Born and educated in New Zealand, Janet Alexa Kenny sang professionally with international casts in the United Kingdom, then moved to Sydney, Australia, where she was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. She jointly edited, compiled and wrote Beyond Chernobyl and contributed to a book of essays commemorating the Australian novelist Patrick White.
She now lives in Queensland. Her poems and essays have been widely published. Her latest book of poems ‘This Way to the Exit’ is published by White Violet Press.
I made a bonfire of my mother,
piled the anecdotes she told me
on the pyre. The ancient malice
and the anger. Every other
hurt and callous.
Higher, higher! Burnt the prison
that she did not dare abandon.
All the loyalties that hold me
in the coffin made by women.
Take my love and keep it, knowing,
nothing can prevent our going.
Fly now little captive! Quickly,
they will drag you by your ankles,
weigh you down with guilt and duty,
tending siblings who are sickly,
wearing out your Scottish beauty.
Did you marry to escape them
only to repeat the pattern?
How your children’s presence rankles,
as your pent up furies shape them.
If by chance, we met at random
there would be no proper meeting.
Nothing there for either woman.
Let us cry ‘nil desperandum’.
Our unhappiness is human.
Inside books your life was vivid,
and you dreamed around your kitchen
filling mouths forever eating
as your hope of leaving withered.
Presbyterian farmers’ daughters
can’t out-hare tradition’s tortoise.
Your unhappiness pervaded
every room and every second.
Horrified, I saw my future.
Feminism came unaided
with environment and nurture.
No Ostrovsky family vision
would consume the life you gave me.
I was tougher than you reckoned,
faced with female circumcision.
I wish to wash away in blue washed light.
See how the seagulls fade while still in sight,
one moment near, then gone. They disappear
and yet we know they’re there. The sky is clear
but white turns blue. The empty view declares
a sleight of eye. They vanish unawares.
So life betrays our sense of permanence.
We shift to past while in the present tense.
A wall of ice can turn to water,
wood can burn or break and splinter,
minds and hearts immured in winter
harbor hate and give no quarter.