Home Poetry The Woman Burning

The Woman Burning

The poet aurally witnesses the attempted murder of her next-door neighbour by her neighbour's ex-boyfriend.

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i. What I heard

the thump of a body
against my door

another door slamming
the sounds of running

the implacable malice
of his pursuit

her screaming
no

 

ii.What I didn’t see

his dousing her with petrol through
the gap in the door she
opened to him

her slamming it shut
before he kicked it down
to get inside

his freckled arm around her neck
his other hand
taking out the cigarette lighter

 

iii. What I see now

the soot on the walls at the place where he lit her
stretches up two metres high

at the bottom of the stairs she walked down, burning:
black prints of her blazing feet

 

iv. Please hurry

I say as the car ahead
dawdles through the amber light

suddenly I’m in the half-dark
shaking, phone held tight

against my ear,
saying to the 000 operator

it sounds serious
please hurry

 

v. Soot

soot rests in drifts on every
horizontal surface, revealing

teacup rings on
my writing desk

behind the shower curtain,
a coalminer’s bathtub

in the high corners
giant unsuspected cobwebs

balloon in the breezes,
jet black

 

 vi. The threat in silence

shaken from a tranquil Tuesday’s
quarter-to-midnight half-doze
by a cataclysmic squall
of sound—

for weeks, each time it’s still
I flinch

recognising the peace
of the moment preceding
absolute violence

 

vii. Slamming memory’s door

the sounds are clear
as yesterday, and then I see
her naked body
shiny and mottled
at the foot of the stairs
inhale again the petrol reek

each afternoon the downstairs tenant
comes home and rattlingly slams a door
that night his running feet couldn’t
save her
he could only
wrap her boyfriend’s work

in a blanket, take a bucket
and drown it
while I heard the creak of flames
through my bedroom wall
and skipped
over her breathing body to get outside

 

 viii. The price of tragedy

is not devastation
two steps removed

when you’re not the victim
or her lover or kin, just
the next-door neighbour of
the woman on the six o’clock news

it’s paid in compassion and
inconvenience
tears for her terror
a flat filled with soot

and a bargain by anyone’s
standards: eighty dollars for a cleaner

and you get to keep your skin

 

Artists Statement

In 1998 the ex-boyfriend of the woman who lived in the flat next door to mine smashed her door down, chased her with a bottle of petrol, threw it over her and set her on fire with a Bic lighter. She survived, with 3rd-degree burns to over 90 per cent of her body. Men’s violence towards women is extraordinarily pervasive in our society and on this occasion I got an up-close look at some of the worst of it. The poem documents the horror of it, some of its ripple effects, and what it’s like to be ‘the next-door neighbour of the woman on the six o’clock news’.

SOURCEWritten by Tricia Dearborn, Sydney, Australia.
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Tricia Dearborn’s poetry has been widely published in literary journals including Meanjin, Southerly, Overland and Cordite, and in anthologies such as Contemporary Australian Poetry (2016), Australian Poetry Since 1788 (2011), The Best Australian Poems (2010, 2012) and Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets (2009). She was joint winner of the Poet’s Union Poetry Prize in 2008, and has been awarded several grants by the Australia Council and a Residential Fellowship at Varuna, the Writers’ House. She is on the editorial board of Plumwood Mountain, an online journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics, and was poetry editor for the February 2016 issue. Tricia has degrees in biochemistry and arts. Her most recent collection of poetry is The Ringing World, published by Puncher & Wattmann in 2012.

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