Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The night I pierced my own belly button by Maria McMillan

Can’t wait to get out
of this hole of a town
she said. For years
we’d been planning
our escape. Had compiled
a list of compulsory
adventures involving
our own brilliant selves
and various disposable
sidekicks in locations
ranging from the giant
aquarium tank in
downtown Monterey
to a moonlit bridge
in Vietnam arched like a
bony cat’s back, to mountains
with names only we knew.

Our mothers, who were sisters,
would look from her to me
and sigh, letting breath out
slowly through the gaps
between their teeth like they’d
been forced to eat something
horrible. Emily
had a blonde bob, perfect
as a politician’s. Eyebrows
plucked exactly so they
lined up with the edges
of her eyes. Skinny.
They kept us close
hoping she would rub off on me.

C’mon, she said, our parents were out
she’d called a taxi. I’ll
do your make-up – like
it was another game or dare,
and when I wouldn't gave me
her practised lopsided smile
like I was a kid putting off
the inevitable. Really,
it’s nothing and left smelling
young and sweet looking
like a favourite daughter.

I was alone. Took
the biggest needle I
could find, poured boiling
water over it. It was
like getting into a
river on a hot day,
the pain, it was like laughing
until you couldn't stop

Everything folded tight
in a moment, hidden
in the seam of a dusty
pocket. Emily. Our mothers
out with their husbands.
Being eleven, being told
why I couldn’t wear shorts.
The bulbous staring eye
of a giant orange fish.
How I’d known
sterilising the needle
wouldn’t stop the pus but
I’d done it anyway.

Editor: Saradha Koirala

The night I pierced my own belly button is from Maria McMillan's much anticipated first collection 'The Rope Walk' published by Seraph Press and is reprinted here with permission. 

I have never pierced my own belly button, but I have definitely laughed until I couldn't stop. What strikes me about this poem is the disconnect between the fantasy of leaving  - "Can’t wait to get out/ of this hole of a town" - and the ultimate desire to be alone. When Emily leaves "smelling/ young and sweet looking/ like a favourite daughter." a space is created for the speaker of the poem to attempt something much more daring. The last lines, "I’d known / sterilising the needle / wouldn’t stop the pus but / I’d done it anyway." is a fantastic ending for this poem and a metaphor I'm left pondering.

Maria has described 'The Rope Walk' as "intergenerational persona poetry sequences that feature aerial performers, 19th century ropemakers and gloomy mountain cribs." Characters reoccur throughout the sequence and a story is woven across generations. The poems are about grieving, moving on and being bound to family and place. The books too are hand-bound - a limited edition of 150 hand-numbered copies - with a letterpress-printed cover designed and printed by Joe Buchanan. It will be launched this weekend.

Maria has studied politics, trained as a librarian and has a long history as an activist. Originally from Christchurch, she now lives in Wellington with her partner and daughters. She blogs at http://mariamcmillan.weebly.com.

Do check out the poems in the sidebar when you've read about Maria and her fine poem.

This week's editor, Saradha Koirala, lives in Wellington and teaches in Porirua. Her second collection of poetry, Tear Water Tea, will be available this month from Steele Roberts Ltd and all good bookshops.


susan t. landry said...

the energy charges through this poem, sweeping the reader along, outside her own story, to inhabit the poet's story. terrific!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks so much for posting my poem Saradha, and your kind words Susan. For those interested the launch is at 3pm at Aro Community Hall (next to the park).

Janis said...

Great poem, Maria. Looking forward to the launch!

Helen Lowe said...

Very evocative!

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