There is enormous life in these poems, a vitality that surrounds you as you read them. Even the forms of the poems change, ranging from ballads to prose poems to separated lines.
Life is not always happy, and Walsh makes no bones about that. Maggie Walsh is a Bwcolgamon woman from Palm Island in North Queensland who was forcibly separated from her mother when she was two. At ‘Christmas Time’:
Where was my mummy?
Where was my mob?
Through teary eyes
I would sob
Footsteps echoing down the hall
The smell of carbolic permeates the air
All the other girls
Would stop and stare (8)
But the author was blessed with the gift of friendship and the gift of words.
A tapestry of words
Filled with meaning and feeling
Keeps my soul company
On my journey of healing (36)
Many of the poems seem to be biographical, and nearly half of them – like the two above – are in a ballad form, though sometimes the spacing and stanzas are changed. Going through the book picking out the ballads gives you a feeling of the poet’s life, the bad and the good, the solitary sadnesses and the friendly domestic chat:
Her voice —
Better put the billy on love
It’s getting pretty late
And while you’re out there getting more wood
Don’t forget to shut that gate
His voice —
Well can you grab the Aerogard darl
It’s sitting on the dash
These mozzies are biting pretty fierce
They’re making me scratch ‘n’ scratch
And can you grab the harmonica too
It’s on the back seat
I will play you a tune if you like
To forget this stifling heat (26)
‘Five Cents’ and ‘Pretty Stone’ are a bit more philosophical – something found and handed over makes you wonder, even years down the track, what if, what if, what if you had done things differently then. But we’ll never know, and we live with the consequences.
Several poems are like riddles, leading the reader on one track and then suddenly (ta-da!) coming forth with a surprise – there is a frog, there is a bed, there is a demolition of cockroaches. My favourite of these (printed in the book with lots of line space, to postpone the surprise) starts out:
I have a boarder at home
Lazy one I tell you
Go out all night
Sleep all day
Only get up for feed...
Acts like its all about her
The way she going
She will end up pregnant
Then I will have to make extra room
For her and her kittens (16)
There are memories of Matron taking all the kids to ‘Butler Bay’ in the ‘big old truck’:
The tide was already out
We walked on the reef
Then back to our shady camp
For a feed of bully beef (52)
And there are memories of time with kinfolk, again spaced-out in the book:
Light reflections shine
On the water of the ocean
Memories within of mine
Memories of my beloved home
Memories of Palm Island
Memories of my family and friends
That always leaves me smilin’ (54)
The poems seem casual and offhand at first – but the more you read them, the more you feel you are seeing into many dimensions of one woman’s life. We remember that (contrary to some reports) women aren’t just part of the furniture – in a way, we are the furniture: without us to support things, food doesn’t get served, stories don’t get told, and there is really no centre, no focus.
Today we sat around
This old wooden table
Still very strong and solid
Still very strong and stable ...
This old wooden table
That brought us all together
Along with our friendships and stories
Will stay with us forever (34-35)
This book’s cover is a mysterious shimmering portrait of a sunset and is painted by the author. It fits perfectly with the title and the poems: the more you take time to look, the more interesting it gets.
Maggie Walsh. Sunset. Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2016.