Only a few weeks from the birth of my third child I was invited as guest reader to a Hamstead poetry reading. The convenor expected my reading would consist of ‘pregnancy poems’ showing a lack of noticing the degree of personal privacy I maintain within my work other than when my personal overlapped with the public. Instead I read my most recent (at that time) poem, written almost immediately after the Kent State University killings in May 1970. Distanced when back in the foyer and askance looks the best description.

The second time I read the poem below was at a night at the Jam Factory here in Adelaide in 1977. International women’s Day? At first I had put up my hand for an open mike session and was staggered by people calling for more, more until I agreed if time allowed after all others had read their works. At which time I was called back by “we want Isabel”, being chanted to stamping feet. (First and last time for everything!) Always trying not to repeat myself, I launched into this poem I later titled ‘Governance’.

Stunned silence, but an invitation to join a party at a nearby cafe and told it was – actually forget the actual words – far too right wing? That evening had another surprise in store. Seated opposite was Deborah, to my left Andi and to her left Maria. While watching from the far corner of my eye I saw Andi lean toward Deborah as I looked straight a Deborah and felt a warm glow in the centre of my chest. The one and only occasion my heart has gone out someone. Andi and Maria came to visit me in Enfield Receiving Centre. (Shrugs – how did they know I was there?) It had been recommended to me that I agree to lithium treatment even though no-one had mentioned the word ‘bipolar’. Together, Andi and Maria argued it would destroy my creativity and I must have listened to them as I finally agreed to lithium in 199/2 when living in Perth.

I am waffling somewhat. coming back to complete the post and recalling the night my heart went out to a woman who later wandered off into the sunset with Andi. This comes (tonight) a few weeks after being told that Deborah has Alzheimer’s and is now very frail, when going over it and trying to get to sleep (2:00 am) when hit by a strong, severe pain in my head which had me out of bed and seated to attempt  meditation. This failure to visualise when sane is really annoying. Were I slightly manic I believe I could reach out to the Universe and pick up or send a message.

GOVERNANCE

When governments no longer guide us

and artists cease to be honest

what hope is there for the man in the street?

When reforms are sunk by the weight of words

and art diverted from natural stream to sewage

what hope is there for the ordinary man?

When wisdom departs the elected head

and art becomes subversive

where is the hope for the ordinary man?

 

When head is dizzy grabbing pennies from the ground

and heart pumps bile and vomit

what are feet to do?

For feet cannot think in the way of a healthy head

and feet cannot feel in the way of a healthy heart

but when head and heart are sick, what are feet to do?

 

The feet of the nation numb themselves

in drugs and liquor the quicker to ignore

the abyss when head and heart are dead.

Without direction they no longer march

in straight and upright lines.

Without joy they no longer dance

to the tune of Living’s song.

In the throes of death

feet thrash out in violence

kicking where they can

and there is no hurt

for when head and heart are dead

the body feels no pain.

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