They took her ashes and scattered them
my mother told me, from Brady's lookout
across the bush land and the river,
I remember the place,
but I do not remember it in my bones.
Propriety. That was the mask she wore most.
All the same, a core too.
Our strengths can cripple us
as surely as our flaws.
She bound herself to social laws,
both virtuous, and caged
by little submissions,
a woman of her era,
civility has its costs,
stealing away a voice.
Cheated by duty, by what it was
to be a lady in Tasmania,
where your worth
can be measured
in the crumb of your scone,
Fettered by parochial reputation.
But this was her public self,
Can I give voice to what I knew,
of her private self?
I can give voice to what is mine to speak,
the woman that I knew,
who shaped my childhood.
What I remember,
a cardigan, dark and pale brown wool,
And a pillow, shaped like a peanut
in soft brown velvet,
I can't say why
the first things I remember of her
are in these colours,
and she too, olive skinned,
I don't remember her when her hair was dark,
but I remember her dark eyes and fine
white hair. I remember
that she called me poppet,
we are far from the public self now,
But I can give voice to this,
to remember her for you.
She told me, and here
the layers of memory
grow thick and folded
like linen sheets,
She told me her sisters and she
would make madrigals,
with comic lyrics.
That when she was a girl in Argentina
an American expatriate
would give her
The Saturday Evening Post,
This kindness, when she was eighty
she still recalled.
(Here, the author interjects
with a word to her mother:
You loved your grandmother as I loved mine,
but like a twisted rhyme form,
your mother, my grandmother, hurt you,
and her mother, your grandmother, hurt her,
leaving daughters and grand-daughters
in a strange place where two generations
apart all is well
but one generation apart there is
You and I have broken
this pattern, for the best.
And it was broken through your will,
though too late to break it for
the past, for our grandmothers.)
Is it worth recording
the minutiae of what I can remember?
To say this, that she was
The ten fat library books
bound in plastic twine
I took to her every week,
the smell of baby carrots,
stockings worn even when
she was in her slippers
(is that too intimate for me to tell?
But it is precise.)
And I am evidence too
Evidence and a witness,
that she loved,
That she grieved the life she didn't live,
That she could not let her daughter go,
But that she could give me flight,
unfair, bitter, but true.
She gave me the power of flight,
So I was not there
when they scattered her ashes
down over the river
where the gum trees grow
but I am a witness
and I will keen and lament
and cry out
that she is gone.