Anne Elvey has a new poetry collection, Leaf, forthcoming from Liquid Amber Press. It will be launched by Shari Kocher as part of Liquid Amber’s Eco-poetics Zoom event on Thursday 22 September 2022, along with readings from Peter Larkin and John C. Ryan. The evening begins at 7.30pm. Bookings are free but essential.
dig in deeper to the river running living water my roots dive for depth strives for after dusty shallows rocky fallows deserted so I’m thirsting from the working hard to stay alive and now it’s simple to truly thrive by the source realigned with this replanting though the uprooting from familiar mud dried up shook the muck from my feet and I am replete digging deeper down into the river
SARAH AGNEW IS A STORYTELLER, POET, AND UNITING CHURCH MINISTER. HER POETRY AND LITURGY APPEAR IN WILD GOOSE PUBLICATIONS AS STAND-ALONE E-LITURGIES, and IN EDITED ANTHOLOGIES. HER MOST RECENT PUBLISHED POETRY COLLECTION IS WHISPER ON MY PALM (RESOURCE PUBLICATIONS, 2022). SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON Kuarna COUNTRY.
As a woman, I gravitate to the stories of women in the scriptures. Women balance multiple gender roles and identity tensions. Their stories are often hinted at or mentioned in passing. We get glimpses rather than full narratives. Nevertheless, they are there, often unnamed or in the shadows. Unlike many of the other women, these women are named. They are queens who had highly vulnerable political positions.
Jezebel (from Her Foreign Majesties)
Reflected in the mirror, I wonder at my crown. Who placed it there upon my maiden brow? A princess of Phoenicia, so foreign to this Land How can I live authentically in this state?
O Jezebel, how came you here? What will you do? What have you done? Begone!
I did not choose to come here – sold by my tribe for peace… I come as token gesture – a prize to be displayed Today I’m claimed as Ahab’s queen, to mother his offspring My body – chattel of the state – is not for me to own.
O Jezebel, who are you here? Are you considered human? Of are you simply of another Man?
Makeda – Queen of Sheba
Love? No – maybe it was more of a curiosity … A fascination with a legend. I have had presented chiefs and princes … The finest warriors and generals, the richest men with the greatest lands.
I have no need to search, But my interest has been aroused by the tales of Wisdom. What man is really wise? Is there such a beast? If so, might he be worthy of my attentions?
These days, I could be bored, for my wealth is unsurpassed, My lands are peaceful, My realm is stable.
What more could a girl ask for? I seek adventure … to travel to exotic places, To meet interesting people … To see this Temple of wonder Being built for a single God!
Perhaps I will find more than sights to see? Perhaps I will find a King worthy of a Queen?
Reflected in a mirror, I see my exiled face Who gave me over to become a wife? A Queen my Master made me – to people not my own While mine are slaves and foreign to this place
O Esther, how came you here? What will you do? What have you done? Beware!
I did not choose to be here – taken from my people – dispossessed … I am prize of warfare – a prize to be displayed Today I’m Queen of Persia – but silent is my role Do I dare disobey the boundaries of my life?
O Esther, who are you here? Can you be given voice before your King? Do you have words from another Lord?
Amelia Koh-Butler is Minister, Eastwood Uniting Church, and is currently living on Wallamategal and Barramattegal Country of the Darug-speaking peoples.
It’s the last Sunday after Epiphany, and the seasons turn, though we have been more bathed in rain than cooked by sun this year, and the sigh collected …
weary pandemic endurers – it is not over yet;
anxious fire survivors – oh, the ever-present threat;
exhales each time rivers’ swelling this time receded – wait – inhale – hold – flood!
anticipated liberation with the fall around the corner, and the freeing it will bring;
… us together though the Convoys and ‘Christian Lobbies’, the letters and the policies brought before us sought to tear us, would have led us deep into the dark.
It’s the last Sunday after Epiphany and the seasons turn again, from light to longer nights of cozy hibernation, of frightened isolation –
oh, Holy One of Epiphany, hold us in the dark with guiding star, with who You are, our sighs, with You, collected.
SARAH AGNEW IS A STORYTELLER, POET, AND UNITING CHURCH MINISTER CURRENTLY IN PLACEMENT WITH WESLEY UNITING CHURCH, CANBERRA. HER POETRY AND LITURGY APPEAR IN WILD GOOSE PUBLICATIONS AS STAND-ALONE E-LITURGIES, IN EDITED ANTHOLOGIES, AND AS WEEKLY PRAYER-POEMS AT PRAY THE STORY. HER MOST RECENT PUBLISHED POETRY COLLECTION IS WHISPER ON MY PALM (RESOURCE PUBLICATIONS, 2022). SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON NGUNNAWAL COUNTRY
for too long I’ve watched my Beauty crawling over the words soaring above the sky dancing between the silent spaces
for too long I’ve waited for my Beauty getting up from her desk walking to the pantry picking up my favourite bone for a good afternoon chew
for too long I’ve been locked with my Beauty in this house down in the garden observing rosellas fleeting and resting on gum branches gazing on shooting stars of the galaxy and the yellow Moon in the night sky
for too long I’ve dreamed of the day with my Beauty climbing mountains smelling fragrances of millions of flowers chasing every hint of animals tasting salt of every lake and leaving my historic marks on every passing pole
Still nothing is too long as long as I am with my Beauty
although sometimes I think I am the Beauty when she accompanies me on my royal parade and I draw the attention and admiration of all when she is busy cooking in the kitchen and I sit on the sofa watching TV when she cleans muck from my eyes or mops the floor of my fur when she hugs me tightly till I ‘purr’ or sticks her face on mine till I look aside
who cares who is whom? We are a happy family in the castle of Beauty and the Beast
XIAOLI YANG IS A THEOLOGIAN, POET, AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. SHE LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND AND IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM. This poem was written during Melbourne’s sixth lockdown.
It appears that to bear the weight of mum’s judgement means not only a sore bum but also a dropped halo. It appears that the Aryan half-pint might have again stolen her favourite manicure set from the middle drawer of the bathroom cabinet while he was supposed to be tidying his sister’s bedroom. It does not yet appear that in this act of descending freedom, of vacating a head that others might gild mockingly with thorns, the embarrassing shape of kenotic love is taking costly form. And it’s not as if
there is chaste indulgence here; this act of discipline reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Christ, this act of judgement upon cobalt and rubicund outlining her own contorted arm and deepening her own overtaxed gaze. A foretaste of arms bearing sin-gnarled stock and hers, those eyes that again will grieve as arms not her own are brought to bear upon her bare first-born, this unexpected fruit in whom her future and that of all shall find shape. And an open roof. Did it fly off with upswing arm so that one who sees everything could weep?
It has been some time too since Paul and Vincent came over, and now this other Paul, and André and Max; seemingly unsedated risk now transformed into dispassion. Was Gala really the benchmark of our friendship, our means of communication, our shared wife? What kind of love did we make to each other in her? And what of love once promised now turned, love now come to assault me? A naked face turned away in a sensuous spell.
JASON GORONCY IS A THEOLOGIAN, ARTIST, AND FOLK FESTIVAL TRAGIC WHO LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
After W. H. Auden had visited the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels, and seen Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, he went away and penned the following words:
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
The American theologian William Willimon recalls Brueghel’s painting, and Auden’s poem, in his book On a Wild and Windy Mountain (Abingdon Press, 1984), wherein he observes that we trudge past bleeding crosses with a shrug of the shoulders, that Good Fridays are so commonplace among us as to be unnoteworthy, and that tragedy achieves nobility only in the theater. ‘Everydayness and ordinariness’, he writes, ‘become our best defenses, the most effective relativizers of the tragic in our midst. Some young Icarus falls from the sky every day, so one had best get on with the business at hand until the extraordinary comes. For now, go to work, eat, make friends, make money, make love, mind your business – that’s the best way to cope, for the time being, with the expectedness of the tragic. The old masters knew best’ (p. 15).
Willimon proceeds to compare Landscape with the Fall of Icarus with another of the Dutch masters’ works: Numbering at Bethlehem. He notes the ordinariness of the depiction, a day mundane and unpromising – in its highlights at least – and nothing beyond the expected.
But then … they appear.
They appear. ‘An inconspicuous, thoroughly ordinary young woman on a little donkey led by a stoop-shouldered, bearded peasant who carries a saw. Here is Mary, with Joseph the carpenter, come to town to be counted. They are so easily overlooked in the midst of ordinariness. Old masters like Brueghel’, Willimon suggests (and we might add Rembrandt, for example), ‘were never wrong’. Rather, they understood, and bore witness to in their work, the truth of Emmanuel, the scandal of the unostentatious God living – and dying – with us, of God stained with the sweat of human bondage and soaked – baptised – in the blood of human violence, of God incognito. ‘They understood our blindness not only to the tragic but also to the triumphant in our midst … In life, the Presence goes unnoted as we thumb through the evening paper. And so we wait, sitting in the darkness of the everyday until something extraordinary breaks in. Someday God may break into this world, we say. But for the time being, it is best to work, eat, make love, pay taxes, fill out government forms, and mind our business. The old masters knew it best’ (p. 16).
I have posted elsewhere on the pseudonymous activity of God, suggesting that ‘in the economy of holy love, the locus of greatest clarity equates to the point of greatest incongruity and surprise’. It is precisely that we may see what Willimon so beautifully refers to as ‘the triumphant in our midst’ that we are graced, and that we might witness to the day when good will triumph over all, certain that the grace of holy love will win at last because it did not fail to win at its most decisive time. In the meantime, such seeing typically requires what is another great advent theme: waiting, or what R. S. Thomas, in his poem ‘Kneeling’, referred to as ‘moments of great calm’:
Moments of great calm, Kneeling before an altar Of wood in a stone church In summer, waiting for the God To speak; the air a staircase For silence; the sun’s light Ringing me, as though I acted A great role. And the audiences Still; all that close throng Of spirits waiting, as I, For the message. Prompt me, God; But not yet. When I speak, Though it be you who speak Through me, something is lost. The meaning is in the waiting.
– R. S. Thomas, ‘Kneeling’, in Not that He Brought Flowers (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968), 32.
JASON GORONCY IS A THEOLOGIAN, ARTIST, AND FOLK FESTIVAL TRAGIC WHO LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.
The Blake Poetry Prize challenges Australian poets of varied styles and religious and spiritual allegiances to explore the wider experience of spirituality, religion, and/or belief in a new work of 100 lines or less. Entries close on 15 November 2021. More details here.