The transmigration of poems—end of a shy little poetry blog

Stone lion, hedge, and water irises

 

Stone lion, hedge, and water irises
A stone lion. A hedge. Ephemeral irises. Tiny green frogs in hiding. Poems.

Shortly this blog will disappear. I like the thought of poems as balloons. Now they will all go pop or waft into another sphere, leaving nothing but lions and irises and little green frogs. Poems have a life. I’m letting these ones go: letting go is a talent that I hope to master.

You and I have shared this mental space, but we never owned it. Now the lease has ended.

I’ve loved posting poems on this shy little blog but it’s time to stop. I’ve been so happy to know that you, dear reader, have stumbled on one of my poems now and then, and sometimes followed up.

However, my besetting sin is accumulating websites. I never run out of ideas, and I  tend to forget that every idea does not require a website or app or  thingamejig.

This is not goodbye. My main website is Write Into Life, and there you’ll usually find a poem embedded in a podcast episode.

A lovely way to enjoy my poems is one-on-one. In my podcast, How To Be Old, I speak them quietly into your ear. It’s personal. Let’s meet there, soon. Otherwise I’ll miss you.

For starters, just follow WriteIntoLife.com and find your way from there.

Talk soon!

 

Sheila and the Honourable Member 8.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

Sheila becomes an honorary member

Here is a jaw on the warpath
here is me thickening
catching up with the jaw
here are tacks sprouting
laddering the air

apple is jammed in throat
please do not  punch me there
this is the third stone
the boulder in the road

let me hide
something dangles
let me hide in my clothes
in a woman, in the house

I will use it for a gun
I will point it
I will use it for a bone
I will point it

Rachel McAlpine 1977


Here Sheila seems to be experimenting with being a man. Speaking her thoughts out loud, for one thing. Having an Adam’s apple. Having a male member. Pretty weird…

Sheila and the Honourable Member 7.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

Women’s chorus to Mr Speaker

we thy most humble servants do plead
that thou must justly and mercifully
as is they wont do hear our meek
soprano voices in petty harmony

contemplate with condescension
our minimal oblation
of eighty-three hot scones plus
four date scones for your most
gracious charming lovely ladies
blessed be their pantihose

we are not worthy but spare us
we pray and excuse

*

Mr Speaker The Committee has given
this Petition most careful consideration
and finds that it has no recommendation
to make to the House

Mr Speaker I move that the petitioners
do lie upon the table

*

Honourable Members: Ha ha.

Rachel McAlpine 1977


To appreciate this poem it’s ideal if you are familiar with the ultra-formal language and conventions of the House of Parliament in New Zealand (and elsewhere). Reading this poem 42 years later I recall with fury the contempt that feminists met on many fronts when we dared to speak in public. And no, we did not see the funny side. In the words of Judge John Hodgman, “If it’s not fun for everyone it’s no fun at all.”

Sheila and the Honourable Member 6.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

In Luck

The Honourable Member is in luck
everyone knows it is tough
to live four days a week
without a person

the Honourable Member used to screw
the typists. this is the casual
normal rule of thumb

now he can withdraw
to the lady with purple carpets
who knows the way to the top

oh how the Honourable Member grieved
over his lonely friend who cruised
for comfort

[I censored a verse just in case]

you nameless others
in your fragile enclaves
you who sneer at wives
spare an embrace
for the overtly married

Rachel McAlpine 1977


Those were hideous times for anyone gay, let alone a gay politician. It wasn’t until 1986 that The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed, legalising consensual sex between men aged 16 and older. Sheila even in her personal pain has room for compassion.

Sheila and the Honourable Member 5.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

Sheila’s graveyard

My ground is sour and sacred
with the bones of all my mothers

buried in me is one who worked
at tubs and maths and hymnbooks
she manufactured options
and climbed into Nepal
with a broken leg

buried in me is one who
bewildered with her wit.
anthroposophist chiromancer
violinist and witch
she was haughty for women
she would batter and woo
them in to life

buried in me is one who stormed
the City Council in a first
front row attack
she wore chains as if
they came from Paris

I am four women. one you see
married and saying yes
on the telephone
opening doors and galas
cutting ribbons and
tying them in bows
polishing vertebrae
to decorate the table

the others are making war:
trapped in me their bones
do battle quietly, quietly
they meet like swords in clay

stay at the gate
stay at the dinner party
chat with the nice door lady
here is haunted holy ground
stay at the dinner party

Rachel McAlpine 1977


Here, Sheila has borrowed my own female predecessors. In turn the verses list a few highly selective features of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Sheila feels these formidable women are grinding away inside her while she is meekly doing her feeble duty as the wife of a member of parliament. Poor Sheila.

Sheila and the Honourable Member 3.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

This 1977 poem tells the sad story of how a politician began his career burning with high ideals and how and why they gradually eroded. It’s his wife Sheila who is talking.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk

when the Honourable Member started
he saw visions he saw me
he saw cake on the tables
he saw chickens in pots he imagined
measuring
one potato two potato
three potato four

he has been climbing so long
the people shrink like snails
they don’t understand he is nervous
when the clouds pour by

the Honourable Member has fattened
his friends stamp on his fingers
he tells a lie by accident
he wants a law against axes

I am his out-of-focus snail
I am my house and his hose
he will steal the chicken
that cannot be shared
this little pig had roast beef
this little pig had none

Rachel McAlpine 1977

 

Sheila and the Honourable Member 1.

cover of book: STAY AT THE DINNER PARTY

Now’s a good time to republish this sequence of poems about a Member of Parliament, his wife Sheila, and the other woman, the lady with purple carpets. I wrote them 40 years ago, swept up in the second wave of feminism. Today the power imbalance between the genders in the stressful environment of parliament has changed … not much. 

This is me, Sheila, talking

this is me (Sheila) talking
I have seen fingers
crack in the ring
like girdle scones

this is me (Sheila) here
this is me this is me
I have seen women settle like
junket, I have seen water curdle

listen this is me
this is Sheila this is me
I am a person
who knows things

I have a small brown voice
here it is in my handbag
south southwest southeast
little voice is restless

these are my hands the skin
is lifting drifting freckling
covers the blood lumping
inside the bones are grinding
these are my hands crackling

I am not ready to die

listen to me it is always
nearly too late
this is me (Sheila) talking
this is me

Rachel McAlpine 1977

If you appreciate these rip-roaring, pretty vulgar poems, please share.

Photo of an older woman's hands
Our hands talk. Let our voices also speak.