S  e  c  r  e  t  s    blackmail press 24
Ila Selwyn
New Zealand

Ila (as in doh ray me la) Selwyn - a great New Zealand novel in 20 words - squeezed between siblings / two children / one of each / three marriages / five countries / six different names / changed twice / by deed poll
the tea stain 

one summer I give Dad a book tape
the next, ask him if he likes it, he evades the question
says he prefers hearing Mum read to him

he goes for a walk, Mum and I have a cup of tea
she hands me Of Mice and Men, says
please take it, John is upset as it’s about –
her lip curls in distaste – homosexuals

no, it’s not, I laugh, where did he get that idea?
and Mum spills the tea over Dad’s past

John is frightened of his response to
a young man who invites him up to his room
he asks me to marry him to save him
from himself

my head spins, gears grind as they shift into reverse
force my childhood into focus
but all I can say is, Oh . . . Mum . . .

well it isn’t as though I don’t have any other offers
you know the story about Bill
there is also a handsome French Canadian pianist
who wants me

John insists we leave Ottawa in case he sees that man
or someone else in the know
it’s the depression, jobs are scarce, but his dad wangles
a transfer to Montreal, so I give up my career and –

why did you marry him? I cut in
I can barely breathe but see so much that now
makes sense

John struggles, battles like Paul against his desires
Bill’s only interest is academia, with Jacques it’s all
dancing and fun – John is a hopeless dancer – no sense of rhythm
but he is sensitive and religious, maybe I just need
a challenge

maybe you need to be needed, I think

maybe that’s my downfall as well

a party

you see me doing tai chi, say
it’s the same spiritual quest you do
studying Mary Baker Eddy – I cut
that connection when I was 12

you play table tennis, let me win
I want to fail honourably, not win subversively
you sail in the air, do perfect swan dives, jack knives
I don’t listen, do my own belly flops

you fluff over your appearance, require everything new
take hours to get ready, I throw myself together in defiance
adore your kid brother, he patches clothes he wore
in the war, mends his underpants, is ready to go
before we decide where to

I say Mum could have had a brilliant career on radio
you say her role was to support you, tell her
when she’s dying, doubting, there’s no such thing
as pain, then cry when Doug takes you to the dentist

look for a new wife a few days after her death
I write a play, The Funeral Party, type it secretly
while looking after you, reverse roles, Mum
has a lover, you die, a coffin, not you, appears on stage

you turn 90 that August, Mum would have been 89
two Leos, one birthday
your 87 year old kid brother and I throw you a party

I fly home, you sell your house on the Island
move to the lower mainland into a pension flat
find a lady friend to love you, in Titirangi, I direct

a different sort of party
you say I have your sensitive soul, I get angry
seeing myself mirrored in you

now you’re gone, I remember taking you
to a play, how you were so happy
wonder how you’d have felt

if you knew it took
a play and a poem for Mum to make
most of my fury fizzle away