Olive Senior is the prizewinning author of 13 books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. She won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (for Summer Lightning) and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (Over the Roofs of the World). Her other poetry books are Talking of Trees, Gardening in the Tropics and Shell. Her novel Dancing Lessons was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, was a Globe Best Book and was long listed for the IMPAC Dublin International Prize. Her children’s picture books are Birthday Suit and Anna Carries Water. Olive Senior conducts writing workshops internationally and is on the faculty of the Humber School for Writers, Toronto.
CRUISE SHIP LEAVING PORT AT NIGHT
Full moon and wine and leaning over the railing
imagining a time when other watchers from the shore
gazed on this very sea five hundred years and more ago
as strangers floated in on galleons golden in the moonlight
when, suddenly, to my right,
a sight such as that one: a cruise ship leaving port, afloat in a sea
of light, golden in the moonlight. I was as awestruck as those earlier
watchers from the shore must have been, except that my galleon was leaving
and the sea and sky, my heart, were not
left empty and bare-faced and blasted. For the fleecy clouds continued to scud across the marvellous, star-studded sky, the little waves gambolled like Biblical lambs. And I was left with the land that I felt was still mine. At least as long as the wine and the full moon lasted.
The dark lady in her garden tends her skeletal
trees, she’s under the ground for this season.
It’s cold and she needs the sparkle of fire
to warm up her body, prepare her green dress
for her coming-out party; she’s starving
herself for a reason. Who knows when we see
her splendour in spring, the cost of this beauty?
The gossips who sing: She wears her clothes
well. O she always had beautiful bones. Do they
still tell of her husband the abductor (or has he
been redeemed?). Do they say how her mother’s
extravagant keening endangered the world?
Of her complaints to her daughter of i told you
so and i warned you of dark men of bright
flowers beware but even then when you were
small did you listen? o no, by impulse you
always were stricken. The dark lady knows
(but she just doesn’t say) as she crosses the
threshold arrayed in her finery: It’s impulse
that sparks fire, starts the engine of growth,
drives the green fuse through the flower, sap
through trees, brings new verdance to the bower.
But at what cost to my lady? She grows weaker
by the end of each season in the sun, returns
to that dark room to rest. OH MY HEART (her
husband taking over from her Mum). HERE, DEAR,
TAKE THIS RED PILL. He opens the box, the door
of unknowing. One seed less, yet a thousand
still glowing. Again and again, she yields
to temptation for she’s seized by both Eros
and mourning. The bright red interior opens
for him. Yet it’s he who’s been tricked. From
one seed new life’s always growing. So her
triumph: Each year he allows her – briefly
to escape the snare of the flower; walk
through that door and return to her mother
who – never to forgive that initial loss – is
forever glowering. Forgetful now, she leaves
her dress rumpled at times, her bed unmade
and sour. Says the heat’s worse than it’s ever
been. Says the day he grabbed you was an
evil hour. The dark lady endures it all for her
secret bliss: the fire she snatches from the jaws
of death to ignite springtime in the world.
Yet, beneath her green dress at her coming-out
party, who would guess how wildly her pomegranate
heart beats to return underground for a taste of
that treat: the fruit from the orchard of Death.
This is not a pretty picture. This is a picture of a girl
pushed to the edge by a wedge of her schoolmates.
This is a crowd shot, a loud shot of laughter and hate.
What is the scent, the flower that blooms inside of her
that attracts the killer bees?