
exactly at the midpoint of her life.
© Anna Jackson 2015
Author bio: Anna is the Programme Director in the English Department at Victoria University. She has published five poetry collections, including Thicket, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in 2011. Her latest collection I, Clodia, and Other Portraits was published by Auckland University Press in 2014 (my review here). Anna is currently organising a Ruapehu Writer’s Festival with Helen Rickerby to be held in Ohakune, March 2016 (Facebook page here).
Paula’s note: This surprising poem, holds narrative in its palm, a sharp moment that reverberates with implication. I get to the end and I am pulled back to the beginning, again and again. The musical chord that holds the moment together (and thus the poem) jars, unsettles — until that moment of silence and it feels like time has iced over. Within that silent beat, poetry blooms. Ha! I need to get to work but this poem keeps distracting me. I adore the power of poetry to do just that.
Auckland University page
New Zealand Book Council page
Anna Jackson’s poem, ‘Afraid of falls?’ on Poetry Shelf.
Anna Jackson’s interview on Poetry Shelf
Such a poignant and deep poem. I absolutely love it.