Elly McDonald



Like Her (21 April 1981)

Sometimes, he said, it’s as if she just sticks
out a hunk of bread, and says butter it
and they do.
But that’s just like her.

I didn’t defend her (those eyes, that hard mouth –
a ruthless child: desperate, defensive).
After all, I don’t
like her.

I’ve seen what she did (he said), she hurt
them to a man, those men. How she
hurt. I wanted to be
just like her.

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Mirror (1985)

from across the room this woman
stares: this face you’ve seen
by emotion by years by the camera
this face soft-framed
a face badly-loved, well-hated
different every time, every time
you feel the same
you still
feel the same
you feel your face
dissolve into hers; you take
her expression, you turn
into her, towards her her
smile on your
her reflected
in grey eyes
hungry eyes
your move – and her face

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Haven (1985)

My mother has arrived. She’s unpacked
in my bedroom. From the bathroom I can hear
her chatting; she chirps
like a sparrow, cheerily, knowing
God cares – a bird among cats
young kittens, savage
strangers. She’s rolling bright-eyed
amidst claws, on the floor – they’ve hunted
her, caught her
pinned her wings flat; they crouch on her
chest and guard her 
for me, the arch-predator – for my
keeping her prone, they keep this place ours
safe hose to the light speckled alien
refugee: a sparrow, fallen
who helplessly laughs

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Two Thighs (1985)

two thighs, knees together
firm converging lines
parabolic like an egg sucked
hollow inside
decisive outer planes
and gummy inner-lining – the jaws
of a dolphin, linear like this
wash up on northern beaches
bare and hard as crayfish claws
two thighs, knees together
an insolent autonomy
self-contained, impervious
bold strokes defining space
extended to an apex (knees together)
deft draftsmanship
emptiness encased
no fleshy Bardot pout: whose body?
brittle, bleached, beached
what body?
a dolphin’s skeletal beak

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Father and Child (1986)

After writing a sequence of horrifying nightmare poems, I decided to attempt a life-affirming, positive poem.

I wrote it in two parts, out of an intended three: I was aiming for a triptych. But after Pt2 I felt my heart wasn’t in it. I abandoned that poem and didn’t write another poem for about 30 years. When I re-read this one I thought it was awful, Hallmark greeting card stuff. I chucked Pt2 altogether. This is Pt1.


A woman pulled a rib from out
of my side
and my heart stepped out.
she looked
just like me: a small
grey-eyed, soft-fleshed, female

My daughter
he said.
I am not ashamed
to recognise love.
I see no shame
in relatedness. Her eyes are
mine, and she
is my heart.

He walks
her up the road.
He holds her hand.
she rides on his back and
she laughs.

My daughter
he says, and her arms
curl around his neck as
years ago he
sucked the breast of a woman

he loves

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Wedding Photo (1986)

limbs contorted, tearing thick air: white fleshy
boomerangs broken
arms, snapped ribs: eyes fear-forced open, bruised and
swollen closed, the smashed
nose and plates, bent knives, kicked in
images, fixed like that clock – one hand
wrenched off, stoved in and reckless, lying
on its side on the living
room floor – no progress, not ever, silenced and
strange; or the door-frame, splintered
as readily as bone – the violated
flywire, the hammer-bashed
lock: glass stabbed curtains and blood
in the bathroom – the bride in the photo
(no sound) lies senseless, scrunched up
and torn
face downwards

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Two Stories (1986)

Unbalanced, tall buildings loom
above us: screening out the sky, too close
together – like cramped teeth they jut
in shades of bone decay. I look quickly
at her
she looks down, and frowns

Uneven, the roadface staggers before
us. Cobblestones: smooth swellings
cemented together, colourless, so cold –
like trampling
thousands of hardened dead
breasts. Now she turns on me
her death’s head, survivor’s stare


Possums (1986)

streets drop away, breath
catches, while rain
– not quite falling – 
hangs in dark clumps of
night and possums sit
in the middle of a fence
wide-eyed, they observe – not caring
neither way
we mean nothing, this is nothing
not to them, not us
come away
from here, take care
in this dark, bright-eyed
with cars – we are blinded
by cars –
in public, all observed
two possums stare
balanced on a fence
you and I, eye to eye
you and I, watching on
small blundering familiars
neither comprehend nor care
my hand reaches out
to your shoulder, instinctive – I touch
your neck:
warm and unresponsive – you’re scared
we two, clinging lightly
lean on each other
look up, look and see large
luminous eyes
in a damp-cheeked night

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Ghosts (1986)

walking onwards, then at once
pulled up
pulled back – as if by an image reflected
in a window, a face one-known
your own
aged features – sharp-edged, so
white – a bloodless light hand
reaches out
touch finger touch phantom a skeleton bridge
half-flesh, half-hope: the ghost
behind your eyes steps out, stands beside you
but it can’t be
you at all

not this time.
In half dark (half-light into
night), it’s someone you remember:
someone else.

Your stare mirrors his; the ghost you’ve become
sees itself living, behind
his eyes reflected; in the present, it relives
a scene from the past.
It stares through a window and sees you both
there – profiles overlapping, fingers touch
flesh… the man (who is him) looks up
stares out the window, straight at the phantom, half-sees
through shadow: he says
I once knew her
The girl with him smiles (she is you, and she smiles)
Go on, go and tell her
‘good to see her again. Go out there
and talk but
He looks away and whispers
She won’t talk to me now

now on this street
you stop, you stare
you can see yourself touching (white lip touches
shoulder), phantom lips
plead promise me
don’t ever walk past me, don’t let me
walk past
No matter what happens, whoever
we become, I will always

Stop here for me now