Looking for Bullin Bullin
by Brenda Saunders
Hybrid Publishers, 2012
Reviewed by MARGARET BRADSTOCK
Embracing her Aboriginality has given Brenda Saunders both a focus and a purpose in her recent poetry collection, Looking for Bullin Bullin. Writing over the last decade, Saunders has, as she herself says, “a lot to say about the urban Aboriginal experience.”
The poems in Looking for Bullin Bullin are organised into four sections, reflecting aspects of post-1788 Aboriginal history: Stolen, Caring for Country, Living Blak, and Drawing the Landscape. A number of poems overlap several categories, but an underlying chronological movement is also at work. Stolen encapsulates the loss of country (“Terra Nullius”, “Un-titled”), of lifestyle, culture and heritage:
The stolen child lives her life ‘in service’
Her stories sit tight
in her apron pocket
Each loss pencilled-in
Her lists of defeats
fade with time
− hopes scratched out
after years of waiting
(“The telling,” p.15)
Wry humour makes its point in “Sydney Real Estate: FOR SALE“:
Caring for Country concerns itself with the continuing and increasing damage to the Australian environment, in the name of ‘progress.’ In “Toyota Dreaming,” the views of old and young Aboriginal people are opposed, the old ones not understanding the need for change, the young compliant, seeking a perhaps illusory recompense for what has been lost:
The tribes can see the value, the power
in red shale; they sift their Country’s losses
against solid gains. Working for the Company
lured by the shine of a crystal trinket harder
than stone. Buried treasure of the River Spirit
gleams forever in the white man’s dreams
Significantly, from the time of poet Kevin Gilbert, the Toyota has become an objective correlative in Aboriginal-authored verse for feelings aroused by government control. (See also Melissa Lucashenko’s “You are the Fringes,” amongst others.) In this regard, one might contrast the different viewpoints expressed in Saunders’ poem with the progressive stance of indigenous Boyer Lecturer Marcia Langton:
My first visit to the Kimberley’s Argyle Diamond Mine − the world’s largest producer
of diamonds, owned by Rio Tinto − was in early 2000. At that time, there were four
Aboriginal employees. Two of them were gardeners. Two years later, there were many
more…..[Brendan] Hammond revolutionised the culture of the Argyle mine, and today
the rate of Aboriginal employment at that mine stands at 25 percent of the total workforce.
Many of the significant changes in the Aboriginal world are due in some part to the
changes in the mining industry, which offers employment and contracting opportunities
as an alternative to welfare transfers upon which many remote and regional Aboriginal
(“On the cusp of a new dawn,” News Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, Nov.17-18, 2012.)
In “Pay-back in ’78,” the narrator arrives in Brewarrina as an outsider, to hear of wild Blacks pitted against town-dwellers (as in the early days), and find the town itself an anachronism:
Someone had burned the station one night
They’d already torched the only pub
Hotel swings from the Liquor Outlet now
a no-frills affair: roller-doors down at ten
And we’d heard talk of wild kids, good with fire
living on the edge of the next failing town
Dodge City‘s on the edge of nowhere. Off-limits
to finger-pointing tourists or ‘blow-ins’ like us
This painted landscape is already too old
or too new for change. Shaped
by late-model cars
− white goods rolled in dust
Useless inclusions in houses
that never had power or water
“Jaandoo” depicts the relationship of artist Rover Thomas with his country, described through close observation of technique:
Rover carries his country under the skin
follows his Wild Dog song
roaming the sand
Rover tracks each sacred meeting
marks his Dreaming on painted boards
set in a line of dots
As an artist herself, Saunders is well-placed to utilise artistic technique as a metaphor for feelings and emotions. Other poems similarly explore the work and inner landscapes of Ginger Riley, Emily Kngwarreye and Kathleen Petyarre.
The anonymous poem “Tanimi” reminds us poignantly of the loss of many Aboriginal languages and the need to recover and preserve them:
Without our language
we will have nothing to say
Have to close our mouths
No song, no story
when the words
want to come…
In Living blak, the reader is confronted with aspects of the urban Aboriginal experience, scenes of largely unmitigated conflict, homelessness and hopelessness. “Blak-out” pulls no punches, depicting the outcome of social and cultural breakdown whereby the protagonist is both victim and perpetrator.
Gimme a dolla’
Pay the rent
tradin’ for cuz
speedy in the fast lane
live for the day
singin’ up Country
“Blak boys” rejects any form of overt stereotyping, but a similar bleak future unites the different personae of the poem:
He’s everywhere and nowhere, he’s that shadow doing time
slipping out of focus
in the world outside
This section of the book employs a racy, spare style, utilising urban Aboriginal idiom and taut lines that give credence to the subject matter. A number of the poems appear at first to be merely descriptive, but their message is conveyed through dialogue and circumstance.
“Looking for Bullin Bullin,” the title poem and arguably the best poem in the collection, works to pull all sections together, and the cover image (Saunders’ own) reflects this relationship. “Got any change?” asks the Aboriginal girl in this chance encounter, but, unlike the protagonist of “Blak-out,” her questions soon deepen to take in cultural loss, suppression of place-names and language, and white ignorance of Caring for Country. The chopped-up map, with Bora rings at centre, becomes a metaphor for all these losses, and Bullin Bullin the symbol of a stolen heritage:
I’ve searched on early maps
Find only new names for
ancient places. Land Titles
staked out. Station holdings
Towns with strange rhythms
Sounds from another world
In light of this white-out of history, the current move to restore Aboriginal place-names to sacred sites and landmarks can only be applauded.
A recurrent approach emerges, played out in the final section of the book, Drawing the Landscape, with descriptions and interpretations of artworks by Russell Drysdale with Aboriginal subject-matter. Drysdale first became interested in Aboriginal people while visiting North Queensland to attend board meetings of his father’s sugar mills. In particular, he was concerned by indigenous dispossession during the early ’50s, when Australia tried to solve what they called the ‘Aboriginal problem’ by integrating them with white society. His drawing Shopping day, 1953 shows how badly and sadly that identity sat upon their shoulders. Other drawings likewise lend themselves to a contrast between “a distant time/ when the tribe roamed freely” and the imposition of “the white man’s gaze” (p.69).
Looking for Bullin Bullin stands as a requiem for Jack Davis’s “dark proud race” (“The First-born,” ca.1970). Whether we choose to see it that way, or to take hope for a future “in unity” remains with the reader.
MARGARET BRADSTOCK has five published collections of poetry, including The Pomelo Tree (awarded the Wesley Michel Wright Prize), Coast (2005) and How Like the Past (2009). Her sixth collection, Barnacle Rock, is forthcoming from Puncher & Wattmann in April 2013. Margaret recently edited Antipodes, the first anthology of Aboriginal and white poetic responses to “settlement” (Phoenix, 2011).
by Toby Fitch
Puncher and Wattmann, 2012
Reviewed by FIONA HILE
The few lines of biography on the back cover of Toby Fitch’s first full-length collection of poems, Rawshock, remind us that he was ‘born in London and raised in Sydney’ whilst a recommendation gleaned from the launch speech given by the poet, novelist and academic, David Brooks, describes Fitch as the ‘Apollinaire of Avalon’ and the ‘Lorca of the Inner West’. There would be nothing more to say about these sketchy empiricisms if it weren’t for the many ways in which the poems that comprise the collection take up origins, mobilities and the impossibility of presence as their themes.
The poems that most fiercely and vibrantly perform these ideas occupy the twenty-page sequence, Rawshock, the title of which constitutes the phonetic rendering of the famous Rorschach test, a series of inkblots devised by the Swiss psychologist, Hermann Rorschach, and deployed by ingenuous psychologists during the 1960s as a means of detecting underlying thought disorders, ‘especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.’ You don’t need to be Michel Foucault to feel hyper-invigilated by the idea of one of your fellow humans falling back on interpretation as a diagnostic tool. Or need a Graduate Certificate in Bakhtinian formalism to recognise the symptoms of ‘thought disorder’ – alogia, echolalia, derailment, semantic paraphasia, to name a few – as the stock-in-trade of the poet, the novelist, the playwright. Precisely what it is that constitutes a thought disorder is, these days, mercifully up for debate and it seems to be agreed that such phenomena can be indicative of, for example, ‘incomplete yet potentially fruitful thought processes’. Fitch’s ingenious move is to have ‘married’ the out-of-copyright inkblots with one of the most enduring myths of Western aesthetics. This unlikely coupling has produced a series of poems that re-stages the fates of Eurydice and her estranged husband, Orpheus.
The book’s epigraph, drawn from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland alerts us to what will be at stake in this operation. As Carroll writes, ‘The queen had only one way of settling difficulties, great or small’. Fitch’s decision to include the queen’s command comes to be read not only as the strategic management of the difficult matter of the reader’s entrance into the text but also as the highly ceremonial if somewhat macabre celebration of this initiation. As Derrida wrote of Mallarmé, the name marks ‘the production and annihilation of the thing’ (116). In the poems that follow, Fitch stages a reconsecration of ‘the Mallarméan doctrine of suggestion, of undecided allusion’ (120) so that the atmosphere of the book – from the typographical bonfire of Matthew Holt’s front cover to the final poem in which the day is ‘uncorked like a bottle rocket (“nightcap”) – is ‘alive with evaporating sparks.’ (“Blackout” 27)
The book is divided into three sections – Everyday Static (poems previously published in the form of a chapbook by Vagabond Press), the Rawshock sequence, and Oscillations. It is commonplace to think of the poet as working out philosophy through the poem. More accurately, as the philosopher Alain Badiou has it, ‘philosophical poeticizing’ is best left to the philosophers, leaving the poem free to consist in ‘these two thoughts … the presence of the present in the transfixion of realities; and the name of the event in a leap outside of calculable interests.’ (42) The propensity of the poems collected here to work in these modes is evidenced throughout, not least in the accumulation of influences and ideas that structure the book. Although recent reviews of Rawshock have noted the influence of Rimbaud and Apollinaire – and Fitch has noted  also William Carlos Williams, Auden, Ashbery and Baudelaire – most insistently in evidence is the influence of Mallarmé, in the emphasis on the poem as an object ‘made of words and not of what words are used to produce’ and in the typographical and mechanical construction of the book, wholly constituted in the white space of the letter. This influence is most in evidence in the Rawshock sequence, where OU ‘doubles’ the form of one of the Rorschach images:
With a bus “in error”,
hold shrapnel and rocks aloft on your way
(( down to Erebus. You can seduce the ))
( ferryman, queen Persephone, have )
( the fatty-fat, serpent-backed )
Cerberus melt in your palm,
caress his moth-eaten earlobes
as the Furies snivel at your feet,
stop Sisyphus in his tracks, Ixion’s wheel,
Nyx and the Styx as stoned as onyx. You caN
Collude with Chaos all you like, but you can’t waive
The fact like my father Apollo did:
E don’t need to follow
t h e s u n
Mallarmé famously wrote that a throw of the dice will never abolish chance. More specifically, he wrote that ‘Out of a number of words, poetry fashions a single new word which is total in itself and foreign to the language [langue] … Thus the desired isolation of language [parole] is achieved; and chance (which might still have governed these elements, despite their artful and alternating renewal in meaning and sound) is thereby instantly abolished.’
Badiou nominates Mallarmé’s method as one of ‘subtraction and isolation’ and what this method achieves is the poetic inscription of ‘the absence or hush’. Perhaps this yearning for the concomitant ‘production and annihilation of the thing’ in some way accounts for the snake’s lament in the second poem of the Rawshock sequence
I want my sssshh ssshhadow back:
Towards the end of the poem the poet has achieved something of a Mallarméan disappearance as ‘the ocean ebbs away’. Still, the hint of a 21st Century sequel – ‘C you in the sHades’ beauty’ – suggests that these days ‘the hush’ doesn’t always come so easily.
The first sequence of the book – Everyday Static – provides an account of why this might be the case. It can be broadly cast as the identification of the ethics and pitfalls of the Postmodern. The situation is immediately revealed to be one in which a poet or a poem ‘could almost crack open the night’ and drink (“On the Slink” my italics) if only there weren’t all of these tangential moonbeams to deal with, batting their eyelids at bull-bars and generally ‘tearing the chest muscles of … any man with a memory’ (“Tangents”). “Beelines” calls to mind Francis Webb’s ‘a thousand warm humming stinging virtues’ (“Poet”) and Baudrillard’s ululating Simulacra and Simulation in which ‘the world is hardly compatible with the concept of the real that we impose upon it’. This identification of and with the loss of the real triggers the self-imposed ‘fatal strategy’ by which Baudrillard hopes ‘not to reconcile, but on the contrary, to seduce, to wrest things from their condition’. Thus, for Fitch:
the blue car makes a beeline
for a lamppost, the traffic light
goes gridlock-orange, a bullet train
is trapped on never-green tracks,
and jets fall out of a marooned sky;
why, on waking today, my vision stings
and my face is puffy: dreaming
is forced to move along paths
that are too well-paved.
I’ll sleep with my eyes open,
stop my shadow running away.
Inevitably, there are salves, balms and antidotes, all administered with varying degrees of efficacy. In “Twirl”, ‘we were, we were’ becomes ‘we whirr, we whirr’; still, the foxy light catches up with us and we can’t escape the smell of someone else on our skin (“Aubade”). An aubade is strictly speaking ‘a song from a door or window to a sleeping woman’ and Fitch here and relentlessly elsewhere demonstrates the propensity for an ‘achieved anxiety’ that can be said to permeate the book as a whole. If, as the epigraph to the second sequence drawn from Blanchot’s ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’ suggests, art arises out of Orpheus’ botched attempt to retrieve Eurydice, this first sequence hints that it is not only the distancing of doors and windows that produces poetry but the inescapable scent of proximity.
Some of the poems in the second sequence, then, seem riven with the desire for severance – ‘Skull the ether! Cut me out o this / chrysalis so I can sing of asterisms winking / & dice rolling, so I can wing it thru buildings / like a lunar scythe.’ That the poems achieve their particular identity by replicating the shape of the Rorschach images seems of some assistance. Two poems later,
The use of Mallarméan espacement, then, astutely oscillates the flow rate of Eurydice’s proximity. As Attridge, writing on Mallarmé, points out, all language ‘can be understood in terms of “writing”: the marks and white spaces on the page are only one realization of the articulations and systems of difference upon which the operations of signification rely, and which at the same time prevent signification from ever closing on itself or on the world.’ (110-11)
But Eurydice, perhaps spurred on by the preponderance of the image, can’t seem to keep away – ‘It was then that E walked up beside you’. (8) What follows is an almost Shakespearean summary of the kind of infernal mess lovers are so adept at getting themselves into: ‘I told you / ou not to look at me. ou/ o Not because u / I didn’t want to go back / but because E thought that was / what you wanted.’ All of which provokes the question ‘Who is ’E, anyway?’ The often invoked but rarely seen ‘feminine’ or just another romantic homme o’ nym(ph)?
Ultimately what this sequence reveals – for this reviewer at least – is that hell might be a place where hermeneuts go to cook up stodgy readings of poems that, like Eurydice, hide under a veil and constitute ‘the profoundly obscure point toward which art and desire, death and night, seem to tend.’ (171) In “Orpheus’ Gaze”, Blanchot suggests that ‘turning away is the only way [looking at the center of night in the night] can be approached.’ (171) In the third sequence, then, Fitch’s strategy is ‘to bring Eurydice into the daylight, to make the daylight more luminous through the visibility of Eurydice’ (Bruns 70). To do this, the poem is going to have to look away, to give up, as Blanchot has it, on ‘the movement of desire that shatters the song’s destiny’ (176).
The visual similarity of the first sequence, Everyday Static, to the third, Oscillations, suggests that despite everything nothing has changed. These are attractive poems with titles that evoke their subject and deal with it. Occasionally, they are moved to wind themselves across the page cloyingly as with “Emotion Sickness”. Sometimes they use the demarcations of the book to more ingenious effect as with “Nightcap” which spreads its title across two pages and starts ‘The only way to cap / off the night / is to decapitate yourself.’ (84-5) The poem fans itself across the facing pages Hermes-like in the form of a pair of elegant wings and for many weeks I only registered the right-side poem which I’m embarrassed (but also amused and in a weird way, proud) to say I thought was called “tcap”. The eventfulness of the middle sequence, then, produces a ‘tiny displacement’ so that, as Agamben wrote in The Coming Community, ‘everything will be as it is now, just a little different.’ (51) Agamben calls this ‘supplement added to perfection’ the halo. For Agamben, the halo signals ‘a paradoxical individuation by indetermination.’ (53) What we thought was finished and perfect is rewarded with a supplementary glow – ‘The being that has reached its end … thus receives as a gift a supplemental possibility.’ (55) This measured yet brightly glimmering end gives the reader something to think about. Perhaps Lacan was right about the inarticulable supplementary jouissance of the feminine and that when woman speaks of love she does not know what she is saying, even if Lacan does. Or, perhaps, as Fitch seems to be arguing, woman knows very well what she is saying and it is only man who hears the voice of Eurydice as if from the ‘red-carpeted jaws of hell-bending doublespeak’ (Dry, Mainly Sunny).
Giorgio Agamben. The Coming Community. Trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Alain Badiou. Conditions. London: Continuum, 2008.
Maurice Blanchot. The Space of Literature. Trans. Ann Smock. London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
Gerald L. Bruns. Maurice Blanchot: The Refusal of Philosophy. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1974.
Jacques Derrida. “Mallarmé” Trans. Christine Roulston. Acts of Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Toby Fitch. Rawshock. Glebe: Puncher & Wattmann, 2012.
FIONA HILE was a joint winner of the 2012 Gwen Harwood poetry prize. Her first full-length collection of poetry will be published by Hunter in 2013. She tutors in Literary Studies and Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne.
Ranu Uniyal teaches in the English Department at Lucknow University. She received her doctorate from Hull University, UK. Her work has appeared in Sketch Book, Twenty 20, Muse India, Kavya Bharati, Femina, Manushi, Indian Literature, Littlewood Press and other literary journals both in India and abroad. Her poems have been translated in Hindi, Urdu, Uzbek and Malayalam. She has published two poetry collections. Across the Divide was published by Yeti Books in 2006 and December Poems by Writers Workshop in 2012.
Smoking veins that run wicked like
An old nanny whose time is running out
Doors have been closed and the moon has little to offer
We get inside as if there is no haste
And we time a plenty I put aside my old grandmother’s earrings
They often get caught when it is just right between us
Such a nuisance it is to unhook all – the buttons on your chest
My shoes and slim garters – they have been there awhile
Off your smelly socks which I pretend to explore
They say nibble his toes and he will come like a flash
We breathe one other as the lights twinkle
In the sitting and I draw you in me afraid
Of the morning that has been set aside.
Love is forever you whisper in my ears
The whole of you is seeped in truth
But for the fingers they find it difficult to lie.
Death of a letter
My dear I have stopped
addressing them to you
words glide swiftly
to the wild contours
of distant shelves
that once belonged to you.
In ink I dip them not
nor do I stamp them
with suave sincerity.
Some unholy passage
lurks out of memory
and hands get still.
The alphabet is cold
and my letter
devoid of warmth
of love, of news
refuses to make amends.
For a Father who taught me to smile
My father’s face
soft and grizzly washes away
clusters of sadness and I get closer
to his smiles soaked in eternal bliss.
They are with me
those scattered shades
of a sunset in childhood
unwilling to disperse.
I find him almost everywhere.
The air is floating with his
morning chants of Durga Saptshati.
The fire groans in my son’s eyes.
The waters mingled with the smoke
while his body crossed the bare sands
and this little earth so moist and green
was loaned to me as his only keepsake.
Durga Saptshati: A collection of chants in Sanskrit in praise of Goddess Durga a symbol of Shakti – female energy and creativity.
Andy Jackson’s Among the Regulars (papertiger media, 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize. His poems have recently appeared in Meanjin, Cordite, Wordgathering and Medical Journal of Australia. He is currently working on a series of poems exploring medical tourism, and a book of portrait poems of people with Marfan Syndrome. He blogs at amongtheregulars.wordpress.com
The nurse asks again but you haven’t heard.
You are passing the scene in slow motion,
face pressed against the glass of the newspaper,
something unspeakable turning in your bones
like pleasure. Not relief at your safety.
Not homesickness cloaked with sympathy.
Or even some remnant you’d mistakenly
call animal. You don’t know for a long moment
who you are – the young slum-dweller
who ran through the toxic smoke to rescue
patients and now lies in intensive care?
The hospital directors taken into custody?
The crowd clamouring at the gates for the bodies
of their loved ones? Or the police
resorting to batons to subdue them?
She takes your blood pressure and temperature.
The alarms and sprinklers are switched on
and work. All the emergency exits are unlocked.
No boxes block the stairwells. Only
your fingers are black with newsprint.
Mounds of rubbish sifted by goats, dogs,
rag-pickers, collected by trucks
of the mind. Traffic negotiated in the peripheries
of sight and sound. One purple flower
exploding beneath the flyover. The necessary
genius of a bicycle he rides with his hands,
his legs contorted and useless.
The quick blink of a white bullock
as she’s whacked again with a stick.
Six days in, and it’s beginning
to seem like I’m seeing today what I saw yesterday.
A mange-weary dog looks both ways
before crossing the road. A woman
pulls the tarp off her carefully arranged pile
of mouldy textbooks and airport fiction.
An ambulance’s quiet siren swims
through the intersection. It doesn’t matter
what day it is, where I could be. Someone
is carefully repairing a busted umbrella.
Ken Chau is a poet living in Melbourne, Australia. His poems have been published in Australia, France, Hong Kong, UK and USA, including the anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia, ed. Alice Pung (Black Inc., 2008). He was most recently published in The Best Australian Poems 2012, ed. John Tranter (Black Inc., 2012) with his “Chinese Love Poem”.
Chinese Silence No. 101
after Timothy Yu, “Chinese Silence No. 4”
after Billy Collins, “China”
I am a flattened spider inside a discarded book of Chinese poems
on the drawing board of a curious architect.
Grand designs are being drafted.
Many bottles of champagne await opening day.
But even when he’s mad
and hurls the book across the room,
I stay as silently still as the dead,
unread words on these pages.
Chinese Silence No. 103
after Timothy Yu, “Chinese Silence No. 8
after Billy Collins, “Hangover”
If I were crowned Paramount Leader of China this afternoon
every peasant planting rice in a paddy field
would be re-educated and silenced forever
from uttering the name of Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong Mao Zedong
then would not be required to read The Little Red Book
but my My Book of Thoughts
and learn to spell Chairman Mao’s name in English
in my preferred transliteration of
Mao Tse-tung Mao Tse-tung
after which they would be quizzed
about the spelling of his name then executed by firing squad
regardless of how little they retained
of their thoughts of how
Mao Zedong thought Mao Zedong Thought would be thought of.
Marcelle Freiman has published two books of poetry, White Lines (Vertical) (Hybrid Publishers) and Monkey’s Wedding (Island Press). She grew up in South Africa and lived in London before migrating to Sydney, where she has resided since 1981. Much of her poetry emerges from her biography and from a constantly shifting sense of place. She teaches creative writing and literature at Macquarie University and has research interests in creative writing as theory and practice, and in poetry and postcolonial and diaspora literatures.
I’m leaning towards a book
with pages the colour of honey
and linen – as if clawed
from a desert wadi cave,
preserved by the cold arid nights:
threaded like beads on fibres of jute,
the words in this book
veil a quiet love – hidden
in the traces of names of things
I want to hand to you: feather, wood,
a whitened shard of glass smoothed by tides,
grains of sand sieved fine through my fingers,
the chambers of a nautilus –
can these objects – stone, pebble, driftwood, shell –
echo my body’s sound waves,
transmitting like whale-song
or pulsing satellite arcing across the sky
sudden as a falling star?
A body in feeling is silenced
in the face of wind-tunnels of distance.
Only the emptiness in my hands
is the name my love – a blown
feather, multiplication of cells,
a book without end,
amber pages and caught threads.
Chinese Box in Hong Kong
Roots of a banyan have taken the stone wall,
this street is uneven, like an ankle-twist
the air thick with heat, humid with fumes,
bloomers and t-shirts hang above the canopy
of a restaurant, modern food in lacquer bowls,
shiny shops, heavy jade buddhas, money runs
in the veins of this city, the drains of wet markets
and fancy boys in pants cut for tight hips
and haircut perfection queue for noodles, the best in Soho
where sidewalks slide down hills, the escalator clacks
up to Mid-levels. I buy red happiness candles
and an antique box of leather, also red,
its dark metal ying-yang clasp a promise
one day I will learn this too is home,
that you thrive like scarlet bauhinia
growing on rocky peaks of this city
with its dumpling stalls and teeming streets –
its speed the energy in the tips of your newest roots.
Sudesh Mishra was born in Suva and educated in Fiji and Australia. He has been, on different occasions, the recipient of an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Harri Jones Memorial Prize for Poetry and an Asialink Residency. He is the author of four books of poems, including Tandava (Meanjin Press) and Diaspora and the Difficult Art of Dying (Otago UP), two critical monographs, Preparing Faces: Modernism and Indian Poetry in English (Flinders University and USP) and Diaspora Criticism (Edinburgh UP), two plays Ferringhi and The International Dateline (Institute of Pacific Studies, Suva), and several short stories. Sudesh has also co-edited Trapped, an anthology of writing from Fiji. His creative work has appeared in a wide array of publications, including Nuanua: Pacific Writing in English since 1980, The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets, Lines Review: Twelve Modern Young Indian Poets, Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, Sixty Indian Poets, The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poetry, The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, The World Record and Concert of Voices: An Anthology of World Writing in English. Sudesh is working on a fifth collection of poems, a collaborative project on popular Hindi cinema (with Vijay Mishra) and a series of papers on minor history. He is currently Professor in Literature, Language and Linguistics at the University of the South Pacific.
Photograph by Semi Francis
Every day straggler word-bees fly up
His nostrils to swarm in the cold bone-urn
Of his skull; and all winter they settle
On the atomic flower of his brain
Which radiates no light the hue of nectar,
Dry and dyeless as a reef in a book.
So drinking of desolation they die
With a shudder of wings on the bone-floor,
And although their ashen remains swirl up
In a wind that is no wind of nature
To serve him an apparition of spring,
He’s sly to the artifice in its art
And waits for a sudden trick of season
That lures with light the vocal survivor
To tropics that ignite beyond his skull.
And sighting a reef of nameless flowers
It lands a name on all that namelessness,
Sipping at alphabets, making honey.
Amid the swish and buffeting
Of archangels’ wings, the city
Of angels left behind, howling
At the pact between god and man,
I lost faith with the force of faith
And cried to be a child again,
Striking out at the stars striking out,
A fever driving my fevered chalk
Through points of skyfall light,
Up and right and left and down,
Reverse, transverse—all night.
Until there you were, my Father,
A most furious constellation
By the bitter furies composed.
The phone leaps to unbead
The rosary of sleep
Before you pick it up
On the other side of
Dreaming. We sink deeper
Into cool valleys
Of pillows, snuffing out
The crunch of dry gears
And convulsing light
That gives notice of
Your night errant to streets
Of hurting and dying,
Of unsleeping houses
Where Pain makes faces
Like a spoilt child.
You’re Delivery Man,
Shuttling flesh from house
To hospital to house,
But taking no man’s wage,
Though rouged Capital
Tries chatting you up
At every traffic light.
No, never commodity,
Your compassion runs
Like a seam no miner
Dare harvest nor priest
Baptise as Religion.
And when prodigal you
Return to cool valleys
Now overrun by trolls
And ogres, like us they
Too suffer an alchemy,
Turning into songbirds
On boughs of groaning fruit,
And all the terrors burn
Like music in our ears,
As mangoes in our grip.
When you surfaced,
Cub of the ocean,
We were ruminants
Startled out of ourselves,
The deliberate, alluring hunger,
The browsing on interior lives.
My rubbery periscope,
My submarine voyeur,
How you nod from left to right,
From right to left,
Now as you did then,
Wet brat of inspiration
In a crestfall of whiskers.
I hold you a moment,
Then let slip,
Squeezed dollop of oil,
In a growling mill
That never shuts down.
Who could ever endure
Even as you vanish
Without sound or slick
Beneath coupling waves
To sprout, aeons later,
Sooty sapling, turgid root,
Your tail a swivelling T
Against a furious dusk:
Turner. Template. Tree.
Dryad of metaphor,
You struck me
Before I could strike you,
A marine fever
That respects neither mind
But bewilders the heart
In the quiet of arid places,
A recrudescence of happiness.
Like flocks the dust flew off the timbered hatch
When she sprang the hasp on the dowry chest
And plunged in, elbow-deep, her hand a perch
Swimming in mothballed waters, now a guest
Where once it ran host, rummaging for things
That keep slipping the fingers: a fawn brooch,
A ruched scarf, a blouse raging with sequins;
Until it gleans her wedding saree, scorch-
Ing as that day she left home in a spray
Of pulse and flower, the tears soldering off
Her cheeks and her father looking away,
His eyes drilling holes through a stubborn bluff
Estranging like this stranger, drift-boned, shy,
He handpicked for the apple of his I.
Now swatch by torrid swatch, I feel the dream
Unwind in her hands to be wound again
Years down the track by aunts who tack and seam
And smother her girlhood in silk, the skein
Reeling in their present as the past un-
Reels in mine. Amid the insinuating
Chatter, the laughter, I watch her snag on
A doubt, the future a nightmare drifting
Like crockery on a pitiless shelf.
How I want my dumb art to scream, to say:
‘Mother, swim out into your doubting self.
Plunge in against the current. Go astray.
I will your life to heave like a Van Gogh
Brushstroke, like verses, like poplar leaves. Go.’
Though it runs over the island in leaps
And bounds, no islander says what it is.
‘Prison bars,’ says the resident farmer
When pressed, his tone uncrimped by irony.
Others who grind the mills of prophecy
Talk without pause of molasses, bagasse,
Of all it’ll be when it’s not what it is.
Then there are the outsiders, the townfolk
Not in the know-how, who will compare it
To a phalanx, having read their history,
To an eclogue, having read their Virgil,
Although some among them will disagree,
The builder because he thinks of pillars,
The teacher because she thinks of margins.
But they too must lose it to some other—
Say a girl whose giggle makes it survive
In an orchard of desire, beyond itself
And that literal need to mark itself out.
An idle clasp, a relaxed swing, his arms
Snatch and heft the axe over his shoulder
Till, meeting the eye of itself, it turns
Ounceless as a wraith. Then it’s a boulder
Outsprinting eye, mind, his very muscles
In a downward run that smashes through sky
And estranging hill, and glazed apostles
Canonized for wresting brutes from the sty.
‘What lacks root?’ says the rippled sycamore
As the fanged axe splits it down the middle,
Splays it out like a moth. In the uproar
Of sparrows and chips, he cracks the riddle:
‘A stranger estranged by his own strangeness.’
Yet writ on your palm my wood’s graininess.
Ancient wood: cumbrous, hewable, cured hock.
Massive arboreal tome, how I love you—
Your alligator’s bark, your wrestler’s torque,
Your bailiff’s gravitas and breath of zoo.
Let them love the hot in you, the telos,
And hoard their bones against your bones, let them
Appraise a house, a hull, a Trojan Horse
In praise of you, but let my love affirm
What’s always forever to no purpose—
Like zephyrs vetching through a mortuary,
Like Greek myths related to Odysseus,
Like bonesmith’s art in a boneless country.
My love’s of your ancient venerable stock:
It goes right through the head to ring the block.
Woodflakes are flaking off like tuna flakes.
Axe droppings. Hot leftovers and leavings.
Chipped sunlight, terracotta. Exhumings.
You crouch amid ruins, remains. Your hand rakes
Up an art that shirks endings for random
Gleanings. Now here’s an ivory toothpick,
Late Ashanti. There, sheeny as garlic,
Some Renaissance tidbit, a severed thumb
By Cellini. Further, writ in magma,
Polynesian petroglyphs. To your left
Flotsam from a wreck. To your right tuna
But all at once you’re bereft.
Leonidas is berthing. The light’s in gold.
Sixteen dead spartans in the tuna hold.
After a glut of heresy
We are believers again.
We worship mud.
The slick swerving run
Of the floodcat
But simply adore
The lumbering trudge
Of the mudox.
Was a thing of marvel
That abides in memory.
Whereas the mudox
Neither runs nor roars
But dumbly pours
Its fat protean bulk
Into wretched dreams
And exhausted boots
And open graves,
And champagne glasses
Crammed with gold dentures.
Is a smother of mudlove:
A sprig of rose,
Sixty bolts of excellent linen,
And this town of course,
A muddy tract of skin
Which is the tract of memory
Composed of silt and silage,
A luscious, impervious heaven
Refuting the blasphemy
Of a single raindrop.
A Wishing Well in Suva
Let the tsunami come,
Let it come as an ogre in grey armature,
His forelocks in the sky.
To this town let it hum
A gravelly tune, and break
In the sound of wind through screes
Over and over and over.
Let it come exactly
At twelve, now or in the future,
When the trader is dealing a lie
To the worker; and the rake
Is drumming a lay on the knees
Of a gazelle who answers to Pavlova;
And the Ratu is consigning
All wilderness to woodchips
Over a hopsy lunch with a lumber
Baron from Malaysia;
And the Colonel is admiring
In a circus mirror his shoulder-pips;
And from his drunken slumber
A tramp is urging the tide to come in
Like scrolls of euthanasia,
Obliterating a lagoon
Where the egret grows sick on toxin.
O but let it come soon.
Let it flower like the 4th of July
And wipe out everything,
Except perhaps a tuft of fern
Adorning some crevice or crack
Where once the tern
Wove a nest from sea-wrack,
And an egg shook the world
(O shook this entire beautiful world)
With an inner knocking.
Everything weeps. This nib weeps.
The moon weeps. Weeps moonlight.
A hill weeps. As does the sky.
That blade of grass? It weeps.
It weeps in secret, tonight.
My earth weeps. Earth in my eye.
Pardon this grief. I have nothing
With which to sway your mind.
No wit, no image that leaps
And astounds with its leaping.
Just this grief, just this blind
Leakage of heart. A stone weeps.
I: Albert Park, 1928
He’d shaved a thermal lather off Hawaii
When they got wind of his mad intention
And felled trees, teak, kauri, the great ivi
Under which Degei pondered his creation,
Coiled in the lacework shade, a fossil of
Himself, bats fruiting in the boughs above.
The knolls were graded, apertures filled in,
Telegraph poles lowered for the approach.
Then they waited, planter, taukei and kin,
Twelve coolies, the Governor in his coach.
Around noon a nymph jabbed her parasol
At the sky and down she came like a swift,
Shearing a few trees, blowing up a squall
That stank of brine and carbon, and of myth.
At the royal ball, dog-tired, goggle-eyed,
He ignored nymphs mooching about his wick
Like stricken moths, but nursed a gin and tried
Not to smile when they toasted his epic
Voyage in accents clipped and sedentary.
Later, he slipped out into the moonlight,
While a Planter’s wife murdered Tchaikovsky
On a church organ, and pondered the height
Icarus reached before he got waxed. Then
It struck him that all follies were classical,
Though one were both Smith and Antipodean,
Though one always verged on the cynical.
Next day a maid counting plumes on his bed
Saw him in the sunlight, half-man, half-bird.
diaspora and the difficult art of dying
The way of writing is straight and crooked
in the end is my memory of the beginning, a mixed brew of history and hyperbole, the sun’s chakra breaking up the earth of basti into six million jigsaw pieces, and the bo-tree catching fire at midnight by itself, and the koels pecking out the eyes of brinda the milch cow, and pitaji standing among the ruined fields of channa, weeping, and maji bent over the inflated moons of roti, weeping because he wept, and the immemorial debt to a greasy man of crisp dhoti and castemark whom we called maibaap, and my sister nudging the age of dowry, and i the eldest of three sons, sixteen years old and already corroded by despair, stealing away from home and village and province, never once looking at the moon grazing on the thatch of my nostalgia, walking by night and sleeping by day, until rivers no longer gave up their names nor roads their destinations, how many times i yearned to return to my village, ask me how many times my legs faltered during that terrible flight, but then i remembered the scorpions crackling in the wells of basti and the mynahs dying in the skies of basti, and that nightmare drove me towards i knew not where, maybe i sought work in a modest village, maybe i desired to fall off the edge of the world, maybe i was questing for ayodhya, shangri-la, el dorado, maybe, maybe, there are maybes ad nauseum, but my destiny was an arkathi with a tongue sweeter than shakkar, who sold me a story as steep as the himalayas, and his images had the tang of lassi and his metaphors had the glint of rupees, so that two days later i was on pericles, hauling anchor in the calcutta of my diaspora, and india slipped through my fingers like silk, like silk it slipped through the fingers of three thousand seven hundred and forty eight girmityas, and many things were lost during that nautical passage, family, caste and religion, and yet many things were also found, chamars found brahmins, muslims found hindus, biharis found marathis, so that by the end of the voyage we were a nation of jahajibhais, rowat gawat heelat dholat adat padat, all for one and one for all, yet this newfound myth fell apart the moment we docked in nukulau, because the sahibs hacked our bonds with the sabre of their commands and took us away in dribs and drabs, rahim to navua, shakuntala to labasa, mahabir to nandi, and my lot was a stony acreage of hell in naitasiri, where i served the indenture of my perdition, seasick, as if the earth here was no more than an extension of the sea, you must understand that nothing else bothered me quite as much, not the coolumber and his whoring with our women, not the fifteen hours of drudgery in fields that offended horizons, not the miserly rations of stale chawal, not even the sadistic lashes of sirdar ahmed kaffar ali, no, none of that bothered me quite as much as my illness, which came and went in purple swirls of nausea, and then one day i saw chinappa retching his innards over a bed of marigolds, his feet clearing terra firma by twelve feet and at once i knew we shared a secret fever, a month later twenty girmityas of uciwai had soared beyond the canefields to the utter dismay of the overseer, who ordered them back to the plantation with the aid of an inflamed crucifix, then docked their wages for trying to levitate all the way back to india, in fact my fever had turned into an epidemic of sorts, travelling from fiji to mauritius, from mauritius to trinidad, from trinidad to surinam, but though a platoon of experts was consulted in three continents and two hemispheres, though a flock of dispatches flew with the grace of carrier pigeons from csr to governor gordon to colonial office to india office to viceroy and back again, and though every quack in the empire came up with the placebo of a remedy, no antidote was ever found for mal de mer, and i was still defying gravity, then one night adaam aziz hanged himself from a rafter in bhut len, the soles of his feet were a tangle of cankered roots, a week later badlu prasad stowed away on british peer to the kasi of his memories, haunted by the putrefied soles of adaam aziz, but i was no devotee of yamraj and my dreams of india were marred by a brood of scorpions, and between the hell of girmit and the hell of basti was an ocean of alchemy, yes i stayed back because i had endured a sea-change and was no longer the i of my origin, what more is there to say, i served the girmit of my misfortune and leased a bhiga of land from the company and married sundaree, who in less than one year retched up all her memories of krishnas and tulsis and neems and diyas, thus letting the past stray from her mouth to form the present, so that in the end she no longer felt the surf rolling beneath her feet, while in contrast my sickness grew worse by the minute, which was odd since this was the great age of our communal imagining, tazia in fields and holi in streets, puja in mandirs and namaj in masjids, samajis in labasa and sanatanis in ba, maybe in my heart of hearts i knew we were imagining ourselves against the sahibs in order to supplant them, and around the taukeis in order to ignore them, maybe that was why my condition grew steadily worse, then one morning of pitchfork rains and slapdash winds i met ratu ilisoni viriviri, the tui-ni-vanua who roamed the margins of my land, my house, my vision, but who said i roamed the margins of his land, his house, his vision, thus began the shitty history of our misunderstanding, he was blind to my illness and i was blind to his terror of my illness, yet for the first time that night i dreamt of degei who scribbled fiji on a parchment of waves, and the gata of creation said that to be rid of my affliction i had to die into the vanua, the land, but like all muses the vanua accepts only those who invoke it by name, hence dying is an art like living, procured in the ripeness of time, safe to say i took his advice to heart and shaped from it my life’s philosophy, even as the plough struck the clods of freedom in the colony of our despair, and learning the art of dying i began to live through all my senses, they were the great years of my life because i began to discover what was already discovered, to name things as they were already named, i’d see but not hear a turtle dove until i said kurukuru, then its liquid-glass throat would bubble in the reeds of my soul, i’d smell but not taste an oyster until i said dio, then it would deposit the pearl of a flavour on my tongue, i’d hear but not feel the breeze until i said caucau, then it would stroke with a royal plume the castle of my skin, i’d savour but not smell a fish until i said ika, then it would fill my lungs with the breath of oceania, i’d feel but not see the storm until i said cava, then it would strike with lightning the domes of my eyes, so it was that little by little i went through another sea-change as my discovery of an oceanic present leaked into my memory of an indian past, until a time came when i could no longer think of machli, for instance, without thinking of ika, it was as if machli as word and idea and culture had never existed prior to ika, prior to my life on this archipelago, and yet one was forever inside and around the other, in short my act of invocation had made me visible and the island real, yes in the end i recognised the country of my banishment, i knew for instance that the third tide after the full moon brought in the king walu, that a hurricane was imminent when the doi flowered in march, that the flesh of niu karawa was more succulent in the dry season, with the result that i suffered less and less from my ailment and seldom left terra firma and then only by a few inches, and it was about this time that i sprang a taste for kava and shared mine with no less a foe than ratu viriviri, together we’d sit on a pandanus mat in the twilight of our decrepitude and he’d point to a flame tree and say sekoula and i’d point to the same tree and say gulmohur, and he’d reflect on what i’d said before conceding yes yes that is a better name, and i’d wonder if the names from my past were altering his present in the way that the names of his present had altered my past, o yes that year i ought to have died into the vanua, but instead we—grower and harvester and mill-worker—struck against the company and the sahibs sent in the native sepoys in frowning khakis to break up the hartaal, and hobbling in their midst was my friend ratu viriviri, yet i begrudge him nothing for they had us both bamboozled, taukei and coolie alike, yes it may be true that he joined the valagi to protect his vanua, it may be equally true that i fought against the latter to secure my freedom, but truth is a fickle sheikh in a seraglio of memories, so let me say that what happened happened, and afterwards i felt the land uncoiling beneath my feet and the surf growling in my eardrums, and realised that everything had changed and yet nothing had changed, and all at once i knew that i’d come to the end of my tether, and yet i’d never been further away from dying, and so it was that two months later, in the mercurial season of canefires and the sky a vulture swarm of black confetti, i dissolved into the grey rodent flesh of my only child mahadeo, and sundaree looked for me everywhere and then assumed that a madness had sent me back to the basti of my genesis, but all the while i was there in the hearth of her affection, learning to be unlike my runaway father, so that i grew up with an intense hatred of ratoons, you see, unlike the girmitya of my former avatar, i ascribed my condition to the whole damnable history of sugar and to the stolid gull of a peasantry, in a word, i switched professions and became a carpenter, yet i admit that mine was no potluck decision but one taken with a firm millennial end in mind, i had resolved to build a house that would withstand the oceanic tremors of my island, that would give me respite from my long and giddy life, and i remember on the day of my resolution as i dismantled the shack of my serfdom, kanti the trader arrived all the way from surat, his body trigged out in yards of homespun tornado, his feet shod in scarlet chappals, and he had a limp saffron jholi draped across his shoulder and an ashen moon thumbed on his forehead, and he asked me about my desires from under the shade of a raintree and i told him all, as if he were the shaman of my salvation, and he dug into his gunny sack and pulled out bolts and planks and beams and roofs, and in return i gave him the earnings from my bygone pastoral life, and once a month he came by to watch the wood grow into a bungalow, his jholi glowing with the materials of my slow addiction, and i thought he envied my lot in life while it was i who envied his self-assurance, his breezy gait and blustery talk, his freedom from mal de mer, his genius for six languages and feeling for one, and much more besides, then one day he took off his chappals and showed me his feet which were smothered in a network of ingrown roots, alive and squirming, as if sustained by some dark visceral logic, and i knew then that his sickness was worse than mine, that he was little more than the contents of his jholi and that, in less than one year, he would forsake the radha of his life to marry a stranger in the surat of his myopia, but that is the stuff of a different story, meanwhile i had moved into my new house with sundaree, my wife, my mother, who expired on the night i wed amrita, the daughter of a market vendor, but who refused to burn until her corpse had been duly sprinkled with gangajal, thus dying into india without acknowledging fiji, but unlike sundaree i lived on in the flesh of my undying self, sheltering from the sea in the fortress of my seclusion, then the theatre of war erupted somewhere beyond the horizon and i auditioned for a part, thinking that i may yet die into the vanua, the land, but i was escorted from the stage by a special force of berets in a state of delirium, and later amrita told me about my great relapse, how i had turned the colour of offal and droned out a mad litany of demands in exchange for my service, equal pay for equal worth for equal risk, independence for fiji, india, africa, expulsion of the csr from the known universe, unconditional access to valagi hospitals, clubs, schools and playing fields, crash course on imperialism for the local taukei, secure land tenure for peasant farmers and the like, and when many years later the grandson of ratu viriviri alluded to this moment of my treachery to justify his coup d’etat, i set about blaming my illness instead of probing his logic, in any event, i went back to the lair of my refuge after the shame of military rejection and pottered around the house while amrita sold dog-eared cabbages from a backyard garden to keep us afloat, then one dawn she found the lease of our undoing inside a dowry box and by noon a squadron of termites had invaded the house, and they shed their wings and chatted through the timber, and for some twenty years i heard the rumour of their carpentry, until in the end the house was reduced to a midden of talcum powder, but by then i had melted into subadra, my only daughter, and amrita had eloped to england with the cockney of her infatuation, yes amrita had shared my illness but felt that the remedy lay in physical motion, in not staying put, she was convinced that if the sea was the cause of her malaise then it was also its cure, that in time the caravel becomes the cradle so long as we stay afloat, but i was in love with the island of my torment, and so after the termites ate through my lease and ratu viriviri took back the land of his ancestry, i wandered from village to village for what seemed like an eternity, until one day i arrived in suva where everyone had my illness, even the taukei, but not a soul suffered from it, and it struck me that the denizens of the city had no need of roots because they had smothered the vanua in steel and concrete, thereby making of their illness a wondrous virtue, and they floated through the streets with a lightness of being and they chewed their food with a casual dispassion, and they had no need to stray from the city because the world came to them on trucks and ships and planes, and they procreated and laboured and expired as citizens, as those who were defined by what they had created and not by what they had inherited, and though i saw the moth of capital alight on the few and not the many, and though i understood its great sleights and feints and evasions, i was nonetheless attracted to its erratic flight through the raucous bazaar of my fascination and to its raw magic that transformed the humble lemon seller into a lemonade tycoon, but most of all i was attracted to the way it first made and then forgave the rootless soul, and so i settled down in the city of my third avatar and joined the local bank as a clerk, and that year when the sahibs departed with their union jack, i met and married the civil servant of my stability and together we worshipped the twin gods of thrift and industry, and together we built a house on the freehold of our dreams, and together we sent our son abroad to learn the ways of other cities, i thought i’d at last found respite from my long illness, i thought the city by its nature belonged to all citizens, but they came on the may of our unforgetting to claim for themselves the city we had all made, kaindia and kaiviti and kaivalagi, and once again i witnessed the miracle of mass levitation, though this time not in the remote plantations of girmit but in the desperate streets of suva, as teachers, toy-makers, lawyers, panel-beaters, civil servants, physicians, wholesalers, plumbers, tax agents, engineers, beauticians, batik-printers, among others, among many others, lifted clear off the ground and drifted across the reefs to the lands of their new diaspora, america and canada and aotearoa and australia, and i too felt the asphalt yield under my feet and saw jagan, my husband of twenty years, beckoning furiously from the streets below, but nothing could entice me back to earth, not my husband, not my city, not my history, nothing, and, in a few seconds, i’d breached a cupola of clouds and rounded the towers of sydney and dissolved into the body of my son, rajesh, who sat at his desk writing the first of his many stories about the island of his nostalgia in the hope that some day, when no one is watching, he will die into the acreage of his prose.
Citations: this selection of poems appeared in Diaspora and the Difficult Art of Dying, Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2002.
Headhunter by TextaQueen, Australia’s felt-tip superhero
Issue 13 is edited by Michelle Cahill
Say it with music
The golden bracelets and drapes
the locomotives the boats
and the salubrious wind and clouds
I simply abandon them
my heart’s too small
or too big
and my life is short
I don’t know exactly when my death will come
but I age
I descend the day’s steps
with a prayer on my lips
On each floor is it friend waiting for me
or a thief
I no longer know how to see anything other
than a single star or cloud in the sky
according to my sorrow or joy
I no longer know how to lower my head
is it too heavy
Nor do I know if in my hands
I hold soap bubbles or cannon balls
but my red blood my dear red blood
roams through my veins
driving out memories of the present
but my thirst is too great
I stop again and await
Paradise paradise paradise
Say it with music
Les bracelets d’or et les drapeaux
les locomotives les bateaux
et le vent salubre et les nuages
je les abandonne simplement
mon cœur est trop petit
ou trop grand
et ma vie est courte
je ne sais quand viendra ma mort exactement
mais je vieillis
je descends les marches quotidiennes
en laissant une prière s’échapper de mes lèvres
A chaque étage est-ce un ami qui m’attend
est-ce un voleur
je ne sais plus voir dans le ciel
qu’une seule étoile ou qu’un seul nuage
selon ma tristesse ou ma joie
je ne sais plus baisser la tête
est-elle trop lourde
Dans mes mains je ne sais pas non plus
si je tiens des bulles de savon ou de boulets de canon
mais mon sang rouge mon cher sang rouge
parcourt mes veines
en chassant devant lui les souvenirs du présent
mais ma soif est trop grande
je m’arrête encore et j’attends
Paradis paradis paradis
Philippe Soupault (born in 1897) was a French writer and poet, novelist, critic, and political activist. He was active in Dadaism and later founded the Surrealist movement with André Breton.
Ouyang Yu is now based in Shanghai, teaching at SIFT (Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade) as a professor. In 2012, he has published a couple of books, including The Kingsbury Tales: A Complete Collection and Self Translation.
B-mode Ultrasound Report, Gynecology Department
On it is written:
Anteversion of uterus and abnormal corpus uteri: 9.1 x 5.4 x 4.7cm
A prominent tubercle on the back wall that is 1.9 x 1.8cm
Its inner membrane 0.8cm in thickness
The appendix (on the left) is 2.7 x 1.6cm and (on the right) 2.7 x 1.8cm
With a clear and even echo
I was drinking till my belly was close to bursting, my legs weakening
And my lower abdomen turned thin and transparent, like the crepe georgette I was in
To make it easier for the instrument to explore the complex topography inside
The doctors thought they were looking at a kaleidoscope
A woman’s final file, her history as much as her geography
The descriptive language on the report, in an objective tone
Is an assessment of the most vital part of a woman
Like the remarks on a student’s performance at school in the old days
The figures accurate and submissive
Suggesting that one had to offer a monthly betrothal present
If the report were written in a figurative language
It would have to be something like this: its shape is closer to a torpedo
Than an opening magnolia denudata
With a garment of pure cotton and silk linings
Hiding nothing in her heart except the depths of her body, in a corner or a far suburb
So remote it almost resembles the western regions in the body
Connected to the outside and heights by dark channels and narrow lifts
With a door ajar, a dream of crowded kids and the courage to be ageing all the way
In a lyrical language, it would have to be written thus:
Ah, this cradle of mankind
Grown on the body of a failed woman
Stops short of germinating despite its rich maternal instinct
Ah, this church of love
Ruins of love to the nth degree, like the Imperial Summer Palace
This other heart, an organ the most solitary and empty in the body
Ah, instead of being a house, an old garden, it often feel s homeless
And does not believe in gravitation as it has an intuition, soft and moist
A memory that flies
就要这样写： 它的形状， 与其说跟一朵待放的玉兰相仿
啊， 它本是房屋一幢故园一座， 却时常感到无家可归
Perhaps I am Willing
Perhaps I am willing
To be with you every day
My heart, for the rest of my life
Is a window pane
Cleaned till it shines.
Early in the morning we go somewhere near
To the simple-minded creek
The sun spreading our skins
With a deep glaze
And the healthy grass reaching over our knees.
I am willing
To listen to you every dusk
Gathering the ducks home with a whist le
When the land becomes quiet
And the sun, brilliant, beautiful.
Because of the lush water grass
Our ducks are over-grown, nearly to the size of geese
Without the red crown
The sign of the geese.
We are so poor at managing them
That these ducks have become like us
Believing only in the poetry of life
Not wanting to go home for the night, and stepping onto a great
Happy or unhappy
Until they move back, from artificial propagation
Laying liberalist eggs, one by one
In the boundless grass.
You Have Fallen Ill
Separated from you by hundreds of kilometers of a rainy land
I am so concerned about your condition
I misread weather report as cardiograph, CT, colour ultrasound or blood
I shall fast for you, taking only vegetables with little oil and rice congee
And pray for your recovery
Now that you are ill
Please take a good rest like barn grass after the rain
Flashing your tender bud in the afternoon sun
Ring me about your pain and dizziness smelling of Lysol
For life is a debt that needs to be paid off slowly
Please open the ward window and see the morning glow and the setting sun
over the top of the dawn redwood
And the path drifting with the aroma of dinner
Peace and quiet are the best doctors
I have so many things to warn you about but please do remember these:
You have to add a bit of laziness to your virtue
And let the dust gently settle on your desk
Make friends with tea and enemies with liquor or cigarettes
Have walnuts, peanuts, sesame, seaweeds and fish
Take a regular walk along the river
And take medications on time, not afraid of its bitterness
Now, everything has turned from two into one
One cotton quilt, one pillow
One tooth-brush, one face-towel
One chair, and photographs that contain only one person
And there is only one poplar tree outside the window as well
What’s more, I emit one egg in vain as usual every month
All these things are feminine
Shadows matching their shapes, like a widow
Sticking to her chastity, like a nun
Now, I lock my door alone, I walk downstairs alone
I window-shop alone, I walk alone, I go back to my room alone
I read alone, I have a banquet alone, I sleep alone
I live from morning till night
And have to walk to the end of my life alone
The cloth doll, covered in dust, on the bookshelf
Has no spouse, like myself
I am a divorcee and she, an old maid
We suffer from the same condition but have no pity for one another
My telephone remains silent, like a mute
Who can strike my heart’s cord in the stillness of the night?
Even my heartbeat is solitary
Creating an echo in the empty room
I am a compound vowel that cannot find a matching consonant
I am an oblique tone that cannot find a matching level tone
I am a surface that cannot find a match to strike
I am a parabola that cannot find its coordinate system
And I am a dandelion that can find neither the spring nor the wind
I am one, and I am ‘1’
With solitude as my mission
And loneliness as my career
如今， 一个人锁门， 一个人下楼
一个人看书， 一个人大摆宴席， 一个人睡去
The International Flight
Across the city wall of the Chinese language
Through the broken limbs of the Japanese language and over the hedge of
the Korean language
Until I, with a leap into the round window of the English language
Am translated into a sick sentence
Passion covers more than a thousand kilometers an hour
There are the sun-threshing-ground and cloud-villages outside the window
It is a gale, I believe, of thirty-thousand feet that is blowing me away
Chucking the absurd first part of my life onto the earth
The International Date Line resembles a jumping rope
As I jump back from the 12th to the 11th
From today to yesterday: Can mistakes be corrected? Can love return?
我从4 月12 日跳回11 日
Lu Ye, is a Chinese poet born in December 1969. She has published a number of poetry collections, such as feng shenglai jiu meiyou jia (Wind is Born Homeless), xin shi yijia fengche (Heart is a Windmill) and wode zixu zhi zhen wuyou zhi xiang (My Non-existent Home Town). She has also published 5 novels such as xingfu shi you de (There was Happiness) and xiawu dudianzhong (Five in the Afternoon). She has won a number of poetry awards, including the People’s Literature Award in 2011. She now teaches at Jinan University, China.