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.
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.