• Jean Kent


An Exercise in Trust


On the floor
a body is lying

Its head by my hands
looks light as a lettuce
Let me stoop to pluck its
floating leaves
from the carpet

I wing out my elbows
protective of this salad
in human guise

For though
this head in my hands
emulsifies dreams & facts
dressing the day
& making it just
a little easier to swallow

Sometimes drifting on rafts
of sun and silence
it can seem as delicate
as a vase, braiding mysteries
like thin stems of freesias
behind glass

I reach out my arms

As if this head in my hands
remembers its birth as well
as those other slideshow mornings
when pomegranate juice
bled through fingers of cloud
into the lap of the sea.

I suspect still growing here
are schoolboy taunts
& flocking habits of nuns;
computations of a mortgage;
equations which could build
a nuclear bomb.

Small wonder this head in my hands
is heavier than a baby

Holding it I feel like Atlas—
only for a moment dare
support such a world—

Imagine it:
this weight floating

As if it longed to return
to some high world
where there is only air
and the brush of birds’ wings …

This head     out of my hands now
so innocently
on its body     lying




White Roses


From the house where the hangings took place
(two hundred years ago?—long, long before
you lived there, at least), I crossed the street.
After an afternoon wafting in your garden—
talking books, sharing stories we’d written
(yours on the pavements of Paris, mine
in the mango-heat of Qld—both in 1968),
it was late. Late enough for a soft dusk
to wind around my legs as I walked
the short space between our houses.
Too late for me to hear
                                      silence snap
in the upper storey where my landlord lived.

On the shadowing street above the narrow stairs—
a police car. I went down on cautious feet,
through the silence, through the hollow space
between houses, the sandstone cliff dripping
little ferns and mossy sweat, the stacked-close walls
folding into the dark above my head. Across the street
you started making spaghetti marinara.
                                      Your place was safe
from what followed: the crying; farewell tape;
post-mortems before the morgue …
                                      Now, here’s your
obituary—and I remember white roses, snipped
from the garden behind the hangman’s house, and how,
receiving them, I missed being witness to the hanging here.

After twenty-five years, across the silence between
our changed lives, you’re a dark photograph in the SMH.
Like all the dead, you’ve acquired a biography bewildering
to most of us who half-knew you. Spaghetti marinara,
made with clams from a tin, doesn’t feature. Nor
do the white roses of your writing, ephemeral petals
on tough stalks with thorns. It was late, that last time
I left your house—and afterwards, we ‘lost touch’,
moved to other places and didn’t keep words
moving between. In your photograph, you haven’t aged—
you’re in your forties forever, austere under a helmet
of Katherine Mansfield hair. You’re still there,

in that house which stood apart from the white rows
of bungalows, from the accordioned sameness
of terrace stacks, their private songs pleated
so closely together. You’re still in that place
on an Annandale corner where history gagged throats,
where the bulbuls flash red vents and the neighbourhood
shares news through common walls …
I leave you and cross the street.
It’s late. Down dark stairs behind me
like your already bruised roses my landlord’s bewildered
Afghan dogs are falling: two ghosts in the garden.