Pretending for a moment that she’s not tough,
under the rotary clothes hoist the co-ordinator
of the Affirmative Action for Women Program
buckles. This seems like the hardest job
she ever has to do, wrestling with wind and light,
the wet clothes slapping her face
and knuckling her into corners where sun assaults
and the frantic morning pegs down
like a sideshow tent while an audience
of waiting household tasks
boos and jeers.

Should never have succumbed to that longing
for the smell of sun on sheets. Every other day
she’s neat as a nutcracker, no problem
getting every hour efficiently between her teeth.
Only for a moment now in a Saturday whirlwind
she slumps and dreams
of a life of Laura Ashley curtains, children
making cubbies under the pittosporum and the boredom
— sweet boredom —
of living below her ‘vocational potential’.

Fat chance of that. Too much face to lose now:
a one-time hairdresser turned teacher turned guru
for all the weekday women, weary of waltzing
with wet washing. Her story unrolls before them
like a magic carpet. Squatting on its painful design,
they want to take deep breaths, risk their brains
and try, like her, to fly. Under the Saturday big top
while her new life careers away regardless,
the life she lost floats out of the scent
of soap. As perfect and illusory as bubbles
against her skin,
she feels her husband, her child . . .

For a moment a tea towel flares from her hands
like a wild wonga wonga vine —
she thinks of the gully by that house
where defiantly the flowers belled and romped —
and for a moment her old self is straining,
staining the clean air and riding the bubbles bareback,
ripping like the wrung cloth away and up
towards the dead hug of trees, far from this sick smell
of sawdust churned under her feet.

The wind —
the wind slaps her sensible. Next week she will have
a million dollars to peg out on high wires
to coax other women to copy
this balancing act. Next week
she will be as bright as a spotlight, flashing her thoughts
towards their futures. The wonga flowers, she will remember,
never lasted, too quickly bred bruises
deep in their throats.

I lived too long
in other people’s shadows, next week she will say.
Next week she will know she has only one life
and she does not want in any way to lose it —
but now, reaching alone up to a rotary clothes hoist,
tangled in the unthinking arms of shirts,
stunned to sleep in the soap-sweet wrap of sheets,
she is simply human, slugged by Saturday, catching
her breath.

(from The Satin Bowerbird 1998)


JK Superwoman