By Wendy Chin-Tanner
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014
Reviewed by CYRIL WONG
Wendy Chin-Tanner’s poems in her debut full-length collection, Turn, returns with part-nostalgia and part-anguish to her Chinese-American childhood in New York City, while contrasting these memories with her current life. The ambivalences of the past and the future react against each other through the prism of parenthood in a dialectical way, producing a poetic synthesis of emotions and revelations for what it means to exist as a wife and mother in the present day. Pathetic fallacy is self-consciously utilised in projecting inward conflicts and almost unbearable emotions upon the natural world; the external becomes a mirror for the internal, providing a much-needed sense of catharsis as the mirror reveals how the personal can also be absorbed into the timelessly universal.
The book begins with a moving tribute-poem (“Tempest”) to the poet’s grandmother who “soothes … with the smell of her, / of Tiger Balm and something acid, / and female underneath”, a mother-figure tenderer than her immediate mother, at least in the poet’s articulation of memory. The past is perceived in terms of physical tactility that is never far from literal pain and with a corollary ability to selflessly withstand it, but also rich with the intimacies of unspoken female love. Such implicitly gendered demarcations are made clearer when the following poem (“In the Dutch House”) paints the grandfather as a man of darker contradictions, emotionally dependent on the forbearance of his wife but also abusive to both her and their children, forcing the poet to ask starkly: “What kind of man was this?”
Historical to mythological figures from Hua Mulan to Persephone become the subjects of subsequent poems, which attempt to undermine easy stereotyping inherent in earlier gendered demarcations. For example, Persephone’s mother becomes culpable for not hindering her daughter’s fate at the hands of Death because his “stench” rejuvenated the earth. The poet, in a personally revealing and psychologically revelatory piece, points out that in her own life, she has been afraid to let her own mother witness her labour, alluding to the lineage of “bitterness” (both emotional and viscerally physical), symbolised by “foam bricks” of cotton pads wet with blood, that inexorably connects mother to daughter (“Mother”). The female experiences of vaginal blood-letting to childbirth, the complex psychological and physical consequences that accompany such landmark events, are portrayed as sources of pained ambivalences: such experiences are simultaneously shameful, even traumatic, but paradoxically, they also provide reasons for celebration. Couched in lyrical descriptions of meaningful physicalities and a growing awareness of future loss, the poet paints a more straightforward and affectionate moment as regards her father: “my fingers tried to read / the patterns in the tracks running up his arms … his temples showing only a dusting of white; // snow freshly fallen onto soil” (“Father”).
A celebratory note rings out between the sexes later in a moment of copulation, when the poet describes the sex act in almost cartoony ways: “Our hips bucked, and the confetti from your / cock burst … a tickertape parade / celebrating inside … our victory, rising so high above / you and me and everything we knew” (“Veteran”). A childlike wonder and innocence comes through in spite (or because) of obvious consummation, in which the poet abandons a previously “female” condition of pain layered with joy for a more transcendental form of “high” beyond dichotomies of gender. But it is through childbirth that the poet finds a clearer, celebratory link between past and present, as mediated through passionately gritty language: “pubic bone yawning wide / open like a rusted gate that could not close” (“Saying Yes”). The poet finally understands what it means to be a mother, like her mother and grandmother before her: “you do not forget the pain … and you imagine that you could sail / up like balloons over what had ruined you, / the wrong beginnings, the wrong turns” (“Saying Yes”). Whatever mistake she has made, or which has been done to her, in the context of her childhood and later adulthood, have in a sense prepared her for her role as a parent in the present moment.
But the poet is also determined to locate the eternal that exists beyond, but which also incorporates, the intensely personal and the complicated knot of intimate relationships. In one poem, she writes that “we are no longer as / we were that winter … the river beneath its sea / of silent glass seethes … The steady live rush carries on” (“On the Thamespath”). Then in a later poem about recognising signs to remember a dead relative, she recalls being told “how matter could be neither created nor destroyed, and, since the universe was breathing … like sand dissolving … it was possible for particles to behave as waves, / waves as particles, joined in space and time” (“Signs and Symbols”). The universe mirrors the changes and the complexities of our emotional to physical risings and fallings exactly, but more than that, there is a timelessness beyond our narrow conceptions of time, an eternity of ever-lasting change, a “live rush” that carries on in spite of our thoughts or actions; with nothing truly lost since we remain inextricably and literally “joined in space and time”. As the poet writes in the end, in spite of past regrets and previous betrayals, all we are left with, then, after acknowledging our places within the infinite, is our capacity to love: “The wheel / turns and we love again / not in spite of death but because” (The Wheel”).
CYRIL WONG has been called a confessional poet, according to The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, based on “the brutally candid sexuality in his poetry, along with a barely submerged anxiety over the fragility of human connection and a relentless self-querying”. He is the Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of poetry collections such as Unmarked Treasure, Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light and After You. He has also published Let Me Tell You Something About That Night, a collection of strange tales, and a novel, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza. Cyril has served as a mentor under the Creative Arts Programme and the Mentor Access Project, as well as a judge for the Golden Point Awards in Singapore. A past recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for Literature, he completed his doctoral degree in English Literature at the National University of Singapore in 2012. His poems have been anthologised in Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond (W. W. Norton 2008) and Chinese Erotic Poems (Everyman’s Library 2007), amongst various journals and publications across the world.
Ron Pretty’s eighth book of poetry, What the Afternoon Knows, was published in 2013. An updated edition of Creating Poetry will be published later this year. He spent six months in Rome in 2012, on a residency granted by the Australia Council.
She could not speak to her mother
when they met. She had just turned
twenty one, but had never seen this
small dark woman until then, except
in photos. Harris sat beside her, his smile
inviting them to break the silence.
He would translate, he said, if only
they had something to say. Mother and
daughter looked at one another, tears
on their cheeks. Tell her, she said to Harris,
tell her I did not know where she’d gone,
which country she went to. I used to
watch the planes fly over, she said,
and wonder where they were going,
and if she was on them. Alana
– for that was the daughter’s name –
reached out to her without a word.
She took her hand. Visanthi,
the mother said, that was your name.
And still it is, the daughter cried.
Tell her, she said through her tears,
tell her that’s what it is. Star sapphires
falling as tears, and a second mother,
in her pale silence watching
Alana Visanthi there in that room,
Sri Lankan sun streaming in where
mother and daughter are holding hands
having no language except its loss.
Krystel said, I am happy with my mother,
my family here; I have no need to go
seeking for that distant other on that island
I have no wish to see. You do not feel
there’s something missing, her lover asks,
his pale hand caressing her straight black hair.
A long time ago her infant self was flown
out of penury into suburban class.
She’s never been back to see the village
she was plucked from; she loves her parents
who brought her home, happy they’d never
have to face again the heat, the beggars
on every corner, the guns at every checkpoint.
This is my home, she tells him, I have no other.
She will not tell him how she dreams, some nights,
of elephants wading a stream, a road side stall
selling papaya flecked with lemon, a cripple
begging under a figtree. The dreams recur,
but she has decided her life is here; she wants
only her mother and a lover who holds her
in his strong white arms as he kisses
and kisses again the warm dark skin of her face.
Mario Licón Cabrera (1949) is a Mexican poet and translator living in Sydney since 1992, he has publishe four collectios of poetry and has translated many Australian leading poets into Spanish . He’s currently conducting a Creative Writing and Reading workshop (in Spanish) at The nag’s head hotel, in Glebe, NSW every first Saturday of each month.
I walk to the south
I walk to the north
Where are you
I sit with the desert
I sit with the ocean
Where are you
I sing in the sand
I sing with the the rocks
Where are you
I dance with the birds
I dance with the animals
Where are you
Heaven is every were
Where are you?
Camino hacia el sur
Camino hacia el norte
Me siento con el desierto
Me siento con el océano
Canto en la arena
Canto con las rocas
Danzo con los pájaros
Danzo con los animales
El cielo está por todas partes
Dónde estás tú?
Mallets pound fence posts
in tune with the rifles
to mask massacre sites
Cattle will graze
sheep hooves will scatter
Wildflowers will not grow
where the bone powder
Los masos golpean postes de cercas
a tono con los rifles
para ocultar los sitios de la massacre
El ganado pastará
las pesuñas de las ovejas dispersarán
Las flores silvestres no crecerán
donde el polvo de los huesos
early dawn crows
tell of your impending arrival
that first day I wait
I fall asleep in the street
an earth angel comes
siting beside me
to divert the traffic.
the second day
neighbours wave brooms shouting
we don’t understand you,
you’re too different,
please don’t visit anymore
above my sobbing I heard the crows
tell me you’re closer.
on the third day
a blanket of crows
curtains my bedroom window
I stay in bed until
the knock on the door.
temprano por la madrugada los cuervos
hablan de tu inminente arrivo
ese primer día de mi espera
caí dormida en la calle
un ángel terrestre llega
se sienta a mi lado
para desviar el tráfico.
el segundo día
los vecinos agitan sus escobas gritando
no te entendemos,
eres muy diferente,
por favor no vuelvas más
arriba de mis sollozos oía a los cuervos
diciéndome que estabas muy cerca.
al tercer día
una parvada de cuervos
acortina la ventana de mi recámara
me quedo en cama hasta
el llamado en la puerta.
Born and raised in Singapore, Jonathan has worked and lived in Berlin and London. He once bungee-jumped and climbed a volcano to reason out the meaning of life. He is currently cobbling together his first collection of short stories. His stories have appeared in The Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, The Literary Yard (India), New Asian Writing, BananaWriters and Fat City Review.
Given Another Life
Five minutes to three in the early hours of the morning, Adinda sat upright on her bed, wiped the sweat staining her forehead with the back of her small bandaged left hand. Clutching the glass of water beside her bed, she took a sip tentatively, waiting. At exactly three, she took the cell phone beside the glass of water, dialed the number she now remembered by heart. She did not put the number on speed dial because she wanted the pleasure of punching in the numbers on her phone in the dark. It took a while for the connection to get through; a number for Singapore. Ten rings on, a familiar female voice barking down on the end of the line filled her ears. Without saying a word, Adinda breathed down hard in response. That was when she then hung up, feeling good that justice has been served.
The first couple of nights the voice on the end of the line – jarred with bewilderment – bellowed exasperatedly, “Hello hello, who is it?” Adinda held her silence. Then came the familiar note of annoyance – flaring in the voice each time she did not carry out the tasks to her satisfaction – bridged to a not-too-distant past where Adinda has sought to make a better life for herself and her family; now it was all broken and her future had become dimmer than before she set foot in Singapore.
By the time the calls persisted for the ninety-seventh time – a day short of her entire stay in Singapore – Adinda broke the silence and spoke: “Why you do this to me? Why you made my life susah?”
. . .
Given another life, Adinda would not want to be where she was. Easing the curtain to one side, she took in the muggy haze outside. Even without opening the window, she could smell the stiffness of the air sufficiently up her nostrils.
“It was the smell from your home lah,” her madam’s mother-in-law said.
She missed the sarcasm at first, but learnt later that the smog blanketing the island emanated from her homeland. She marveled at how the fires raging in the part of her world were suffocating those living miles away.
High over the city-state hundreds of windows embroidered life stories of which one of it was now her own in the flat she would have to call home for the next two years. As she wondered hard how things were back home, in the same breath of thought as she stole time to stare out of the windows was a curiosity to find out what went behind those windows opposite hers that she cleaned daily; a morning chore before she prepared breakfast for Sir and Madam and their toddler son. Given another life, would these people want to be where they were? Then she thought about herself, would she want to be where she was?
Adinda wasn’t sure life was any better in the city-state with the constant frowns that creased Sir and Madam’s faces as they returned home after work. Back home as evening fell, her good neighbour and friend Ainul would sit with her chatting outside their homes, taking in the bustle of villagers coming and going, exchanging hellos and words with other neighbours passing by, looking up at the stars stitching their brilliance in the skies. Here, Adinda soon learnt that Sir and Madam retreated behind the shut door, the curtains drawn as hundreds of windows, not dissimilar to theirs, were torched with lights, the whiteness shone through the darkness with dissonance as the night fell.
In her homecoming, Ainul’s fruits of labour in full display – modern goodies, money to rebuild her dilapidated, rotting wooden house into something sturdier – awed Adinda. She pictured in her mind the kind of life that could possibly lie ahead of her in the city-state. More so, the better life she could have in her own homecoming, to deal with her immediate wants: to patch the leaking roof over their heads, to fill sacks of rice in the lumbung, no longer to endure hunger.
What scared her were stories of fellow maids falling to deaths from the high-rise flats while extending themselves perilously out on the ledge to clean the windows. Thankfully, her Madam had specifically forbidden her to climb out on to the ledge. Her madam said: “Just clean the inside can already.”
Her Madam’s mother-in-law was the demanding one. She would give Adinda a makeshift stick made of half-cut bamboo pole with a cloth tied around it, asked her to extend herself out of the windows to clean the outer panels. Arching her hand against the window panels as she extended her body outwards, Adinda tried to suppress the giddiness rising up her head, resisting to either look upwards or worse, downwards, keeping her eyes peeled over to the hundreds of windows on the opposite block. She wondered at the obsession of having the squeaky-shiny cleaned windows that served little purpose since the curtains were drawn shut most of the time. Was she just being punished because the soot from the forest fires burning back home had stained the windows?
. . .
Before she had the maid, Lynn Tan reminded herself not to be too fastidious, cut some slack with her maid. Besides, however remote history has seemed for her generation, the forefathers settling on the island were coolies and labourers seeking a better life. Lynn reasoned there were no grounds for her to get upset over trivialities with her new maid, brushing aside horrid stories she gleaned from friends about maids who slacked, stole things, or worse took things into their heads and did silly things like falling to their deaths performing seemingly harmless chores, or hooking up with a man.
Given another life, Lynn wouldn’t want to get a maid at all. Having someone else living in their midst was the last thing she wished for. As it was, being out and about working long hours five days a week, she wanted the freedom and quiet in the evenings and weekends to move around in her home. The slightest noises intruding upon her shook her with annoyance: the closing and opening of wardrobe doors as the maid placed the folded laundry back; the clattering of the plates and cutlery as the maid washed them; the dull plodding sound of footsteps as the maid padded heavily across the floor to pick toys up. Her presence was everywhere; Lynn did not like it at all.
But a year into taking care of her newborn, Lynn was exhausted by the never-ending regime of diaper-change, the unreasonably shrillness of her newborn crying, the dull routine that trapped her in the flat. No longer was she able to steal time in between lunches to do up her toes or hair, get a dress or a pair of high-heels, catch up with gossips over lunch before heading back to the office. Work in itself wasn’t always pleasurable but it offered pleasant distractions, moving her mood along the way, in a spectrum that was unavailable to the life with a newborn at home.
After her newborn was hospitalised for weeks with a viral infection, after her mother-in-law’s insinuation that she shouldn’t have brought the boy out to shopping just because she was bored, after her husband’s rationalisation that she might feel better ditching the role of a stay-home-mum, Lynn decided to hire a maid. The arrangement was that her mother-in-law watch over the maid who in turn take care of the daily needs of the boy – plus – to complete all the household chores as humanly possible each day. In the search for the perfect maid, Lynn and her husband stated specifically that they wanted someone who was good with toddlers, able to cook simple meals, clean and tidy, hardworking, strong but pleasant-looking, without body odour, for that matter, no unpleasant traits or habits of any kind. No mention was made on whether the ideal maid was one who could tolerate their nonsense or that of their mother-in-law’s antics.
Nodding her head knowingly, the maid agent reassuring Lynn and her husband that they had just the perfect maid for them, said: “Just look here ah. This folder contains some of the best maids we have from Indonesia. You smart. Cheaper to have them than Filipino maids. Also, they don’t ask for rest day every week. One month rest one day, can already.”
“Isn’t that against the law?” Her husband, always the law-abiding kind asked.
“Get the maid to agree can already. Not against the law lah. Also, some maids don’t want off. Want to earn more money, send home mah.”
. . .
Adinda had a fitful sleep the night before she was sent off to Singapore. She dreamt about how clean Singapore was that the pavement could be eaten off if she was too hungry. She was on all fours, licking the pavement that tasted like roasted pine nuts, the air sticky with cotton candy, the sun warming a toast of rendang curry. Then it began to rain in her dreams. The skies opened up: rags after rags of damp fell, some slapping on her head, shoulder, body with a disapproving thud. Soon she found herself unable to move any step forward, stuck in the rags piling high up as the skies gave no sign of letting up. That humid morning as Adinda left her dreams, woke up soaking wet with sweat on her back and forehead, she was lost to the future lurking ahead.
The circumstances were such that no one in her family dissuaded her to work in Singapore. She won’t be the first or the last in her village to set foot in the city-state to work as a maid. Other than her friend Ainul, she could recount at least a dozen others from her village who had worked in the city-state. She considered Jakarta. But the idea of being somewhere foreign, good money, clean and modern that she has heard so much of, excited and scared her at the same time. She was terrified by the prospect of living somewhere perched high up without the grounds beneath her feet, terrified by the unknown life that was to become part of her for two long years.
To raise money for her passageway to Singapore, her family pawned whatever little valuables they had, borrowed from their relatives too. Grateful, Adinda promised herself that once she was able to pay off the loan owed to the agent, she would start to remit as much of her wages as she could back home. She knew the first ten months would be tough in Singapore, getting little more than thirty dollars each month from her employer, the rest going to the agent for the fees in bringing her to Singapore.
But seeing her neigbours returned home, laden with goodies and modern appliances from Singapore, it strengthened the resolve in her to go out there to make a better life. She pictured herself returning home with the latest handheld game for her adik, a wardrobe of nice clothes for her kakak, a brand new Yamaha motorbike for her abang, a good quality TV for her ailing orangtua already in their seventies always squinting their eyes to see what’s on the TV. Sitting in the newly renovated home, she would regale her siblings and parents of life in the city-state, of the people there, of their secrets, of their success, of the modern conveniences that someday somehow it would come to their village, slowly but surely.
. . .
“You clean like that, not clean. Must clean like that.” Impatience rising up the mother-in-law’s voice as she snatched the mop from Adinda’s hand and demonstrated to her.
Then she ranted on again: “Thought they teach you how to clean before you come Singapore. Did Ma’am show you how to clean the floor? She didn’t scold you?”
As the weeks followed, Adinda was quick to realise that the reassuring smiles that welcomed her soon ceased to bracket their faces, the voice grew harder, harsher each time she did something wrong, or what they thought was wrong.
When the bowl slipped out of her hand – crashing on to the floor, sending the half-eaten rice all over the corner where she sat on a high stool to eat her dinner in the kitchen – Adinda went to bed that evening hungry. Slipping into the toilet to relieve herself when everyone in the household was asleep, she drank from the tap to dull her hunger, the wound stitched between her left thumb and index finger glistened in the dark as she unwrapped her bandage to take a closer look.
“You are very stupid. Why use your hands to pick up the broken bowl. Use the broom to sweep it up,” her Madam’s voice quivered in anger, as she stood with her in the A&E at Changi hospital to get her wounds treated.
. . .
“Just send her back lah,” her mother-in-law said the next day. “If your boy is near her, he could have got hurt also. Lucky. I can cope with the boy on my own. Now your this one stupid, cannot do things properly.”
Since the maid came into the picture, Lynn was annoyed that her mother-in-law and even her husband presumably made her the custodian of the maid. Any fault with her, any complaints about her clumsiness, her inefficient cleaning that left ant trails, the inability of coaxing her boy to take naps, rested squarely on her shoulders: teach her, manage her, tell her. Lynn was sick to be the one telling the maid what to do.
“Why can’t your mum just tell her properly what to do,” Lynn said to her husband.
“Mum doesn’t speak much English or Malay. How to communicate. She needs you to instruct the maid,” her husband replied, conveniently brushing aside any responsibility.
That evening when the decision was made to send her home, Lynn felt heavy in her heart. But she acquiesced, hoping to put to rest her mother-in-law’s non-stop complaints about the maid. The inconvenience of a maid was perhaps too much to manage, as if life hasn’t put enough on the plate.
One morning in the following week while she was getting ready to clean the windows, wetting the cloth to tie on the bamboo stick, Adinda was asked to pack her belongings stuffed in the storeroom, where she also slept. The Madam’s mother-in-law then quickly did a thorough check ruffling through her personal stuff. “Just to make sure she didn’t steal anything,” she said to Lynn, ignoring Adinda who stood by and watched on clueless.
At the airport, her Madam pressed two fifty-dollar notes into her small hands, and said: “Use it to get something you like inside.” It was the first time that she came into touch with so much money since coming to Singapore.
“For me? Thank you, Madam,” Adinda said gratefully, resolved that she would bring home and show her family how a fifty Singapore dollar note was like. Then she asked, “Why am I going home?”
“We’re going on a holiday. You balik kampong first,” said Madam’s mother-in-law, her face crowded with a disapproving glare.
. . .
“Why? You send me back to agent I can still work in Singapore. Why you send me home? You lie. Why?”
On the other side, Lynn uttered little more than a sorry – one that sounded tired than sincere. Since the maid left, she had to face up to the music of coaxing her son to sleep, a task she never had been good at. Despite her mother-in-law’s assurances to help out, Lynn came home mostly to unwashed laundry or dishes – the menial tasks that were once forgotten and relegated to Adinda – she had to take it upon herself to do it.
“Stop calling, Adinda,” Lynn begged. “I’m sorry, as I said.”
It was barely past three in the ungodly hours of the morning when Adinda let out a loud sob on the end of the line. The ninety-eighth call, the number of days she was in the city-state. Long after she hung up, the sob stubbornly sat, ringing restively deep in the air.
William Byrne is a South Australian poet in his twenties. He has always lived in rural and coastal townships, excluding an urban interlude for university study for degrees in architecture and design.
Water dries so fast
on my fore and index fingers
once I leave the chiesa,
that foreign place of incensed marble.
as soon as I see the sun
and basking in it, the smooth shoulders
of the lane’s cobblestones. I trip
in my penance, later, while seated
in the brassed café
as my lips part for vermouth.
Again I see Rome’s dark shoulders
then her leather heels and passing souls,
then half smoked cicca,
their pale ghosts hanging in the streets,
then smooth, tanned Roman fingers.
Chiesa water dries so fast on my fingers.
The vermouth is also dry.
In my old car, tyres wet, we spoke
black over green like a Rothko painting,
the young crops startled in our headlamps,
their fronds thrashing in the yellow glow.
You too were startled when I turned the headlamps off,
even though we had pulled up aside the field.
The lamps were deadened, yet the radio hailed
in a distant AM. Ice crystals formed on the window,
shading thinly the edge of the screen.
Beyond the glass, grey clouds brushed past the moon
rising on the curved horizon beyond
wheat past further than sight from two sets of eyes could see.
Afterwards, we drove to a town
at the edge of the wheat, leaving the earth
on the side of the road where we parked
a dry-ish print framed in rain craters
and shallow puddles bleeding into its soft sides.
We laughed so hard that night as we spoke and tried to see.
Hazel Smith is a research professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney. She is author of The Writing Experiment: strategies for innovative creative writing, Allen and Unwin, 2005 and Hyperscapes in the Poetry of Frank O’Hara: difference, homosexuality, topography, Liverpool University Press, 2000. She is co-author of Improvisation, Hypermedia And The Arts Since 1945, Harwood Academic, 1997 and co-editor with Roger Dean of Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, Edinburgh University Press, 2009. She is co-editor with Roger Dean of soundsRite, a journal of new media writing and sound, based at the University of Western Sydney.
Hazel is a poet, performer and new media artist, and has published three volumes of poetry, three CDs of performance work and numerous multimedia works. Her latest volume of poetry, with accompanying CD Rom, is The Erotics of Geography: poetry, performance texts, new media works, Tinfish Press, Kaneohe, Hawaii, 2008. She is a member of austraLYSIS, the sound and intermedia arts group, and has performed her work extensively in US, Europe, UK and Australasia. She also had a previous career as a professional violinist. Her website is at www.australysis.com
AJP Taylor thought Dylan Thomas was a charlatan because he replaced simpler
words with obscure ones. But then Dylan was his wife’s lover.
Technique, like misunderstanding, holds it head high, accused of decapitation.
Just as I think I will never hook an idea, that I will have to give the commission
money back, just as I have signed off, I know I will never write again, the surrender
of hope flames the messenger.
My father was a chain smoker and would light one cigarette with another. But he had
a cacophonous smoker’s cough. Its assault began in the morning, once he
started he couldn’t stop. Then one day he decides he’s giving up. Just like that. He never
smokes another cigarette again but the cough remains, every day that demented coughing.
Who is that young man my mother says, pointing to my father in a photograph. He’s
very handsome, as if adjudicating a stranger.
Perhaps she is slowly passing away the doctor says in her hearing. She is asleep but
her ears are twitching.
Meanwhile I decisively hit the keys and dispose of an ailing poem. But
the dead persist in listening, sometimes more carefully than the living.
Afterwards I spoke to my sister, who said that the doctor seemed a bit of an idiot.
the seasons are talking to each other
we pick orchids in the snow
as if the world’s thermostat
was programmed for cross-weathering
fairylights frame the Hindu temple
shops sell gift-wrapped buddhas
they gorge themselves on Christmas day
then purge at Ramadan
did you know that snowflakes are irregular?
that words shiver when they boil?
as the white wind fills its tiny lungs
it hears black trumpets blowing
shall we rewrite the brothers Grimm
so Snow White is mottle-skinned?
the reindeer is exhausted
the sun burns up the sludge
Dimitra has a Bachelor of Performance Studies from the University of Western Sydney – Theatre Nepean, and a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from University of Sydney. She’s had poems published in Australian Poetry’s Members’ Anthology, Meanjin, and Southerly. In 2012 she won the Australian Society of Author’s Ray Koppe Young Writers Residency.
After I’ve spent the night being someone else, and going home –
wriggling out of that alien face like an old skin – I like to walk
all the way to the end of the platform. You know, how it tapers
to that thin wharf of concrete? With the one fluorescent light
on its high pole, and the sign that says, Staff Only Beyond This Point.
From here, you can just make out the glitter of the next station.
At this time, no-one will walk the distance through the dark to get here –
the platform’s lights are sparse, dull beads on the night’s chain.
Across the tracks the fence hangs slackly, a gaping jaw. Stillness
clings to everything like frost. A woman’s laugh, the clink
of glasses – the city’s noises are padded here; a siren wails
like a half-asleep child. Then a whip of wire, a spring-loaded lash.
The train pulls up, groaning in its metal.
It’s dusk, and I’m listening to an old
Indian devotional, the woman’s voice is a coil
of plum honey. As the sun slips down the empty
western sky, the tiles of houses are silvered
in light. At some angles the sun
is forked by newly budded branches. I’ve stared too long
at its gold-lash pinwheel, the quills of starfire.
When I turn my gaze away, its brightness clings
to my pupils, and I think: she’s singing about love.
Her voice winds, and slides, and slips upwards,
and falls, honeycombing through the notes.
But it’s the sun she’s singing about, waking the buds
with white fire, hard as crystal.
Luke Fischer is a Sydney-based poet and scholar. His publications include the poetry collection Paths of Flight (Black Pepper, 2013), a monograph on Rilke and phenomenology (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2015) and a book of bedtime stories (The Blue Forest, 2014), as well as poems, translations and articles in Australian and international journals. He won the 2012 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize and was commended in the 2013 FAW Anne Elder Award for a first book of poems. In 2008 he was awarded a PhD in philosophy from the University of Sydney. He has held post-doctoral fellowships and taught at universities in the U.S. and Germany.
|WANDRERS NACHTLIED II|
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch.
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
––Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Wenn es Abend wird,
Verlässt dich leise ein blaues Antlitz.
Ein kleiner Vogel singt im Tamarindenbaum.
Ein sanfter Mönch
Faltet die erstorbenen Hände.
Ein weisser Engel sucht Marien heim.
Ein nächtiger Kranz
Von Veilchen, Korn und purpurnen Trauben
Ist das Jahr des Schauenden.
Zu deinen Füssen
Öffnen sich die Gräber der Toten,
Wenn du die Stirne in die silbernen Hände legst.
An deinem Mund der herbstliche Mond,
Trunken von Mohnsaft dunkler Gesang;
Die leise tönt in vergilbtem Gestein.
––Georg Trakl (1887-1914)
das sanfte Hinüber
––Rose Ausländer (1901-1988)
|WANDERER’S NIGHTSONG II
Over every hill,
In all the canopies
You can feel
Barely a breath.
The birds in the forest keep silent.
Wait a while and
You too will rest.
When the evening comes
A blue face quietly leaves you.
A small bird sings in the tamarind tree.
A gentle monk
Folds the lifeless hands.
A white angel distresses Mary.
A nightly wreath
Of violets, grain and purple grapes
Is the year of one who sees.
At your feet
Graves of the dead open up,
When you lay your brow in silver hands.
Upon your mouth
Silently dwells the autumn moon,
Dark song drunk on poppy-sap;
That quietly sounds in yellowed stone.
the gentle transfer