Brook Emery reviews warming the core of things by Nora Krouk

warming the core of things

by Nora Krouk

Hybrid Publishers

ISBN: 978192166543

Reviewed by BROOK EMERY




Over the last few months, while all the wise futurists have been forecasting the decline of the book and the ascension of the virtual word, I’ve been thinking about why I’m so attracted to books, specifically to poetry BOOKS, to collections of poetry. I’m not much good at reading poems on the web and I often feel dissatisfied when I read single poems by various authors in journals and anthologies, even in hard copy, even in canon-making anthologies such as The Norton. To me, in these formats poems seem to be isolated, un-contextualised, orphans. I find myself reading one poem after another subconsciously saying things like ‘Oh, that’s not bad’, ‘Yeah, I quite like that one’, ‘There’s not much in this one, is there?’ and flipping (or scrolling) to the next one without really engaging with the poems or feeling involved. I find myself hanging out for a book of poems by the one author so I can get some sense of narrative and coherence, a feeling that the poems speak to each other and enrich each other, a sense of the voice, and personality, and world experience behind the poems.

These considerations came back to me strongly as I was reading Nora’s warming the core of things for the first time. This is a book which invites you to enter and share a life. It is a book which, poem by poem, builds into a unified and challenging consideration of what has been observed and experienced over many years. It is a book in which the overwhelming feeling is ‘warmth’, literally and metaphorically. Such warmth is doubly attractive and welcoming at a time when a lot of poetry is cool, detached, clever, and sometimes seems to have lost touch with that really basic responsibility of poetry to reach out, to connect, and to explore what it is like to be human in our thoughts and feelings.

Warming the core of things is a book which is intimate, confessional (if you like). It celebrates the personal, the familial, and the emotional, it concerns itself with the relationships between people over time. It makes me think of lines from Jack Gilbert’s poem, ‘Highlights and Interstices’ where he writes ‘… our lives happen between / the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual / breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about / her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.’ Like Gilbert, but in a very different way, Nora raises the everyday to moments of insight and appreciation. And like Gilbert, despite what he says about himself, Nora does remember both the ordinary and the extraordinary. Two of the things she and Gilbert remember and feel acutely are love and loss.

The first section of Nora’s collection is titled ‘In Memoriam’ and begins with a delicate poem to her husband Efim who died in 2008. The poem ends with the simple, dignified statement, ‘I miss you’ but this section is no simple, romanticised portrait of a long marriage and the death of a partner. It is clear-eyed, emotionally honest and vivid in its realism. It notes the tensions and ironies and ordinariness in lines such as, ‘she hates to leave him alone / yet itches to step outside’ (‘They are together most days’), in the white chair that waits ‘brazen with coloured cushions’ (‘Slumped in a chair’), in the ‘bare bottoms and other bits’ and the ‘inmates with anguished eyes / [who] search for themselves / [and] stumble over the shards’ (‘Ward 15’). The section expands to take in other deaths, other inevitabilities, and below the surface of them all are the perennial human questions, ‘Why?’ and ‘Couldn’t it have been different?’ Usually the questions are implied but sometimes they are explicitly stated as at the end of the poem ‘Blue Doona’ when Nora asks, ‘Couldn’t you just live?’ It is worth remembering that question from an early poem when you come to the last poem in the book. I’ll say something about this later because it reveals a great deal about Nora’s vision. These poems, these wishes, are moving, touching, but Nora doesn’t live in fantasy, she knows that what happened has happened and nothing can change it or take away the grief because, as she writes in ‘Birthday’, ‘Love is the most pitiless feeling of all’. To really understand the import of this statement, to unpick the relationship between ‘pity’, ‘pitiless’ and ‘love’, you not only have to read the whole poem but the whole collection. Only then will you appreciate the wisdom and emotional intelligence of this collection. Nora is a participant in these poems but she is also the thoughtful observer and interpreter. These are poems in which the border between life and art is more porous than is often the case. It takes courage, assurance and depth to be able to write, ‘My dearest dearest difficult / husband            My love’ (‘What should I do’).

The capacity for love leads to an indignity at injustice, especially the injustice done to the individual by the impersonal forces of history. It is there explicitly in some poems and is the context in which the personal happens. Nora has lived a memorable life and she remembers and can see, at this distance, things as they were, that ‘The good times in Shanghai / [were] a 20th century masquerade / as the world burned’. Nora also sees, for example in the poem ‘For Leon K’, how the effects of not knowing – ‘What did they do / before his boots were filling with blood’ – can reverberate through the decades and continue to hurt, even cripple. Nora is witness and rememberer of a father who had to break with his Polish past, of a mother ‘buried in Chinese soil / without a headstone / during the Cultural / Revolution’ (‘A short visit’), of massacres in China, experiments on humans in Harbin, of atrocities committed in war. That the personal is the political is a bit of a silly phrase but Nora’s poetry reminds us that we are all part of events that seem to have happened ‘over there’ or ‘back then’ or to ‘someone else’. Reading these poems we are reminded that no man (no woman) is an island.

Warming the core of things changes gears somewhat in the second section which is called ‘Renewals’. Here the warmth and love which were manifest within the sadness and grief are expressed in a sensual joy in beauty and in a determination to appreciate the bounty of nature. Here the poems are overflowing with wisteria, lavender, roses, gardenias, asters, food, friends, and the warmth of the sun. In the first poem ‘A smile is hovering over our street’ (‘A young woman’), in another ‘this day is / a glob / of honey / a pouring warmth’ (‘Dust on the silver chimes’), in another ‘ Like that butterfly / drunk / on sun / I claim it all: My sun!’ (‘Like that butterfly’), in another Nora is ‘… grateful to Fate / for landing in the sun’. (‘Memory’), and in ‘Shanghai Sydney’ Nora is ‘moving through an amazing puzzle / picking a piece / here            on my palm / wishing I knew a psalm / or a prayer of thanks // For everything’ (‘Shanghai Sydney). This section of Nora’s book transforms as well as renews.

If warmth and wisdom are the two dominant qualities of this book, it is the voice of the poems which makes them so attractive. Nora often jokes that her Russian typewriter mischievously makes syntactical or idiomatic mistakes in her poems or, perhaps, even writes the poems without her intervention. I don’t quite believe her because I hear her voice in so many of the poems, in little statements and questions, especially questions. I constantly hear Nora asking herself what she knows, what she has learnt, what she then believed and now believes, what she can do about fate, the inevitable. This is most notable in the third section of the book, ‘Transitions’ in which Nora has a number of conversations with God, humorously wonders about chaos theory and deals with a number of more or less philosophical issues. So many of these poems have a quality of consideration and reconsideration which is made explicit, appropriately near the end of the book, in the poem ‘Once I could plan or act’. This is not dogmatic poetry but the book does grope towards tentative, provisional answers. This testing of ideas can be seen, for example, in Nora’s identification with the sasanqua in ‘Sasanqua in May’


Gold tipped unblinking lashes
in floral faces
focus determination
to bloom            to hang on
through alternating currents
of chill air
tucked in the permanence
of green leaves
over the strewn wax petals
trampled to death
they cling to relevance
to celebration of
Here and Now
without blinking.
I know the feeling.

A similar hard-won understanding or, at least, acceptance occurs in the poem, ‘Discussions about God’ where she writes ‘My slender beautiful / jacaranda comes / into bloom slowly / It blooms and sheds / sheds and blooms // Is this the answer?

For me, a baby boomer born and raised safely in Sydney who has not known depression, revolution, war, dislocation, internment, expatriation or, on the other hand, the high, fashionable life, who has taught history but didn’t live it, these poems make me realise how little I know, how little I understand, how little I have experienced.

Here is where you have to remember that early poem.The last word in Nora’s book is ‘live’ with an exclamation mark and that feels appropriate and significant to me. As does the epigraph to the last section of the book, a Ukranian saying, ‘Wishing you good health, warm bread, and peaceful skies’. In its entirety, warming the core of things is full of life; it endorses and celebrates that Ukranian saying.


Andy Jackson reviews Out to Lunch by Andy Kissane

Out to Lunch

by Andy Kissane

Puncher and Wattmann


Reviewed by ANDY JACKSON



Among other things, Andy Kissane’s poetry in Out to Lunch focusses on suburbia, public transport, family, television, the beach and sausages.  So, why am I surprised to be moved?  And, not only moved, but challenged?

That the visceral, emotional experience of this collection is accompanied by such a sense of surprise is to me a reminder of how much I have still unconsciously bought into the myth of novelty and obscurity.  Kissane writes accessible, unpretentious, often humourous, subtly thoughtful poems.  They use language that isn’t a long way from the vernacular, what you might overhear at the food court or the pub, eavesdropping.  But it is a language carefully calibrated to heighten the sense of the momentous within the everyday.  Not to eclipse the everyday, but to attend to it – something like  the effect of a film slowing down, heightening the meaning of small gestures, glances and events.  It is a deliberate effect, sure, but it’s entirely unforced and natural – as in “Visiting Melbourne”, these are poems seemingly “sung / by lungs that never pause to think of breathing”.

This comes out intriguingly in “The Earlwood-Bardwell Park Song Cycle”, his ambitious and accomplished response to Les Murray’s “The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle” (which Kissane rightly reminds us is itself a response to the Wonguri-Mandjigai Song-Cycle of the Moon Bone).  Whereas Murray’s poem is an attempt to fuse Aboriginal storytelling with a European-Australian attachment to country attuned through annual holiday-making, Kissane takes a more modest and respectful tack.  It contains something of the same grammatical structure and heightened attention to place, but it maintains Kissane’s characteristic clarity and light touch.  His “Song Cycle” is the Australian suburban world as it is lived day to day.  It begins “the long holiday is over”, and flows through all the regular movements of traffic, work, home, shopping, crime, birdlife, the small epiphanies gained and missed.  Near its climax, the poem speaks “of the people who gave Gumbramorra Swamp / its name, the Gwiyagal people, who were here first and are still / here, who fished and lived and moved in this place, here”.  In this, it is not only a revision but a critique of Murray’s epic reach, baulking at a presumptuous appropriation of an indigenous worldview.

Most of the poems in Out to Lunch are structured in a taut and concentrated casual way, reminiscent of Robert Hass or Billy Collins, yet arguably even more deceptively casual.  I say ‘deceptively’ because very often the sensation of a Kissane poem is of someone sitting beside you to tell you what has happened to them, and just as you’ve entered into that familiar world, something twists or jolts you into somewhere exhilaratingly unexpected, though on second glance intuitively connected.  For instance, “Falling through the Hoop” contains a string of scenes and memories that touch on the life of “Heinz”.  It moves from an image of skinny-dipping at Elwood beach, to “a suspension bridge across a ravine”, then to Heinz’s sudden suicide.  At this point, Kissane, as he often does at moments like this in his poems, recedes into an admission of ignorance – “some moments / resist, no matter how you worry / at them, or pound them, they will not / answer, they will not come back”, aware that the reader will understand that these “moments” are also the people who he has lost.

To me, this is one of the most intriguing aspects of Out to Lunch.  Many of its best poems, while rooted in autobiographical specifics and a familiar suburban milieu, grapple honestly with the suffering of others, and with the limitations of that grappling.  The poet is clearly aware of, and uncomfortable with, global inequalities, and acutely aware of the great distance between his own life and the lives of others.  His poems apprehend  political complexities through the very intimate lens of empathy and imagination.  The very real dilemma of attempting to integrate global realities with daily routine is vividly evoked in “The Colour of Starvation”.  Here, Kissane remembers watching as a teenager a documentary set “somewhere in Africa or India, where many people / were poor and starving” and his subsequent anger at his family’s material comfort, acknowledging how easily an awareness of the other slides into self-consciousness.  The poem weaves this story into a meditation on William Morris, 19th century artist, textile designer and socialist; the poet’s desire to write about sweat-shop labour from the comfort of his desk; and the pleasures of food, beautiful objects and sunlight.  The poem leads us towards a familiar, uncomfortable compassion and refuses to provide solutions.  As these juxtapositions build through the course of the book, as a reader, I begin to want the poet to attempt some leap towards resolution or provocation, but Kissane eschews definitive answers in favour of the clarity of the poem’s evocation of reality.  Or, to put it another way, he overtly recognises the relative impotence of the poem to directly affect injustice – thereby allowing it to have impact in the affective field.

Throughout Out to Lunch there are small, concentrated statements of poetics, either implied or in the case of “Joy and a Fibro Shack” overt.  The poem begins with an exploration of poetry as “like the difficulty of building a house / without a plan, a wood, a hammer”, moving further into the metaphor, until the deliberately prosaic lines “Is a poem a palace or a humpy? / I prefer humpies, furnished from a daggy couch / reclaimed from the council clean-up”.  If this was the extent of the poem, it may feel underwhelming, but it shifts gear, as Kissane often does, through memory into a secondary metaphor that is just as clear and subtle, while also refusing resolution.  It ends with the poet “up at 3am, / walking the kitchen, walking the hallway, walking / the lounge room, holding a baby / who would not stop, would not stop, / just would not stop crying”.  We know that the poet is in control of this poem, but at its closure, we are left also with his awe at the wildness and hunger of poetry.

The question is, what holds this collection together?  How could it be said that these poems are out to lunch?  This is perhaps my only serious qualm with the book – the title.  The suggestion of daydreaming in Out to Lunch certainly alludes to the shifts and leaps which provide much of the energy and surprise of the collection.  And it also hints at the “Meat Matters” series of poems, where meat in its various cuts and recipes is given centre stage (which is sometimes quite funny and memorable, but also left this vegetarian a little cold) .  But the idiom to me is too much rooted in the negative or apologetic, bringing to mind someone who instinctively wants to escape from the everyday with their imagination, someone unconcerned with the world as it is and their responsibility to it.  This is not Kissane.

This, of course, is a minor issue.  Kissane is a great craftsman, the writing finely shaped yet always fluid and naturalistic. Out to Lunch was deservedly shortlisted for the 2011 Kenneth Slessor Prize – the poems are warm, subtly complex and humane.  Its peculiar and ongoing resonance comes from its full immersion in reality and memory, where moments of detail remind us of the constructed and limited nature of the poem, moments that foreground ignorance, that imply that life goes on through not knowing.

Leaving Home is to my mind perhaps the highlight of the collection.  It epitomises Kissane’s ability to fuse the quotidian with surprise and understated emotion.  From a domestic family scene where –

The oven door was permanently ajar,
hanging by its last hinge, when my mother
crossed the kitchen and planted a kiss
on my father’s bristly cheek…

to a magical, yet matter-of-factly stated transformation –

‘At last’, she said to herself, ‘I have managed
to get my priorities right’ – and with that
the feathers sprouted from her scapula
and her dentures dropped, orphan-like,
from her lips…


ANDY JACKSON’s collection, Among the Regulars (papertiger media, 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize.  In late 2011, he will be an Asialink resident at Chennai, India.  He blogs at



Ivy Ireland reviews amphora by joanne burns


by joanne burns                                                         

Giramondo Publishing, 2011

ISBN 9781920882631

Reviewed by IVY IRELAND





quadrillions of singing atoms: joanne burns’ amphora

joanne burns’ most recent collection, amphora, could almost be a gold-bound book of saints, if it weren’t for the utterly human myths also seeping through its pages.  The collection’s amphorae are filled to brimming with hagiography, angelology and quite a bit of effortless nostalgia.  In fact, burns’ well-loved quirks and smarts flood out of this collection, unable to be contained by the ancient vessels of the title.  Dipping into the overflowing liquids of the ceramic jars, the reader discovers not only the holy waters of poignant scientific enquiry, but also the pink lemonade of PopThink.  There is a great sense of questing after the divine threading throughout these poems, even if it is the divine discovered in such suburban tasks as trimming the unruly Bougainvillea or sucking on lifesavers during rosary.

What strikes me most when reading burns’ work is her tenacious grasp on the humble quotidian, her understanding of the layers beneath the hours and her willingness to unravel the cosmos into quarks and photons without losing her grasp on self and home.  “streamers”, burns’ collection of koans, koannes, give the most intimate examples of this:

weigh the rice before you boil it
how else can you catch up
with yourself

“rung” is, to my thinking, the stand-out poetry sequence of the collection.  The ladder is the subject of this humble, yet unrelenting, enquiry into what goes up and what comes down.  Jacob, Yeats and Miro feature here, of course, but it’s burns’ own nostalgic reflections that contain the best clue to the importance of this everyday tool:

great thorny branches of bouganvillia leap and lurch
towards the sky; junglegreen and purple riot in the air.
i try to prune them. cut them back into some kind of
order no topiary, after my father dies; his ladder is my
ladder now

And yet every lofty, perhaps enlightened buzz-moment, such as:

yeats knew the disloyalty of ladders
the vanishing of rungs in the windy spaces
of old minds; who end up after all those heady
moments back down on hands and knees across
familiar rubbled ground, small hearts picking through
the rags and bones of diminished time;

is craftily snatched away again by simple memories from the human psyche box:

but me. i look for an easier solution. enough of biblical
endurance and ordealism. i climb down the ladder
of memory.

Throughout amphora, burns tackles even the most typical Christian icons, such as saints and angels, with her witty, playful antennae intact.  The opening poem (from the aptly named “angles not angels” section) of the collection, “pitch,” claims:

… i don’t want an angel with huge wings
that rustle, i need someone quiet who likes to dust and shop and
vacuum while i recline and dream up poems and skim through
dictionaries and roget’s there is something about the sight
and thought of those angel wings in most religious art
that makes me shudder

suggesting that it is the typical domestic joys that truly keep the divine (and the poet) afloat in this sea of the extraordinary.  And this book of poems is awash with the extraordinary, simply packed to the brim with mini-insights that eek out of the “pleroma” and into the mind of the sage sensitive enough to capture them and distil them down for the everyday reader.  Even the almost-accidental, scattered and observational poems of the final section of the collection, “this week next week the week after” contain snippets of insight that can only be described as near-mythological or Zen-instructive:

you can’t rely on the sky
to help you sort it out it just hangs
there like a lout sucking on a milk
shake and letting it all happen the burning years

and again:

the poems are running
running away running from
that dread of having to explain
themselves, those lists of
food ingredients they’veread on the back of packets
instant noodles for example;

The blurb on the back of burn’s book states that “from… common things, from familiar words and phrases… burns draws attitudes that define a way of living – gladness, openness, curiosity, acceptance and above all sensual delight.”  Indeed there is a delightful gladness skipping throughout the pages of amphora, even in the midst of the most sardonic observations.  Yet I would add that, even through all of this all-consuming openness, there’s a sense of mocking the openness, as through nothing is sacred because everything is.  Everything is, thus, worthy of the air-knives of burns’ observational skills because the simple holiness contained within these mocked saints and abjured louts will act as their own necessary shields.
amphora is a mini-world of quarks and paradox, dissecting gods and saints alongside the contents of a school lunchbox.  And the variations in theme are almost equivalent to the variations in form.  burns’ trademark prose poems are still to be found here, yet she seems to play a lot with lineation in this collection also, as evident in “raft”:

i dream of the Gnostic pleroma
before the light and dark fissure,
the superstitious rifting: eternal hymn

Throughout amphora, however, nothing remains in stasis.  It is a book of changes: mercurial, honest, undoing itself at every turn.  Even the glorious realisations contained in these stanzas of undulating internal rhythms and rhymes are undone in the next instant:

foremost world of fullness; did the gnostics eat
grated carrot?

Reading through amphora repeatedly (and consider yourself warned: this collection will need second and third reading), I discover that, for me, it’s not the vast, eclectic field burns is plucking her poetics from that packs the most punch (though I must say I am wowed even by the neologisms).  Instead, the true magic lies in the intimate realisations, in the nostalgic, expounded memory-shards that unfold from these poems.  These snippets of insight into the specific journey of one human psyche, such as this image from “relief,” truly sing:

the smell of that old school chalk.  how time slips
away but the smell doesn’t. smell of your teenage
slip singeing after you wrapped it around your
bedlamp late at night on a school day, anxious to
conceal your awakeness from your mother while
you devour ‘the picture of dorian grey’. giving the
gods of reading lust the slip as a burnt offering.

I feel certain that the great gods of reading lust will accept joanne burns’ latest offering with all the zest it deserves.


IVY IRELAND is a part-time cabaret performer, creative writing tutor, harpist, magician’s assistant and Ph.D candidate.  Ivy was awarded the 2007 Australian Young Poet Fellowship, and has had her poems published in various literary magazines and anthologies.  Ivy’s first solo poetry publication came out in 2007 and is entitled Incidental Complications.


Hoa Pham

Hoa Pham is an author and playwright. Her play “silence” was on the VCE Drama Studies list in Victoria in 2010 and published by Currency Press. Her work can be viewed at






Inside it was warm like greenhouse flowers. Outside it was the end of the world.


He was waiting. Waiting for his mother to come.  In his favourite yellow hat with the cosy ear flaps on and wrapped up in his red puffy parka. In his gumboots with buzzy bees.

They had just had open play time when they could do anything they liked. He made a picture for his mother out of autumn leaves. The brown foliage crunched in his hands and littered the paper with broken remains.

Usually mummy was punctual. She would arrive and take her hand in his and give him a kiss on the cheek. She smelt of perfume and newly applied lipstick. Then they would go home and have a hot chocolate while she cooked dinner.

He hoped she would come soon so he could give her his collage of leaves. He had made a giraffe and a horse.


Her powdered face was a fraud, a mask to the outside world. Sometimes she thinks the mask is transparent and people can see straight through to her soul. Only her lover has seen her wake up in the early morning- her husband leaves for work by the time she rises at home.

She did not know what her lover saw in her. She was married and worn down like a river stone. Having borne two children she was plumper than she should be. She was respectable, not the kind to have extra marital affairs. Romance and longing were for other people, not for someone ordinary like her.

Only their shared secrets made her feel alive anymore.  Her husband was amiable enough, good looking enough, stable enough. But something was awry with their family set, husband and wife, son and daughter.


Outside was the distant roar of the ocean. Today he could hear the waves. It sounded like the beach had crept right up to their doorstep.

Next to him the other children were waiting too. No one’s parents had arrived yet.

He was looking at the clock.

Soon they were all looking at the clock waiting for their parents to come.

The red digital numbers on the stark black clock told no lies.

Their parents were late.


He found himself thinking of his sister. She had been crying a lot in her room. She did not cry when their parents were home, lately she had been stiff of face. But when neither of them were there and she was supposed to look after him, she would retreat into her room and cry. He would sit in front of her sliding bedroom door and wait for her to come out for a cuddle.

His sister was beautiful, with cherubic short hair. She used to go to her friend’s apartment a lot, but that stopped when the crying began. He missed his sister smiling and talking to him.

He looked back at the closed door to the children’s room. No one’s parents had arrived. That was strange. Sometimes one parent would be late. But all of them?

The children began whispering amongst themselves.

One child began to cry, snuffling softly.


They breathe heavily, and fly at each others’ touch.  Her back arcs as she feels the sensation of flying. Her lover’s fingers caress the petals of her inner self. She brushes her hands over her nipples for the fleeting sharp sensation. Then it is her lover’s turn, and they sigh together, moisture mingling. From their union, a pearl is birthed from her throat. Her lover plucks the sweet gem from her mouth with her fingers.  Slippery and wet the multi coloured rainbow goes into her mouth and she swallows. They know that if anyone finds out about the gems they birth, they would no longer have the pleasure to themselves.

This is her memory- a reconstruction as she surges forward on her fingers remembering how to feel.  Her lover is gone now over the seas, exiled far away from all that is familiar.

I still love you. Even though they have separated us. I will never forget you. Even though they have forced this marriage on me, I have learnt how to separate body and spirit.

Everything is a construction.


Mother! He thinks into the ether, hoping that she can hear him shouting in his mind. Sometimes she does know, the hiccup before he cries out aloud that brings her running into his room. Other times she is deaf to him even when he is in her arms, warm and snug.

Where are all the mummies? Where have they gone?

A child care worker opens the sliding door and is greeted by the silent anticipation of the children sitting in rows cross legged on the floor.

She shakes her head, and now he can see how white she is and the deepest frown on her face close up.  Something is wrong.


She wishes she was other than what she is. Tenses turn and twist as she remembers, sometimes she remembers the here and now, other times the past as she recalls it, in the quicksilver light of her teenage years.

When she orgasms she remembers the most. Past lovers flick by like comic book frames, the neon lights of Shinjuku out of a love hotel window, the fleeting kiss of loves that never were.

She would not exchange what she is for something else, she tells herself as she sinks into the hot bath scented with pink ginger. Her skin dissolves when she is in water and the warmth penetrates her core.

When she was younger she and her first love would don costumes on Sundays and join the cosplay parading. She was slim and flat chested and would go as Dragon Girl, a warrior in pigtails that had dragons slithering down her arms. She yearned to fly like Dragon Girl and her lover would go as Dragon Boy. That way business men would not try to proposition them like they did when her lover stayed true to her gender which was the same.

Others cannot forgive that she still holds memories of her first love dearest to her heart.


In Zen Buddhism the circle is emptiness and completeness.  In Japanese literature, a mood is captured, a fleeting feeling. It is not so important unlike Western literature, for the hero to conquer all.


She only began to play piano for herself once she was in Australia. There was an old upright piano in the corner of the multipurpose meeting room in the apartment complex. No one could hear her, she did not have to think about what other people thought and felt. The sound bounced on the wooden floor, and the touch was uneven. Clunky though her renditions were, she lost herself in the tangled notes of her memory.


He vanishes inside his mind then.

A photographer taking their pictures, a flash of light over the children sitting in rows like temple statues. Then a red headed white woman speaking a foreign language gives them soft toys.

He balances the brown soft toy kangaroo on his crossed legs. Outside older children are playing.

He remembers thinking – they have not suffered. They do not know anything.

Seriousness was pressed into him that day.

I’m not like them. I cannot be carefree.


She has a younger brother. He is the only reason that she would not wish death on her parents. She had prayed to the old gods, the dragons of earth, water, fire and heaven.

When the dream came true she was terrified by the freedom she felt, falling into empty space.


He had the ever present filial obligation to look after his older beautiful sister. Even though she had abandoned their ancestors and the family shrine.

Now the soft toy kangaroo is worn from where his baby hand had clutched it every night in his foster home. One eye is missing but somehow the kangaroo yields to being squeezed in between his shirts and shoes in his suitcase.

What do you call the hopping mouse with a bag?



Melbourne is the first place she could see the stars in the sky. She is stunned and spends nights lying on her back on the roof of the apartment complex gazing at the Southern Cross and the rabbit in the moon.

During the daytime the sky is electric blue, arcing overhead. The streets are empty. Without the mass of people to hold her in, she feels the boundaries of her self dissipate and fade.


She is the legal guardian of her brother, being over 18. Australians think she is younger than she is, other Asians see the creases at the corner of her eyes and backs of her hands and say she is older. Since her parents died, guilt and responsibility makes her shoulders tense and her hands ache with pain.

Her brother has retreated inside himself. She is cocooned in her own silence and shame.  They live in the same apartment and eat the same brand of instant ramen together but are each alone.


His sister taps on the computer keyboard late into the night, early into the morning. Once he surprised her laughing quietly at the screen. She shows animation to the CGI and flat of face to her little brother. Her phone beeps melodic messages constantly.

He studies the international baccalaureate in a school uniform that is slightly too big for him. His English picks up when he is interested in doing so. Their parents legacy had already been earmarked for their education. Without being told, the siblings do what their parents would have wanted.

He watches his sister’s movements. Sometimes she stays at university overnight and doesn’t come home. He fails to say anything. Some nights he watches TV until she returns.

He becomes immersed in anime that he is familiar with in Japanese, that is dubbed into English. He is swallowed up by the characters and is taken by one androgynous lone hero, who sometimes is referred to as a girl, other times a boy. He styles his hair in the same shaggy cut and peroxides blond.

No one is around to say no to them. She starts drinking lychee liquor in cans, imported from Japan. Then moves on to vodka and cordial. Sometimes she leaves empties around for him to finish off when she isn’t looking.


New Years Eve. At home they would go to the shrine for luck and write their wishes on wooden tablets to hang up and blow in the breeze. Last New Years Day she was with her lover. They had bought identical pink outfits at the sales and pretended to be sisters, walking together with linked arms.

At the Inari temple they had posed for snapshots under a giant stone fox statue adorned with the red bib and wrote their dearest wishes for their love in kanji on fox shaped tablets. Ringing the bells for luck they swore to never be parted and never to forget.

This year she remembers as she throws 500 yen coins into the stone dragon fountain for luck. At her home temple she had bought an extravagant gold tablet for the spirits of her parents. This alleviates her guilt, appealing to the same celestial gods to look after them in heaven.


Music was her joy from when she was a toddler. She was taken to a Suzuki method concert when she was three. Little girls in white dresses played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the violin in unison, the youngest being two years old. Her mother asked her which instrument she would like to play and she said piano. There was only one pianist amongst the little girls, and she had always felt she was different from the rest.

Mother learnt alongside her at first, a memory that made her fingers ache in sympathy. Balancing a 500 yen coins on the back of her hands to train her hands flat and straight. Doing five variations of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and listening to the Suzuki repertoire on her mp3 player at night.

Then the recitals began, first in the guise of music camps. Guests to their home were treated to a little night music by Mozart. By then her mother had stopped shadowing her. She was eight when the competition began in earnest. She began to make up her own music, her own variations. Then one evening her mother, cooking in the next room, put down her chopping knife and walked into the room. The music jarred to a stop.

“What are you playing?”

“I’m making up a surprise for the teacher.”

“Don’t ever do that again. If you play that to the teacher how bad will I look? Concentrate on your recital.”

Her mother left her, and so did the desire.


Her duet partner was assigned to her. A solemn girl, taller and four months older. Their mothers met, assessing each other under the teacher’s supervision. The two girls practiced together. The boundaries between them dissolved in the melding of their tunes, and when they won their first eisteddfod.

She rediscovered joy then staying at her duet partner’s house overnight. In this house they were allowed to read past midnight. They exchanged clothing, and secrets.

They played live to a TV studio audience to showcase their teacher. It was broadcast nationally and she was showered with attention for a day.

Their families went on excursions together. Then on one trip the mothers had an argument. Her mother blushed with anger told her they were going home early.

She never saw her duet partner again. She has been looking for her double, her collaborator, her muse ever since.


In his sister’s shadow he bloomed from benign neglect.


Maybe this is why she cannot perform anymore. The last time she drank a can of coffee before she was scheduled to play. She shook and sweated all over the keys. Then she disassociated, the audience dipped out of sight and she was far away, unable to access the joy that was once hers.

Her teacher was unsympathetic. The girl was a hard worker but fell apart under pressure. Soon the lessons ceased all together.


She does not realise that her mother’s lies parallel hers.

He does not realise his destiny is preordained like tram tracks from the stories he emotes.

The stories between the lines and spaces on the pages.



Zen Cho

Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer living in London. Her fiction has been featured or is forthcoming in various publications including Strange Horizons, the Selangor Times, Fantastique Unfettered, Steam-Powered II and GigaNotoSaurus. Her short story ‘First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia’ was a finalist in the 2011 Selangor Young Talent Awards.




The Four Generations of Chang E


The First Generation


In the final days of Earth as we knew it, Chang E won the moon lottery.

For Earthlings who were neither rich nor well-connected, the lottery was the only way to get on the Lunar Habitation Programme. (This was the Earthlings’ name for it. The moon people said: “those fucking immigrants”.)

Chang E sold everything she had: the car, the family heirloom enamel hairpin collection, her external brain. Humans were so much less intelligent than Moonites anyway. The extra brain would have made little difference.

She was entitled to the hairpins. Her grandmother had pressed them into Chang E’s hands herself, her soft old hands folding over Chang E’s.

“In the future it will be dangerous to be a woman,” her grandmother had said. “Maybe even more dangerous than when my grandmother was a girl. You look after yourself, OK?”

It was not as if anyone else would. There was a row over the hairpins. Her parents had been saving them to pay for Elder Brother’s education.

Hah! Education! Who had time for education in days like these? In these times you mated young before you died young, you plucked your roses before you came down with some hideous mutation or discovered one in your child, or else you did something crazy–like go to the moon. Like survive.

Chang E could see the signs. Her parents’ eyes had started following her around hungrily, for all the world as if they were Bugs Bunny and she was a giant carrot. One night Chang E would wake up to find herself trussed up on the altar they had erected to Elder Brother.

Since the change Elder Brother had spent most of his time in his room, slumbering Kraken-like in the gloomful depths of his bed. But by the pricking of their thumbs, by the lengthening of his teeth, Mother and Father trusted that he was their way out of the last war, their guard against assault and cannibalism.

Offerings of oranges, watermelons and pink steamed rice cakes piled up around his bed. One day Chang E would join them. Everyone knew the new gods liked best the taste of the flesh of women.

So Chang E sold her last keepsake of her grandmother and pulled on her moon boots without regret.

On the moon Chang E floated free, untrammelled by the Earth’s ponderous gravity, untroubled by that sticky thing called family. In the curious glances of the moon people, in their condescension (“your Lunarish is very good!”) she was reinvented.

Away from home, you could be anything. Nobody knew who you’d been. Nobody cared.

She lived in one of the human ghettos, learnt to walk without needing the boots to tether her to the ground, married a human who chopped wood unceasingly to displace his intolerable homesickness.

One night she woke up and saw the light lying at the foot of her bed like snow on the grass. Lifting her head, she saw the weeping blue eye of home. The thought, exultant, thrilled through her: I’m free! I’m free!


The Second Generation


Her mother had had a pet moon rabbit. This was before we found out they were sentient. She’d always treated it well, said Chang E. That was the irony: how well we had treated the rabbits! How little some of them deserved it!

Though if any rabbit had ever deserved good treatment, it was her mother’s pet rabbit. When Chang E was little, it had made herbal tea for her when she was ill, and sung her nursery rhymes in its native moon rabbit tongue–little songs, simple and savage, but rather sweet. Of course Chang E wouldn’t have been able to sing them to you now. She’d forgotten.

But she was grateful to that rabbit. It had been like a second mother to her, said Chang E.

What Chang E didn’t like was the rabbits claiming to be intelligent. It’s one thing to cradle babies to your breast and sing them songs, stroking your silken paw across their foreheads. It’s another to want the vote, demand entrance to schools, move in to the best part of town and start building warrens.

When Chang E went to university there was a rabbit living in her student hall. Imagine that. A rabbit sharing their kitchen, using their plates, filling the pantry with its food.

Chang E kept her chopsticks and bowls in her bedroom, bringing them back from the kitchen every time she finished a meal. She was polite, in memory of her nanny, but it wasn’t pleasant. The entire hall smelled of rabbit food. You worried other people would smell it on you.

Chang E was tired of smelling funny. She was tired of being ugly. She was tired of not fitting in. She’d learnt Lunarish from her immigrant mother, who’d made it sound like a song in a foreign language.

Her first day at school Chang E had sat on the floor, one of three humans among twenty children learning to add and subtract. When her teacher had asked what one and two made, her hand shot up.

“Tree!” she said.

Her teacher had smiled. She’d called up a tree on the holographic display.

“This is a tree.” She called up the image of the number three. “Now, this is three.”

She made the high-pitched clicking sound in the throat which is so difficult for humans to reproduce.

“Which is it, Changey?”

“Tree,” Chang E had said stupidly. “Tree. Tree.” Like a broken down robot.

In a month her Lunarish was perfect, accentless, and she rolled her eyes at her mother’s singsong, “Chang E, you got listen or not?”

Chang E would have liked to be motherless, pastless, selfless. Why was her skin so yellow, her eyes so small, when she felt so green inside?

After she turned 16, Chang E begged the money off her dad, who was conveniently indulgent since the divorce, and went in secret for the surgery.

When she saw herself in the mirror for the first time after the operation she gasped.

Long ovoid eyes, the last word in Lunar beauty, all iris, no ugly inconvenient whites or dark browns to spoil that perfect reflective surface. The eyes took up half her face. They were like black eggs, like jewels.

Her mother screamed when she saw Chang E. Then she cried.

It was strange. Chang E had wanted this surgery with every fibre of her being–her nose hairs swooning with longing, her liver contracting with want.

Yet she would have cried too, seeing her mother so upset, if her new eyes had let her. But Moonite eyes didn’t have tear ducts. No eyelids to cradle tears, no eyelashes to sweep them away. She stared unblinking and felt sorry for her mother, who was still alive, but locked in an inaccessible past.


The Third Generation


Chang E met H’yi in the lab, on her first day at work. He was the only rabbit there and he had the wary, closed-off look so many rabbits had.

At Chang E’s school the rabbit students had kept themselves to themselves. They had their own associations–the Rabbit Moonball Club, the Lapin Lacemaking Society–and sat in quiet groups at their own tables in the cafeteria.

Chang E had sat with her Moonite friends.

“There’s only so much you can do,” they’d said. “If they’re not making any effort to integrate …. ”

But Chang E had wondered secretly if the rabbits had the right idea. When she met other Earthlings, each one alone in a group of Moonites, they’d exchange brief embarrassed glances before subsiding back into invisibility. The basic wrongness of being an Earthling was intensified in the presence of other Earthlings. When you were with normal people you could almost forget.

Around humans Chang E could feel her face become used to smiling and frowning, every emotion transmitted to her face with that flexibility of expression that was so distasteful to Moonites. As a child this had pained her, and she’d avoided it as much as possible–better the smoothness of surface that came to her when she was hidden among Moonites.

At 24, Chang E was coming to understand that this was no way to live. But it was a difficult business, this easing into being. She and H’yi did not speak to each other at first, though they were the only non-Moonites in the lab.

The first time she brought human food to work, filling the place with strange warm smells, she kept her head down over her lunch, shrinking from the Moonites’ glances. H’yi looked over at her.

“Smells good,” he said. “I love noodles.”

“Have you had this before?” said Chang E. H’yi’s ears twitched. His face didn’t change, but somehow Chang E knew he was laughing.

“I haven’t spent my entire life in a warren,” he said. “We do get out once in a while.”

The first time Chang E slept over at his, she felt like she was coming home. The close dark warren was just big enough for her. It smelt of moon dust.

In H’yi’s arms, her face buried in his fur, she felt as if the planet itself had caught her up in its embrace. She felt the wall vibrate: next door H’yi’s mother was humming to her new litter. It was the moon’s own lullaby.

Chang E’s mother stopped speaking to her when she got married. It was rebellion, Ma said, but did she have to take it so far?

“I should have known when you changed your name,” Ma wept. “After all the effort I went to, giving you a Moonite name. Having the throat operation so I could pronounce it. Sending you to all the best schools and making sure we lived in the right neighbourhoods. When will you grow up?”

Growing up meant wanting to be Moonite. Ma had always been disappointed by how bad Chang E was at this.

They only reconciled after Chang E had the baby. Her mother came to visit, sitting stiffly on the sofa. H’yi made himself invisible in the kitchen.

The carpet on the floor between Chang E and her mother may as well have been a maria. But the baby stirred and yawned in Chang E’s arms–and stolen glance by jealous, stolen glance, her mother fell in love.

One day Chang E came home from the lab and heard her mother singing to the baby. She stopped outside the nursery and listened, her heart still.

Her mother was singing a rabbit song.

Creaky and true, the voice of an old peasant rabbit unwound from her mouth. The accent was flawless. Her face was innocent, wiped clean of murky passions, as if she’d gone back in time to a self that had not yet discovered its capacity for cruelty.


The Fourth Generation


When Chang E was 16, her mother died. The next year Chang E left school and went to Earth, taking her mother’s ashes with her in a brown ceramic urn.

The place her mother had chosen was on an island just above the equator, where, Ma had said, their Earthling ancestors had been buried. When Chang E came out of the environment-controlled port building, the air wrapped around her, sticky and close. It was like stepping into a god’s mouth and being enclosed by his warm humid breath.

Even on Earth most people travelled by hovercraft, but on this remote outpost wheeled vehicles were still in use. The journey was bumpy–the wheels rendered them victim to every stray imperfection in the road. Chang E hugged the urn to her and stared out the window, trying to ignore her nausea.

It was strange to see so many humans around, and only humans. In the capital city you’d see plenty of Moonites, expats and tourists, but not in a small town like this.

Here, thought Chang E, was what her mother had dreamt of. Earthlings would not be like moon humans, always looking anxiously over their shoulder for the next way in which they would be found wanting.

And yet her mother had not chosen to come here in life. Only in death. Where would Chang E find the answer to that riddle?

Not in the graveyard. This was on an orange hill, studded with white and grey tombstones, the vermillion earth furred in places with scrubby grass.

The sun bore close to the Earth here. The sunshine was almost a tangible thing, the heat a repeated hammer’s blow against the temple. The only shade was from the trees, starred with yellow-hearted white flowers. They smelled sweet when Chang E picked them up. She put one in her pocket.

The illness had been sudden, but they’d expected the death. Chang E’s mother had arranged everything in advance, so that once Chang E arrived she did not have to do or understand anything. The nuns took over.

Following them, listening with only half her attention on their droning chant in a language she did not know to a god she did not recognise, she looked down on the town below. The air was thick with light over the stubby low buildings, crowded close together the way human habitations tended to be.

How godlike the Moonites must have felt when they entered these skies and saw such towns from above. To love a new world, you had to get close to the ground and listen.

You were not allowed to watch them lower the urn into the ground and cover it with soil. Chang E looked up obediently.

In the blue sky there was a dragon.

She blinked. It was a flock of birds, forming a long line against the sky. A cluster of birds at one end made it look like the dragon had turned its head. The sunlight glinting off their white bodies made it seem that the dragon looked straight at her with luminous eyes.

She stood and watched the sky, her hand shading her eyes, long after the dragon had left, until the urn was buried and her mother was back in the Earth.

What was the point of this funeral so far from home, a sky’s worth of stars lying between Chang E’s mother and everyone she had ever known? Had her mother wanted Chang E to stay? Had she hoped Chang E would fall in love with the home of her ancestors, find a human to marry, and by so doing somehow return them all to a place where they were known?

Chang E put her hand in her pocket and found the flower. The petals were waxen, the texture oddly plastic between her fingertips. They had none of the fragility she’d been taught to associate with flowers.

Here is a secret Chang E knew, though her mother didn’t.

Past a certain point, you stop being able to go home. At this point, when you have got this far from where you were from, the thread snaps. The narrative breaks. And you are forced, pastless, motherless, selfless, to invent yourself anew.

At a certain point, this stops being sad–but who knows if any human has ever reached that point?

Chang E wiped her eyes and her streaming forehead, followed the nuns back to the temple, and knelt to pray to her nameless forebears.

She was at the exit when remembered the flower. The Lunar Border Agency got funny if you tried to bring Earth vegetation in. She left the flower on the steps to the temple.

Then Chang E flew back to the Moon.


Stuart Cooke translates Pablo de Rokha

Pablo de Rokha (1894-1968) was born as Pablo Díaz Loyola. Despite his profound influence upon subsequent generations of Latin American poets, he failed to achieve the international fame of his contemporary, Pablo Neruda (with whom he quarrelled fiercely and publicly). In 1965 he was awarded Chile’s National Literature Prize, deemed by many at the time to be long overdue. He committed suicide at the age of 73.





He made man, he made him in his IMAGE and semblance, and he’s enormously sad and an immense man, an immense man, the continuation of all men, all men, all the MOST manly men, the continuation of all men towards the infinite, a dream, all a dream or a TRIANGLE that dissolves in bright stars.


How much pain, how much pain did the earth need to create you, God, to create you!.. how much pain! Gesture of the world’s anguish, of matter’s sickness and an enormous, enormous mania of enormities!


God, that great human caricature, God, full of empty skies, sad consciences, sad consciences and GREAT anguish, his neutered cadaver’s voice brings together and sums up, FOR man, in his common and disconcerting attitude, the moaning of every object and, in addition, the other, the distant, the other, the other, like the words of a naive child, a naive child, a naive child; bad God, good God, wise God, stubborn God, God with passions and gestures, virtues and vices, concubines or ILLEGITIMATE sons, with an office like a pharmacist’s, like any hairdresser’s.


The earth sculpted the earth’s ingenuous fruits for him, only for him, the earth’s ingenuous fruits, and man denied the enormous world, denied the world; who was, who was ever, who was more loved than him?… he, he was the most loved but never was anything, anyone, he never was, never, never was, never, never, never was!..


Tragedy of God, God, God, the major disgrace of history, the lie, the PHENOMENAL blow to the rights of life, God.


God answered smiling answered God, God answered the most tremendous, the most obscure, the most disastrous questions and the great question; BUT the most tremendous, the most obscure, the most disastrous questions and the great question still, still haven’t been, haven’t been, haven’t been answered yet, still haven’t been answered; God squashed the earth, oh! sacred hippopotamus, God squashed the earth with filthy feet, and the footprints survive until today, survive on the roads and in the tragic belly of the worlds.


He blackened, he blackened, he blackened LIFE with the black paint of dreams and urinated the dignity of man.


“God, God, God, do you exist?… God! God! God!..”, howl the towns and the old women, the old women and the towns across the theological plains… shut up! idiots, shut up! shut up!… God IS YOU.


Great absurd wing, God extends himself over THE VOID…



The Pale Conquistadors

Epic characters, epic, executive or emphatic characters, emphatic, emphatic, and souls of bronze, steel, rock, wretched bones, wiry muscles, men of concise, energetic, simple, authentic, authoritative, exact language, and RED actions, RED burning a priori, hermit-swordsmen, swordsmen-hermits, adventurers who are transformed by hunger and the thirst for GOLD, glory, dashing exploits – glory! glory! – transformed from frauds into heroes, from frauds into heroes, the power of having a soul boiling, the power of having a soul boiling, the power of having a soul boiling at SEVENTY ONE degrees in the shade.


Dim, illiterate, ignorant, ignorant soldiers, you predated the immense, contemporary urban estates and you were THE FIRST settlers of the dull brown, dull brown earth, dull brown, humble, agricultural, BLUSHING like a woman who is discovered naked; free to draw your daggers, you pursued two destinies: to be hung at the gallows or crowned with laurels.


And you’re called Pedro de Valdivia, Hernán Cortés or Francisco Pizarro, Napoleon, you’re all the same: brave, drunken swine, demented or crazy geniuses, contradictory, bilious – that is, IRRESPONSIBLE instruments of cosmic DYNAMISM and LIFE’S nocturnal forces; CONQUISTADORS, I salute you because you were a lot of dreaming-poet-leaders crossing the horizon’s SEVEN HUNDRED hardships with your absurd, painted-on, metaphorical costumes and resonant, fantastical attitudes, full to the brim with illusions, ambitions, heroic, enormous emotions, eyes full of landscapes, sleeping in the shadow of a great, distant dream as BIG as THE SKIES, and not ten cents, not ten cents in your pockets!..



Stuart Cooke’s chapbook, Corrosions, was published by Vagabond Press in 2010, and his translation of Juan Garrido-Salgado’s Eleven Poems, September 1973 was published by Picaro Press in 2007. His first full-length collection, Edge Music, is forthcoming in 2011.


Toby Fitch translates Arthur Rimbaud

Après le Déluge

Aussitôt que l'idée du Déluge se fut rassise,
Un lièvre s'arrêta dans les sainfoins et les clochettes mouvantes et dit sa prière
à l'arc-en-ciel à travers la toile de l'araignée.
Oh les pierres précieuses qui se cachaient, — les fleurs qui regardaient déjà.
Dans la grande rue sale les étals se dressèrent, et l'on tira les barques vers la mer
étagée là-haut comme sur les gravures.
Le sang coula, chez Barbe-Bleue, — aux abattoirs, — dans les cirques, où le
sceau de Dieu blêmit les fenêtres. Le sang et le lait coulèrent.
Les castors bâtirent. Les "mazagrans" fumèrent dans les estaminets.
Dans la grande maison de vitres encore ruisselante les enfants en deuil
regardèrent les merveilleuses images.
Une porte claqua, et sur la place du hameau, l'enfant tourna ses bras, compris
des girouettes et des coqs des clochers de partout, sous l'éclatante giboulée.
Madame * * * établit un piano dans les Alpes. La messe et les premières
communions se célébrèrent aux cent mille autels de la cathédrale.
Les caravanes partirent. Et le Splendide-Hôtel fut bâti dans le chaos de glaces
et de nuit du pôle.
Depuis lors, la Lune entendit les chacals piaulant par les déserts de thym, — et
les églogues en sabots grognant dans le verger. Puis, dans la futaie violette,
bourgeonnante, Eucharis me dit que c'était le printemps.
— Sourds, étang, — Écume, roule sur le pont, et par dessus les bois; — draps
noirs et orgues, — éclairs et tonnerres — montez et roulez; — Eaux et tristesses,
montez et relevez les Déluges.
Car depuis qu'ils se sont dissipés, — oh les pierres précieuses s'enfouissant, et
les fleurs ouvertes! — c'est un ennui! et la Reine, la Sorcière qui allume sa braise dans
le pot de terre, ne voudra jamais nous raconter ce qu'elle sait, et que nous ignorons.
Arthur Rimbaud, “Illuminations”

After the Flood

After the idea of the flood had dried up,
A hare stooped amid the clover and trembling bluebells and said his prayer to the
rainbow through a spider’s web.
Oh what precious stones in hiding, — the flowers that were already staring out.
Down the sullied main drag stalls were erected, and boats were drawn out to sea,
which staggered above as in old engravings.
Blood flowed, at Bluebeard’s, — in abbatoirs, — in circuses, wherever the seal of
God paled the windows. Blood and milk flowed.
Beavers got building. Glasses of coffee steamed in small cafes.
In the big glass house still dripping with water, children in mourning gazed at the
marvellous images.
A door slammed, and a boy swung his arms through the village square,
understood by weathervanes and clock-towers everywhere, in the glittering rain.
Madame * * * installed a piano in the Alps. Mass and first communions were
celebrated at the hundred-thousand altars of the cathedral.
Caravans decamped. And the Hotel Splendide was built amid the chaos of
glaciers and the polar night.
From then on, the Moon heard jackals yapping through deserts of thyme, — and
eclogues with wooden feet grumbling in the orchard. Then, in the purple forest,
burgeoning, Eucharis told me that springtime had come.
— Surge, puddle — Lather up, roll on the bridge and over the woods; — black
drapes and organs, — thunder and lightning; — ride and roll out; — Waters and
sorrows, rise and bring back the Floods.
For since they were dispelled, — oh what precious stones burrowed down, what
flowers unfurled! — ah whatever! The Queen, the Witch who lights her embers in the
cauldron of earth, will never tell us what she knows, and what we don’t know.



Bien après les jours et les saisons, et les êtres et les pays,
Le pavillon en viande saignante sur la soie des mers et des fleurs
arctiques; (elles n'existent pas.)
Remis des vieilles fanfares d'héroïsme — qui nous attaquent encore le cœur et
la tête — loin des anciens assassins.
Oh! Le pavillon en viande saignante sur la soie des mers et des fleurs
arctiques; (elles n'existent pas.)
Les brasiers, pleuvant aux rafales de givre, — Douceurs! — les feux à la pluie
du vent de diamants jetée par le cœur terrestre éternellement carbonisé pour nous. —
O monde! —
(Loin des vieilles retraites et des vieilles flammes, qu'on entend, qu'on sent,)
Les brasiers et les écumes. La musique, virement des gouffres et choc des
glaçons aux astres.
O Douceurs, ô monde, ô musique! Et là, les formes, les sueurs, les chevelures
et les yeux, flottant. Et les larmes blanches, bouillantes, — ô douceurs! — et la voix
féminine arrivée au fond des volcans et des grottes arctiques.
Le pavillon...
Arthur Rimbaud, “Illuminations” 



Long after the days and the seasons, the living and the lands,
A flag of bloody flesh over silken seas and arctic flowers; (they don’t exist.)
Surviving old fanfares of heroism — which still attack our hearts and heads —
far from ancient assassins.
— Oh! A flag of bloody flesh over silken seas and arctic flowers; (they don’t
What bliss!
Blazing coals raining down flurries of ice, — Bliss! — fire in the rain of a
diamond wind, bursting through the earth’s eternally igneous heart for us. —
O world! —
(Far from old retreats and old flames, that we can hear, can smell,)
Blazing coal and spindrift. The music, shifting the abysses and shocking the
icicles into stars.
What bliss, o world, what music! And there, the shapes, the shivers, tresses and
eyes, floating. And white tears, boiling, — what bliss! — and a feminine voice
arriving at the depths of arctic volcanoes and chasms.
A flag…


joanne burns

joanne burns is a Sydney poet. She has had many prose poems published, and is represented in The Indigo Book of Australian Prose Poems, Ginninderra Press 2011. Her most recent book is amphora, Giramondo Publishing 2011. She is working on a new poetry collection brush.



so you puff down the boulevarde
huffy and patriotic as the global
village idiot waving its torch
towards zeus your personal best,
o his koala eyes; you can piss
in your lycra if you really have
to, this being the chumpy age
of the celebrity sweatshirt
but remember
there’s no way you’ll be
issued a permit for
that chandelier hair of
yours to chill out in
this athlete free zone,
no tent on this phantom
beach is to be tampered
with we are already
somnambulists waiting for
the ufo charter to come
lurching through the waves

postcards from lounge lizard isle

interior decoration runs through her fingertips
like a frisson through a thigh, the way a design
concept flows through the whole envelope of an
apartment, loft style, art deco, or harbourside
highrise, the way lift out self enhancement runs
through the glossy print of a lifestyle magazine;
i can even source the cushions for you she enthuses,
like a soft toy research assistant or an iced vovo
on a tv tray, can transform that tacky 50s 60s
70s rented fibro summer holiday into a sheik’s tent
(say, araby), or a jilly in the cotswold theme
with a little bolt of pretty fabric: titania’s
(make that caliban’s) neo muslin chintzy dream

wind in the willows  

a soft time we had of it,
kippers and grilled tomatoes for
breakfast on fine willow patterned
plate, the sheffield rack with its
slices of crisp golden toast lined up
like loyal gurkhas, the silver
service tea vigorous and hot
in delicate bone china cups,
shimmering like wishing wells,
thick cut marmalade with its
royal seal of approval, the
newspapers, like visors or bedouin
tents to camouflage our faces – a
soft time we had of it; and ever faithful
rover to tease with the leather slipper game
if the news of the day was too tough; but now
the opium wars are just another perfume
marketing ploy like the south sea bubble
jacuzzi kit – no after dinner port in
the library picaresques; our cigarette
cases, sterling silver and gold carat plated,
with their faded monograms like gasping elegies
lie vacant, at the bottom of the south
china sea

(These poems are from footnotes of a hammock,  Five Islands Press, 2003)


the stranger

it waits on the street in front of the building. you feel its presence mostly when you arrive home rather than when you leave, where, as you step out onto the street a firm mechanism impels you forwards across the intersection and up the hill into the brisk diurnal stream. sometimes it clearly opposes you when you return and try to step inside the front door – it holds you there on the threshold, your finger fiddling on a lip as if you are trying to remember an ancient password, the answer to some elusive riddle, a hereditary code. you pause and turn around but there is nothing behind you nothing in front of you but a glass door decorated with the frosted nomenclature of ‘clairvaux’, a screwed up ball of junk mail spilling out from behind the left column of the portico, and a fine fracture in the worn marble top step. you stand and wait for the air’s temper to shift a little, to offer you some internal passage. today the door is suddenly opened from the inside by the rush of a tennis player in white fresh as a new movie, off to a twilight game. you proceed up the stairs carrying it with you. behind an ear.


perspex at noon

a tiny lull in the conversation
sorrow slips in camouflaged
after all the gossip anecdotal smudges:
celebrity bullfighters chocolate
frogs people who prefer to block
out the world with a pea in an
ear or two the quality of her
pesto sauce an absence of
cravats in harrods (didn’t
dodi wear the last
one in the tunnel of love);
no one says a word about
the recently departed there are
no vacant chairs alfresco the
idea of a walk along the beach
collapses as they pack up
the credit cards the table
lingers in the narrow air

(These poems are from an illustrated history of dairies, Giramondo, 2007)



inside the hermetic bulb
how easily it opens to
the blade, that sharp
sweet sting, mouth and
veins ring with the wash
of mercurial juice from
sheening onion flesh; it
sustained the builders of
the pyramids greek athletes
knew it lightened the balance
of the blood its shapes echoed
eternal life so the egyptians understood:
the onion’s ancient history; but try to
get it in a third millennium sandwich
in a sydney cafe they look at you as if
you’re mad as if they are afraid of it and
anyhow the customers don’t want it; they’d
rather put coffee in a sandwich [toasted turkish]
or even nicorettes, why is onion getting such bad
raps; how the children of israel mourned the loss
of the onion when moses first led them into the
wilderness, just cakes of manna for dinner didn’t
please them then        soft mineral and vegetable
crunch into its pristine flesh sip on the exclamation
of its juice this ichor of the gods the mind sprints
alert as an archetype: the music of the onion
as available as breath



it’s always seemed a marshmallow word
‘poppet’ a kind of sloppy kiss word, sounding
alert but soft in affect: ‘my little poppet’; those
plastic beads of the fifties & sixties teenage girls could
make up their own necklaces and bracelets from
poppets, one bead’s round pin fitting into the next
one’s hole a sublimated copulation chain proteins have
been described as a chain of amino acids strung
together like poppet beads and the comic novelist
who commented on the popularity of his lectures on tess
of the d’urbervilles to undergraduates at sydney university
in the sixties said in an interview that in his youth he packed
poppet beads for his family’s business, thirty poppets a necklace;
wikipedia informs that poppet dolls are fertility symbols and
can be made of fruit, corn shafts, potato, that poppet dolls can
be used for ‘magick’; poppets also feature in the lexicon of ships
and lathes, the technology of objects not the craft of demonology;
in arthur miller’s crucible a poppet doll with a needle stuck
in its belly is discovered in the home of elizabeth proctor
after abigail is found screaming with a needle in her guts
screaming loud enough to make a bull weep says cheever
– was it rosary beads that lizzy proctor the good puritan needed
in the aftermath she certainly got shafted, ring a ring a rosey a
pocketful of posey, can poppets make good rosary beads may
the polysemic flower



i clipped on my custom made horse
and trotted up the south head road
like a casual centaur in search of a
moment, the lighthouse looked
too much like a brochure there on the cliff
with its white picket fence, and then the old house,
front to the ocean, back to the harbour, its
rumsmuggler history flaring the nostrils, a ninety year
old woman in the sandstone basement, damp and ancestral,
with her cockatoo general on too long a chain, watch
out for your toes; i clip-clop up to the rooms
of her nephew who believed in good fortune in a walnut
shell, i went to his ‘first night of television in australia’ party he
wrote a book on the subject, brian henderson glowed and
the harbour outside dark as a zoo; you could hear the corps
marching towards the shipwreck, my equine attachment
scratching the floorboards in time for a swim



on the verge of
discovering an
between cause & effect
a breeze lifts the thought
like the anachronistic dandelion
of childhood information & have you
noticed how much contemporary soap
has come to resemble confectionery
& is there a dental clinic called the tooth
fairy; tootle’s wheels always seemed
like lozenges of irish moss what is the relationship
between lungs and locomotives a question for poets engineers
or the medical fraternity, this word ‘fraternity’
think of a fence of weathered lattice that’s about to snap
leaving the timeless vine on the ground – i am the vine and you are
the branches – didn’t his words make such a pretty picture
how a poem needs stilts

(These poems are from amphora, Giramondo, 2011)



the email said the meaning was in the second room. she was sure of this. she stood in the foyer of the building. a circular space from which five or six corridors radiated. there was no one at the inquiry desk. brainzak tunes pulsed from tiny lights rosed into the ceiling. 

at a quick glance it seemed to her that none of the rooms were numbered. she tried to open the second door in each corridor but everyone was locked and no one responded to her knock. she would have to try all of the sixty doors to locate the meaning. and she did. without success. maybe she needed to clean her glasses. or maybe she needed to close her eyes. she tried the second option and walked towards the nearest corridor until she came to the door that felt right. when she opened her eyes the door suddenly fell backwards to reveal a wall sized screen image of a shipwrecked city behind a sign advising ‘meeting this way’. ithaca was rather disappointed at the absence of meaning but glad she could remember how to swim.


in the mood    i-x    a mood in progress      


on the shelf a ball of pale string never unrolled in a venture an adventure sitting tight and neat as the day of its purchase. can this string unwind and travel forth like the trail of a cautious pilgrim or sleuth attached to home base just in case. it would become such a tangle to wind back to its original shape. would it be worth it. this intrusion on its beauty. its pristinity. would the shelf want it. covered in the muck of the world. would you.


a will sat near the window under a paper weight. it had sat there so long it had faded in the light. it had lived much longer than it had expected in those distant days when it had been drawn up. it longed for a light wind to lift it . to give it the will and muscle of a weight lifter. the paper weight was so heavy the will sometimes struggled for breath through its dusty skin. sometimes when the sun burnt through the glass of the window it prayed for its own execution.


the mood lighting knew it was an anachronism. who wanted a room illuminated by all that moody business. it had gone the way of water beds. down the drain. there was enough screenglow to authenticate domestic comfort. and a complementary darkness was embraced. after all mood was a pedantic concept. it was preferable to be enhanced by your surroundings. and stay there.


light spraying through the morning’s shutters like a peacock. a restored moment. the memo pad hectic with telephone numbers. emails carp with duty’s jingles. these colours streaming through your sparse eyelids. you smell them like a pram.


no writing remaining on the exponential wall. a fertility of keener scribble. marking time. a gala of concern. keeping itself to itself. repetition and all its luxurious nerves. only to be guessed at. glib translation takes it on the chin. hi reader. who are you. scrape that primer off your back. the inside of the wall itches for your chaperoned essays. the sea scrolls behind you like another dead pastry.


the chimney on the roof. how long since warm smoke from a lounge room fire rose through it. does its eye glare upwards for answers. does it care. does it need to. television aerials cling to it for all their worth. carting trash of the hot world down below. waiting rooms filled with impatience. 


today i praise disposability, diablo of the ecological lexicon. that liberator from poetryscapeology limited. where a simple cup [china clay porcelain] becomes a repository of meaning, enduring the weight of so much memory, so much association, that you cannot lift it to your lips and drink. a one object museum of redolence. you can only admire it from a distance. when you’re in the mood, a dozen breaths away, without thirst. people write poems about cups like this. swoon poems. poems that confuse the sentimental with the sacred. here i have a stack of disposable white cups. one drink cups. and then they go into the bin on their journey to lethe’s landfill. you squeeze them as you dispense with them. they crackle with light relief. glad to be departing for deep caves of earth. where sleeping cups are let lie. and the tea leaves little stain.


i feel like writing. on and on i go. so many false starts, repetitions, extra details. the body grows, skin stretches to fit the words. all those abrasive punctuation marks, confusion of meanings, awkward grammars and clamorous syllables. the underworld of language. my head aches with the load. i feel like writing yet i don’t look like writing. do i like writing. not likely or i wouldn’t be writing this. but what else is there to do when you only have two hands and eyes that have mislaid the world. through the drinking straw i hear the insects swarming.


it was a small message. too small to write down. its language was unfamiliar to me but i knew what it meant. if that’s all i knew i knew that. had known it since my knees hit the floor. had heard it inside the grass. ticking. tenacious. you wouldn’t want to write it down. the soil knew how to cut a long story short.


so often we wash away the evidence. evidence you might say. evidence of ourselves. we hang it up to dry. and then we wrap it round our bodies once again. it gathers so much of our absorbent selves we cannot allow it hang too long upon the rack. for the warm intimacies we have shared to turn rank. is this why we are tempted to abandon it wet and crumpled on the tiles. out of fear not squander.

and so we lift the lid of the machine; engage the suds and their cathartic whirls. our towels must be fresh. soft and empty vessels compliant with our ignorant ambiguous desires.


Adam King

Adam King grew up in Newcastle, Australia. For the past 15 years he has taught English—a decade or so in Osaka and, more recently, in Guangzhou.






the cow likes the music rowing the sun down steps aflame ancient boatload of straw COOL BAR ice cream smile friend one rupee for bananas is it mister I thought and saw 3 boys hand in hand in hand at the flower market mornings evenings walking funny Broadway sweat a reservoir mama baba the onions in her purple bag is there anywhere to park under the water gut he stands over his tiny fire the doors the windows all blues big stitches returning soon too hot to write it down she wears the old chains night of the 10 Kingfishers beating white sheets 2 at a green table bamboo ladder and scaffold day at the races where they burn the bodies ok take the cake Adam’s building 1893 1 for you too on the roof lime and soda pink Ganesh opens all the trick locks welcome HOTEL SEALAND movie star glasses they let the vultures pick them to bits cricket crackling over the radio start at THE NAAZ thanks for that Suhail paper stars hang in dirt houses down by the sewer site CO-OPTEX SARI HALL Preeti the sun goes my eyes close what I’ve forgotten the stone men life on the back of a truck steel dust prize always a Wolfgang loudspeaker glimpse of a song a little love tale what else she can’t sit 12 years rust stand under the gateway my 1st Bristol smoke on a rope how many miles kilometres feet make a grey page on Marine Drive a red double-decker your super fast bus to 100 per cent shakti throwing sparks what time the boat he told me a lighter each year in Sri Lanka slow rosewater cart heat because o I would be a sparrow come here for your crumbs no need for keys cutlet menu bells silver biriyani a bundle of sticks your calling how could he carry that weight over and over where it fits hurts 1 word says it all for the broom prime minister calendar took a week the ferry ride Shiva help him up the bald scabby hill crane tell the 1st word to Mr Xmas on the taxi licence get the nets from last night’s tide remaining 1893 a is for auto rickshaw 1 coconut pink straw drink daughters barefoot bright about her it is not the colour of the bus I sing transport mode bike tyre marks cycling recycling the wheels of the living structure he is trying to shake Sister Hyacinth could she be ready his arm on the hip stance to attention salute the doorboy rice glue to seal this venture of the heart mud and cardboard you knew the whole deal crank getting a cutter fork I thought laughter when Sammy Seven played that wedding if it’s sincerity get the head nod turned off the nose knows no rose balloon in a torn shirt better empty bolted steel door impregnable barbed wire broken bottles reading grey wall scratches perhaps a cheetah fight the last guest I wrote in a notebook champion brand names from the gods anxious about the burns not hurting you run you expect to catch up the song getting lost around scrap corners painted eyes every day a new window blessing the narrative of the bus salesman all your brothers crows flew into my dream what was it just a chassis bubonic thunderstorm whipping tea in an arc dusk dawn daal to cultivate OM GEMS DK TIME LAKSHMI CEMENT the spray cry of a lotus the flies will ignore the circle you drew around your lunch cockroach chalk what is it called when the breath ends ananda you’re after toys the bus leaves a tree waves the cow likes the music


Susan Schultz

Among SMS’s books of poems and poetic prose are, most recently, And then something happened (Salt, 2004), Dementia Blog (Singing Horse, 2008), and the forthcomingMemory Cards: 2010-2011 Series. She wrote A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary Poetry (U of Alabama, 2005), and edits Tinfish Press out of her home in Kane`ohe, Hawai`i. She’s taught at the University of Hawai`i-Manoa for over two decades. Her blog can be found at




Memory Cards: Oppen Series

The lyric valuables.  Your memory will be contained in a cloud.  All that’s required is a little bit of feature extraction and data compression to complete the prosthesis.  It’s called a “natural language,” this interface between me and my gadget.  It does not answer to lament: I have lost my earrings; I have lost my teleprompter; I have lost my mind provokes only information.  Unlyric me!  I shall be mystic of the Knowing Cloud, on my wrist a gizmo covered by diagrams of slant patterns and draw plays.  The poet’s a quarterback; she needs completions.  She is only arm, the cloud’s prosthesis.  An all-knowing receiver already struts.  The only lyric is the lyric of fourth down.

–27 January 2011


There is a simple ego in a lyric, sometimes in a crowd.  A man lies on the ground, surrounded by other men.  I didn’t mean to shoot you in the face, laughs the boy playing Halo.  The man who drowned with his daughter lost his father to drowning.  When the guy at Starbucks asked again what I wanted, I said I’m visiting my mother with Alzheimer’s, I’m used to repetition.  Two of the mummies were destroyed, to which Bryant said but that’s our future!  They found the digital camera; she was smiling, the water was calm.  To retrieve the past is not to guarantee it.  We used to develop photos, but now they’re downloaded.  When memory fails, the eye enlarges to take it in.  He said a tourist turned her back on the ocean; a rogue wave threw her on the rocks by the tide pools.  Their first aid kit came in handy.

–29 January 2011


I dreamed one night that I was in a hotel room filled with my books.  I had a plane to catch, but I couldn’t carry them.  Sell them! someone said, but I said I could not.  I woke at 3, checked the news of Egypt, then listened to the sound of my own voice cataloguing my mother’s books.  To each shelf I said no and no and no.  It was as if whatever was contained in them was leaking out, as if memory had less to do with the past than with our attitude toward it, the intonation that covers it like red grease.  The tail hook down, cables outstretched, you approach the carrier at a furious speed.  Your fighter is but one word scrawled on the deck of a ship whose hold is an ambiguous space, full of men and machines and violence.  I was here during the war, he writes, I was / in a house near here tho I cannot find it.   The past tense of dreaming becomes the present past: I was.  I was here, but now I cannot guide me.

–31 January 2011


This is the sky.  This the poem constructed of sky and the children in the square grasping signs, and the parents of the children in the square, and the chanting in the dark space of sky that opens like a lid to its antithesis.  The poem never intended to be a dictator, but it insists on form, control, an ordered space.  Mine clamps down at the moment of counter-protest; you will not enter this square, it is closed against tomorrow’s sour sunlight, its barricades.  The official narrative is of beauty, only.  Once upon a time there was a crowd inside a square who sang.  Once upon a time the force of their singing dislodged a pharaoh.  Once upon a time the unacknowledged were

–3 February 2011


Whether one loves / The world or loves / Shelter / From it  it is, if is continues.  Tahrir Square is no shelter, though people sleep there.  The poem is no shelter, however square.  Neither affords protection from a torturer who lived in Texas and Florida.  Exported pain is still pain.  A man calls out, “Where am I?  What is happening to me?  Tell me!”  No one says, as we did to Sylvia, “you live here; this is your home,” because prison is not home but way station, where way is suffering and station is not shelter.  She asked her interrogator where she was: “you are nowhere,” he said.  Nowhere is not station or shelter or square; it lacks all geometry.  “If you look up you will see something you don’t ever want to see.”  The regime demands pre-forgetting.  Those you leave behind were blindfolded; you emerge into a part of the city you’ve never seen.  It’s outside your history, if not theirs.  You can go now.

–5 February 2011


It is the air of atrocity that settles onto the tent-city the square has become.  Radhika can’t decide why some words end in –ys and others in –ies; the differences between “gurneys” and “families,” between “armies” and “pathways” are rule-bound, abstract.  A young poet tortures himself on distinctions between night and Night, between dawn and its opposite.  He writes down ideas he cannot explain, and in not explaining, loses them.  The police state parses its words less delicately, demands its “children” go home.  Torture is clear speech, though what is gleaned from it is not.  I was wearing a blood-stained shirt, one says; it marked him as one of them.  I heard myself tell the boy to clarify his grammar, glue limbs to his poem’s body.  I asked him to construct a box for his cloud.  Obama demands Mubarak clarify his language, spell it out.  There’s no future in telling; it’s all show.

–10 February 2011


The vocabulary word of the day is euphoria.

 –11 February 2011


The shape is a moment is a monument in process no flash no focus but a flag of our disposition winding around the square circle inside of box inside of cloud faces like voices coming and growing louder then quiet when Al-Jazeera turns to sports then back to euphoria in the circled square young woman in a shawl on youtube (this was 25 Jan) exhorts men to be men and old women in the square their mouths wide open and middle-aged men sweeping white dust with huge fronds and the body functions for once as a system blooms like a flow chart needing more space the lines across which are not final but dipped in martyr’s ink no one wants to leave the square or the circle they sleep propped against tanks against pavement against sharp angles violation of geometries of this body working this body with its stark white bandages over noses and cheeks and foreheads this coming into shape which is so beautiful to see

–12 February 2011


Juggler, why need I invent so much as if always in a space where time falls and picks itself up, replacing scratched post-it notes with new names for what is still a bus, a house, a square.  He bears a name; she carries hers.  It’s a pod lowered in a mine to retrieve lost men, brought out into a new tense, neither past nor present, but intermediate: yesterday I have been myself.  The word “gas” was “chaos” misheard.  She sent a letter that never arrived, but made sense of the non-response.  Meaning is adopted, names a state that refuses to be still, is found beside a tank in Tahrir Square.  The cloths are for wounds or warmth.

–13 February 2011


 We are troubled by scratched things as by any touched surface.  Abstraction abhors all but the vacuum; vog makes breath mean.  It’s not to choose between clarity and obscurity, but to use one in the service of the other.  The scratch is tracer bullet over an otherwise chaotic square.  What happens next is idea more than event, though one comes encased in the latter like an iron lung that’s only a transitional machine.  There’s democracy in the breath, but we’re holding ours.

–14 February 2011


Each of these memory cards begins from a sentence or a phrase from George Oppen’s New Collected Poems, edited by Michael Davidson (New Directions, 2002).

The memory card form requires that each prose poem fit on a large index card.