Elizabeth Biff Ward

Elizabeth Biff Ward is descended, on both sides of her family, from early South Australian settlers. Her parents used the short trip to Sydney in 1939 as their honeymoon so she was born in Sydney in 1942 and spent most of her life in Monaro, her “blood’s country”. She lived in Adelaide from 1984-1996 and greatly appreciated the association with Friendly St in that time.
Her poetry and prose have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals. She wrote Father-Daughter Rape (UK 1984), one of the first books in the world on child sexual abuse, and three’s company (Friendly Street/Wakefield Press,1992) with Deborah McCulloch and Donna McSkimming.

The Real Answer to the Magistrate’s Question

There’s a hole, she said,
in the ozone layer, a hole
and you ask me why?…
Why don’t I scream? Why don’t
I die? What will you do?
There’s a hole, she said

What will it do to the wheat
the rice the corn the bread
tortilla chapati staple
grain yellow white gold
in all the whole wide world
What will it do to the wheat?

The cattle barons give way
to the conference table tycoon:
Contract farming, they call it –
the peasant doesn’t even own
the chickens he watches in rows
The proud cattle barons give way to

The chemical children
Allergic! Allergic! she cried,
to the whole of the city their
everywhere day: watery eyes
nauseous numb splitting heads
of the chemical child

Don’t tell them about bush
tomatoes – they’d plough the
desert with hybrid seed and sell
them in plastic pockets with
smiling nunga saying Yum!
Don’t tell them about bush…

You have green thumbs, the mother
said. The trees you grow
give shade in two years, deep
dappled calm amid the hot winds
of summer… your green fingers
trail over a face under the trees

She becomes I who is the mother who
says this poem is an equation
because what you eat is what you are
and planting spinach has become
a revolutionary act. She is I
who is the mother and I tell you

There’s a hole a hole a hole
the ozone layer is being peeled
the flesh of earth lies revealed

Green, says the mother, is the
colour the colour the colour
that heals…

From Friendly Street No. 15 and Tuesday Night Live

Girl On A Toothpick

in an Asian 5 star hotel
a six foot three white man
four star general or was it
a visiting Foreign Minister
ordered a girl by room service
along with a drink & a snack

little did he know it was
Kali’s night on the line
Yes sir, of course, sir
& could we just be sure sir
what kind of girl you’d like

would it be a rice-field girl
fresh with sweat & laughter
or would it be the village lass
who washes up out the back
or would it be a top-class girl
acting your dinner partner
perhaps a porno star
gyrating for you alone
or could it be a schoolgirl
western uniform hunching
over homework in the corner
or a housewife cranky from putting
her children to bed in a rush
or is it a hot-cunt girl you want
sharp & poor off the street
sending her money back home
or a virginal violin player
a college student in jeans
or the ten-year old outside
searching dry-eyed for her brother
or is it an old girl you want
yelling at your wallet from the
market very unlike your mother
or even a baby, a toddler
a girl of only tender years
to remind you of your daughter

or is it, in fact, just
any girl on a toothpick
that you want/which girl
is it, sir, that you’d like?
would you, could you say?
spell it out? we aim to please

the sounds down the phone
twisting like asterisks
hooked deep in the larynx
of the General/Foreign Minister
who could not on this occasion
give his usual co-ordinates

Kali stretched her scarlet lips
in purring Goodnight Sir
& hung up the phone

From Friendly Street No. 18


like a necklace of worry beads
my fears
rub grooves in my collar bones
I hook my fingers there
I hang on to myself

I notice even when all seems fine
bones erode
shed fine dust through the night
maybe he’s on the up and up again
over the top into the madzone

sometimes he stretches a finger
grave as ET
knuckles curving slow motion
anchor in the deepest groove
deft as his words not to worry

sometimes the beads coil silent
in my palm
the two of us & a heatwave day
oozing into the sea when he says
let’s not go yet let’s watch it all

my necklace of worry beads
has rubbed grooves in my collar bones

yet now and then
I hook my fingers there
and swing in exultation

From Friendly Street No. 19