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A mother should not know her offspring too well

How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life
(After Gorky)
A single scene pinches the thread from time
– An open book on a disused sewing table;
She disgorges wondrous polysyllables.
She smells of Sunday baths
(My father smells of cut grass)
I write my name in nervous print, I think,
Tracing her imparted wisdom,
And stain the paper, but scar the table
With the force of my shaking hand.
Now I am sitting in the Church at Fourvière,
Harsh light breaks the hill into shards,
But the dome itself is cool and damp and grey
And she is primrose pink, and leafy gold.
She is a mosaic of blood, and green and saintly blue.
A single swallow breaks the silence, skips
From end to end to end again.
A morning’s liturgy—the one bird’s crackling claws
Searching for the coolness of the crypt.
She, like him, would be aghast,
At the weeping litany of my sins.
But that confession is not mine to make or answer to.
A mother should not know her offspring too well.
From the moment the apron string is cut, we are free to be
And to bring, make or undo, whatever the hell we want to
Such is the mother’s lot, such is our blessing.
Sometimes, sitting down for dinner, or working on a draft,
I think of the time I traced the Murrumbidgee on the table’s oak.

Robert Mullins

Unencumbered and freed from battle,
from duty and the designs of men,
freed from the siege of Leningrad
two boots at ease
on a suburban shoe store’s counter.
Here where transactions are quietly civilized
there’s a sense of menace
in the dark boots’ presence,
in the wooden soles,
in their uppers of patchworked scraps of leather,
each roughly bound with a horsehide band.
Once they were desperately cobbled together
yet well enough to withstand
grey days and star-spread nights
and the brilliant firestorms of war.
See them stumbling over ice,
standing shadowless in snow,
pacing through the slush,
avoiding the bodies of horses and men,
the seeping lifeblood, a gaudy red.
You’d say the spirit of these boots survives,
saved by good fortune
or by someone who understood.
They have known the colour of the blizzard,
the whip and the sting of the wind
and the cold, the cold.

– Elaine Barker

For Osip

 “...and the centuries / Surround me with fire.”
 - Osip Mandelstam
A hand from a passing boat
Lifts shadow
Cold is sung
And lifted
Into the boat of night
Bars creep along the moon
Silver cigarettes
Flaring in a cool torch
You wandered among
A shadow of the song you were
Fragments of heaven
To those who stood with you.

James Waller

Robert MullinsRobert Mullins was born and raised in Brisbane. He is currently a graduate student in philosophy at Oxford University.


Elaine Barker's collection High Heels & Tartan Slippers will be published next month by Ginninderra Press. Her previous collections are The Windmill's Song (Wakefield Press 2003) and The Day Lit By Memory (Ginninderra Press 2008)

James WallerJames Waller, who says he is 'addicted to shadows and reflections', is a Melbourne painter, sculptor, poet, festival producer and exhibition curator.

Topic tags: new australian poems, Robert Mullins, Elaine Barker, James Waller



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