Marcelle Freiman is a Sydney poet who migrated from South Africa to Australia via England in1981. She lectures in creative writing and post-colonial and diaspora literatures at Macquarie University. Her poetry has appeared in a range of literary journals and anthologies. Her first book Monkey’s Wedding (1995) was Highly Commended for the Marjorie Barnard prize.
The journalist Nat Gould gazes into a doorway of a Sydney Opium Den 1896.
My pipe is honey, Englishman,
to you I am indolent, yellow
on a low bed in my house of pleasure,
head on a silk cushion, hip rounded.
I see you clearly through the smoke
sweet odour of my O P’Ien,
my slender pipe of bamboo like a flute.
Your slack mouth hangs with lust.
Is it my cheongsam body you desire
or the pagodas, ice and crocodiles,
the Herb of Joy brings,
the fine pitch of taste, the way
my smooth skin lives?
You at the door, half in half out,
– I am not a woman
but opium and sex. You would steal it
as your country did at Nanking,
pious in your avarice.
My life is nothing to you –
I am dragon-woman
exotic to you as baboons and monkeys.
This is no den, it is your own
dark cell. Your necktie
is choking you. I am bright as fire,
my hands are small.
Yes, drink from your hip-flask, Mister,
shake my gaze from your face
if you can.
Nat Gould, ‘Eaters of Raw Meat’ (1896), The Birth of Sydney, Ed. Tim Flannery, Melbourne, Text, 1999.
A smile, crazy with shame,
little lost diamond-eyes,
the clown mask pushed
its face against the glass
days of empty rooms
when we played a mad tune
flippy with pigtails and mama’s red lipstick
stolen for sheer revenge –
turned itself tight, yes,
little monster found its power
but got trapped in the smile
like a puppet, got locked
in the cold room,
wild at the boar-shaped world –
and elsewhere it knew was sun,
like the ball left in the corner,
yellow as light of windows.
I like streets that go down – Grace Cossington-Smith 1971
It’s a road that ribbons down a hill
and up – a velocity, a force
more than a road –
the sky is wide and bright
and the speed of your eye
grabs the horizon –
wanting elsewhere, beyond –
fast as telegraphed voices in the wire,
fast as the line
of the eucalypt that bends its curve
on the surface of your eye
upwards from the purple gully.
How it fights with the walker, this road,
with the slow horse cart,
its line tense
with trees humming green,
edgy with the speed of sound,
the speed of your eye on the road.