Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Michelle Cahill - Renovations

I try to make myself easy to shop for at Christmas.  I say, “if you must, then don’t spend more than fifteen dollars and make your selection from either a bottle of port or a discounted red wine; or confectionary which must include Rocky Road and anything that’s got ginger in it, maybe a gift voucher from Bunnings; next year’s diary (A5, one day to a page), or a poetry book (new, second-hand, doesn’t matter), and don’t worry if I might already have it, because I will find somebody to swap or share it with.”  I’ve got to admit, most years, people take me on my word.  That’s how it was this Christmas.  I received a paperback anthology, The Best Australian Poems 2013, edited by Lisa Gorton, Black Inc. publishers.  It becomes my distraction for the rest of Christmas day.  What I like to do with a book like this is go through it quickly the first time with a pencil and rate each poem based on the immediate appeal it has for me.  I will mark it a definite ‘NO’, a ‘Maybe’, or an ‘OK/YES’.  The ‘OK/Yes’s’ become part of me, then I go back through the ‘Maybe’s’.
In this post I include one of the immediate ‘OK/Yes’ poems from Best Australian Poems 2013.  It’s a modern sonnet by Michelle Cahill, Renovations.  I’ve only ever read two of Michelle’s poems (the other is in an earlier post of mine), and yet her style and content appeals to me – refreshing, because I am surprised at how few female poets are included in my list of favourites.  With Renovations, it seems the poet has just separated in a divorce (marriage laws defied me), and is busy setting up her own place in Sydney, renovating and furnishing.  There’s a sense of busy-ness and excitement but also a feeling of aloneness and a need for help to live a single life.  Anyway, see what you think of Renovations.
Michelle Cahill (1969 -  )
It was a summer of stinking heat, hell-fire days,
nothing predictable but the violence of time
whistling throu a sou’ westerly, the dragon lizard
scampering to underbrush from crops of dry lawn.
Boxes in every half-filled room, masking-tape rolls,
anarchic cockroaches slewing between floorboards.
I learnt how to correct grey hair roots, presbyopia,
leaking showers.  The marriage laws defied me.
Then one tradie after another, phone calls, texts.
in my alacrity, I’d confuse their names, driving
from Canada Bay to Lidcombe, Ikea to Parramatta Road
for blackbutt, bamboo, terracotta.  Scott from Prospect
gave a quote I accepted for all the drop sheets, all
the brawn and Epoxy sealant it took to keep me single.

Reading some notes on Michelle’s background, I find she is a practising medical doctor – the same as William Carlos Williams was (another of my favourite poets).
One thing I like in this poem is the running together of lists of things (boxes ….. masking-tape rolls, anarchic cockroaches ……. blackbutt, bamboo, terracotta ….).  You see this in a number of Kenneth Slessor’s poems.  I believe Renovations in the title refers not only to our usual association with repair of property, but also to the poet herself making new again, restoring herself to good condition (I learnt how to correct grey hair roots, presbyopia …).  But why wait until you’re separated to attend to these things?  And there is so much to have to learn or re-learn in coping with this emotional change.  So much, that you get the feeling at some stage the poet could have easily given in and returned to the security of the relationship (all the brawn and Epoxy sealant it took to keep me single.).
My poem links into the post by way of another perspective on the often crappiness of human relationship.  Sometimes you’ve got to have a tough skin; have a laugh.  It’s a game; it’s a grinding down; a business and you’ve got to believe the outcome is worth it.
2012.  Even in a long standing marriage or relationship I have no control over how a person may speak to me.  I learnt this in a conflict resolution training course I did once.  It said I can only choose how I respond – totally unaffected or aggressive.  Unaffected is best, but I should still firmly and calmly let the other person know that I do not accept being spoken to in that way – I am too good for that!  Anyway, that’s the course I did, while there must be another school of thought that says, “you’ve got to accept, when you’ve provided the justification, then people can speak to you however they want.”

Keeping up Appearances
Driving the suburbs in Sydney
and I miss the turn at Turramurra
so we have to back-track from Pymble
getting lost not knowing the right turn-off
or which BP service station it’s supposed to be
around Kissing Point Road left into Yenko Drive
and then Simon rings her mobile
to find out where we are
because he wants to know when
to put the piece of pork on
and that sends her into a fury
because her mobile’s a ‘piece of shit’
and it’s embarrassing and our sat-nav
has not yet been returned
and technology’s leaving me behind
because for some reason
I refuse to - ‘get with the program!’
but don’t worry, as soon as the house sells
she’ll walk out and is going to get one of those
Samsung Galaxies on Monday
and I’ve kept my calm right up to now
because I don’t like being late
or lost either
though I am feeling very, very tired
and I start to say a sentence beginning with the word, ‘look’
and she says, ‘shut your fucking mouth!’
as we smile our way down the driveway
to where Simon and Jan and the kids
seem so pleased to see us.
                                              J. O. White

1 comment:

  1. I like it! I can just imagine the scene when you arrived and it was all smiles.