Two Poems by Robyn Rowland



For June and Bronwyne, aged care home-help


None. But these come, grounded angels,

more useful than the litany of winged

messengers each religion offers.

Always calm, always giving, they wear violet.

Invisible among us, I didn’t know them

till exhausted, I cried out for help,

buckling under this burden, this loved parent,

a man, one hundred years of age.

Wings of dragonfly gossamer, frets

of hidden steel, engined by light

as angels are, their inner pulse is compassion,

humour the fluid in their veins.

Gifts are lodged in them we cannot see

revealed slowly over time.

When they come, they rewind his memories

with word games, cards, old albums.

Magic conjurors, they help him

shuffle his stories into newness,

those I have heard a thousand times.

They coax him, where I command,

laugh easily while my smile feels set.

Each muscle in me aches, tendons tighten.

Hands over-used, fingers click a painful rebellion.

I am heart-tired, bone-tired, too weary even to weep.

They tell me everything, all this, is normality.

They teach me how to clear away risk,

equip bedroom, bathroom, to watch

his body, to glove myself into forbearance,

needed to clean up mishaps, how to bandage.

They are fearless of his old skin,

‘leaking legs’, limbs so full of fluid his cells

weep, as if those fleshy blocks are melting.

Their glance is gentle on us.

I feed on their kindness, the babe in caring I am.

I want to be the good daughter

they tell me I am. I see him slipping.

Sadness swells in me, a reservoir

damned below the sills of my eyes.

Sometimes when they come,

they make me go and walk the beach.

I collect the broken bones of shells,

twisted fluted spines, white and lovely

in their fleshlessness, glass fragments rolled

a million times smooth, translucent, pearly, bottle-green.

I place them on my window-ledge with fan-shells

the colour of sunset, an empty shark egg. This attention

to amassing the shattered, the crushed on the sands,

is respite from the loss in my father’s draining life.


Slowly, no need for haste, it waits, evergreen.

Three, maybe five years before it bothers

to startle with its flower, all angular and sharp

nothing like our fluttering camellia.

Upright, haughty, its plume startling Indian orange

tongued in purple, Bird of Paradise, Crane Bird,

this day bright with it, on the one walk allowed.

Proud immigrant, the Strelitzia does not waste time

spreading pollen. When ready, it opens, offers itself.

Beak sharp, horizontal, it is the perfect perch

for a honeyeater, invitation to this sunbird from the old world

with its brush-tipped tongue flicking rapidly, repeatedly.

The bird darts for the arrow-shaped nectary,

swollen pods below, and is doused by the plant in pollen.

Behind closed doors, the screens are beeping

but outside here, a neighbourhood paradise in bloom.