HOLDING YOUR SECRETS
(Portrait of Elizabeth Jolley by Mary Moore, National Portrait Gallery)
Here you sit in a room full of bustle and pose and glamour
(still as paper, quiet as a story waiting to be told)
nothing around you – no paintings or windows or desks
or gardens, no cut glass vases on polished tables – just you,
Elizabeth, all your womanliness gathered stark and soft
in this unembellished space, regarding us from your wooden chair,
holding your secrets safe in a crumpled bag.
I started life as Lakshmi – golden skinned, dressed in pink,
delicate as a lotus, pulling gilded rain from the sky –
they marvelled at my shining face, put sweets into my rosy mouth
and bathed me in milk, but it was far too good to last –
my lotus brightness shrivelled, my skin darkened,
a crow tugged at my footsteps and sweetmeats turned
sour as dried limes… they wept at the sight of me,
a shrunken, owlish creature bespectacled and bookish,
but what a relief to put an end to all that capricious abundance…
I knew that Lakshmi was as fickle as moonlight in a puddle
here and gone – in a shower of glittering
raindrops which was always going to leave us wet and cold.
Note: Lakshmi is the beautiful goddess of wealth, luxury, fortune, and power. She is also called Chanchala, the whimsical one who is always restless. Alakshmi, the older sister of Lakshmi is the goddess of misfortune and discord. She is ugly with a shrivelled body, sunken cheeks and beady eyes, and associated with the crow and the owl that follows Lakshmi everywhere.
Anita Patel is a Canberra-based writer. Her poetry collection, A Common Garment (Recent Work Press), was published in 2019. She was the guest editor for Issue 2 of Not Very Quiet Journal. Her work also appears in journals such as Cordite Poetry Review, Mascara Literary Review and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.