Ada – Dies Natalis
“As rare as rockinghorse shit” -
one in 15,000 the internet says.
Standing in the corridor
of the children's cardiac unit
I'm surrounded by coloured diagrams,
the blue veins and red arteries
of wrong connections.
Each map is wild and unique
as a snowflake,
but they're all actuarial possibilities,
and each is a life.
Ada's is the supracardiac version.
The veins from her lungs join
in a single vein that seeks
and almost touches her left ventricle,
and loses its way and veers
in an improbable backwards loop
to her right ventricle.
Ada is simple to fix
if five hours under surgical lights are simple.
“Isn't she beautiful! Isn't she beautiful!”
the young aunt, ardent, repeats.
Feeding from aureoles like brown dinner plates,
Ada (pronounced 'Ardour”
after Nabokov's heroine)
breathes heavily, gulps air,
turns blue as she starts to cry.
Tomorrow the veins from her lungs
will be cut
and joined to her left ventricle.
The grandmothers wash and scrub the house,
a grandfather (that's me) standing on a stool,
instructed by the grandmothers,
ties a clothesline to an iron spike
set in nineteenth century brickwork.
Eight days from now Ada
will be carried through a narrow dim house.
Her eyes will open like dark butterflies
and lungs inhale
this nectarine tree, ripening muscatels
and staked tomatoes in the summer heat.
On any day 300,000 are born
of dust from exploded supernovae.
There was no witness when a point
became the universe
and the first stars started to burn,
billions of galaxies lighting up.
The 300,000 all have witnesses,
the nurse who spotted Ada's laboured breathing -
“There's something wrong with that baby.”
“Hibiscus” - one of her first words.
It's night and the passerby
can look over a gate past pink and red roses through a clear glass door
and see a shadowy figure in a hallway
gyrating and shaking a maraca and tambourine
to inaudible music,
who's wondering if neighbours think he's mad,
but he has a daughter to entertain -
she's hidden in a cot -
Ada, two years and a bit.
In the dark of early morning
I hear a muffled voice talking to a child,
and a solitary cry.
The child's translation:
“Daddy's wings have gone and he's lost his fairy dust.”
Her father has been dead for three weeks.
She's restless in the restaurant.
Hoisting her on my hip
we go out in the street -
as my veal parmigiana arrives.
I identify flowers in gardens lit by street lamps.
'That's a strelitzia,” I say,
“a relative of the banana.”
We head towards an illuminated shop front,
with cut flowers in buckets on the footpath
and shadows standing in doorways.
“I saw Daddy,” she says.
At the house where's she's staying, she chooses
Sonia and the Flying Babies.
“Read it again.”
I do, but Sonia has a father.
In a private voice, as I'm leaving, she says:
“I want you to stay.”
A month later, at two years and nine months
she's still finding questions and answers:
“How did your Daddy die?”
“He was quite old and had a heart attack,” I reply.
“He was in a room by himself
and ran out into the street and died.”
Ada has become herself,
the miniature parts,
all in working order, are complete.
Aged three she mounts a platform
to wash her hands,
looks down and sighs -
the cares of adulthood.
The rectangular box-basin
of sparkling white porcelain
(an aesthetic manifesto of her architect-mother)
has a reddish-brown smear of water,
She flicks on a tap
and her small plump hand
decisively sluices out the discoloured water,
face averted, absorbed in her task.
Thanks to Geoff for allowing me to post this tender, luminous poem. And thanks also for the wonderful book which I have just now put on the pile to be shelved. Poems 1957 – 2013 contains the long sweep of a writing life. This is what he has written and wants to save. It was quite a journey. Of particular interest to me on this first reading, was Spring Forest, which I had not read in its entirety before. I'll be posting a couple of poems from that section in the new year. And as a bonus, apart from bravura and adept poetics displayed within, Poems 1957 – 2013 must be one of the handsomest books I have ever had in my hands. The cover drawing by Charles Blackman of the young Lehmann is almost edible.
Meanwhile this year, (better late than never) this high-water mark of a book is up for one of the big prizes, The Prime Minister's Literary Awards, to be announced in Sydney on 14th December.
- Devadatta's Poems by Judith Beveridge (Giramondo Publishing)
- Earth Hour by David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)
- Exhibits of the Sun by Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper Publishing)
- Poems 1957–2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWA Publishing)
- Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems by
Alex Skovron (Puncher & Wattmann)