Marion May Campbell Reviews Rose Hunter and Nellie Le Beau

By | 29 June 2023

While potent emotions like shame, disgust and terror saturate many a fragment in the excoriating testimony of Body Shell Girl, Nellie Le Beau’s Inheritance strikes numinous intensities across often disorienting, but also exhilarating, image montages which magnify the epiphanic qualities of the present without degrading any sense of the enigmatic. The title poem asserts:

                    […] It is enough
to survive alone, clearing
the last bale stacked too high,
towering beneath some bright
alfalfa Jesus quivering
beneath the pickup truck
that runs on salt, light wave
the daydream of a new man.


This vision has an hallucinatory vividness, so as in a leap of faith, the reader believes, without quite understanding. There’s a sense of glare and of blight, of air on fire, of land gone to salt, and of a quivering mirage or visitation, just as “inheritance” is an archaic mystery, in the DNA of “dendrite” or of “corpuscle” (9). Approximate homophonic substitution can also operate with oneiric effects. In the same opening poem, we have “cull me” where one might expect “call me”, “shearer for perhaps “sheila”, and “lathe” instead of “love” (9). These shifts suggest harsh reification, or commodification of the woman, in the cruel struggle to survive, recalling a motif in Hunter’s memoir.

your woodsheds burnt to frame,
a wide land living. Cull me like
you want me, like a sugar shearer
a wandering lathe
wasp waisted, signing west
its new, remembered name

(9; emphasis added)

The assonance through the whispering semivowel “w” breathes uncannily through the passage, like a scorching wind from the overheated continental interior. We have indeed “entered the marvelous” [sic], as in the phrase Le Beau grafts from Robert Duncan (4). There’s the sense of devastation of the woman, “disappeared” as such (thus “culled”) to a myth of masculine toughness (“lathe” for “love”). In an intensification of this vein, in ‘Instruction’, the husband “coils her body” inside the “hub” of his truck. Again, his masculinity further hijacks her from her own desires and ambitions, already curtailed in her recruitment to the “braising” disciplines of the feminine:

      […] He coiled her body inside the hub
of his sixteen-wheeler. She
stenography, short hand, languages
spoken by braised nylons, white
gloves, twenty years of disciplined wrists
raised above a keyboard. Later,
she destroyed herself
in six feet of Canada
pruned by Lake Erie. His
wooden boat, his silence.


The image rhetoric gives material, embodied weight to the cost of this double migration, to the regime of masculinity and to a sense of burial, if not literal death, beneath a terminal silence. But it is also implied that “inheritance” of family history is haunted by an ever-marauding terror, as in the Shoah, triggering forced migration:

You have to earn
enough so that when they come
you can sew each bill
into your coat, split open
the seam of your pants
for emeralds, smuggle
silver past the guards.
We have come 
so far. Switched out
every tooth for rubies
kept our mouths closed
at the border.

(13-14; emphasis added)

These “instructions” for survival are freighted with menace:

[…] Wherever you are,
Know that the window breaks open


This diasporic imagination sets up an interspatial ‘Call + Response’ and the map of Australia, thus othered, is itself pugilistic:

I am in a country shaped

                               like a fist, with one finger released for Carpentaria


Thought in embodied language is also magical, wildly excursive:

[…] When I say
Woolloomooloo you say Melaleuca, then fruit bats
call us home.


The human subjects in Inheritance are liminal beings, imprinted by and inhabiting borderlands, always naturally-culturally hybridised: “The boy from Adelaide has a Yankees hat, LA teeth” and the 34th parallel north ends “in a hotel room overlooking the sea”; thus even the technical calibration conjures an embodied imagination from the perspective of the persona inhabiting the 34th parallel south (12).

The title ‘Domestic Violence’ hovers over a brilliant evocation of a cruel rural culture, which has “girls skin rabbits / grip snakes up past eyebrows”, where rain is sparse, and beings become volatile under the pervasive threat of fire (15).

The stunning mythic makeover ‘And, like Andromeda’ evokes a brand of shackling femininity perpetrated by “thick-waisted” matrons upon the “wasp-waisted” invoked earlier, binding women again into the bondage of Andromeda, in captivity to the sea monster, passively awaiting “rescue” from a knife-wielding hero (17; 9; 17). Similarly, Le Beau repurposes Icarus’s story to have us direct our gaze onto his flightless sisters, denied such soaring hubris, bound to recliners far below:

While their sisters recline on sunbeds below,
with wet palms outstretched, like soft wax, beseeching.


The touch of the soft wax deposit from the hero’s demise is sheer brilliance. Just as mythic time is made immediately present through beautiful anachronist transport, Le Beau has us limping through the millennia with ancestral inheritance from earlier incarnations of the human and all the cumulus of defects and propensities that genetic inheritance can entail. For instance, “my Denisovan limp / shines blue lit / inside the geode” in ‘Sepulchral’, eons before our present Anthropocene becomes manifest through millennial erosion, and an ochre outline redraws the self:

me, ochre-cut, under concrete 
my knees bent up
waiting for the new world


And in the midst of this archaic revelation there’s a streetwise apparition:

[…] I turn toward
the light, a girl
19, with a pierced
lip takes the corner
like a tumbleweed
has highlights in her hair
like a crown. I turn
around. On swan street
we fall on our knees.


A contemporary manifestation of the numinous, perhaps. The lineation mimes the gravitas of this synchronous felling, or spontaneous genuflection before the unnameable, like spirit manifest.

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