I am a Kennedy says Eileen, blue black eyes gleaming. The homeless are raised up, the lonely head for shelter in a theatre basement with 1000 women and children. We are a security council and I am your President. They will break the mould after me.

Was it that I went to sleep murmurs Ono. Hoshi is the word for star, also the name of a sister’s horse. The guns fall silent. Had I known it a dream I should not have wakened. The horse takes me to her now.

Sweeter than honey from the rock shouts Christina, and most like leaping flame. A feather falls neither blue nor green, iridescent in the smoky air. Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking, twitch’d her hair out by the roots and stamp’d upon her tender feet. We come to this table not to eat but to hold council.

And is there not one who would weep for this woman asks Anna. She is shadowed by Iris in the trackless woods who brought a daughter out of Siberia. The voices converge and he weeps. You spun in that court and you sang on that square.

A clean slate with your own face on whispers Sylvia. They will never touch the sides of your kingfisher world. Your hummingbird heart drives away all fear. Quick, step inside and be with us. Vague as fog and looked for like mail.

We boiled the coffee grounds in an unkempt pot sighs Diane. I put away my Artemis bow and tried to forget about love. It didn’t work. I come to the table with my winged sisters. My tongue’s libation fluid is pure insect. I am a dragonfly.

While once each day the light goes around it says Elizabeth, measuring up her monument of boxes. That splintery shore, a promontory where paint flakes and the artist prince lies entombed. Jewelled eyes watch from the lid of the sarcophagus and we are far away within the view. Why does the strange sea make no sound.

The miraculous return of all those lost without a trace breathes Wisława. The curtain sweeps up and then falls, a butterfly’s wing remembering the action. Rage extends its arm to meekness. The horse has almost reached us with its precious burden.

And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday says Gwendolyn, shimmering in an old wrapper. There is blue air with a hole in it. There is a smashed building without a roof. There it lies on the floor, my presentiment that the war would be over before they got to you.

My heart and it together are running salt and snow, another Eileen, another war. White on white. The lost picture hats, parasols that flew away in the salt-burned air. I bring to the table tides too swift for me to bar. The letters arrived long after he was dead.

Though Earth and moon were gone howls Emily, and suns and universes ceased to be. An edge, a chasm, an abyss and she is spitting defiance under the aurora. No coward soul is mine. A line of women look for a green corridor.


Note: Eleven poets flash and gleam in a dark world. My thanks to Murray Edmond whose choices determined the gathering of Eileen Myles, Ono Komachi, Christina Rossetti, Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath, Diane di Prima, Elizabeth Bishop, Wisława Szymborska, Gwendolyn Brooks, Eileen Duggan and Emily Brontë.

Image: Mark Rothko, Orange and Yellow (1956)

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Michele Leggott

Michele Leggott was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-09 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. Recent books include Vanishing Points (2017) and Mezzaluna: Selected Poems (2020). A new collection, Face to the Sky, is due from Auckland University Press in 2023. 

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