The Fruits of Spirit*
by Cassandra O'Loughlin
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming
Rainer Maria Rilke - Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose
The small bird housed in the alcove of my spirit
hears the whimper of a dog hit by a car
in the heart of each caseworker seated around
the sturdy cedar table in this recessed room,
women weighed down by unspeakable sadness.
They navigate the thorny trail to homelessness--
intuition, insight, and instinct, taking the lead.
A thick timber balustrade and worn steps
stand out darkly against a narrow hall
where someone’s footfall echoes dully on boards
in the crowded history of this old building,
in a split second rearranging the world
into the immeasurable and uncharted.
How is there such compassion as this?
a glance so familiar you’re barely conscious of it;
a touch where love itself blossoms—pure, unsullied love--
deep with the winds of homecoming,
related to the mysteries
of breath, air, and the sentient earth.
Now, outside, I’m drawn into the spread of quietness
as if I’ve stepped into a cathedral
and listening for the sound of a bell,
but it isn’t a bell I hear, or the estranged angel within me,
it’s music sustained by gestures that somehow carry
the unimaginably complex feelings and gravities of response
that come from being fully immersed in the spinning world.
The White Dress
Some clients are like cut-flowers
between the earth and the vase,
holding their breath, and then dying.
For each one a white dress laced with a sigh
on White Ribbon Day, marks their passing.
Her shoes will outlast her feet;
her body will lose out to her blue dress,
or red. Tug after tug on their hearts
as the caseworkers fumble through the flux
or a foothold, already having lost the trail.
The child who will sleep rough
is finer than a hair and slipping through the cracks.
A Kind of Dignity
Someone has made her comfortable:
straightened the bed-linen
and sweetened the air with flowers,
her hair brushed, its grey curls flowing a little
over the hospital’s plumped pillow.
The cuts and bruises have distorted her mouth,
almost closed her eyes. She knows about pain,
after him doing that to her,
the terrible darkness making her feel small,
frail as a crushed bird.
She rests, subduedly, dignified,
as someone who would soon have to speak,
and with so many listening.
Her breathing proceeds slowly. She needs time,
as if to prepare not merely to speak
but to learn how to live
with the changed sound of her body,
a new way of being that reaches beyond
the abuse by mortality, the assault by age.
For her, there is a quiver of peace in silence.
She’s shed her tears
and now has finished weeping, strong
as a women in heavy labour. How strange,
like witnessing a small green bud
becoming a steel magnolia.
Another Possible Life
Of Pleasure and Pain
The young mother flees into the night, weighed down by more than a three-year-old in the kind of sleep only a child knows, another one, older, stumbling ahead, and three bags of important things packed in readiness. After her racing heart slows, she stops the car in a street that seems safe. In the quietness, she reaches inside herself to find the measure of her endurance, envying the stars in their perfect stillness despite their giddy race around the universe. She’s eluded by sleep, but lulled by the distant humming of an air conditioner. In a listless waking her youngest, now light in her arms, his breath smelling like sour apples, whispers, Listen mummy, the moon is humming. How unexpectedly they come, those brief moments of joy. Here then gone, just as the little wag of a dog’s tail in a dream. Soon the sun will lean upon the sheer weight of the earth at its rising. The mother leans upon herself alone. She has no language for the heaviness she feels and wonders if this is the end of something, or the beginning. Never mind the early sparrows, chirping. Or the black dog barking, way off. She too is hungry but knows not for what. For the moment, the dark thing haunting her is barely visible in the overhanging leaves. Then, in the half-light of day, the older child asks, Where do we go now mum?