Maureen Vale

Maureen Vale was born in country Victoria and is a graduate of Melbourne University. She came to Adelaide for a six-month teaching stint in 1967 and is still here. She lives in Adelaide’s outer suburbs with a possessive dog and likes to walk with him or with people. Her favourite haunt is South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. She has written bits of novels, short stories and a childhood autobiography, but always comes back more seriously to poetry. After retiring from full-time teaching, she obtained an M.A. in Creative Writing from Adelaide University. Her first poetry collection, Twisting the Rainbow, was published in Friendly Street New Poets 5 in 1999.


My father sprayed tar on roads,
brought home scents of shimmering bitumen,
a breath of warm air at day’s end
and red hands greasy with sweat.

I used to watch him work with clammy concrete
stirring stone and water in a well,
to pour carefully, trowel to and fro
until it was glassed perfectly
under loving fingers.
Later I caught the scrubbed tang
of hands washing away
fragments of his skill.

River mud came home with him
dragged on long boots after floods,
dense ooze darkening everything it touched.
He scraped its ugliness from him,
leaving heaps of foreign mire
on newspaper he twisted like a rabbit’s neck, and burned.

Sometimes he took me to his workshop
to watch delicate sawdust flecks.
My nose drew sharp delight from pine and gum.
I saw his hands soften,
gently coax wood to change and grow
with his craftsman’s secrets.

On Sunday afternoons, softer still
he sat priming his pipe
amidst the pungent smell of fallen tobacco
and uncorked whisky.
This his bequest;
conjuring hands, woven aromas.

From Friendly Street No. 5 and 18

Sergei Krikalev Ponders Ten Months in Space

In there, up there
it was too different.
Quiet, even with the crackling
radio communication.
Weightless, that ultimate floating
unlike anything they simulate.
A miniature world –
ship in a bottle,
garden in a jar.
Contained absolutely
having your own existence
spinning in your own orbit.
Of course my life changed
while I took time out.
But change is measured in seconds,
first grey hair
another speck of dust on a worn wall.
They kept it waiting for me, that’s all,
their capsule of time
to exchange for mine.
When they took me from the cocoon I’d spun
they wanted me to be grateful.
I was thin, they said,
but they were grotesque
cowed by gravity, pulled out of shape.
It wasn’t coming back to a different place.
Not returning.
Not a homecoming.
More like a terrible birth.

From Friendly Street No. 18 and 5

Hovering at the Edge with Virginia

Recurring bouts of madness plagued both her childhood and married
life, and in March 1941, Virginia Woolf took her own life.
Publisher’s blurb, Virginia Woolf,
A Writer’s Diary, 1978

You can find no escape
from the storm that thunders
around your bare head,
and that black doubt
that squirms through brain cells
and blocks your mind
to make all things void.
Those confident moments of glory
become squashed leaves in mud.
Those words which flowed
are clichés sung in a foreign tongue.

You dread that aberration
when your mind stumbles on ice,
when you slip and skid
seeking your own bright space
where your sight is clear
and you know trees will bud
and drops of Spring dew hug fresh grass.

You fight to fill your day,
clean the kitchen, sweep the path.
Keep yourself busy
though your body aches for peace,
to retreat to your deep bed
block your ears
and hide in a cave of blankets,
a hibernating animal.
You let your thoughts straggle
along the foggy routes
of a bizarre landscape.

On the day you have no more to give,
you watch your imagination slop away
like dirty water from a washbowl.
The mist that skims the surface
of that embracing river clears.
Stones fill your pockets
gallant as thoughts,
bolder that words;
you wade towards vanishing point.

From Friendly Street No. 5 and 23