Tuesday Poem: ‘Answers to the Questionnaire for Life and Virtue’ by Amy Brown

Answers to the Questionnaire for Life and Virtue

Goon pillow, burgundy-stained kitchen garden. No.
Scarcely. That rock pool kiss—seashell teeth and slug tongues.

She believed her life was calcifying.Yes, no.
I certainly don’t want to lose him, she’d repeat.

Owning it as the sea does stones. Only during
periods of bruxomaniacal silence.

Fear of pain made her faint in a plane recently.
She saw his face as drained as hers. Is she always

so pale? asked the steward holding the oxygen
tank. She is quite a pale person, but not this white,

said he, the authority on her complexion,
who knew it in sickness and health. She did not look

forward to dying. The ache expanded behind her
forehead, inflating, she thought, like a lifejacket,

swelling as the thunderclap headache came to mind.
Hers was longer, linked to air pressure, popping ears.

Saints wake from revelatory migraines convinced
of God. Past the oxygen mask, she saw his face

wan with fond worry and was flooded with relief.
There is less poetic hysteria now. Fewer

words such as “flooded”. She was always optimistic.
More completely than many deem healthy. They just

need to break up, a single friend tells another
single friend. They don’t understand how she still finds

his small seizures astonishing—the palsied way
he paws his head to let the music out—after

a third of her life. Lying back-to-back at night
they are the moon people with two faces, eight limbs;

they are Charlie Bucket’s grandparents who never
leave the bed; Leopold and Molly—she is still

saying yes. There is her heroic faith, her hope
to stay virtuous and keep living completely.

Amy Brown’s work is a pleasure to read and I was excited to feature a new poem as a Tuesday Poem. We did our Masters together (and Amy’s MA won the Biggs Prize for Poetry) and I have always found her poems to be measured, touching and challenging. Her first collection of poetry The Propaganda Poster Girl was published by VUP in 2008. It was shortlisted for the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in the best first book of poetry category.

Amy is halfway through a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. Her dissertation is a genre study of contemporary epic poetry, focussing on a comparison between Melbourne performance poet πο’s 24 Hours and St Lucian Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott’s Omeros—both 1990s “contemporary epic poems” influenced by James Joyce’s Ulysses. An article on 24 Hours, which Amy wrote for Cordite Poetry Review, can be read here. In December, Amy will be presenting a paper on Omeros at a postcolonial literature conference in Orléans.

The creative element of Amy’s thesis is an attempt at a contemporary epic poem of her own, which follows six fictionalised saints. The poem is loosely structured around the Catholic process of canonization, one step of which involves a “Questionnaire on Life and Virtue”. The poem above provides answers to this questionnaire.

For more poems check out the Tuesday Poem blog.

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