Fireworks and champagne
I pass among you disguised, you’ll scarcely see me
in this slack envelope, unremarkable,
heavy with the dull purviews of age,
warmth, the next meal, the next step.
Ah, if you knew, I am in my second childhood,
each flower incandescent, the sky bluer and bluer.
Spring is a star-burst, the trees whizz up like rockets,
the children are jumping-jacks, girls are fountains.
Such colour and sound, I shall shatter with joy,
leach into rivers, blow on the wind.
You can sweep me up, walk through me,
I am winning, I am becoming invisible.
Barbara Giles at the launch of the La Mama Poetica anthology 1998. Photo Pamela Sidney ('unofficial' photographer of the Melbourne poetry scene in the eighties and nineties) from her blog, Melbourne Poetry Gig Guide.
Poet, author and children’s novelist Barbara Giles was already elderly when I met her, but full of vitality and sharp intelligence. She seemed to burst into prominence suddenly in the late seventies, as a loved and respected poet, an authoritative figure in Australian poetry. She was chief editor of Luna, a poetry magazine run by women, known for both its cutting edge and its high standards. She was one of the founders of Pariah Press Cooperative (the members of which were kind enough to invite me to join so as to publish my first book) and she was prominent in the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union of Australia, later Melbourne Poets Union. An indefatigable promoter of good poetry wherever she found it, and a mentor to many including me, Barbara was also my good friend. I’ll never forget her great kindness in a time of need. Sadly, she developed Alzheimer’s Disease when she was very old, and died in care at the age of 94 — but as you can see from the wonderful piece on ageing above, for most of her life her mind was rich.
Her books are listed here (the home improvement volumes co-authored with Carl Giles are by a different Barbara) but I can’t find her poems online except for some humorous stuff for children, so I’ll treat you to a couple more of my favourites:
In the park, looking
I’m not too old to like the shape of a man,
his walk, the set of his head on his shoulders,
the strong legs, well fleshed and that bright
black-browed glance. There’s a nose that I like,
admiring blank-faced. If you saw me at all,
you’d think I’m reminded of someone,
husband, son, grandson, not that I look at you
as a woman looks at a man who stirs her.
The heart lifts, it’s good to see a fine man,
to think, there goes a man I could love.
I’m looking at you, not remembering.
But as I well know, you don’t see me,
old women are almost invisible. If I do catch your eye,
likely enough you’ll be thinking, ‘She has a look of my mother.’
And, on a rather different note, an earlier piece:
Eve rejects apple
In serene sixties strolling in the Louvre
I am accosted, and being old enough
I answer, to have him take my arm.
‘Voulez-vous promener? I am Michel.
I come from the South. Are you alone in Paris?
Now you have a friend.’ Stating a preference for pictures,
like an old player I elude his grasp.
The swarthy hunter is hot after the quarry, renewing
his clutch on my arm, dangling the ultimate bait.
‘I want to sleep with you, I much prefer
an older woman. The young are acid, raw.
You are alone. No-one will know what you do.
Here is your chance to live!’ My unkind laughter
releases me to enquire of a ripened lady, who kindly
points me the way to the Dürer, and I go,
happy in that I have repelled seduction
entirely in French.
Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).