Poems by Michelle Cahill
Laksmī under Oath
I left my footprints on the threshold
of ancient temples, pointing
inwards, like the flow of fortune.
In 200 BC, well-intentioned seers
fashioned me, etched in bronze
on lintels, the gateways to the city.
The land was barren, a salt marsh
where Indra slayed a three-headed fiend,
pole stars drifting and rivers forked.
How my parasitic limbs ached,
my breast cut off, its vestiges leaking
milk. I was spared of Vedic hymns,
a self-sovereign. The villagers
offered testimony in rice cakes, garlands,
jhoti. Untouchables defiled me.
Brahmin beggars stalked me, carping
for centuries. From that sensual debut
I was glitter in the ocean’s foam.
Here are my breasts, and here
are my twenty acrylic nails, my spinal
brace, my club feet and pressure sores.
All this lotus mania! Crouching in Ganges
mud takes its toll. Even poets are stalking me.
I am dripping in gold, they can’t resist.
Close-up, the room is full of strangers,
shaking, coughing, as I sign the affidavit
(in my red half-slip) and swallow a pill.
Vishnu, I am not bipolar, I am post-op,
with a restylane flush on a spending spree,
unfolding in you as the moon would.
I have not found your idol in any temple, Lord.
Your one thousand eyes elude me in sleep, your
net of pearls shimmering like pins, a flower sutra.
Yet how the Vedic skies praise your light.
Spear fisherman and hunter, each knot you tie
interweaving memory, a reef with a rosebud.
Bowlines and clove hitches are your fetters, all
the lace and twine of this world, the emptiness
it frames, uncharted. Your past might be a silk road
of gold, hemp, musk, caravans loaded with spice,
slaves traded. In my conjuring there are far colonies,
papyrus treaties, gold coins, pierced and printed
with your cognate deities: Thor of old Norse, Zeus,
whose thunder you whet, Bacchus, the soma-drinking
foreigner. Zoroastrian or Armenian, your polyglot
perplexes linguists with a strange loop of origin.
Like Escher’s Drawing Hands you are a paradox
to muzzle me. Water nymphs grace your cloud court,
a half-horse, a man with a bird’s wing, his fibula
inscribed with runes. Even the jade and dewpond
are small miracles, selfless things inventing selves.
These poems first appeared in Vishvarūpa, 5IP, 2011
About the poet
Michelle Cahill is a Sydney writer who was born in Kenya and lived in London before migrating to Australia. She wrote The Accidental Cage (IP) which was shortlisted in the Judith Wright Prize and nominated for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Books. Her second collection Vishvarūpa (5 IP) was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the Alec Bolton Prize. Ophelia in Harlem (Kilmog) and Night Birds (Vagabond) are her two chapbooks. She was shortlisted in the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, highly commended in the Blake Poetry Prize and won the Val Vallis Award and the Hilary Mantel International Short Story Prize.
Michelle has been a guest reader at the Mildura Writers Festival, the Ubud Writers Festival, the Thames Festival and Queensland Poetry Festival. She is currently a Doctor of Creative Arts candidate at the University of Wollongong. She has received Australia Council grants and fellowships at Sanskriti Kendra, Hawthornden Castle and at Kingston University, London.
She edited Poetry Without Borders, co-edited Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (Puncher and Wattmann) in 2013 and is founding editor of Mascara. Michelle has written essays on Buddhism and poetics, race and literary culture. She blogs at Negative Capabilty.
Her poetry has been anthologised in Poetry International Web, Ed Michael Brennan, Jacket2, Ed Pam Brown, the turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poets Ed John Kinsella (Turnow, USA), 30 Australian Poets (UQP), Ed Felicity Plunkett, the HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, Ed Sudeep Sen, and Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World (Tupelo, USA).