Rhyll McMaster has worked as a secretary, a burns unit nurse and a sheep farmer. She has been poetry editor of The Canberra Times, a freelance editor, a chairperson and judge of literary awards and fellowships, a film scripts and manuscripts assessor, a panel chair and guest at literary festivals and a books reviewer for major newspapers and literary magazines.
Her seven poetry books have won a number of major prizes. Her poems have been broadcast on national radio and television and are widely anthologised, most recently in the Lehmann/Gray anthology, Australian Poetry Since 1788, published by UNSW Press in 2011. She has staged her poetry with a singer and a 4-piece rock band at Tilleys in Canberra, and her radio play, On My Empty Feet, was broadcast twice by the ABC. Her latest poetry collection, Late Night Shopping, published by Brandl & Schlesinger in 2012, has been shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year and the Queensland Literary Awards and has been ‘highly commended’ in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2013.
Her prize-winning, internationally-published and translated novel, Feather Man was published in 2007.
Her website is rhyllmcmaster.com

Memory

I know when I’m truly shot of you,
when your toxin leaves my system,
I’ll forget the silent, deadly bits;
like women in childbirth pains,
the amnesia almost immediate.

Memory applies the unguent
to the deep wound,
the one with the gaping, astonished lips,
the one with bacteria creeping in it.

The one that pustulates
when you think it’s healed,
the one that feels like a king-hit
to the stomach before the muscles are tensed.
The one with the staring eyes,
the gasping shout.

The wound that acknowledges
all of a sudden
that its existence was always intently meant;
the impacted, cracked
and fractured wound that limps.

The wound that sits in the kitchen
and finally licks itself and dabs
at the suffusions
and moves out of range
and stays that way, wary,
continually on the lookout.

Truly, Madly, Deeply

My love is dead to the world.
For years I fed a corpse.
I gave him bread and salt
and cheese, protein for his bones.
It piled up in his toes.
He listed.
He toppled sideways.

On summer days he wore
an overcoat and scarf
and I didn’t notice.
Theoretically, I felt his hug.
He was paste white
but I could have sworn
I heard his laughter.
Dried blood congealed from his nose.

I fed him hot soup.
He was well looked after.
I kissed his lips that were loose
and mossed over.
I had tin lids to cover my eyes.
I felt a pulse at his wrist
in a haze of power.

Birth

Breakout.
The insistent escapee
won’t be contained.
Its cannonball head thrust through
the too small
Chinese window of bones.

Pain strong enough
to collude with death
just for a minute.
Warm ever-present demise;
almost glad
if not to survive.

Smelling one’s own blood.
Sweet stickiness
like a newly-bled beast.
Attendants who don’t bat an eyelid
at dog-howls, moans,
as a rat with spiked teeth
rattles a track down the backbone.

Out in the open
small-particled criminal,
unaware, so hopefully ludicrous.
What a fish-eye vision
as its head turns sideways.

Wet with consommé
from its protein ocean.
Sink and swim.
Dream and live.

***

These poems have all been previously published in the collection Flying the Coop: New and Selected poems, 1972-1994 (William Heinemann, 1994).
My sincere thanks to Rhyll for sending these stunning poems to me and allowing me to republish them on here.

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