Ali Alizadeh’s most recent books include Ashes in the Air (UQP, 2011) and Iran: My Grandfather (Transit Lounge, 2010). With John Kinsella, he has edited and translated an anthology of Persian poetry in English, which is forthcoming in 2012. Ali is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Monash University, and has a website: http://alializadeh.wordpress.com/
I can’t find my phone. Plato
couldn’t find the Beyond, denounced
Word vis-à-vis Voice
as inherent poison. This weekend
the planned occupation of Melbourne
by activists, to announce the end
of ‘corporate greed’. I dial a number
and burn the Other’s ear with irony
of hidden envy. No, Word isn’t
the perpetual deferral of a signified. Void
is Truth misnamed, a-voided. ‘Greed’
the very tip of the most visible iceberg
of Capital’s glacial matter. I can’t
stop talkin’, talkin’, don’t care who’s hearin’
the repetition of unfulfilled urge; tomorrow
a song may ‘unite the human race’. Marx
the only dead thing I can’t speak ill of
(who hasn’t sensed a ‘spectral’ Real?)
which makes me hang up the phone. Use
written words to formulate the unspoken
and the unspeakable. Yes, I’m out of credit
and too stingy to finger the alphabet
and text-message bored friends. Capital
-ism may be its own undoing.
Capital is the Real of our lives.
I’m here for an encounter
with Power. Can’t accept It
has nothing to offer but ice-cream
and pink lingerie. I prowl the mall
to catch Its sordid eye. Never mind
the sales, reduced symptoms
disguised as fetish. What haven’t I
disavowed? I’ll serve in the society
of disrobed spectacles. I’ll see
the naughty bits. Ethical consumers
fumble with fig leave; not fair
trade indulgence, what I seek. I aspire
to bow before Its grisly form, kiss
the slimy rings on the all-too-visible
hand of a festering market. Then relish
the stench of Its anus. So free, so real.
I squat beside my mother, who has her skirt bunched around her pale knees. I peek at the strong stream making the thudding noise, peek at the little shallow it drills into the ground and the river it sends running away. A grassy scent fills my nostrils.
To the north—across the yard and, beyond that, the paddocks—a warm glow backlights Mount Wellington and Ben Croachen. Mum is watching the radiance. When I giggle about how just now Scruff was chasing his tail round and round until he bumped his head on the verandah pole, the only reply I get is ‘Mmm’.
I try to do as Mum is doing but mine sprays everywhere: on my shoes, my bare thighs. It raises a little dust that sticks to the damp parts of my legs and it is squishy in my knickers when I pull them up and walk away. Scruff bounds over to where we have been, sniffs and cocks his leg.
The wheelie bins are filled with water, parked in parts of the yard where the hoses don’t reach. The dry grass has been mown down to the dirt and the sprinkler is on. Its jerky tit-tit-tittering usually means I can call over the kids from next door, but Mum’s shoulders are set squarely today so I hold in the urge to yell out to them.
I follow Mum to the car. ‘To Nanna’s’, she answers my ‘Where are we—’ as she puts an arm behind the passenger seat and cranes around to reverse out the driveway.
We go slowly. The route into town lead west and, briefly, south, so for most of the trip Mum glances out her window, and then she glances at the rear-view mirror. My legs stick to the vinyl and the rolled-down windows aren’t doing much to relieve the dry heat; it just gets blown around a bit. The trees rush by, the paddocks pass slowly and the mountains keep abreast of us. My eye is drawn to the glow; it creates a feeling inside me I don’t know how to name. It quietens my thoughts.
I race up Nanna’s drive and rap on the door as I kick off my shoes. When she lets me in, it’s with a hug that lasts a few beats longer than usual.
The kettle rattles gently as Nanna transfers some coconut slice from an ice-cream container to a blue-willow plate. The jam is sweet and the coconut, aromatic. Mum and Nanna murmur to each other so I make sure to chew quietly. The kettle whistles a while before Nanna breaks the murmurs to place palms flat on the table, push herself up and go turn off the gas. She switches on the wireless after she has poured the water into a teapot and retrieved three floral mugs from the vitrine. She stays standing at the bench while she waits for the tea to steep, head cocked towards the crackly male voices, the mugs lined up before her like squat, jolly friends. I’ve never known Mum and Nanna to be so hushed.
The tea is sweet, just as I like it, and I stand to reach for another slice. When Nanna’s mug is empty, she smooths a fold crease in the tablecloth over and over. Later, her right hands gathers the crumbs from her slice into a little pile, brushes them off the edge of the table into her cupped, waiting left hand, and then dislodges them from her palm into her drained mug.
The plate is almost empty, its pattern visible: the twirling doves, the floating land, the strange house drawn in curly and sharp lines. I wonder where the people on its bridge are headed.
Mum’s eyebrows are drawing towards each other, pushing vertical crinkles into the place between them.
‘Another?’ asks Nanna, and Mum nods.
‘Of all the days for there to be a northerly.’
Nanna sticks the kettle spout under the tap. ‘It’s all the waiting, isn’t it,’ she says, just loud enough to carry over the gush of water and the static-spiked voices. ‘The waiting’s what’s so unsettling.’
She lights the front-right burner again, sets the kettle atop it, comes back to the table. Suddenly the wireless drone is clear as day: two just-voiced syllables together form the name of our town. Mum’s hand goes to her mouth; Nanna gets up again and twists the volume knob.
Nanna stands, Mum sits, they both are perfectly still, and both look at the wireless. A fly is battering itself against the window, vibrating upwards until it falls to the sill and starts all over again. Mum speaks first.
‘The sprinkler,’ she says, and I know she means she can’t remember turning it on. My pulse quickens.
‘You did!’ I tell her, ‘I saw it going.’ She looks at me a moment, looks to Nanna. Finally: ‘No, the one on the roof, Sweet Pea. I mean the one on the roof.’
She is a flutter of movement, then; Nanna is talking at her sternly but Mum is brushing her off and kissing me and telling me to be good and that she’ll be back in a jiffy. She grabs the keys and pulls the door shut behind her. A stone settles in my stomach.
Nanna and I go out into the yard when someone turns out the daylight. A grey, rolling haze is drawing across the sky and has put out the sun, which I look at without hurting my eyes; it’s a red circle. It’s only one o’clock but night has come early. ‘No it hasn’t,’ says Nanna, looking up, as I am looking up. ‘It’s a smoke cloud.’
Everyone must be outside like this, faces turned to the sky. There are no birds, but I imagine what it would be like for one looking down: all the coloured dots that are people in their rectangles of yard. Soon, the smoke cloud stretches so far that it blots out the horizon right round until there is only this town, this house; nothing else. There is no bush, no mountains. They don’t exist.
Grey flakes drift over us, buffeted to and fro, heading always downward. They settle on the plants, the lawn, Nanna’s curls, my shoulder. I try to brush them off but they disintegrate under my touch, smudging across my sleeve and darkening my fingertips. The wind pulls at our clothes and soon Nanna is pushing me before her, up the ramp and inside.
‘There’s flying embers,’ she tells me, her breathing quickened, once she has pulled the door shut behind us. I look out, wondering what she means, and see them: red and orange glows that are dropping onto the grass and turning black. I ask if they could start a fire. ‘They could,’ she says. I ask if they could burn down the house. She doesn’t say anything. I look at her and she tells me be a good girl and sit quietly.
‘Could the fire come here?’ Something passes over her face, settling her features into a tired arrangement, until she sighs and says, ‘It could; it’s headed this way’. She says it in the flat voice I’ve only ever overheard adults using with each other.
I think of the times the newsreaders have intoned scary things into our lounge room: the people gone missing, the bashings, the murders. I think about how, whenever I see the images flickering across the screen, the world contracts and rushes into a cold spot inside me and my senses grow sharp. But after, I ask Mum, ‘Do those things ever happen here?’ and she smiles as if it’s a silly question, saying, ‘No, Sweet Pea, not here, not in our town’, and warmth floods me again.
I think of Mum, out at our house while the fire rages towards us, and blink quickly.
‘Hey,’ says Nanna. ‘Hey, hey. Tell you what, we’ll be more than ready for lunch by the time your mum gets back; want to help me make some egg-and-lettuce sandwiches?’
I take a jagged breath and nod tightly.
She sets a pot of water on the stove to boil and has me retrieve three eggs from the fridge. Once she has plopped them into the water, she overturns the hourglass on the windowsill and tells me to keep a close eye on it. The sand seems to trickle so slowly, and then when I stop looking at it for a moment it’s done; I tell Nanna in a rush and she transfers the pot to the sink and runs cold water into it.
She chops lettuce, then, and has me butter the bread. She doesn’t let me help shell the eggs because they’re still hot; when she’s done, she puts them in a bowl with a knob of butter, some milk, pepper and salt, and I get to mash them with the fork. We spread the egg and lettuce across the bread, top each square with another slice, and then Nanna cuts them into triangles, sets them on a long plate and covers them with gladwrap. She glances at the clock.
Once again there’s nothing to do. The presence of the wireless grows to fill the room, to push us into the corners. The creases in Nanna’s face have been dragging downwards over the past hour or so, and now she says ‘Come here’ and presses me to her, her hand cool and dry against my cheek. ‘Everything’s going to be okay,’ she murmurs, barely aloud, barely to me.
The backyard is speckled grey, and the wind blows from all directions. By three o’clock, Nanna has removed the gladwrap. We sit at the table, transfer sandwiches onto our bread-and-butter plates. When I’ve finished, Nanna says, ‘Good girl’. She hasn’t touched her share, but she clears both plates all the same.
The wind rushes at the house, battering the door until it bursts open and the wind spills inside, tumbling Mum in with it, her clothes and face smudged with soot. Nanna drops the plates into the sink with a clatter. She is looking in Mum’s direction and is holding herself very still. Then she drops her head, gazes at the dishes; Mum hurries over to her, says she’s sorry, hugs her straight shoulders until they droop and she turns towards Mum.
She tells us of the embers everywhere, of Scruff cowering under the house, of grass and debris catching alight, of tying a scarf across her nose and mouth and plunging the mop into the wheelie bin to douse the embers like a madwoman; ‘Like a witch,’ I say, and she tousles my hair and laughs, ‘Yes, a witch, a mop-riding witch.’
Later, while Mum is in the bathroom scrubbing the soot from her skin and hair, Nanna says to me, ‘Don’t ever put your mum through the things she puts her old mother through, will you?’ I don’t know what she means but I nod, knowing that my nod is expected, and that it’s important.
As the afternoon deepens towards evening, the day grows lighter. The newsreaders tell us that the fire front has swung away, that it is bearing down on towns east of here. At nine thirty, Mum tucks me into bed. It’s still light out. I watch a strip of brightness thrown across the ceiling. It’s entering the room through the space between the curtain and the upper reaches of the window, and whenever one of the trees blows a certain way the strip changes shape, contracts.
A dream thrusts me awake and sends tingles through my body. It takes a moment for me to realise where I am, but still I can’t shake the terror that sits fatly in my chest.
The digital clock blinks 3:27. There’s a hum coming from the kitchen, a rise and fall that tricks me into losing my bearings again until I realise it’s coming from the wireless. I hear a creak and understand that someone’s shifting her weight on one of the kitchen chairs.
I don’t know what’s worse: staying here alone or feeling my way through the dark. Eventually, the thought of someone else on the other side of that dark pulls me out of bed. It’s Mum sitting there, head bent towards the wireless; its volume is low.
The linoleum is cool on my bare feet; I pad to her and she takes me into her arms.
‘What’s wrong, Sweet Pea?’
The dream is still real; I press my face into her shoulder.
‘Did you have a bad dream?’
I nod, and she feels me nodding.
I still can’t transform the terror into words. She sits with me, starts rocking a little. She’s warm and soft and present, proof of the dream’s deceit.
‘Did I die, did I?’
Now that she’s said it, the weight in my chest subside a little. I nod tightly and she sighs, ‘Oh, Sweetheart,’ and hugs me closer. I breathe deep the moisturiser that lifts off her skin, notice her hair tickling my forehead, her necklace imprinting my cheek. The familiarity of these things make me want to believe, as she starts to promise, that she’s right here, that she’s not going anywhere, that nothing’s ever going to happen to her or to me or to anyone else, so I concentrate on them and try my best to remember how it was that I was always persuaded.
by Subhash Jaireth
Puncher and Wattmann
Reviewed by MRIDULA NATH CHAKRABORTY
The titular aptness of Subhash Jaireth’s latest offering cannot be overstated. If silence can indeed be voiced, here it is, speaking volumes. The slimness of the book belies its depth of thought and profundity of expression. In three short vignettes, Jaireth manages to bring to us whole universes: worlds as far-flung as fifteenth-century India, seventeenth-century Italy and nineteenth-century Russia. Using the genre of the monologue, Jaireth brings alive for us the milieus of Kabir, the weaver-poet of the Bhakti movement; Maria Chekova, Anton Chekov’s less-known self-effacing younger sister; and Tommaso Campanella, the Calabrian theologian whose heterodox views brought him into conflict with the Inquisition and who intervened in the first trail of Galileo Galilei.
Kabir’s biological son seeks to make a claim to the heritage of his father’s lyrics. In the face of his son’s insistence that the famed words be written down properly for profit and for posterity, Kabir, an illiterate man, finds it impossible to see in the inscribed verses any of the verve or versatility of the spoken and sung language. What flowed with the ease of water now freezes upon the page of the amanuensis. This refusal to be pinned down in conventional inscription becomes a metaphor for the figure of Kabir himself, whose corpse is coveted by both Hindus and Muslims as a religious symbol after his death. Kabir again denies any attempts at memorialisation, leaving behind a resounding silence where the clamouring voices would have claimed him, thereby making his subsumption into the dead of the night as seamless as the fabric of the songs he spun during his lifetime.
Maria is tormented by her own silences as well as by that of her writer brother. Every opportunity that presents itself with the promise of an independent life for Maria is met by the silence, and therefore non-permission, of the brother for whom she keeps house. She herself embraces the silence as the price to be paid for the patronage of a successful sibling. However, the silence which bursts upon her with the clap of thunder is the larger, historical one of the collective silence Europe maintained in the face of atrocities against Jews, a silence in which she herself participates, not by commission, but by convenient omission. Maria’s own experience collides with that of an entire people. In bringing together the personal intimate history with a public one, Maria’s monologue asks whether it is indeed possible to separate the two. Silence here is the ultimate accuser and mute witness of history.
Tommaso’s silence is the most painful one: that of being silent in the face of a forbidden love. His monologue is literally unable to give voice to the longing which possesses him, and for which he undergoes silent suffering. Among the three characters, he is the only one who does not remain entirely silent in the face of historical events: he does write a letter of support to Galileo Galilei, commiserating with him. That letter is never sent, but is left among the relics of his other papers and testimonials. This brief moment of solidarity is contrasted to a much larger silence about a commonplace crime he witnesses. The burden of that silence lies heavily upon him on the nights that he spends wandering about the streets of Rome. No absolution seems possible for his confessional, shrouded as it is within cloak upon cloak of his own spiritual, and all-too fleshly failure. The only thing that remains to haunt him is a catalogue of admissions: about insanity, sentiment, ecstasy, sin, and finally, grace, as if in the utterance of this monologue, some mercy may show its face somewhere.
What is remarkable about each of these voices is the intimacy with which Jaireth animates them. He seemingly effortlessly slips into the clothing and consciousnesses of all three of his subjects: that of an aging poet-philosopher from an impoverished weaving guild who has to come to terms with the mortality of his legacy; that of a taken-for-granted martyr-like sister who has had to sacrifice her own dreams and desires of a more complete life at the altar of a famous, selfish and extortionate sibling; that of a monk of the Dominican Order, sworn to the cause of truth and godliness who has to encounter the ghosts of his own past transgressions, of the all-too corporeal failings of his own spiritual life.
What apparently unites these three voices is the prospect of imminent, inevitable Death, the Great Silencer. However, the silence pined for and practised by the persona in each case is only an incantation of that ultimate confrontation with truth that all human beings yearn for in their lives and in preparation for their tête-à-tête with the void. These are not confessionals occasioned by any external or material compulsions, any religious or political contingencies. Their sole guiding principle is an undeniable spiritual appeal to understanding, for the peace of mind, and for forgiveness, so that one can, in the dusk of one’s life, go gently into the night of eternity.
Having established the commonality of each partaker of and participant in silence, it also has to be acknowledged that the silences that each voice meditates upon have different meanings in their respective monologues. Jaireth interprets silence to convey, by turns, reconciliation, reckoning and regret. These are the silences which speak of a life well-lived where one must take leave without any concern about the people left behind, of a life taking stock of the historical events one witnessed and shaped, of decisions one might have made and did not, of weighing the terrible consequences of ones actions and non-actions.
Kabir, the song-weaver’s silence rests in “an absence of songs… [His] mind enthralled exclusively by songs without words—no words and hence no anxiety about meaning” (17). Maria Chekova’s silence, with regards to her own personal decisions and with respect to the curveball of history, comes from the realisation that in life, “the burden of knowing so much is hard to endure” (47). For Tommaso Campanella, silence is “the feeing of being not alive and still remaining conscious of that sensation” (107). Each one of them has to encounter this meaning of silence, in the sense of both ‘facing’ and ‘countering’ the ways in which knowledge comes to them, and the way in which they have to live with it. They have to embrace, with full consciousness, not only the bodily weight they will carry into their graves, but the unspeakable knowledge of human life in all its enticements and entrapments, its ravishment and ravages.
This is a writer who knows his medium. He knows how to construct a monologue of a bygone past and place that transports us away from the here and the now, but at the same time makes us utterly aware of the contemporaneity of the human condition. He can softly, and yet with steely craft, weave language in all its felicity and fragility, in order to make the poignant palpable, and the hush of the sands of life trickling away hum louder than words. It is not possible to convey the subtlety of the skein of silk with which Jaireth spins his tales; one has to resort to giving an example from one of his stories: “The wings the words span isn’t limitless; often they fail to fly and it would be prudent to remain cognisant of their failure; if they cause infliction, the cure for it resides in close proximity to them, and the cure, my dear friend, is silence.”
Jaireth is not interested in silence only as a metaphor or as philosophy. He literally performs silence as a trope of writing by thematically emphasizing it in the form of his chosen genre of historical fiction. Instead of being chronologically linked narratives that propagate official history, his spatially and temporally distant imaginative recreations disrupt the Eurocentric notion of time as linear. The monologues are sequentially interrupted and intentionally complicate the idea of authoritative story-telling. The characters are figures whose perspectives have been occluded and ignored by conventional hierarchical privileges of speech. The monologues intervene in the verbosity of official, received history and reveal the silences implicit in them. As such, they may be seen an examples of revisionist, or even redemptive, history. A must read for anyone interested in the long march of history and the frailty of the human condition itself.
Nicolette Stasko has published five volumes of poetry. Her newest UNDER RATS is forthcoming this year with Vagabond Press Rare Objects series. She currently lives in Sydney.
There’s a spider silk thrown
all the way across
my neighbour’s yard
catching the sun
perhaps four metres or more
a trapeze the acrobat
still waiting in the wings
I realise suddenly
that the engineer
of this Glebe Island bridge is
one of those tiny creatures
never actually seen
hiding in its curled up leaf
a miniature gondola rowing
through the air or
in a moonlit bay
This morning the net is stretched
across my garden
at one end the tracing of a Spanish fan
the other anchored
as if by steel
blowing in the wind
how was it done?
in the secret night
the lone rider spinning and flying
to span such distance
strong enough to stand
the constant battering
to hang a week’s laundry
I look in vain to find the architect
of such a grand design
Coming up empty
I have just seen the Queen pounce
from her observation post—
from her sacred stance
on the rooftop
elegant as Egyptian tomb sculpture—
into a hammock of honey suckle
then her departure
out of sight no tail dangling
from triumphant mouth
an embarrassed gait
suggesting wounded dignity
the light is like butter
I imagine her fur
like blossoms of wild flowers
Lindsay Tuggle’s poetry has been published in HEAT, commissioned by the Red Room Company, and included in various journals and anthologies in the US and Australia. In 2009, her poem “Anamnesis” was awarded second prize in the Val Vallis Award for Poetry. In 2012, she is the recipient of an Australian Academy of the Humanities Travelling Fellowship. Lindsay grew up in the Southern United States, and migrated to Australia eleven years ago. She now lives in Austinmer, where she is working on a book of elegies.
The Arsonist’s Hymnal
wake to see if the trains are still running.
the beloved ones coalesce
in the gloaming,
in the afterglow of mall glut,
her veiled alien
hastens farther down
this last bathed hall.
have you seen the vapors?
all dead arrive
unborn as lighthouses.
our eldest unfurled below
the stairwell under the baptistery
elevated as a drowning chamber
whose guests have vanished.
her alias is stark. loose-limbed.
summer is almost a covenant.
she’s intent on devouring parables.
all others fall away
the consequence of habitual neglect.
ghosts die without ceasing;
guard trendsetters against
the perils of walk-in-closets.
as soon as she’s finished washing her hair.
her materials form only metric tongues.
with solemn vigilance
we can’t be seen
echoes are laughter.
only these rituals endure:
all night in dreams he sets fire to her eyes.
She dreamed a cemetery of glass tombs.
The perfume bottles were her favorite.
An estuary arsonist
she refuses to bathe alone.
River viridity is dangerous:
Honey locusts ghost the salt baskets.
Despite coastal housekeeping
tidal mouths breed
Nutrient densities render her blind,
Language is no longer a nomenclature.
Even her humming has meaning: a kind of
swirling guttural echo.
Something you knew once.
swarms against the sane
familiarity of lawnmowers,
the creeping grace
From New Madrid gully inland
we remember the day
the river flowed backward.
In the absence of coherent levees
shifting glacial loess
an unknown number drowned.
The measure of loss
is in the submergence of trees.
There’s an upside to angularity.
Sharpness invites reconstruction.
The moral is integral burial:
supernatural as filth.
The madness of trees
ringed in brackish immersion.
Roots mark intervals
of barren impermanence,
hoard pollen traces
in vanishing silt.
The delicate erosion
of Kalopin’s eyes:
residual gladitsia in
She’ll kind of ramble beautifully
her laughter like bells.
Water collects in
pockets of collarbone.
Divers burn in shallow
basins. One hundred
years later we hunch in
the elongation of aftermath.
She becomes fishmouthed
the obsession of swallowing
written beneath the soles of her feet
another angling glaze.
Assemblage data reveals
a cedar arboreal influx.
Lower soil analysis shows
ragweed is rare or absent.
Cicadas are reckless breeders.
Its been dry for so long here
we made ourselves gowns
from this dust.
How to capture
the unison language
She’s haltingly fluent
in the vanishing tendency
of the object
is watery and burns.
An acrid metallic sound,
The wet are pretty.
beckoning comes at a cost.
This poem responds to two bodies of water in western Kentucky—an area called Land Between the Lakes. The first was formed by a series of earthquakes from December 1811 to February 1812. The second was created following the floods of 1937, and gradually expanded for the dual purposes of flood control and hydroelectric power. Many towns and farms were flooded and relocated. Some residents refused to evacuate, and drowned.
Laurie Duggan was born in Melbourne in 1949. He moved to the UK in 2006 and currently lives in Faversham. His most recent books are Crab & Winkle (Shearsman, 2009), a new edition of The Epigrams of Martial (Boston, Pressed Wafer, 2010), Allotments (Wendell, Mass., Fewer & Further, 2011) and The Pursuit of Happiness (Shearsman, 2012). Forthcoming are The Complete Blue Hills (Puncher & Wattman, Sydney), and Leaving Here (Light-Trap, Brisbane).
life in the margin:
spring, still winter-like
old men in trainers
walk on bunions
back at The Sun
(beyond the . . .
I graph all this, with flattened accent
(drawn but not glottal)
(the test: ‘This is Illyria, lady’)
(I myself am a bracket,
but this is as it should be
the smudge of a glass
set down on paper
this this this
the impression of a bottle cut into a wall
above it a trophy (a crown or a hand,
hard to tell in the half-dark
a morning frost, bent stems
then a clear sky,
shadows in the window
a flame’s reflection
nails not quite hammered in
a rattle of cutlery
the mechanics of a worn philosophy
my work irrelevant as
an immense puzzle, lifelong
Peter Dawncy lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. He has an Arts Degree with majors in English and Philosophy from Monash University and is currently completing Honours in poetry writing. For his thesis, Peter is undertaking a study of Philip Hammial’s poetry through Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. He hopes to begin his PhD next year. Peter has had poetry and fiction published in various Australian journals and magazines, and in 2010 he was the winner of the Monash Poetry Prize and came second in the Monash fiction-writing competition. His play, The Logue of Thomas P. T. Lawrence, was performed at the Arts Centre in June 2010.
satellites coalesce / fold
the corners to the
at the jetty’s end
in fluorescence by
container ships with
for salt meets sky
Melbourne woven in it
Eureka deep green
seen from afar
research vessel en route
to the Antarctic snowfields
smooth, wet pavement
as monkeys march
to flightless geese
wide and windless
hauling in mulloway—
a frame discards
and searches for a
for now, moonlight
skewers a dog’s nose,
bogong moths whirl,
opens the door, sneezes,
closes the door—
seem too polished
for a winter worn
twirl, slash the billowing
beneath the blue gum and
above the clamouring
bracken. milk thistles levelled
as dogwoods sneeze, black-
birds dive for the pine copse
and ferns puff dust
from their beards as
they lean and squint. a black-
wood teeters and quakes,
topples as its feet rent
like a child shredding
wrapping paper. somewhere
in the composting depths
a little girl in a green
and white dress
gets her hair caught
and screams for her mother.
Fiona Britton is a Sydney poet and writer. She was the 2010 winner of the Shoalhaven Literary Award and the 2011 joint winner of the Dorothy Porter Prize for poetry.
The tune of us
had I hands to write it
six-four time over a Balinese tinkle,
but I dream on, handless
inventing skip-beats (tha-rip) to pass the time.
I curve, acoustic,
for twenty six bars
of held breath —
the underground score
of an opera for insects:
my green grocer
my black prince, tap-dancer.
I tunnel out and count myself in.
you made your way on mass
sideways like sandcrabs
a ragged collegium,
full of fight and righteousness
shouting fond arguments
tugging at each other, tumbling
towards the isthmus
across that line you wouldn’t cross alone.
Great numbers meant great courage:
you ventured together
and accumulated faith.
The sun — celestial diplomat —
shone down ultraviolet
and gilded upturned faces
(friends, your sweet lips split,
the fresh skin pinked and puckered).
The wind grew calm:
evidence, you said —
such small miracles
will soon be handed down as fact.
Differences extinguished in the noonday bright,
you stopped your yelling
and prepared for a single, quiet truth.
Back among the blackened mangroves
beside the grey teeth
of the broken jetty
the shadows grow long,
At this remove
I hardly recognise you, friends.
Voices carry, high as baby birds’ —
gannet, egret, gull.
I listen but the wind snatches words.
Newborn and dismayed,
you turn in circles.
I grow mandibles; I digest things
here without a people,
I am bearded, brackish and alone.
New trunks thrust up
like stubby thumbs, from the mudflat.
Here I build a hollow for a heretic
where I can think,
kick the dripping boards;
dispute and come unstuck,
and let the biting insects
have my blood.
Ellen van Neerven-Currie is a descendant of the Mununjali people of the Gold Coast area. She is a recent QUT graduate in Fine Arts and lives in Brisbane.
Taking a break from my usual weekend warfare
I drive with my mother through the shifting rain
into Mununjali country
a roo bounds across the road
we meet at the pub and I order an
egg sandwich, orange muffin and a newspaper
on the last ten years of your life
We are cousins
though we grew up on different sides of the axis
different sides of the moon
got to remember
We don’t share memories
You recall a football game against boys
you fell down and
I turned on the fella who did it
This violence sounds entirely
not like me at all
I remember you came to live with us
when your house burnt down
you were amazed at how many socks I had
and you asked me if you went to my school would
you be the only dark girl in your class
This was the first time I realised that
others could see us differently
We drive up to Nana’s resting place
in front of Mt Barney
You take the wheel where I am a passenger
My uncle says you’ll teach me in a paddock
He seems to know all them old stories
While my mother is quiet
Got to remember
Used to the flies now I sit under a gum
This land heals all my city blues
I haven’t the language for that
You read me after all this time
I haven’t the language for that.
How My Heart Behaves
My coin purse is lined
with receipts of women I’ve fucked and left
Last night on the bed of a lover
slipping a singlet over my breasts
about to leave
I find myself suddenly desiccated
with need of child
Will I always be
a stranger to the sound of webbed feet
a moon in the orbit of others
I untangle from her sleeping form
Leave all my change under the pillow.
Michelle Murray explores identity and the space where her Scottish/Australian heritage merges with the land and culture of the Simpson Desert Channel Country . After acting college Michelle packed a swag and a bag to live on the edge of the desert with her husband who is descended from the Arabana people. They lived together on Wangkamadla (Bedourie) and Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi (Birdsville) country before moving to rural South Australia where Michelle has an Alexandrina Council artist residency at Goolwa. Michelle is an independent writer/performer. ‘Skeleton Woman’ was originally produced for Onkaparinga Council’s Double Vision art exhibition in October 2011.
The Skeleton Woman
Here my body lies, shallow beneath this silken sheet; a skeleton, a wreck, a place for sharks and waves. This thin veil shows my bones, exposes me for my loss of souls. How I yearn to stay submerged. Who could want for a dearth of flesh? Please me. Lay down with me. Sink your spirit into my cavities. Oh, what pleasures we had. This sunken whore who gave of herself so freely now breaks up and splinters; no thought of my own majesty. I dreamed of waves crashing men against rocks and sucking them out to sea. I heard the screams, chased them down the hill; joined the others in their horrible vigil. She took so very long to drown them, to dash them into final silence; those poor men, consignments: bags of wheat and salted meat; help arriving for too few, dragged to comfortable deaths in beds. I waited and waited for your body to emerge to carry you home.
All souls conjure the dead, make me whole again.
Remember the day you came?
‘Gidday,’ you said. ‘There’s somewhere here you want a windmill to stand?’ I took you to the top, you looked about, saw foothills falling into a river cliff, the far off swamp, the distant sea, the village below our feet forgotten in the rush toward prosperity. ‘I had no idea this place existed,’ you said.
I’d lay beside the trough breathing the smell of horse sweat, feeling the dirt curved beneath my feet, looking up into the sky with you drilling and me diving into that cosmic ocean, your voice in the windmill’s rusty turning. You would sing out that you could see the church steeple, you could see the ocean liners, you could see that sleepy river snaking her way past the Noarlungas.
‘Enough water for one fine lady thank you Lord, and a bit more for a cup of tea!’
And that was about all we got but not for the want of pumping. But the water didn’t matter, not to me. It was the drilling, the building and sweetest of all, you returning. Adjust a little here, realign there, cups of tea, horse hair, you and me, the river snaking through the valley, the church steeple, the ships waiting, conversation, your gentle mouth, my mother hosting dementia in the house, the clatter and bang of the windmill sucking air and dust and lust.
But it has been so long since I heard your voice, saw your face. Work took you so far away.
‘To be the pelican,’ you would say. ‘Inland lakes, that’d be the way! Erecting windmills, drilling bores, then all the way back to catch fish in the ocean, and you.’
No talk of the wife and kids. Sacred, you’d say. That promise to a dead man to never abandon them. And now you’re gone. That’s what they say. You will never return. I will never see your face. In the shallows of the cove the wreck of The Star of Greece still moans, the ground is hard under my bum, the windmill stands as it has done all this time. Nothing has changed. You are still away. I wait for your return. What else can be done?
You are everywhere: cats over fences, reflecting back in mirrors. I slept with a man who might have been you, his shoulders, his flat palette hands. It’s brutal.
From a tree in the gully
I hung upside down
The earth the moon
The branch the ground
My brother threw peaches
Dreaming of war
That made him a man
Who never came home
At the tree today in my search for him
I found all the men of my life
At the church on the hill my sins called my name. The minister said that you were found by the governess hanging from a windmill. From a distance it seemed to her eyes that an oblong fruit hung ripening on a tree without roots. Did you cry out? Did you rage that you stepped over that edge? How is it that fate, or misfortune – or worse – left you hanging between sky and earth?
I went all the way to the city to see the flowers at the cemetery, to watch the mourners, your family. I saw your wife clutch a man like you; her children stumbled at the grave. I waited a long time to see the backhoe fill you in. Did she hold you? Did she kiss your cold face? I would have stayed but for the train. If I missed it I would have missed the last bus and while I could spend the night on your freshly turned clod I couldn’t be sure of the company you keep. I’ve never known you but the two of us, a horse trough, the hill into the valley and the distant sea. And it’s funny, you know, because I got the feeling when the sun went down that even you didn’t hang around.
I found you flying on updrafts seeing way beyond the ships at sea and into the desert channel country. You told me to fly with you inland and make babies. I ran to the updraft, I reached for you tasting you on my tongue – snot and blood and semen. Jesus, where did that come from? When I woke – a rock in my back, the sun hot on my face – I got up and threw stones at those pelicans looking down at me. Such bloody piety.
I love your injuries, you would say to me, I crave your cavities, but it’s true isn’t it, that we three are bottles in your collection of miseries. The wife who grieved in your arms, children at her feet, the comfort you gave, the husband you made. The governess you took on the search: every plane, helicopter, car employed. You found him broken inside his chopper – his swag, his bag, her picture – of course you were there for her. And me. What did you see? A wretch trapped in a house of stale bread and boiled meat, a nutcase mother peeing in her bed. I found my legitimacy in you, surely. But of us, why so many?
A woman came. We never paid for the windmill.
‘It’ll have to come down,’ she said. ‘I’ll send a man.’ She reached out and touched your welds. ‘Money’s hard to come by these days,’ she said. ‘I wish it wasn’t this way.’ I stroked her cheek. She slapped my face. ‘Where do you get off?’ she spat.
I started to undress. My clothes dropped. Her face froze. My ugly bits exposed. I stared out to sea. I thought of all those sailors dashed on the rocks and their families.
‘We made love right here,’ I said, ‘again and again,’ since she thought she knew everything. She stared at the spot until something snapped. She raged back to her car but came back. She’d dropped her keys.
‘Put your bloody clothes back on,’ she said. She went through everything back and forth from the car; turned her bag inside out. The day started to deteriorate. She was crying I could see. ‘Oh, the humility,’ she kept saying and then she said, ‘oh the pain’. She threw stones at the windmill. ‘Why?’ she kept asking. I don’t know if it was why you slept with me or why you died. She cried and cried. I went to the house to check my mother. When I got back your wife was crumpled by the trough scratching the dry inside with a rock. I climbed in and she followed. She said you were a good lover, a good provider. She said you could never replace her first husband. She told you that. ‘I told him that,’ she said looking now at me. ‘What was I thinking?’ We sat quiet for a long time. ‘There’s another one,’ she said, ‘the one who found him. I want to hate her but it won’t come. All I can think is that poor woman. Then I wish it was me, not her. Then I’m glad it’s not my burden to bear. You’re the lucky one,’ she said. We drank from her bottle of gin.
‘What about your kids.’ I asked.
‘Oh, they’ll be fine,’ she said.
I was sure I could hear mum. She was drinking fast, your wife.
‘I really have to go, my mother,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ she said. We stood in the trough with no water.
At the house she watched me wipe my mother’s arse, make porridge and the old woman flick it all about. I made tea but she was happy with her gin. When she nearly fell over I steered her to my bedroom. She fell on the bed and complained the room was spinning. I left a bucket, wrestled the blankets; she snored and vomited. In the morning she sat with coffee at the end of my bed. I woke with her looking at me like an eagle surveying the dead.
‘I could like you,’ she said. Sober I suppose or at least with a hangover she leaned over and kissed me long on the lips. ‘I thought I was carrying this all myself but it’s not true is it?’ When she got up to leave she turned back. ‘I’ll still have to take the windmill. Sorry about that.’
We decided you were either an angel or an arsehole, a lover or a fraud. You dropped blessings into our cups then dropped off the face of the earth. We laughed hysterically into our glasses then cried at separate times. When one cried the other thought she a thief stealing memories. We hated each other passionately. She told me I don’t have a single interesting thought in my head so I must be good in bed.
‘You live in a disgusting mess,’ she said
‘I am a disgusting mess,’ I told her. ‘You should appreciate my transparency.’ She agreed, poured another one and we started all over again exchanging insults, doing our best to bruise each other, promising that we would not let the other go numb, promising that we’d still feel the pain then one day she didn’t come. A week went by. I got to thinking about you again, the windmill gone – nothing to focus on. I went to the ocean, took lavender and frankincense, poured the essence into the water, thought of sailors and lovers, sharks and blood, and her, thought of shipwrecks submerged and then I knew an entire world lived inside of you. A story I don’t know. Even so, like so many men, you took it to the grave: the unspeakable, the unfathomable, buried shallow, unreachable.
I got a letter from the governess the other day:
Just to say he spoke about you. I’m sorry I have nothing to say except the last thing he said to me was we will all understand one day. I lived like a skeleton woman, no flesh on my bones. I was certain no man would touch me but one did eventually come along. I hope you’re not alone. I read in the paper about water near your home. How a town was drowned, that the people can still be found sitting at the table ready to eat their meal; roads, bus stops, playgrounds but I doubt it’s real. When I think of it I think of you. I dreamed that you were washed out to sea, the dam wall broken dragging you out into water so deep I thought for sure you would never be retrieved, but on a beach my daughter picked up a pelican feather and I knew that one day you would find me and we would be sisters.
It’s been a long time now, my mother finally dead but not until she was utterly dependent. At the end she spoke of the beginning, she spoke of her childhood as she spoke of giving birth. She spoke to my brother, reaching out her hand and when the time came she spoke of pain. Then I really was alone. I put the place on the market. A run-down house built with no particular thought on land devoid of permanent water is worth a lot it turns out. I’m going to travel to all the places you spoke of and when I’m done I will travel beyond any place I have ever imagined. I hope one day that the wailing creaking cries of the sailors and the sunken woman bereft beneath the waves diminishes, that I will be fleshed out, that new life will spring from me and all of this will become a memory.
Goodnight my lovely.