There were many gates that swung in and
out of our street where we lived. Some
were exceptional in iron grillwork. Others
shared the nose of a dog. A few hung over
their shadows, or lay bereft on their sides
forgetting the rituals of open or closed.
I used to swing on the front gate, eager
to see a space refusing to be still.
I could lay my body over the rounded
top rail as if watching the morning's
wrinkled map of footprints in sand, black
ants erupting from tiny volcanic nests.
Our gate was chain-link steel, an intricate
pattern that Gran could have made with her rug
and crochet skills had she had stronger needles.
Now the gate is no longer there, pulled down
for four apartments. My parents are no longer there,
father going fourteen years before my mother.
This sounds very sad, but it isn't. I believe
they are swinging somewhere in heaven.
Not on St Peter's gate, but in a body
of metal and cushions, similar to a porch
swing, a touch too heavy for a cloud perhaps.
But they'd be there alright sitting side by side,
enjoying the view, swinging, back and forth,
back and forth, as children do on country gates
looking at the world from a different angle.
old jam tins are sleepers in a rubbish dump
a scarred hollow of digging, even
before the rust came, the yard had a kind of design:
trees as old as frost, melon sky at sundown
a coattail earth of flax and ants navigating
sound before the paddocks came
ordered out on finance plans they cuddled children
with their debts. he drew fear from flood and seedless
sun. she traded contradiction for curves and valley
hips, verdant sod of earth, reckless drift of goats.
when the bailiff came, the end of lamb and beef,
she clung to rock and let the salt erupt from hands
and tongue the way the body bleeds its bitterness.
he roped a bulky contents under tarp,
sped through every gate, clouding exile
and the bright disturbance of his wheat
here on this white paper words rim
the borderline of their passion
it moves in some direction to inhabit lives
as couplets of unknown pain.
poems cannot see collapsed hearts
fresh wounds, first rage, so in here
their darkness spills on fingers to form silence
like a letterbox, where only the clouds go by
Coda: a house of pockets
at the age of five
day after day
I am trying to play soap bubbles
on the veranda
in a cubbyhouse of coats
but our dog keeps bursting
his nose in
heavy on his paws
soaking the surface of my floor
instead of round drifts
of rainbow colours
broadening out my experience
they land like Noah's flood
plop, plop, splat!
I wait five minutes
until he's gone
wipe my hands in the containment of pockets
he just doesn't understand
I'm raising the waters of foam
to be like Gran
the perfect air show that floats
from her concrete trough
Helen Hagemann is the author of Evangelyne & Other Poems and an ebook of poetry, The Joyous Lake. She recently completed a three-week residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland working on a new collection, tentatively titled Rhapsody in a Coat Pocket.