Mayhem Literary Journal is proudly sponsored by Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, The University of Waikato

Ancient Bear of Winter - Wanda Barker

This is not a country of bears, but 
my ancestral bear is certain of herself, 
curled up like a dusty carpet in my house-cave 
Nuts and raisins stored in perfectly clear glass, in my lair of lament 
She won’t take her pelt off

Spring drags my fur into the shrieking sun like a dog heaving a big bone
Only one more week of harvesting stillness 
More of a shedding of skins than a harvest. 
Winter, oh I will call my next rabid dog Winter
 
A cloak around my fears, a sack of salve closeted by the fires 
tempers old wounds, licking them to death 
waits for new ones that might tear the maps 
of the year apart

I’m not averse to a flash of spring full of azalea lips
urgent beauty, its vibrating calls to hungry bees
There’s too much of it though 
And it won’t shut up
 
Too many daffodils clashing and competing
More birds flapping and dying than I can count
Pulses like a heart beating too fast 
Euphorias I can’t keep up with 
Faces stretched heavy with smiling
You know how it goes…everyone getting everything 
Burning itself out is next. This, I know 

The bear of winter is my ecstasy
The bear of winter sweeps the lights down
The bear of winter bends into itself and recedes
The bear of winter has chewed the skins of harvest 
endured the passing palette of autumn
The bear of winter is a pour of grief 
for old loved things and troubled agonies, 
it’s not psyched up for bright.

Housework - Wanda Barker

So fuck it…dishes, housework, ironing. 
I am assaulted by memory, 
a trace like a botched colouring book, 
over the lines.

There is my messy mother and my tidy aunt.
There is the glittering distance between them.
There is my tongue trying to articulate a thread.

My aunt used to iron sheets, teatowels, 
hankys corner to corner,
chittering like a fantail about the weather 
and her unkempt neighbours.
She used to empty ashtrays before 
my mother’s ash landed.

My aunt was loving, strict, 
fattened us with huge cakes full of raisins 
that turned my mother’s topaz eyes, 
grass-green.
 
My aunt filled the air with her imperatives.
My aunt would run her finger along the top 
of my mother’s curtains, take a moral inventory 
and pull one of those faces 

where everything 
turned 
upside down. 

My mother would light another cigarette 
even though the one she had
was burning. She’d pour a sherry 
well before five pm, swig it violently
and chuck a heap of lamb chops in a pan. 
Turn them to charcoal.
My mother laughed at life. 
Mostly.
 
My aunt had plastic covers on her furniture. 
She sent us outside.
My mother invited us in…to trampoline her couch to death. 
She wanted a new one. 
My mother shoved a jumble of mixed linens 
into her cupboard, 
swept dust underneath. 
We could never find anything.

So fuck the dishes…I see where that came from 
in my own resolutions, although my mother 
would never have said it like that. 
She preferred the garden, her paints, 
the grand piano, a long soak in a soapy bath, 
in a wash of love.

I am in the garden up to my knees in mud and hopeful plants.
Fuck the house itself, it’s a roof, it’s walls and floors. 
It’s good enough. It’s not a mythic dream 
nor has it swallowed 
our small swamp of coins.

I am dealing with life’s overload 
backed up like a full revving truck,
deaths, abortions, miscarriages, my husband’s parkinson's
An incomplete inventory of wishes. 
A range of abuses of women I love 
by men I love no longer. 

Howling into other’s misfortunes, ignoring my own, 
my tongue wringing itself out for poems, 
can’t save myself never mind 
the roar and hiss of ocean.
 
Fuck the folding-neatly-and-putting-away of the laundry, too.
I have other things scrambled in my mouth 
a blur of alphabet. Apologies to make, 
I don’t mean to be mean. 
Only when the trace is grasped and the outline thickens, 
when what I imagine overtakes what actually happened.
 
Only if the wild spirit of a poem 
pushes in like a brat
and asks for it.

Tusk - Wanda Barker

when my canines grew 
they were longer than my other teeth
no vampire ancestry… it was strange 
how they grew and curled like a tusk 
pushed through my rage 
a millimetre at a time
 
if I let them free range they would 
wrap around the corner of my upper lip
white as ivory like a sneer
they caught the debris of candy floss 
silver beet, and licorice, they were 
easily stained and hard to clean with 
a conventional toothbrush
 
so I grazed on peppermint
rinsed with hydrogen peroxide 
and chewed flaky bark to 
make them white

all of it I kept secret, kept my mouth shut 
folding my sweet lips over my tusks 
shaking away the questions 
the cleaning was done quietly 
in the forest beneath the umbrella of
a full moon and owls and deer 
and wild pigs came to watch 
they said I was kin, the deer said 
if I thought hard and massaged
my head with moss and lichen
the antlers that were hiding 
beneath my thick hair 
would sprout like wheat 
after rain

the tiny owl said I had wing buds
under the broad sharp blades 
of my shoulders 
I could trust them

Contributor's Note

Wanda Barker. Poems and stories published, nineties, early 2000s. Creative Writing Vic. pre IIML. 

Poetry novella. All Her Dark Pretty Thoughts. 2017. Meniscus Vol 5. 2017. My mother is a lost envelope. 

Poetry NZ A fine line, May 2018 Spells. Poetry NZ. A fine line, spring, 4 poems, featured poet.

 

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