Four Poems by Judith Beveridge
1. White Peacock
3. The Caterpillars
4. The Dung Collector
See also biographical and bibliographical information further down this page.
The feathers lift—
like the sudden coming on
of sprinklered water
over imperial lawns.
Breeze-shaken and trembling—
you imagine the break
into a drift of wish-flowers.
Now the fan streaming with dance—
(imagine the face of an angel
streaming with light
in an annunciation).
It’s the lovely silver rippling
at a saint’s fingertips
in a Kirlian
is like entering a Chinese shop
full of paper lanterns—
in room after room like hands
caressing ceremonial silk—
until you come out
to a farmyard screeching of hens.
The peacock is just another sad rag-picker
about a cage, alone
in the knowledge of its palatial etiquette.
It goes about the pen-muck
with the geese,
the yokels of turkeys
slubbering at scraps, hen-poor.
Its chicken-wire existence
against which the tail, at times,
like a Marie Antoinette
or glows like
Saint Theresa among the stricken.
© Judith Beveridge
Rain bubble-wrapping the windows. Rain
falling as though someone ran a blade down the spines
of fish setting those tiny backbones free. Rain
with its squinting glance, rain
with its rustle of descending silk. Rain, rain,
the cascading rain outrunning its own skeins in the lilting
dark. The loquacious rain, glissading across
the drip-garrulous leaves. Tipsy
rain, puddling, wetting its own socks. Rain’s
swirl at my feet smelling of leaf musk. Rain falling
like seed-gobs in the street-light’s tumbledown gloom.
Sifted rain, purling, paying
its way while its veil makes a thin distance.
Rain spiccatoing over wavelets and their hilly crests.
Rain cashing up along the skyline of gold-minted lights.
Rain nibbling at the grass
with broken teeth. Crestfallen rain leaving
the road, then riffling through the lop-eared treetops.
Rain tanglefooted, half out of its clothes. Sweeps
of rain like hair,
like pampas stalks, wind-tarried, bending; or tall,
ornamental, moving louchely and skew-whiff. Rain’s
drops when they begin to fly as though they’re being
a shaggy dog. Rain wayworn in the slippery
night, drumbling across awnings, gutters, windows, walls
and slowing down those tittupy drops until the sky
like a new god glozes
with a little rollicking thunder and lets the first
light through in luteous gloops. But then more rain, more
clouds stacking up, rain that will come down fast
again, like grain from gunnysacks.
© Judith Beveridge
On the headland to the lighthouse,
a brown detour of caterpillars
crimped end-to-end across the road.
Poke away the pilot and the line
would break up, rioting,
fingering for the scent.
Put him back, they’d straighten.
You could imagine them humming
their queue numbers.
I’ve only seen such blind following
in the patient, dull dole queues,
or old photos of the Doukhobors,
the world’s first march of naked people.
I watched over the line for hours
warding off birds whose wings, getting close,
were like the beating of spoons
in deep bowls. I put a finger to the ground
and soft prickles pushed over,
a warm chain of hair.
This strange sect, wrapped in the sun
like their one benefit blanket
marched in brotherhood and exile.
Later, a group of boys
(their junta-minds set on torture)
picked off the leader.
Each creature contorted,
shut into its tight burr.
I could only stand like a quiet picket
and watch the rough panic.
I remember them, those caterpillars,
pacifists following their vegetable passion—
lying down in the road and dying
when they could no longer touch each other.
© Judith Beveridge
The Dung Collector
Tarn Taran Rd, Amritsar
Each morning she wipes the sweat that runs
from under the red dupatta veiled across
her face and lifts another load with a gasp.
Soon, she’ll sit with her stupas of dung
and hallow the flies. Soon, she’ll pray
each stack into the day’s chapattis;
each new vat of dung into a tureen of dahl
to stir above the evening smoke. And she’ll
work another hour or two raking the unbaked
yet steaming dung from the mud.
I have seen heifers
given more freedom to wander the earth
than this woman who carries another load
to her wall then chants with the traffic.
She could almost be any
woman humming at a task—moving a ladle
through vichyssoise in a perfumed apartment
off a sunny boulevard; watching light
slip into a room like a spoon into ingredients
for hollandaise sauce while she contemplates
the arrival of guests, the early yellowing
of the alder leaves.
Clearly, though, this is not
about workmanship; not about having a thankful
heart in a beautiful place; not about
being a speck in the slurry of a rushing
Punjabi street, or about a woman who must
save herself by labour and prayers.
It’s about a woman who
must live under the anus of a cow as if
it were her star; who must slap dozens of
discoloured moons onto the side of her house
for an orange sun to bake; who hears
the sighs of the world as her bracelets
slip up and down her arms like the songs
of insects in overflowing grass; about
a woman who bends to scoop dung into a dish
each morning with her arms and hands
and looks straight into my eyes.
© Judith Beveridge
Judith Beveridge was born in England in 1956 and moved with her family to Sydney in 1960. She is author of seven collections of poetry all of which have won or been short-listed for major prizes: The Domesticity of Giraffes, Black Lightning Press,1987, reprinted by Ginninderra Press, 2017; Accidental Grace, UQP, 1996; Wolf Notes, Giramondo Publishing, 2003; Storm and Honey, Giramondo Publishing, 2009, Devadatta’s Poems, Giramondo Publishing, 2014; Hook and Eye: a selection of poems George Braziller, USA, 2014; Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, Giramondo Publishing, 2018, which won the 2019 Prime Minister’s poetry prize. She has also been awarded the Christopher Brennan and Philip Hodgins Memorial Medals for excellence in Literature and for many years taught in the MA Creative Writing program at the University of Sydney. She was poetry editor for Meanjin from 2005-2015.
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CONTACT JUDITH BEVERIDGE
You can contact Judith Beveridge through Andrew. Send an email to Andrew and he will forward it to Judith.