blackmail press 32
Jenny Argante
New Zealand

Moka's Utu - Penny Howard
Jenny Argante came to New Zealand ten years ago, intending to finally
become a full-time writer in her third age. Alas and alack! She has not
yet learned to say no to all the tasks that take her away from writing.
Tut tut.
Neutral Zones
       Throwing peanuts to the monkeys in the zoo
       she contrasts
       human and ape behaviour. Squeals abate,
       subdue, as the big ‘un strolls across:
       significant other. He insists on his rights.
       Heads down, eyes up, the monkeys yammer,
       foreheads crinkled. They bob subservient,
       choppers on parade.
       “Oh, look, Dad, they’re laughing.”
       Fool brat. Didn’t you feel the scorch
       as anger was cremated?
       Those teeth are tombstones.
                               she is caged
                               in a moment of curious suspense,
                               trapped and caught between
                               the dry oppression of the intellect
                               and mushroom fury.
       Catatonic, Berenice sulks her way
       into the family vault, just because
       that big stiff wouldn’t screw her.
       He was a mammy’s boy all right,
       weaned on blood and hectic murmurs.
       You had nothing going for you, girlie,
       until he laid you in the tomb
       But you didn’t have to take it on his terms:
                   slow down
                               switch off
                                           go under.
       You should have told him:
       “Go wank in the slaughter-house
       where the frozen-pig loins
       are split and gaping.”
       You made yourself a byword,
       a regular bitch on heat,
       rolling over to die for a lover

       He gloats as he counts his souvenirs,
       thirty-two of ‘em, your pearly-whites
       You’re coming back now
       with the corpse-rags floating,
       but your teeth are drawn.
       What you going to do
       - suck him to death?
                               Madam, this man accuses you of transmitting
                               a subtle, ambiguous message
                               Please clarify. Are you laughing at him,
                               or does your look invite complicity?
                               Perhaps you’re in business
                               on your own account?
                               Appease him, explain.
                               Go on:
                                            give him a smile.
       Punch upstages Judy
       with a ferocious grin,
       disappears with a curse
       (but Toby’s on guard, and
       she’s left holding the baby.)
       She’s not been trained to deal
       with his monopoly,
       the empty spaces
       Up he pops,
       impatient of her clamour.
       He says nothing,
       and she’s too dumb to question.
       If he’s silent, he must be angry.
       How to confirm?
       She has strategies for anger
       Judy kicks Punch.
       Punch wallops Judy.

                               Rivers push on,
                               and make no fine distinctions between
                               the daisy-fields that stretch to left,
                               the rocky banks to right
                               He was content for her to be
                               either the water running over
                               or the stones rolled underneath.
       But silence is not assertion,
       nor assent;
       it’s pause
       an intent
       to understand the sense
       of what is meant
       She makes no concessions,
       and he’s too fond of reason
       And something beats a tattoo on her bones
       his skin
                   his God
                               his smell,
       and his intrusions
       The warring blood forbids
       the neutral zones.
       a man alone
       They say it’s only water
       in the pipes and not the night that wakes me
       whispering, whispering
       They say I’ve lived too many years alone;
       too much removed from what their norms demand;
       too shabby and too strange
       Widows and spinsters look askance at me,
       and married women use me as a gauge..
       To husbands, I’m a mock, a menace;
       on pavements in the town,
       safe from reproach as now
       when tucked within
       these walls that hold my mother’s memories,
       shut up our history from common sight
       My other house, which was her sister’s pride,
       stands open to cold sun and colder wind:
       needles of rain
       quilting up massive conifers that guard
       a shocked and gaping door
       To children, I’m a Guy Fawkes shambling back,
       burned out by some interior explosion,
       dry-boned and witless.
       To them and dogs I preach neutrality
       I let go daily over many years,
       let go of stress and strain,
       short-circuited my brain, gave up
       doomed argument with love and death
       Since I can’t hide disgust
       I cry it everywhere. I’m blot
       and taint, known and invisible,
       unheard, unheeding:
       worn scrape and flutter
       They say I’ve lost the world. Oh no.
       The world lost me
       with things once tried
       and set aside, set down
       They say, they say ....
       They do not are admit
       how much I represent a hidden self,
       how much I am their morbid expectation
       of failed hope and despair
       What do I care how their day runs its course?
       What do I care how others value world?
       ‘Nox est perpetua una dormienda’
       (you see I’ve stored away
       some rags and tags of learning)
       Stray word won’t break or crumble this long fast.
       They say. What do they say? Oh, let them say.
       Nothing is real. Not all I taught at school
       keeps me from knowing nothingness at last.

       Images of Confrontation
       “Norms are the hedge of sanity
         although they cost in liberty”
       I have entered the years of discretion
       and sit at home
       twiddling my thumbs,
       allowing you to make
       the occasional obscene suggestion,
       sometimes dancing in the doorway
       when the ghosts get too insistent
       They have tamed all the tigers
       and put their spears away;
       it was lonely chasing the unicorn alone
       The proud Masai have left their dry blue meadows
       their footsteps emptied, though I ran fast to find them
       tracing no echoes
       on new grass or on old.
                               You and I let fall too many words
                               the balance was undone
                               I dreamed in silence of a time when you
                               would plait my moon-aged hair
                               into neat bandings
                               Only words, you said
                               written on a single page:
                               but in good hands a word
                               can flower to folio.
       Now that the cannibals have packed their knives and forks
       after the last missionary supper
       I shall grow thin; look! my bones are fluting.
       No strength to whistle up hot air and bring
       old lost ships to port.
       They must ride in on someone else’s thunder

       I will play the goat no longer,
       staked out for your consuming
       I shut my ears to roaring;
       the moon shuts up one eye.
       I chew my beard in pity like the sage
       at the antics of the young
       It wasn’t regrets I buried
       under dusty floorboards.
                               You said, “My word’s my bond”,
                               and drew me after you
                               through golden circles
                               Steel hoops band wood
                               until the bubbles burst.
                               The air was meant to be
                               Within the circle is huge emptiness:
                               but I can turn
                               a circle inside out
                               and use the space for building.
       Old sorry tales survive
       as memoirs reconciled
       immaculate in form
       but bare and word
       of all essential meaning
       A leaf in acid plunged
       prints skeletal
       the outline of its greening
       Grown careless, then,
       of tragedy’s first keening,
       idly we mouth our acts.
       The audience exits, screaming.

                               I burned my poems in the late of day.
                               They flared up bravely
                               scorching lupins
                               searing deadwood roots
                               Tomorrow I can write another poem
                               in the bright aftermath of flaming.
       No more of this, the Kalahari sunsets,
       and no more crocodile drownings
       I have found an English river, serpentine;
       I am made happy by its rippled pebbles
       This will do for day:
       only misers sleep on gold.