Title: Sport 36

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2008

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 36: Winter 2008

Bernadette Hall

page 180

Bernadette Hall

Really & Truly

I took my anger
running on the beach.
She said, 'You've got to
put me on a longer leash, bitch.
How else can I dabble
my tootsies in the water
and roll in the stinking weed?'

I took my anger
walking round the park.
She said, 'You know
I've always been scared
of the dark
and now you've started
the fucking dogs barking.'

I took my anger
out for morning tea.
She sat there as good as gold,
smiling beside me.
'We don't know what you keep
going on about,' they all said to me.
'She's really lovely. Truly.'

page 181

Leda at the Billabong

If the old god came back,
he wouldn't take the form of a swan,
now would he, been there, done that.
Perhaps it's actually got more to do
with the presence of the painter.

He probably just wanted to try out
something new. Not that wanting
to paint a woman in the middle of a rape
was ever unacceptable, artistically
speaking. There are plenty of examples

to prove that, take the crowd scene
in Nicolas Poussin's 'The Rape of the Sabine
Women.' To spend valuable time painting
'A Patch of Grass with Butterflies'
is to miss the point entirely, don't you think.

Anyway, if you look really hard,
you can see how he focuses our attention
on the attack. You can tell she's a woman,
not a goddess. Only Aphrodite
is ever depicted totally nude like that

and there's absolutely no evidence
to suggest that Aphrodite was ever in
Australia, let alone that she went for a swim
there. Even Hermogenes of Paphos
fails to mention what would otherwise

page 182

have been a most interesting fact.
Notice how he concentrates our attention
on her plumpness, her fine satin skin.
Then there's his admiration for the creature,
how the god entered it, how he took on

the form of that formidable body,
the creamy leather around the jaws,
the teeth like an army of crossed swords,
the black slit in the bog of the motionless
eye, the hint of a tic in the eyelid.

It's this one detail that makes it clear
that he's got her in his sights already,
a woman on her own, entering the moonlit
water, the palms, the mango trees stilled,
the parrots silent and the currawong.

She bends slightly,
see the soft pouch of her white belly.
She strokes the water up her arms,
it pours between her breasts.
There's a wide ripple as his massive torso

twists from side to side, the squat legs
pumping under the water. The feathery
brushing of stirred up water across her ankle
will be the only warning, if she can read it,
but by then it will be too late.

There's no emblemata to tell us
if she's a mother or a woman of ill repute.
It's most likely she's a virgin,
after all that's a very significant part
of our intellectual and cultural history, isn't it.

page 183

What we do know is that she's a woman,
a tourist you might say in today's context,
who's stepped down, alone and unaware,
into a billabong at night somewhere
in the heart of Australia.

Could the artist himself have been a woman?
A most interesting question,
thank you for that, most interesting.
But I have to say that, given the nature
of the subject matter, I'm inclined to think not.

A Writer's Life, or, A Sackful of Spuds

My daughter tells me that 'gullible'
has been taken out of the Concise Oxford
Dictionary. I'm amazed for a second,
remembering how St Brigid has been taken off
the Vatican's list of hits, then I come to my senses.
She laughs uproariously.
I'm amazed and rather ashamed of how easily
I'm amazed and always have been.

page 184

Amazed how the sun slithers like a silver
fish in the cloudy sky. That a workman
setting up wire and posts for a fence
in Wellington's Central Park, lifts his head
as I walk past and says, Hi. Amazed that the chap
with the red trackpants and the old Fair Isle
jumper is still alive, swimming through
the bushes where he's spent the night. Amazed
that someone has written 'Ana's House'
in black spray paint on the wall of the ladies' loo.
Amazed that I imagine meeting up with her.
Amazed that the thrush has green metallic strips
inside its dullness. Amazed that at the turnstile
I have to push with my hip and waggle myself
through the gap, the gutter's flooded and
I have to clamber up the bank in my new red boots.
Amazed that so many pigeons are camped out
here and I'd like to touch one. I walk slowly
up to them with my eyes averted. Amazing
how it all comes back. I must be about three
and we're still living down the Valley.
My mother gives me a salt shaker and sends me out
each morning into the veggie garden. If I shake
some salt onto the tail of the lipstick bird,
she tells me, it will stop and I can grab it.
She gives me a wee cage with a perch
and some chickweed and a slice
of a Cox's Orange apple and a little bit of cuttlefish
so it can sharpen its beak. I'm amazed
and, I have to say, still somewhat ashamed
how hour after hour I'd trek between the rows
of the beans, the blue and white flowers
that look like eyes, the weight of their perfume.

page 185

The Strenuous Life

is the title of a best seller from 1910.
It was written by Theodore Roosevelt,
the President of America. In its day,
it was the template for young men of ambition.

And here are the poets reading.

See how this one stretches up on his tippy toes,
cranes forward over the high page,
crooks one leg behind him as if he's in the starting blocks,
rocking himself into the finals of the national hurdles.

How this one lays his leg back and back
like an anchor. How he lifts it
and stretches out away from it like a kid
who thinks he's a plane or at the very least a fighter pilot.

The famous writer, lolling back
in the sagging sofa, a woman on each arm
and a glass of red wine in each fist, has a question.
'Why is it that when women read,
they always fold their hands over their crotch?'

It's a question designed to shame.

Well, fuck him, that's all I have to say.