Gail Dendy: Six Poems

Gail Dendy

Gail Dendy has published six collections of poetry. She was first published by Harold Pinter’s Greville Press (UK) in 1993. Subsequent collections were published in SA, the UK and the USA respectively. Her sixth collection was entitled The Lady Missionary (Kwela/Snailpress, 2007) for which she jointly won the monetary prize for the Herman Charles Bosman award (2008). Her seventh collection, Closer Than That, is currently looking for a good home (aka publisher). Throughout the 1980s and early ’90s she pioneered Contemporary Dance in South Africa, being nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer. She has worked as a university academic, radio news writer, advertising copywriter and is now the Information Specialist for an international corporate-law firm.
From ‘The Maids’
          (Solange is one of the maids in
          Jean Genet’s play The Maids)
I offer her the softest pears
and say to eat, Madame. You must
be well again
. To please her
I plump her pillows.
On Sundays we go to chapel
and she prays for all my sins.
What can I do? Sometimes I sing for her
Solange, Solange will never leave you.
Your voice is strong, she says.
Mistake. Mistaken. Not I, Madame.
I fear even the fly on the wall.
And now she behaves
as if my voice were abstinence
and says to speak up and arrange my furs
and bring me my tea. And Madame
lies with one little finger crooked,
and her legs almost transparent
and she is beautiful to behold,
for her white lips are a blessing
and her apathy a sacrament,
and every evening I dedicate myself
to unpeeling the entire orchard of her,
and listen to the chiming of figs and apricots
as they slowly ripen.
Mirror Image
The Kreepy-Krauly’s clogged
and the swimming pool is filthy.
I bend over the side
and my double in the murk
reaches up towards me.
This is an invitation to touch hands
or perhaps rub noses.
She regards me dolefully,
her grey eyes so close to my blue ones
that I start in shock. I know you,
she seems to say, every bit of you,
but before I can match her
word for word, there’s nothing left
except her watery cave
of slime and algae.
She visits me, sometimes,
in the bath, at night,
when just a candle lights the room
and the water smells of rose leaves.
I know you, she seems to say,
so loudly that I cover up
my breasts and am ashamed.
But I know her, too,
her wet and wily ways,
her slender, naked body
that mocks my thickened shape.
But my knife is out
and tonight’s the night.
Trembling, with just one finger
on the bathplug’s silver chain,
I lift it up with caution –
draw back in terror
as I see her do the same,
then watch her soften
beneath my grasp
as, with a single backward glance
at me, the reddening plughole,
she dives right in –
and commits suicide by proxy.
The Space of Forgetting
The smell of the sea is bitter.
I have left it in my memory
which is left in a drawer.
When I open the drawer
you dance a peculiar jig.
I cup memory in my hands
and place it back in the drawer.
I cup my hands
and all your jigging, dancing steps
dribble through my fingers.
I open the drawer
and a smell of musk
is apparent.
I close the drawer
to forget you
and your mad dancing.
I open the drawer
and the sea promptly drowns me.
A Short Poem
I won’t write a long poem tonight.
I don’t want to drown in a sea-slop
of green eels and purple sponges.
I don’t want a house with a chimney
that makes it look like a choo-choo train.
The house’s siding lies in a honeyed garden
up hill and down dale.
This is the day I watch the wasps
aim at my skin right through my clothes.
They are soaked
in honey and soon will drown.
Tomorrow I’ll follow the path to the sea.
I hear nothing but wasps.
Something has stung me.
This is a very short poem.
Previously published in New Coin 44/2.
An Inimitable Cat
She could be drawn
with one continuous line
looping and coming to rest
in a lopsided circle.
She could only be caught
in one split second
such as when a violinist
begins plucking and bowing
simultaneously, when
the audience feels
it’s still not okay
to move, or cough,
or shift in one’s seat.
She could be visualised
in the leak of water-
colours that soak
ever so slightly
into the sketchbook’s page
so that the verso
holds a shadow
that reverses the truth.
As yet, she hasn’t a name.
My small son kisses her
on the top of her head
and along the length
of her furry body.
Everything that is her
is perfectly shaped
around a single sound.
Outside, the wind
tucks peach blossoms
into the wooden folds
of the eaves.
A butcher bird
scratches inside the ceiling.
Our cat
can no longer be found.
Previously published in Carapace 76.
I dislike the spiders
that make their tents
in my creeper.
They’ve no right at all
to be so comfortable
and warm.
Each tent hangs
its unlit lantern
among the leaves
of the creeper.
Each tent
is a magnificent work
of architecture
and a perfect
refuge in time of war.
I consider
my war on the spiders
to be a work of art.
The siege begins.
My heart dances
a quadrille.
Soon I’ll
evict the spiders
from their gauzy tents
and then certainly
I’ll be at peace.
But why does it seem
as if there are no spiders?
Why have the lanterns
suddenly all been lit?
Previously published on Litnet.

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