Poetry award: P.S.Cottier for Criminals who are no longer criminals

P.S. Cottier is a poet who occasionally stoops to prose. She has worked as a lawyer, a university tutor, a union organiser and a tea lady. She wrote a PhD on animals in the works of Charles Dickens at the Australian National University. She gives frequent readings of her work in Canberra and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, The Glass Violin, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2008, and they also published her first short collection of short stories, called A Quiet Day. This was followed by poetry collection, The Cancellation of Clouds. Her poems have appeared in publications including extempore,Eureka Street, The Mozzie,Poetrix, The Canberra Times (all Oz)Hand Luggage Only(UK, an anthology of sonnets edited by Christopher Whitby),Gloom Cupboard (international),The Atlanta Review (US),  Shakespeare’s Monkey Revue (US),Star*Line (US) andContemporary Verse 2 andChiZine(Canada).   

Criminals who are no longer criminals

by P.S. Cottier

They hang about, outside any town's court,

be it modern or ancient or superannuated;

the ghosts of the crimes that are no longer crimes,

hoping to be accused of affray.  Will no one arrest

these witches, these obvious witches (not mere

warty old women with suspicious cats)?

Their herbal remedies are no longer arcane,

but sold by chemists in every shop  — magic bottled.

Everyone, now, is used to weird street theatre,

or has seen Linda Blair's filmic neck-trick.

These women, once the law's witches,

would seem a tad old hat (if visible),

with their brooms and pots and sad, ashen smells.

Common scolds are also nothing, for scolding

is our favoured art.  No bridling on Twitter

or Facebook or blogs.  No ducking the issue.

Scold on scold, reborn as a tireless troll. 

No-one hears your impudence, communis rixatrix;

though women, it's true, are often called bossy,

even when brazenly elected to speak for us all.

Let's break out champagne for the champerters!

Lawyers chase ambulances, so blow that trumpet,

then light the fires of litigation.  Hiders of treasure trove

spread their old coins on the court room steps,

but everyone steps through them, just as eavesdroppers

can eavesdrop until ears grow donkey long.

See those once locked up for buggery?

With suicidal friends blackmailed to death?

Sweet peripeteia has rewritten that act, and

these men are glad to see no-one now charged

for being just what he happens to be.

(Note that they're not all wits, or frightfully hip.)

The light is fading now, and the ghosts pack up

their unspoken love, their gold, the feisty female ways.

They only meet outside courts in business hours;

unseen reminders that what happens inside may not

be beyond the raised eyebrows of history —

the questioning 'why?' of tomorrow,

answered by shrugs, perplexed laughs, or tears.

Criminals who are no longer criminals/2

I am one of the crowd who meets outside courts.

But I have dozed while the others discussed

the 'good old ways' of the law as it was.

I zip my bag and roll it; a shabby woollen cigar.

I am the one who walks while others sleep;

a trespasser on the shores of propriety.

'Common nightwalkers are persons who sleep by day

and walk by night when reasonable people are in bed.'

I scamper, now, through the nights unimpeded,

accompanied by a witch's quiet grey cat. 

Who would send such a traveller to jail,

just for mapping, with compass-less strides,

in well-worn shoes, the paths of perhaps?

Poet's note: The two lines in italics are from NSW Legislative Assembly Hansard, 1993, the second reading of the Crimes (Common Nightwalkers) Amendment Bill, introduced to abolish the crime of nightwalking.  The speaker was Malcolm Kerr.


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