Jenni Mazaraki is a writer living on Wurundjeri land (Melbourne). Her short story collection I’ll Hold You was highly commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an Unpublished Manuscript 2020. Her work has been published in the Australian Poetry Journal, The Suburban Review and Empty House Press. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing.
I wash my hands at least thirty-five times a day now. Debbie says not to but she wears mascara with clumps on each lash so I don’t take much notice of her.
Down by the river there are cans in small piles. Caught in the branches where the flood made a mess. They look at me from where they lie in the sun. One almost blinds me and I turn away. I can hardly bear their menace.
Ron took me to his caravan once. I only had to open the door for the whiff to smack me. He didn’t care about changing his sheets, felt no need, liked how soft they became over months of wear.
Two days after the crash they let me leave. I’d had enough of the beeping of machines and the rustling of hospital gowns. In all honesty, the invisibleness of it all was too much—nurses smiling without looking, doctors looking without seeing. The TV crews came through, bursting about the room like it was a stage, setting up lights and wires and directing the reporters with their fluffy mics and faces full of makeup. Their smiles dropped to the floor when the cameras switched off, only to be picked back up when the cameraman pressed on.
I gave an obedient account, thanked the rescue team and the hospital staff. I don’t know what they saw. There had been no time to brush my hair. With my hospital bracelets and colour coding of my chart, alerting them all to my condition. In there, I was my condition, a 6 pm news story for families eating dinner in front of the TV. Stitched up and dulled with a thing. Neat little capsules distributed at regular intervals without prompt. I felt no pain until Debbie picked me up from the hospital. She took one look at me dressed in the spare clothes that she bought from the Salvos and said, They’re fine, I told you so. No protest from me. I put my grateful face on.
It’s not only the water that’s the danger, but the stuff that’s in it, floating around like it couldn’t be bothered knowing its place. Some of them took photos and filmed themselves in their precariousness. Before it rose up and reached my place, I started my engine and tried to get the hell out. I imagined my lungs filling up with the mess, imagined myself falling in mad defiance below the muddy surface, clawing at nothing that would hold my body up.
The caravan floated down the street. Ron’s sheets finally touched water, mixing in a putrid tumble with everybody else’s lives. I thought of him as they pulled me out of the car, half-drunk from my terror. A nylon rescue rope wrapped around me in bright shades of orange and yellow. All the shouting confused me but eventually I understood and grabbed hold, pulling the line taught, grasping over and over again as the water tried to send me sideways down the road. Didn’t notice I was bleeding. My head foggy, thought I had freed myself.
Everything rushed away with the water. A procession left town without fanfare. Following each other with arms filled with children or cats. An odd troop of travellers with nowhere to go but away. Everything was gone or broken or ugly with thick ooze from the river. They warned us about the sewage, but Debbie reckoned it was all fine. She saved some stuff—her big bag bulging under her arm. The only thing I saved was Mum’s ashes, the small urn was watertight and fit neatly in my pocket. Everything was mixed up like me and Ron twisted in his sheets. Two caterpillars making a cocoon.
When the rain came, I knew what it was trying to tell me.
Bits and pieces stick to me now. I see all the invisible things. I see the sigh that Debbie makes before she’s even thought to breathe it. I see the molecules in my cup of tea, with its murky mix hiding the bottom until it’s all in me. Water rushes over me but I never feel clean. I imagine a parade of everything on my skin. In the shower I watch invisible bits of me run down the drain. That night with Ron was the night the rain started and kept going. Ron handing me another can of beer before he kissed me soft in his caravan. The pelting of water on metal above us.
Sometimes I think of Mum at the sink with her hands all sudsy, singing her church songs, winking at me as she hits the high notes.
Two towns over we stayed in the community sports centre, side by side, warm bodies in sleeping bags on painted lines meant for basketball games. Debbie insisted we huddle for warmth, me on one side of her, Ron on the other. I inhaled his scent from over the top of Debbie’s night-time chatter. I have all I need really, at least that’s what I told myself. I can live without my crystals, the ones that catch the light each morning. I can live without my bed. They told me I’m lucky, that the old guy next door didn’t make it. Couldn’t swim.
In my sleeping bag I shifted around, slipping on the thin foam mattress, I drifted into a light sleep. Debbie snored gently, adding to the buzz of other snorers in the room. Ron’s hand reached over Debbie, searching for my face.
You’re the only girl for me, ya know that don’t ya?
Yeah, I know Ron, I muttered as I slapped his hand away.
At school they taught us about the river and the banks and what happens when it floods. They told us to seek higher ground, to leave early, to abandon our stuff. I raised my hand rarely in class, but this time, I wanted to know. What happens to the fish when the river breaks? The teacher reeled off facts. Floods are good for fish, they always find refuge, and there are more bugs and creepy crawlies washed into the river for food.
Sometimes after school in summer, me and Debbie went down to the river and jumped in. My legs strong, kicking the water away from me, never seeing the bottom, wary of rusted car parts and rotting tree branches beneath me.
Debbie didn’t care about the fish, thought I was weird for asking. Her and Ron got together after our last year of school. She helped Ron set up his own place in the same park as me and Mum. Refused to move in with him until he proposed. They both helped with Mum’s funeral, said nice things like, at least she’s not in pain anymore, she’s looking over us from heaven. Ron had a soft spot for Mum, always saved her a cutting or two from one job or another. She was convinced he was a magician when he showed her how to put rusted nails in the pot to make her hydrangeas turn blue. Thirsty plant that one, I can hear Mum saying it now, tipping the cooled kettle out over the soil. I wish I’d saved some of Mum’s things—the crystal cat and the snowdome that sat on the windowsill next to her bed in the caravan. Mum would have said it’s my fault they got washed away. She would have said that I shouldn’t have done the thing I did. That the flood was my re-tri-bu-tion—she would have said it exactly like that, with her lips pushed out like a fish gasping for air.
Mum didn’t like help from anyone. She told me not to expect a thing from anyone else. Kept herself away from other people’s mess and danger. Closed our curtains each night as soon as the air cooled, made sure not to smile at certain types. Don’t want to encourage them, she explained on our way back from the laundry block, our baskets heavy with clothes straight from the machine. She didn’t like to leave the clothes on their own. Who knew what kind of hands might touch them, her whole body tense, God only knows.
She’d dance, spinning me in the small space of our van, my lungs emptying out the day with each turn. Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper and Stevie Nicks filled every precious corner, direct from the portable radio. Mum showed me how to take care of myself—use a needle and thread, repair a hinge, drive a car. She never missed church. Sat in the same spot each week. Said she didn’t mind the young reverend, even if it looked like he still couldn’t grow a beard. Told me she’d be happy for him to do her funeral. Mum went straight home after each Sunday service, never stayed for the biscuits or conversation. Mid-week she’d return to the grey bricked building and vacuum the floors. Sometimes she’d take me with her and I’d help do the flowers.
Mum told me and Debbie to walk in the middle of the road on our way home from parties. Preferring the wide expanse of bitumen to the dark paths with shrubs and trees that hands could reach from. With our bodies warm with booze, we didn’t feel the cold, or the danger.
Mum always said Debbie could have been her daughter—both of them with the same wild hair that broke hairbands. Mum said that I looked like my dad, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. Whenever Debbie came over, Mum gave her the Royal Doulton cup, the one I gave her all those Christmases ago. That I had saved for with my money from pulling weeds and raking gardens after school. Sat there in the op shop window with the price tag dangling, torturing me for weeks before I could go in and claim it with a handful of notes and so many coins jangling against each other like dull chimes from my pocket.
You’ve got a good one in that Debbie, Mum would say each time after she left. Shaking her head softly as though she had just been visited by an apparition. Cleared the cup away as though Whitney Houston herself drank from its edge. I didn’t like thinking about the way that Debbie could make Mum forget her pain for a bit.
Mum stopped breathing during a heatwave. I let her hand go only when it started to cool. The reverend gave a nice sermon. Said that Mum’s presence each week bolstered him on rough days, like a sailor seeking the horizon for guidance. I hadn’t thought about that, how Mum affected anyone other than me.
The street is dry now but I can’t go back home. Ron moved in with Debbie and her mum down by the beach. I would have thought they’d be sick of the sight of water. They’re saving for their own place. Debbie’s still waiting for a ring.
Judy helped me set up the new caravan. She teaches down at the primary school. A lot of work still needed to get the school right again. Most people help each weekend, but it’s not ready for the kids yet. Some people still talk about the flood, but not me and Judy. I’ll go over to hers later tonight and have a drink. After that I’ll go back to the start again. New sheets, new everything.
Up on the hill, my new place has views and my new neighbours seem OK. The laminex is green, a slightly lighter shade than the benchtop where Mum used to keep the biscuit tin and the ceramic pig salt and pepper shakers, bumping up against each other. I have a cuppa each morning, spooning in exactly half a teaspoon of sugar, just like Mum taught me. I run my hand across the bare window ledge as I sip, brushing away droplets of condensation as they drip down the glass and wipe my fingers dry on my jeans. Ron gave me some hydrangeas before he left. I’ll scatter Mum’s ashes under the blooms, water them in and wait to see what colour she’ll turn them.
Belle is a non-binary writer from regional NSW, most of their work is based around LGBTQ+ topics and working towards a greener future. They also love a good oat milk iced latte.
The Last Choir
There will be little nothings that follow. Moments found between parchment and stone. A leaf, floating in the wind will be a great moment of joy for the world.
Because there will be no songs after the last bittersweet verses of a choir. The whales in the deep seas have melted. The moonlight has become lonely without them. There are no strangers to gaze up at the sky and wonder if a better life awaits them over the next hill.
The last of the symphonies played out long ago where only sand remains now. The bones are bleached, a poppy has sprouted through an eye socket. Congratulations to the skull of the loan shark, who managed to bring some beauty into the world. One hundred years after his death.
There is no music in the world, for now. But there are germs and seeds still. Enough that one day, there will be birdsong. Crickets in the evening. Cicadas during the summer.
But no more choirs to mimic them.
Zoë Meager is from Aotearoa New Zealand and has a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Her work has been published abroad in Granta, Lost Balloon, and Overland, and at home in Hue and Cry, Landfall, Mayhem, North & South, Turbine | Kapohau, and anthologised in Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand and two volumes of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy.
Come a gutsa
The crazy lady has climbed into the orange rafters of the rollercoaster. She clings not to the tracks, with their promise of tick-tick-tick teeter-tease then dive whoosh swoop zoom whee! but just beneath, where deep iron shadows criss-cross her body.
Down on the ground, slight park attendants with brightly-coloured t-shirts and pale voices address the waiting crowd. The crowd has already purchased its tickets, already queued in compliance with the park’s stated queuing code, already eaten the fairy-floss-hotdog-chips, and now it wants the simulated near-death experience it was promised.
The mother koala and the baby koala are curled into a ball and pressed like grey chewing gum into the junction of two orange beams. They are so close—the crazy lady could almost reach out and touch them. The mother koala listens to the crowd below with eyes half closed. She rearranges the baby koala against her, squeezes, rearranges, squeezes. She does not attend to all the railings to bounce off on the way down. She is thinking about the khaki-coloured leaf that is good to eat. She is thinking about drinking, the liquid taste of earth that is chattering cool.
The crowd below stares up with stones for eyes. Pie holes drawl open, half-chewed words spill out: We’ve been in line for bloody ages, we want a go on the ride! Those koalas jumped the queue, they shouldn’t get to zoom! Those bloody koalas should go back to where they came from.
All this quick year, the crazy lady has heard the country fires drawing closer. She has wandered through old banks of trees, heard the fruity thud of desiccated bats as they hit the ground, she has picked them up, said goodbye to their closing eyes. On dusty streets with shouts and sticks she has broken up squabbles between dingoes and domestic dogs. Seen a grassy parakeet snatch an icy pole from a baby’s sausage fingers. Koalas coming in, perching in the public gardens and starving in suburban backyards. Housewives towing their kids to garden centres and pet stores, asking for eucalypt leaves when they have only just put to bed the annual swan plant shortage.
In the orange rafters of the rollercoaster, the mother koala and the baby koala are a fuzzy football, tailless and divine. The crazy lady is trembling as she inches forward beneath them, a jute-strong bag wedged under her reusable shoulder. She is hoping that when the koalas come unstuck, she can catch them.
The crowd below is baking restless, letting off swearwords into the summer-blue sky. All its white faces boiling red, blonde hair in a halo of putrid smoke. The crowd points its arms all up, up, a hundred skewers, It’s her, she’s stopping us riding the coaster! She’s taking away our human rights!
The baby koala really wants to cling to its mother’s back. It’s at that age. Okay then, says the mother koala, drowsily, letting the baby koala tunnel under her arm and up and onto her back. The baby koala arrives safely on its mother’s back, scrunches its perfect black claws into her rabbity fur and gives out a small dry sigh, and it’s safe there clinging to the hill of her back. Except it doesn’t and it isn’t and it never could, except thirst has left it weak and plummeting, a teddy bear dropped from a pram, headfirst and gone. The crazy lady moves to catch it, the bag snags on the stud of her jeans and she struggles to work it free. The mother koala feels the baby koala’s weight drop away from her and opens her eyes, only to see the shadows of the rollercoaster rafters crossing, double-crossing, double, double. Her nose, a spoon of molasses, she buries into her own soft body. The crazy lady knows it is too late then, and she knows that there is still time.
Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Pacific Islander poet from Guåhan (Guam). He is the author of five books of poetry and the co-editor of five anthologies. He teaches at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.
Rings of Fire Sonnet During the Pandemic
We celebrate our daughter’s third birthday
during the hottest September in history.
My parents Facetime from California,
where fire is harvesting four million acres
of ash. “I visited grandma today,”
my mom says. “The orange sky scared her.”
Flames flood brazil’s wetlands
as europe’s largest refugee camp smolders,
granting the charred asylum.
“We might have to evacuate tomorrow,”
my mom says, but tonight we open gifts, sing
& blow out the candles together.
Smoke trembles, as if we all exhaled
the same combustible wish.
Echolocation Sonnet During the Pandemic
for the orca, J35, and her child, J57
Today, you birthed another calf. I imagine
you both swimming a thousand nautical miles
until every wave becomes an ode, until the sea
is a wet nursery. How do you translate
“congratulations” in your dialect of whistles?
What is joy but our shared echolocation?
My second daughter was born three years ago,
premature, but now chubby & strong.
I cook salmon for our dinner and pray
that your pod has enough to eat.
We haven’t been to the beach in months
due to quarantine, but you remind us:
hope is our most buoyant
Chris Armstrong’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, most recently The Suburban Review, K’in and Backstory as well as Griffith Review and regularly in Cordite. Armstrong was runner up in the Judith Wright Overland Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Writers in 2015 and received an ASA Emerging Writers Mentorship for her poetry manuscript The Watershed, which was published as a chapbook in 2017. Armstrong is currently involved as poet for The White Bluff Project (https://www.thewhitebluffproject.co/) a collaborative art, science and community project exploring ‘place’ with particular reference to the effects of climate and urbanisation on a coastal ecosystem. Armstrong was raised on the invaded lands of the Gumbaynggir people on the east coast of Australia but currently resides in lutriwita (Tasmania).
maana ngawaa muniimbugany muniim nyamigundi maarlala
ngawaa muniimbugany words live beyond our needy tongues to
affirm what is you call me to come see the classic smooth and
creamy shapes of stone wash’d in dreamy waves beneath the
white bluff where language too is a sedimentary thing lithified
into the first song within and where after and before daalgiya
ngaanyaw nguuralami giduurr wiigurr nyan muniim nyamigundi
maarlala ngawaabugany muniim maana muniimbugany ngawa
weigh it feel it roll it on that needy tongue feed it to your
children waagay fire yamaarr fish gaagal ocean language that
made me unmade you first manggaarla remaking what was you
juna junaa gayi wear lexis like necklaces of sophora tomentosa
ngayinggi yarrang listen niirum maanyung carrying the sound of
two whales breathing as they rise arc dive into the dark sea
ngayinggi yarrang beneath hooped pines beside cuttlefish
flotsam streaked with copper based blood jarlarrla gagalngay
how is the wind not called a living thing and a breath not thought
Manggaarla is ‘first’ in Gumbaynggir language. Thank you to Gumbaynggir artist Tori Ann Donnelly, with assistance from Kal Morris, for the translations to Gumbaynggir in the poem Manggarla. The poem is part of a collaborative artwork with artists Tori Donnelly and Sarah Mufford for The White Bluff Project at Coffs Harbour Regional Art Gallery from 31 October 2021 to 15 January 2022. See https://www.thewhitebluffproject.co/. It is also available as an image of the final artwork. The poem also acknowledges influences from Gwen Harwood’s poem ‘The Littoral’.
Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of E, UIO, A: a feghoot (Container), A pet per ably-faced kid (Stale Objects dePress), P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).
centocartography, Campsie: that wild society
Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Hippodromania; or, whiffs from the pipe’; Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Ye Wearie Wayfarer, hys Ballad In Eight Fyttes’; Adam Lindsay Gordon, ‘Delilah’; Lord Byron ‘Don Juan, canto the fourteenth’; Lord Alfred Tennyson ‘Come Down, O Maid’; Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Mighty Eagle’; William Cowper, ‘The Task: Book V – The Winter Morning Walk’; Thomas Moore, ‘Memorabilia of last week’; Robert Burns, ‘Song – Composed in Spring’; John Dryden, ‘Calm was the even and clear was the sky’; Robert Browning, ‘The House Of Clouds’; William Shakespeare, ‘Bridal Song’
Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, essayist and curator based in Bombay. His seven collections of poetry include Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems (Penguin, 2006), Central Time (Penguin/ Viking, 2014), Jonahwhale (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2018; published by Arc in the UK as The Atlas of Lost Beliefs, 2020, which received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Summer 2020) and, most recently, Hunchprose (Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton, 2021). His translation of a celebrated 14th-century Kashmiri woman saint’s poetry has appeared as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2012). Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program (IWP), University of Iowa; writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich, Theater der Welt, Essen-Mülheim, and the Polish Institute, Berlin; and researcher-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht. His poems have been translated into German, Hindi, Bangla, Irish, Marathi, Swedish, Spanish, and Arabic. Hoskote curated India’s first-ever national pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011) and was co-curator, with Okwui Enwezor and Hyunjin Kim, of the 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008).
for Ravi Agarwal
What if the white mare dragged down by a flabby bridegroom
and underfed by her hungry syce
had the same name as the child ferrying bricks in her head pan
at the kiln?
What if the bat practising a dive behind the shuttered windows
of the Natural History section
could ask the elephant grazing in the parched scrubland
which would not be one of the brightly painted names of the god
tucking his trunk in as his fans see him off at high tide
a departure viewed from the Towers of Silence by a tribe
of scrawny vultures contemplating their journey’s end?
What if you tried to prise a password out of the stuffed orangutan
the taxidermists have enthroned as a totem at the zoo?
In all these names you’d recognise the lost and forgotten seeds
that a sleepy child dropped on the mossy ghats
as the pilgrims from the stars newly arrived swept past
one full-moon night in vermilion and brocade
Who could have told them they would meet us again
stripped of our gaudy masks our carrying voices muted
as skeletons on display
in a distant planet’s Museum of Cautionary Tales?
Author of four books of poetry, Two Full Moons (Bombaykala Books), Words Not Spoken (Brown Critique), The Longest Pleasure (Finishing Line Press) and The Silk Of Hunger (AuthorsPress), Vinita is an award winning poet, editor, translator and curator. Joint recipient of the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2018 and winner of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence USA 2015. She is Poetry Editor with Usawa Literary Review. Her work has been widely published and anthologised. Her poem won a prize for the Moon Anthology on the Moon by TallGrass Writers Guild, Chicago 2017. More recently her poem won a special mention in the Hawker Prize for best South Asian poetry. She has contributed a monthly column on Asian Poets on the literary blog of the Hamline University, Saint Paul USA in 2016-17. In September 2020, she edited an anthology on climate change titled Open Your Eyes (pub. Hawakal). Most recently she co-edited the Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English 2020-21 (Hawakal). She judged the RLFPA poetry contest (International Prize) in 2016 and co judged the Asian Cha’s poetry contest on The Other Side in 2015. She was featured in a documentary on twenty women poets from Asia, produced in Taiwan. She has read at the FILEY Book Fair, Merida, Mexico, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival among others. She is on the Advisory Board of the Tagore Literary Prize. She has curated literary events for PEN Mumbai. Read more about her at www.vinitawords.com
Splendid Poison Frog
Was it a cold December Wednesday
when you left?
A frosty, flinty, pin-point moment
that seals most pull-outs.
Silent like a hushed Mayday signal
reverberating in the ripples of a pond.
What time exactly
did you hop over
to where nowhere exists?
Did the sun flicker
at your vanishing act?
The way yellow convulses on a color palette
when mixed with green
before turning blue.
Was it the hour of dusk,
your favorite hour,
when you looked your dashing, heart-throb best
skin, brilliant coral, eyes, kohl black.
A fungus with a long name
colonized your body.
A local phenomena, some said.
Like a cloud breaking-up
a balmy summer’s evening.
Did the next morning feel
like a fine after-showers morning?
Estimated Extinction date: 2020
Cause: Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis)
Tim Loveday is a poet, a writer, and an editor. As the recipient of a 2020 Next Chapter Wheeler Centre Fellowship and a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship, his work aims to challenge toxic masculinity in Australia. His poetry/prose has appeared in Meanjin, Cordite, The Big Issue, Babyteeth, Meniscus, Text Journal, and The Big Smoke, among others. A Neurodivergent dog parent, he is the verse editor for XR’s Creative Hub. Tim currently resides in North Melbourne, the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.
at the end of the rail
in the morning when the sun peels
back like a paper cut and the blue
metal is thunder under our feet
i see shadow-diamonds spread
across the train yard and i feel
as small as a bird and as wide
as a sail
last night i listened to your two way radio
i pulled the blanket up to my ears and shaped
myself into a satellite its static jargon a dialogue
with god or grease or grit i heard the miracle of
boom boom boom
we were the
new age of romans with a thousand outposts
we were cowboys riding iron centipedes
before dawn i threw off my blankets
like old ghosts sprang from my bed
like new smoke heard your voice
in the walls as you swept
me up in your wings
took me to your shoulders
atlas or he-man or rambo
on the rails duke on the frontier
you smelt of oil aftershave radio waves
you whispered to me in the language
of future and the earth
i had barely seen the blue streets
how the stars grew hazy in the steam
how horizon bled the false border of morning
we lived before the aftermath
i am a fault-line across your chest
liquid gold sprung from your veins
i fill the cavity where your heart should be
i am young country
boom boom boom
at the station the rails rattle
in the flyscreen and the man with
the corkboard halo is chequered
like a topographic map
when he grins he shucks open
a territory calls you by
our last name
a town or a street or a mountain
or the origin of a valley
in the office you say
wives and work as if they
tighten bolts avenge crimes
on your holsters there are radios the size
of guns you are blue men with
un-dreams as big as china
under your eyes
everyone is envious
go ahead the man says into his radio
laying the rail with his words
at the terminal box you teach
me to splice the rails my body
a limp flag made of flesh
i hang from the lever
asking for islands to swell
on my biceps
birds turn into reverse silhouettes
it’s excalibur you exclaim
stick your foot down like
sinking a spade
boom boom boom
when we walk the rails we tell history
this parallel never met by our shadow
i swim onto your shoulders as day
i am the new
collar ironed by my mother
and the space above your
head is a frontier
from here the world is flat
borders white lines in the dirt
you can feel a train coming
in the shake of the earth
we are going to be giants you say
gripping my shins
i roll up my
sleeves and flex my arms
giving you horns
at the door meccano in full-scale
you swing me into the carriage
the child who is flightless
climbs on the back of the
wind held up a hurt bird
in the cabin men breathe planets
onto perspex they hark like myna birds
rooted bitou bush hunched like cane toads
they claim to live at
these gears they’ve got
tickets to show it
they’ve crossed this country
ten times over sleepless
they’ve seen land where water
is foreign where open cuts
i sit back and watch you
walk ahead on the rails
trees white-paper in the train’s blared
whiteness shape themselves into
memories call themselves footprints
they’re roped to fence posts
this is morning not mourning
my breath leaves my mouth
like a greenhouse
boom boom boom
up ahead on the rail you dance
with your arms of red light
and i wonder what it means
to write history with your
your blood let
disfiguring the open
cut of morning
whatcha think of your dad one of the men
asks his cadence forty packs of imported
cigarettes in his fist is a gear that i know
lights up streets turns show houses into
he’s a hero i say but
the word feels tiny when i’ve seen maps
that lay across this country like a bandage
you’re the beginning
and the end of
of the world
you’re the answer
way off the plant blinks like
a child-killer a christmas in morse code
spaghetti pipes spewing
ethanol bruising the sky purple
the horizon quivers the drivers pull the horn
birds rush to their nests in the clouds
fall through invisible floor boards
burn up on re-entry
sometimes i wonder
if you ever stopped in those
towns where you once said
the waters ran like blood
did you own a skeleton key
did you ever peel back
excalibur feel the weight
of the blade in your hands
alter the course of this
in my ears our heart
boom boom boom
my eyes mirror
the blood-shot sky
the thrum of the engine
rattles through my bones
all my ancestors are ghosts
all my ancestors cling
to the atmosphere
as you walk the rails
fade into morning settle into history
men talk talk talk
we have learnt distance
in this country
we have learnt to never
Sonnet Mondal writes from Kolkata and is the author of An Afternoon in My Mind (Copper Coin, 2021), Karmic Chanting (Copper Coin, 2018), Ink and Line (Dhauli Books, 2018), and five other books of poetry. He serves as the director of Chair Poetry Evenings-Kolkata’s International Poetry Festival and managing editor of Verseville.
If I Could
If I were a travelling air
without any bony cage,
moral circuits and routes
blowing to the will of paddy fields
smelling the sexual union
of grass roots with wet soil
I would swoop and lift the infant souls
of dead harvested crops
fetching them to their seeds
and allow them to breathe me again.