The Properties of Water
By Kate Jennings
Stamp as you walk on the sand.
It is hot, but not too hot, when hot
is the only alternative.
Stand at the water's edge. A wave tackles
your knees, and you lean against it.
Run, lifting your feet high, one after
the other, through the push
and pull, into the midriff of a wave.
Gasp your wits together. Quickly,
under the next wave. It fumes,
and your dark head bobs in the swirl.
Swim. Roll with an ocean-going gait.
Elbows rib the air with cathedral strokes.
This is all the freedom you ever wanted.
Over your shoulder, a wave swells.
Kick hard, harder, arms windmilling.
The wave rushes you
from deep-water shadows to figurehead triumph.
For a sweet moment, you are the wave.
The wave turns bully,
smacks you down hard
and tries to drown you.
Play possum, lie doggo, let the wave
have it's way. It is only sport.
The wave will boil to nothing.
This is only the first section of a longer poem. You can find the rest of it here. It is an accurate description of what it is like to swim at Australian beaches. I don't know if Jennings intended anything metaphorical as well, at the time that she wrote it — but I chose it that way at this time, just after we in Australia have lost our first woman Prime Minister. I didn't agree with everything Julia Gillard did or said, but I admired her for many reasons. I'm sorry she's leaving politics, I'm incensed about the misogyny to which she was subjected during her time in office, and I think she made her exit with considerable grace and courage. [More details here.]
It seemed fitting to look for a poem by an Australian feminist on this occasion, and I'm glad to have found a poem I could genuinely wish to have written for its own sake, quite apart from any extra meaning I choose to ascribe to it just now.
Kate Jennings, though Australian, has lived in New York most of her adult life and is perhaps better-known now as a novelist and essayist than a poet. In fact, although one can find her poetry books online, they appear to be out of print. Luckily the contents are all available to read at the Australian Poetry Library. Be warned, much of it is difficult, uncompromising poetry‚ but rewarding. There are biographical notes there too. Her prose works are available via her Amazon page, as is the ground-breaking feminist poetry anthology, Mother I'm Rooted, which she edited in 1975, when she still lived in Australia. (It is one of my lifelong regrets that I was too shy in those days to submit anything to it. But I learned my lesson: that was the last time I failed to submit to any publication I wanted to be in.)
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