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The Abbotsford Mysteries
     

The Abbotsford Mysteries

by Patricia Sykes
 

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The Abbotsford Convent becomes more than the setting of this poetry collection; it emerges as presence, intimate and familiar as well as constraining and forbidding. But, it is childhood itself that becomes the subterranean geography and pulse of this compilation as the poems explore what it means to grow up in an orphanage. Subject to the rules of lay and

Overview

The Abbotsford Convent becomes more than the setting of this poetry collection; it emerges as presence, intimate and familiar as well as constraining and forbidding. But, it is childhood itself that becomes the subterranean geography and pulse of this compilation as the poems explore what it means to grow up in an orphanage. Subject to the rules of lay and religious adults, the voices herein create multiple pathways through memory and time as they map and navigate the many-stranded mysteries of their institutionalized lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781876756956
Publisher:
Spinifex Press
Publication date:
04/01/2012
Pages:
95
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Abbotsford Mysteries


By Patricia Sykes

Spinifex Press Pty Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Patricia Sykes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-876756-95-6



CHAPTER 1

Rosarium

They seem to have died ... their going from us

(Wisdom 3: 1-9)


    Death's dream kingdom

    As sudden as that. A breath taken. Then not.
    Then steps. A travel. To place the orphans.
    In the capital. Melbourne. New city of
    displacement. Poor kids, you poor kids.
    Her voice all echo. All the-sun-has-set.
    In her wake, trails of earth. Droppings from
    her torn roots. Goodbye her final scent:
    septicaemic stillbirth, caramelised orange
    skins. Her womb and the oven now cold as
    tombs. Only a fool would worship death's
    dream kingdom. Surely only a fool. Her
    death is no dream. She will not awaken.


    Mutter song

    You're going and that's that! to live
    among holy pictures statues rosary beads
    with the blue virgin whose son's heart
    is not flesh but icon shining out of his
    ribcage like a still-life a red apple
    not for the eating but ever ripe as if
    immortality lives there the riddle of
    sacred pulse forever stopped but never
    dead it's not fair a child crying
    (she'll be trouble that one) her outrage
    for the human loss just buried in the
    earth's dark box life goes on
    heart-torn heart-heavy heart-scared


    Onus

    Thirteen a tricky number thirteen months
    between oldest, second oldest seven years
    between second oldest and next a God
    number the tick day of rest creation
    complete though not perfect five other
    siblings dying at birth, or near to thirteen
    months more between third daughter and last
    (did she plan it, the thirteens? lucky, unlucky
    the odd always odd) the onus on ten and
    nine to mother two and one because in
    there
a precinct of words ending in shun
    separashun isolashun aliena shun
    it wasn't encouraged to be close to your
    sisters
prayer, blackboard, job, ahead
    of the two in cots their infancy fluent in
    the heart's dumb loss the hands in
    the nursery were as the touch of wood

    ten, nine, two, one hold hold as one


    There will be a girl who

    The vertigo of fright has no hidey-hole
    we are fear girls now grief daughters
    (we cannot gainsay) we fear the high
    walls we fear the iron window bars
    should we fear the shepherded girls?
    come out come out wherever you are
    there will be a girl who daydreams
    about owning her own orchestra
    there will be a girl who wins sixpence
    for dancing the best of all the orphans
    in front of the Queen! at the MCG!

    there will be a girl who waits and waits
    on Visiting Sundays for a father who does
    not come (he choofed off chug chug) but
    he always appears in November for the
    Melbourne Cup
(yeah!) and there will
    be a girl who fights another girl, one of
    them white (me) the other one black (her)
    because they want a scrap and each other will
    do so they punch and flail and hit and miss
    and leave it at that though the black girl
    will fight on for rights hers indigenous
    and it will all come true all of it true


    This viper her tongue

    Saying what it wants to say stinging
    where it wants to sting all that language
    of love and gentleness I had a perception
    of incredible hypocrisy
tongue whose two
    birthdays will grow to years inside the walls
    whose sister, oldest, a pale migraine girl, will
    escape duty in the sewing room and slip away
    to the attic to roll among the clothes up there
    as if empty frocks provide hours of warm touch
    a bliss of the kindest not substitute but real
    like the cloth she remembers as a second skin
    the one that tore itself open in birthing her, that
    warmth, that one, whose dead life is the pale girl's
    make-believe a small girl's joy whose game
    is more a rule not to torture her with hope


    Providence

    All for thee my Lord O my Jesus all for thee
    a grandmother of belief, firm beseecher of
    providence, its divine care and ministration
    grandmother whose faith blesses faith's
    transformations her granddaughters in
    proof child brides in white white frocksveils-socks
    their white missals ashine with
    imitation mother-of-pearl girls in a tremble
    of grace-pride-goodness the sacred host
    dissolving on their tongues (as it is meant
    to) promised now for life let no man
    put asunder
capable now of sin-guiltdoubt
    grandmother whose luscious treats
    will arrive as reprieve laced with prayer
    some of the convent food so awful it
    would turn the stomach of a picture book

    grandmother who had her own hotline to the
    Mother Superior then turnabout the Mother
    Superior in retirement (still a mad poet at 93)
    beseeching the grandmother's grown orphans
    for God's sake come visit! there's nothing
    to do here but play cards with old women



    Panic bell

    O that bell that panic that every Sunday
    that chime that toll that ding-a-dong time's up
    that command that bidding that nowhere (no
    place) to hide O time-to-go time-to time-o
    her home her hold a workaday of long hours
    too long and no-one to mind her the Europe
    of family too poor too far O damn oh hell
    her nightmares pitched to the sound of bells
    for years the five o'clock summons a cannon
    in her ears a judder in her nerves (it is hard
    to forget
) O yes unless (until) every bell dies


    How will you know who you are

    If you are unremembered, anonymous
    a twerp, an alibi, a refugee, an etcetera
    Mother-of-Names wanted me to change
    my name because there were too many
    Marys
Mary still, Mary always, Mary
    in a time of no names so the Jewish
    girls could be infiltrated among us
kept
    hidden their numbers tattooed on their
    skins ours tattooed on our clothes, in
    our chants twenty-two, who are you?
    in a time of disguise in a time of
    forgetting remember your name
    remember your rhyme remember
    how and how to find yourself


    Gamble

    O parent of the rod and the threat (if
    you don't behave you are going back!
)
    are you the same infectious laugh
    who teaches me to sing in harmony
    and how to use mind-reading tricks
    to spot the ace lurking up your sleeve
    O parent are you the thin-lipped scowl
    that parks us outside the walls our
    suitcases expectant letting us sweat
    and tremble until you relent (I used to
    think the convent was where the unloveable
    kids went
) this third time we might
    call your bluff take our cases and
    walk never fully to come back


    Creed

    I believe I believe in Skipping Girl Vinegar my
    guardian dear ever this night be at my side, to light
    and guard, to guard and guide
my Angel-of-Neon
    my skipping rope wings her factory rooftop my
    heaven (my destiny-heaven) seek and ye shall find
    I believe in my feet flying again like hers smiling,
    highing, never a stumble, never a skip missed by
    day by night soaring higher than death, higher than
    the exile that follows death (the shutting behind
    walls for the good of) I believe in the day that will
    come I believe in the rope that is wings I believe
    in the beckoning light I believe in my feet on the
    road in skippety-skip beats yes yes my freed feet


    Gloria

    How many roses make a family?
    The garden a split trinity snip
    snip
as if secateurs are busy
    against cross-contamination
    St Josephs for the orphans
    St Marys for the medley girls
    Sacred Heart for the waywards
    we never associated, we had our
    home they had theirs
yet Gloria
    Gloria
our perfume is everywhere

CHAPTER 2

The Luminous

It's not how long I was there It's been part of my life


    Rose, roses, rosary

    Beginning with a great idea
    Rose Virginie saying come
    the roses that were dying

    beginning to open in a loop of
    hands, a prayer-string of nuns
    who birth daughters uniquely

    'we the mothers, you the child
    whether your age is three or
    ninety-three it is the system'

    a replica, down the centuries,
    of holy family, a faith ideal
    a myste among the mysteries

    the bewildered foetal ones
    listening for the heart sound
    the source the nuns compressed
    like petals between
    lay and religious, diocese and
    state, the multiple birthings,

    and their own vocation
    it was unnatural it made
    them frustrated
made them

    our morning and evening star
    torn between God's red force
    and the Virgin's blue peace

    between the life of spirit and the
    practicals of governance, bidden
    and held among thorns of the fold


    Miasmata

    Birrarung, river of mists and shadows
    drifts of white in a dark hover
    as if breath here grew inconsolable

    this was the Abbotsford property
    the name of which has now become
    so celebrated


    big praise for the trouble-girls gifted by
    the poor, the dead, the drunk, the mad

    keep your eyes down or you'll become like them
    like the women gifted by fear or fault
    some desperate enough to gift themselves

    or like the nuns, offering themselves
    by relative choice, the sweet debris
    of drenched lives, drowning or afloat
    the river as red aorta believe

    how the wanderings of water
    stress the imprisoned pulse
    I became afraid for my own heart
    believe the river when it says amen


    Coils

    As if women are rivers
    as if they must be kept
    from deviating like this Yarra

    river from which a severe loop
    was eliminated,
always someone
    searching its banks

    for a daughter they once misplaced
    though the only fontanelles now
    are history's, river grasses, weeds

    pigeons roosting the bridge mess the signs
    but old tracks know their own
    footprints first the Kulin women's

    food and infants on their backs
    their naked feet gripping the rocks
    against the water's rush

    upstream, downstream, their scent
    all over it, then our own, convent
    women and kids strung together

    like a rosary, like a chain
    against flood, debris, drought
    ave, ave, like a faith in a river


    The door

    It used to seem so big

    as it loomed, opened, shut,
    a doom approaching dead weight,
    the way a tomb shuts off all light

    the numb entry worse in the day
    worst at night, instantly captive
    to the door's metal plate, its scrape

    and slide, its scrutinising eyes
    no exit visa to the outside
    nothing but a strange new

    cacophony of beds, baths,
    tables, chairs, so many voices
    tossing among storms, girl

    now subject to alien rules
    and whatever dark fears enter
    if she opens too wide

    true partnership can only be achieved
    by separate and whole beings

    someone here speaking as Gebo,

    the rune, of the spirit
    which is internal and resists
    I wasn't going to let them break me


    Iambic pentameter

    I watch myself how I use my voice how
    much I give away rebellion weighs
    against obedience prayer against fantasy
    rote against the thrill of words that lately arrive

    It was hearing a girl recite Ode to a Cabbage
    that made me want to write verse myself

    I hide my poems like hoarded love
    the taste of secrecy is delicious (Nun-

    the-Big-Irish gives the girl curry
    when she catches her kissing my cheek
)
    now Mother-of-the-Blackboard
    proving with chalk that poetry has feet

    If a thing is not prayer why must it be sacrilege?
    We are children of rhythm as well as of God
    I am learning body worship from a girl who
    walks beautifully
where else but here

    could I rejoice such things? Father,
    are you listening? I'm your little exile no more
    You would not know me I am metric now
    My feet are my own how you will miss me


    Each phantom ache an amputee

    In the whisper trenches
    counting parents, siblings
    the way you audit fingers and toes
    like confetti you're all scattered everywhere

    the Museum-of-the-Lost a camouflage of files
    a shuffler of mingle dusts
    I was determined never to marry an Australian
    in case I married my brother


    skin memory's lifetime touch
    who can cut you as utterly
    as the one who holds the sword?
    our guardian was a mongrel, he split us up

    the razor of power having such adult force
    in a time of apologies the authorities aghast
    and the era that meant it for the best
    put to bed as history

    nothing will ever be as bad
    day, night, the seasons, the search
    each year on her birthday
    the ex Ward-of-State

    who advertises in periodicals of hope
    unable yet to strew rose petals
    for a mother unearthed I asked my father
    you didn't kill her did you? I might've, he said



    The man in the moon and the axe of God

    WELCOME THE CHILD, AROUND WHOM EVERYTHING

    Tabernacle — this child learning to
    cuddle hope and smirk at fate is curious
    to know how each day your mouth
    can so cleanly devour and disgorge God

    ANNOUNCE YOUR MYSTERY AND SAY YOUR PRAYER

    Mystery — the man in the moon
    wielding the axe of God
    like a Viking

    Prayer — my aim in life is clemency

    ALL GOD'S SERVANTS ARE EQUAL

    but if-when the axe falls only one neck
    will be first we grow old in prayer
    Catholic knees are among the old-age
    diseases that beset us
we grow edgy

    among flicker breaths the candles
    check us for piety they count our
    prayers but will not say if they kneel
    to the axe or a Jesus on the tease

    BEWARE PERDITION

    the axe so tuned to perditio we should quail

    between blessing and curse
    between penance and grace
    between salvation and not

    I got slapped for asking
    what a womb was, as in
    blessed is thy womb

    Tabernacle
— as if you are
    too pure for our mouths?


    Bloodline

    Holy Mothers

    are all your wombs virgins?
    The question is a red line
    that must not be crossed
    or it might bleed copiously
    like the spear in the side
    of the Jesus whose blood
    must be drunk to keep him alive.

    Holy Mothers

    how can it be wicked
    to hold that women and girls
    are true sufferers of blood?

    The blood all over the toilet walls
    is the blood of menstruating girls

    (I couldn't believe birth
    came out of such a dirty place).

    Holy Mothers


    some of us know, have felt,
    the agony of bringing forth
    from the warm taboo that bore
    the holy infant what are we to
    name it if not womb? Lifeline?
    Shipwreck?
O birth and death.


    Institutional

    How we add up is not how we add up.
    A woman who blames her mother,
    not God,
wanted badly to kill her.

    A woman who adores hers admires
    the discipline of inherent character
    her mother learnt from the nuns (yes

    and but,
the inherent is dependent)
    and how this led to a tolerance, her
    daughter at seventeen reading Marx

    (yes and but, she had access) and if displacement
    is the big theme for all of us

    why do some of us never leave while

    some who have left fight a longing to
    return. (Yes and but, what other home is
    so theirs). What has deportment to do

    with it? Mothers, you hold up how a cat
    moves, its grace, its sinuous elegance

    but have you questioned the nature of

    homage? Have you imagined (or is the
    system too storial, too set) a convent
    of priests, boy orphans, wayward men,

    on their knees to a female God and
    hierarchy of priestesses? (yes and but)
    How we add up is not how we add up.


    Architecture

    The nature of the place
    revealing itself to us
    as a troubled blueprint

    we wander like the bewildered
    who have lost everything
    and return to find it still here

    the years we buried behind
    grey mince-meat walls
    still present in the faces

    which are not our faces
    who trail us like the ghosts
    of unfinished things the best

    the worst the unspeakable
    we were a smorgasbord
    for paedophiles


    heads nod heads shake truth
    as difficult to prove as differing
    histories even so even so

    a haunt of eyes asking how
    can you trust the sound that is not
    a butterfly sucking on nectar


    Gloria

    Kyrie eleison
    our voices shiver
    above the narthex
    if we could dance
    our blood would warm
    us Lord O Lord
    we're hivey-jive girls
    rock'n'roll girls (we
    keep your picture next
    to Elvis) Kyrie eleison


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Abbotsford Mysteries by Patricia Sykes. Copyright © 2011 Patricia Sykes. Excerpted by permission of Spinifex Press Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Patricia Sykes is the author of Modewarre: Home Ground and Wire Dancing, which was shortlisted for the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore Awards, and Women's Circus. Her poem "River Salvages" won the John Shaw Neilson Poetry Award. She is also a professional storyteller and performer.

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