E A Gleeson
E A Gleeson is a Ballarat based writer and Funeral Director. Earlier this year she featured at the inaugural Australian Poetry Festival in Castlemaine. Her poems have been published and read in Australia, Ireland and the USA. Gleeson was awarded the 2008 Interactive Press Best First Book Award for her poetry manuscript, which will be published later this year.
Making a different path
Plunging into the huge pile of rubble, digging through it
she rescued them, whole bricks abandoned for a chipped
edge or a flaw in colour, and then, when it looked as if
there were no more to be had, she went back into that pile
uncovering the halves, throwing them into the barrow and
then thrusting her arms deeper into the broken bricks, each
time going down further, fingers tipping the bricks, sliding
along them, feeling for length and then, gripping fiercely
with her finger tips, she pulled the new found brick through
the pile, setting the others crumbling and tumbling.
With the string lines curving across her block, she placed
the bricks across and down, three by three. She wove
the path across the yard, curving it around the place she’d
marked out for fruit trees, setting it beside the squares
that would become a vege patch. All evening, she carried
aching muscles about the house. Unused to the heft of work,
she filled a bath and eased her body in, stroked the cloth
along each scratched arm, dabbed at each blistered palm
and later, found herself clasping her hands as if she were
holding some hard won precious thing.
Sunday Afternoon Bush Walk
Eucalypts drip amongst the quiet voices
of strangers taking each other’s measure.
Fog clings to the stand of mountain ash.
We step out slowly. Mud sucks our boots
We scramble fallen logs, wade through bracken.
Cautiously, we move to higher ground.
Sliding alongside one another, keeping pace
with bits of chat, we slip in on other conversations:
film reviews, travel stories punctuated
with bird calls, snapping twigs. Paragraphed
by steeper slopes, the talk moves up a notch
hedges on the personal.
You’re telling us about your birth.
Doctors thought you good as dead
offered your mother special care staring
through Plexiglas at your ribs heaving
Rejecting this, she took you home. For fourteen
days and nights, she held you. Snuggled between
her breasts, dribbles of milk, temptation to suckle.
Her heart beating like a metronome.
Her skin. Your skin.
Her breath. Your breath.
We tramp along the sodden track.
Bursts of warm sunshine challenge
the winter landscape.
Is this all there is?
We spend the whole day together and then the next.
For me, it’s as if we’ve always had and always will
have a part together. Haio becomes my teacher. I
want to know how to behave in this different country.
I learn that it is not OK to eat a naked banana and eye
contact is not such an important thing, though I notice
that when we are part of the throng of motorbikes
surging along Tran Hung Dao, she turns right round
to talk to me. I am relieved when she leans forward
again, until I realize that she does this to read
the map and answer her mobile phone. I am not sure
of the protocol of gripping her buttocks with my thighs
but as my jeans take the dust from the buses we pass,
I am thinking about other things.
Never have I felt such a part of a people’s movement.
There are more people on motorbikes on either side
of me than could ever fit in a Swanston St. peace march.
Haio weaves her bike through the city traffic as if these
days are all that we have. She wants to show me what I
need to learn. She cuts to the chase. She asks questions
that I never ask before a third date. She points to the people
whose disfigured bodies bend awkwardly along the pavement,
She tosses coins, chats to the locals, coerces the officials.
She takes me to see her friends and the paintings that she loves.
I feel as if I have met someone who might be a Buddhist, well
along the path to enlightenment, or perhaps that rare thing,
a Christian who knows what it is to love one another.
When she is not asking questions, she is my tour guide.
I begin to understand why the figure of Ho Chi Minh
whom I feared in my childhood, will always be Uncle Ho
for her. She shows me what she wants me to understand
and says, “This is what you need to write your poems about”.
I want her to tell me that these huts made from split boards
and bits of tin are summer residences for the rice growers,
shepherd’s huts for the farmers, that way up in the hills
beyond the paddy fields are cosy cottages all decked out
with woven mats and polished teak and that behind these
are gardens full of vivid vegetables and bunches of bananas
bowing from the trees, but I know before I ask the question
that this is all that there is.
Each time we pass the central Post Office, the man with
the gummy grin is sitting in his cyclo smiling at the tourists
because he does not have the quick repartee of the cyclo
owners with the clean cotton covers and the sunshades,
“Where you from, Madame?” “Ah my friend in Melbourne.”
“How can I help you?” “Special price for you, Madame”.
Tell me that last week it was different, that the tourists
hurried to his cyclo like children to a merry-go-round,
that he took them to the mountain statue of Buddha
and the huge church with its concrete Virgin Mary
and said same same but different and laughed at his own
joke and the irony of it all, but I know that when we’ve
ridden past late in the afternoon and he’s sprawled
across the cyclo, that every day, this is how it is.
Haio takes me to visit the children whose parents
were hit by the orange bombs. The crazy boy
who is tied to his cot with his skin dropping onto
the linen, yells at me. And the girl who seems to be
all torso and head, reaches out and pulls me towards
her as if to show that for a hug, a neck is not necessary.
There are children who stare blankly from misshapen
bodies and others who grin and giggle and bottom shuffle
towards us clutching at our hands, rolling us the ball,
peeking into our bags. As we walk from the last room
in the Peace Hospital where the children’s heads
are bigger than any of my questions or answers,
I turn and ask, “Haoi, what do you believe?”
She tells me, ” I don’t believe in anything.
I know that there is nothing but this.”