Lawdenmarc Decamora

Lawdenmarc Decamora is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize-nominated writer with work published in 23 countries around the world. He is the author of three book-length poetry collections, Love, Air (Atmosphere Press, 2021), TUNNELS (Ukiyoto Publishing, 2021), and Handsome Hope which is forthcoming from Yorkshire Publishing in 2022. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in places like The Common, The Seattle Review, Columbia Review, North Dakota Quarterly, California Quarterly, Cordite Poetry Review, AAWW’s The Margins, and elsewhere. His poetry will be anthologized in The Best Asian Poetry 2021 and had recently appeared in the best-selling Meridian: The APWT Drunken Boat Anthology of New Writing. In the UK, Lawdenmarc’s poetry was long-listed for The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2021 and shortlisted for Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 (Aesthetica Magazine). He was an August 2021 alumnus of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project of the US-based Tupelo Press, and is also a member of the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators (APWT). He lives in the Philippines where he teaches literature at the oldest existing Catholic university in Asia, the University of Santo Tomas (UST).


A Love Story

A kind of relationship developed between C and D.
The former was from a sacred temple, the latter
in an abandoned carnival park. One day a silvery
slope of tiny metal was found packed in an aluminum
foil paper. Glimmering in the glue of sunset
was curiosity. D thought it was chocolate;
C cherished it and both became friends. Soon,
lovers. There’s however a potential health risk
in chocolates, experts said. The two paid no attention
and their cadmium addiction soared 10, 000 feet
into the sky. They wrestled with toxicity, a sex
of pain and smoke parachuting. Earlier C saw D
hiding from tubes among books, hallucinating.
C’s worried face triply glowed. D handed the latter
a transcript underlining a note that read: “Cadmium
is thought to cause anxiety in monkeys.” Their eyes
paused, murmuring, But we are lovers made of chocolate.
Night entered. And for the last time, the two macaques
pleasured themselves in the chaos of ambulance
lights, right before the next laboratory experiment.

Jennifer Compton

Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose. Her 11th book of poetry, the moment, taken was published by Recent Work Press in 2021.


An Abandonment

I had done everything I could do within reason
­  ­   ­  ­   for the ragged rows of broad beans,
their juices were often thick on my fingers

­  ­   ­  ­   from their first unfurling in mid winter
to the pinching out of the growing tips,
­  ­   ­  ­   their binding to a stake in late spring.

And then the harvest, soon the harvest done,
­  ­   ­  ­   and I had brushed through their ranks,
turned hands of leaves upside down,

­  ­   ­  ­   bent for a better view of their private quarters,
against the sun, the way it is when picking,
­  ­   ­  ­   nobody likes the low sun full in their eyes.

Their business at an end, I wrenched them from the earth,
­  ­   ­  ­   laid their lanky stems one upon another,
did not regret their wilting sigh, their quick dying breath.

­  ­   ­  ­   And clouds and clouds and clouds of ladybirds
crept out from the interstices, showed themselves, and flew.
­  ­   ­  ­   It was the very opposite of a plague,

because ladybirds do good work, no doubt about it,
­  ­   ­  ­   but it was very like that sort of thing.
And more and more and more, and then more, a wonder.

­  ­   ­  ­   They had kept themselves to themselves until
an acrid scent, or an orientation to the sun, or a sudden
­  ­   ­  ­   knowledge underfoot of sap not rising,

lifted them into an urgency of leaving.

Greg Page

Greg Page is a Koori Poet from the La Perouse community at Kamay (Botany Bay). He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from UTS in Sydney and has been published in the Australian Poetry Journal and the Koori Mail. He lives on unceded Bidjigal land. Dox him at



Barbed Wire

Earlier poems on barbed wire have proved unsatisfactory
Not that I know any, but if they were worthwhile I probably would
There’s no bigger symbol of the invasion
And the continent is still covered in the stuff

It might be offensive to talk about barbed wire
Perhaps not as plain rude as asking someone’s salary
A wealthy person’s salary that is
I’ll quite naturally admit my $16k annual jobseeker rate

Rust has a kind of beauty to it
Did they think through what happens to discarded industrial metal items?
‘We all have to go so we may as well go down the gurgler with microplastics’
Perhaps edible plastics might solve all our problems

There’s nothing hidden about the violence of barbed wire
That’s the thing I like most about it
It’s honest truth telling — a voice to Parliament
The ongoing mesh network communicating terror on the frontier

At the speed of light your sadnesses prove ineffective
Good intentions and Koalas are no match for intentional bulldozers
There’s a lot of uncertainty on the land these days
Good labour is so difficult to find even at $16k

Debbie Lim

Debbie Lim lives in Sydney. Her work has appeared in anthologies including regularly in the Best Australian Poems series (Black Inc.) and Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (Puncher & Wattmann). Recent work appears in Westerly, Island, Rabbit, Overland and the Willowherb Review (UK). Her chapbook is Beastly Eye (Vagabond Press) and she is working on a full-length collection. She was a Mascara Don Bank Poet-in-Residence in 2020–2021.
Hapalochlaena lunulata

You are the one who cupped death in the hand.
Watched it writhe in sunlight, tender-faced,

flashing its blue halos, more precise and smaller
than expected. A slow thrall of limbs rippling

away from itself. Everything might have ended
there: a far sea throbbing in your ear as your

own heart slackened, then subsided. Instead,
this sudden act of mercy as you tipped a palm down—

saw a life jettisoned to the shallows.

Anisha Pillarisetty

Anisha Pillarisetty is a radio producer and presenter at Radio Adelaide and a journalist at On the Record, living on unceded Kaurna Yerta. She is currently in her third year of university studying creative writing and journalism.




Remember to not talk gently when announcing the news, especially if you’re on radio

summers are long and the sky curdles                                                                   quick

a game:

splashes of cloud or congealing milk left in the bright                                          of the sink

skin circles back into itself
turning the colour of mud flaps on Dad’s old Maruti van                                     bogged after

                                         the                                         first                         shock of rain
radio says 2020 broke         records here

  1. 1. the third warmest
  2. 2. the fifth wettest
  3. 3. the eighth sunniest
  4. 4. the

radio also says there is                              a moon wobble

Zoom out to find the Indian Ocean on Google Maps and the searching


is hurled against the window with the moon. The wind is torn between             remembering

the kind of rain that disturbs bird calls into                                                                 static
the kind of rain that is wanting

the Indian Ocean unspools
the tops of the gum trees like a tarp and it sounds like:

  1. 1. dripping stripes on a gourd                                                   sold cheap by the roadside
  2. 2. your fingers counting                                                                          the air
  3. 3. ballooning curtains when my hands

were still                                                                                                         small
your freedom –                                                                                           is it mine?
bigger than the cling-clang
at your waist
your laughter is tomatoes in hessian                                                       sifted through
1. too soft
2. too green
3. the coins are hesitant to leave                                                                the cloth

summer                               circles


Ouyang Yu translates Zhang Meng

Zhang Meng, born in 1975, is a member of Shanghai Writers Association and has published five books of poetry.


High Summer

I was sitting beneath a cool loofah shed
I had let go of a strayed snake
the one I didn’t want to see went past my door on time again
I had won praise from a goose
I am always eased into sleep by the sound of cicadas
I walk on the earthen road with bright puddles
moonlight like flat salt, salt in the country
my old neighbour, prior to the coming of his centennial
cries for his dead partner every night
I often dream of the ancient gingko that wakes up
its bulgy bark thicker than a history book
the autumn wind was cruising in the reeds
decades after, there are fresh footprints of wild rabbits
apart from those of the egrets, and in the dews
and the thin birdcalls in the early mornings
I wander between the stone bridge and the sound of the tide
I blow the sound of a reed that defies understanding
I’ve lost myself, having woken up
another self

but, I am in a cinema


By November 2021, Ouyang Yu has published 137 books in both English and Chinese in the field of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism. His second book of English poetry, Songs of the Last Chinese Poet, was shortlisted for the 1999 NSW Premier’s Literary Award. His third novel, The English Class, won the 2011 NSW Premier’s Award, and his translation in Chinese of The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes won the Translation Award from the Australia-China Council in 2014. He won the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection in the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, his bilingual blog at:

Issue 27

‘Rainbow Serpent’ by Alyssa Mason StickMob
Edited by Caitlin Maling, Anthea Yang, Monique Nair

Fernanda Dahlstrom reviews Gentle and Fierce by Vanessa Berry

Gentle and Fierce

by Vanessa Berry


ISBN 9781925818710



Gentle and Fierce is a book of essays that provides glimpses of Sydney author Vanessa Berry’s life by dissecting her encounters with non-human animals in various contexts – in the household, in captivity, in art and in the form of ornamental objects. Through Berry’s encounters with animals, we piece together her life as a city-dweller and an intellectual, a solitary who is as much an observer of other humans as of the animal world. Her essays allude to the destruction of the natural world and the marginalisation of other life forms by humans as Berry strives to connect with nature despite a paucity of opportunities to do so. 

The author begins by sharing that her first name means ‘butterfly’ and that knowing this as a child ‘attunes you to their presence’ (p.7). She recalls expecting adulthood to be ‘a time of emergence, as if from a cocoon, into a life where I was colourful and unconstrained’ only to be disappointed at finding herself, in her twenties, ‘still as ponderous as ever, given to reticence in social situations and to slinking away alone’ (p11). The author’s introversion is a recurring theme. As a child she realises that the ideal is to be extroverted; instead, as a young woman she thinks of herself as a spider, eavesdropping on the conversations around her and writing down lines in her notebook, ‘Every detail stuck in my web.’ (p.125)

Berry repeatedly evokes the folly of humans. The notoriously aggressive myna bird was introduced in the nineteenth century to control the insects in crop fields, only to prove more interested in eating the produce itself. She reads of how palm oil, paper and rubber industries are affecting Sumatran forests, the habitat of tigers, prompting her to reflect:

As I look over the list these substances seethe around me, the pantry dribbling palm oil, the papers dusty and yellowing on the shelves. The rubber soles of shoes sit heavy in the depths of the wardrobe. Outside, car tyres crackle over the road. (p.20)

In ‘Rabbit Island’ she recalls visiting a Japanese island that serves as a sanctuary for rabbits in the months following the Fukushima disaster. The essay alludes to the issue of vivisection but does not delve into it, instead tracing the theme of rabbits in her own life, recalling a pet rabbit, which people joked was edible. She writes:

That was difficult for me to understand. Having been a vegetarian for decades I made little distinction between food animals and companion animals in terms of what kind of soul they might or might not have. (p.53) 

In this way, Berry’s observations about the reprehensible attitudes and behaviours of humans towards the animal world are made in a way that is restrained and non-didactic. She implicates herself in her criticisms of the mores of human social life, where animals are relegated largely to museums and fairy tales as she lives a life where animals play a largely symbolic and abstract role. Her childhood memories of animals are not of wild or even domestic creatures, but of the badger and the toad in a story and a stuffed bear in a museum exhibit. She describes various kitsch representations of animals: porcelain figurines of horses, dogs and cats, a glass fish, a polystyrene bear and a ceramic crocodile, and acknowledges, ‘it is difficult to reconcile their abundance as mascots, toys or decorations, with knowledge of how their real counterparts have been affected by human encroachment on their lives and habitats.’ (p.104)

‘The Fly’ strings together a series of anecdotes from her life using the presence of flies as the organising principle. A reference to a fly’s buzz in an Emily Dickinson poem read in the late 1990s. A fly alighting on her hand, while listening to a talk by Elizabeth Jolley, preventing her from raising the hand in response to a question. A fly buzzing around an acupuncture clinic and another one crawling across a pub table. The ubiquity of flies during a bush fire season. 

Some of the essays tell stories whose connection with the animal under consideration is tenuous. In ‘The Word of a Snail’, Berry reflects on her lifelong love of the work of Sylvia Plath and relates the experience of visiting the poet’s grave, where messages written to her by fans were being crawled over by snails. Just when anecdotes like these are starting to feel glib, Berry plunges us into the horrors of the 2020 bush fires which killed over a billion animals with ‘Animal Chronicle II’, which was for me the highlight of the book. In that essay, Berry imagines, amidst the inferno, ‘a dystopian world of only cities and burning forests, where animals were extinct or rarely seen, only to be remembered through objects’ (p.155). But just how much imagining is required for this scenario? This dystopia seems to be exactly the world that we have been reading about, where humans fetishise cute representations of animals while remaining either oblivious to or uncaring of what is truly befalling the animal world. 

Curiously absent from Berry’s selections is any mention of the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are mutilated and slaughtered for profit every year in what has been called ‘the animal holocaust’. Nor does she mention the fact that the majority of mammals on earth are now livestock and the vast majority of birds, farmed poultry, an omission so glaring that it must be deliberate. Perhaps the absence of any discussion of these facts is a reflection of the lack of awareness of or attention to these issues in most echelons of human society. Unlike the ornamental, domestic, taxidermised and wild animals to which Berry dedicates space, the victims of factory farming are out of sight and out of mind.

However, Berry does explain, in ‘Animal Chronicle II’, what is termed ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, the phenomenon of each generation taking its own youth as its point of reference for ecological diversity. In this way, she joins the dots with her earlier essays, many of which dwelled on the presence of insects and other critters during various scenes of her youth. How many of these mundane experiences will future generations share? 

Gentle and Fierce is a quiet but absorbing and thought-provoking work that approaches relations between humans and animals from many angles. Berry’s writing is languid, evocative and highly literate and the generous sprinkling of literary references is one of its most appealing features. Each essay is illustrated with a drawing of an animal done by the author, who is also an artist and zine maker.   


FERNANDA DAHLSTROM is a writer, editor and lawyer who lives in Brisbane. She completed a Master of Arts at Deakin University in 2017. Her work has appeared in The GuardianOverlandKill Your Darlings and Art Guide.

Izzy Roberts-Orr reviews My Friend Fox by Heidi Everett

My Friend Fox

by Heidi Everett

ISBN 9781761150159

Ultimo Press


At night, I can hear the foxes screaming. Nothing is wrong, this is just what they do, particularly during mating season. The first time I heard it, I thought something was seriously wrong – that a small child was being chased through the bush, or that I was at the epicentre of a B-grade horror movie. That I might be next. There’s always something a little disconcerting about seeing a fox on this continent. They have been here longer than my ancestors, but they don’t belong here either. Introduced in 1855 for ‘sporting purposes’ (i.e. ‘to be hunted’), foxes had become rife across the mainland within just 20 years.

My Friend Fox begins and ends with a fox. The book opens with a Tswana proverb, “Phokoje go tsela o dithetsenya!”, and while the author’s connection to Botswana is not clear, the translation and sentiment carry throughout the book. “Only the muddy fox lives!” – or in other words, you must rough up your coat and get a little dirty to truly experience life. Heidi Everett grew up in fox country, in a village in the Welsh countryside, and is keenly aware of how misplaced the fox is in our environment – that, “here in Australia, they arrived without ancient ancestors inviting them onto the shore and they will never be welcome.” (116) They are beautiful, and they are highly destructive to their environment. This duality makes a fox the perfect metaphor to carry Everett’s story of surviving trauma and mental illness as, “just like my psychic distress, he is a symbol of both disease and determination, of a curse and of hope.” (p. 176)

Part memoir and part parable, My Friend Fox is Heidi Everett’s account of her experiences within the mental health system and her path toward learning to live authentically. The first scene in My Friend Fox brings us into the world of the psych ward, which is populated with staff and psych patients, and pigeons who watch the, “strange birds in the psych ward cage.” (p 14) There is a particular texture to the stretch time can take on when you’re unwell. Time can feel like it’s sped up, hyper galactic light speed paces, or like soup but stretchy. Everett writes, “The meds make me sleep too much and, for some reason, night-time becomes daytime. Someone once told me that it’s known as schizophrenia-time.” (p 53) My Friend Fox echoes this unmooring, and follows a narrative arc that is episodic rather than linear. The early chapters of the book look at the dehumanising experience of the psych ward – Everett is no longer seen as herself, she is, “psych patient number 25,879* (or part thereof). Age 24. Primary diagnosis: schizoaffective. Comorbidity: major depression, juvenile autism. Seems to enjoy music, art. No dependents. No further use for a name.”  (p21)

Interspersed between accounts of Everett’s experiences in the psych ward, the book traces her experiences growing up in the Welsh countryside, in a, “300-year-old stone cottage sat at the last stitch on the hem of a tiny village on a sliver of road between two country towns.” (p43) then transplanted to Doveton. Everett is relentlessly bullied throughout her schooling, and finds more comfort and a sense of self in the company of animals than with people. Her experiences of social isolation are compounded by a family who were, “an island on an island surrounded by moats of jagged rocks and raised drawbridges.” (p40) Everett takes a compassionate view of these circumstances however, seeing the stretch of her inheritance as, “no fault or gift of my parents, but just like any diverse ideology, our tribe tasted the earth a little differently from that of the meat-and-three-vegetables kind. We were a bowl of bananas.” (p45)

Living with mental illness can mean being cast as an unreliable narrator of your own experiences, or feeling as though you exist in the spaces between gaps in your own memory. Whether because of existing in altered states, or through the memory loss that can be a common side effect of many medications used to treat various forms of mental illness, having access to your selves over a span of time can be a real challenge. What may exist of these periods are the testimony of others – of case files, doctor’s notes, and what the people around you are able to tell you. Something Everett balances incredibly well within the text is a commitment to the truth of her own reality, whilst also understanding the points at which her experiences diverge so far from the reality of those around her as to be detrimental to herself and others. Everett’s experiences are drawn with a fine eye for detail, and though her depictions of the psych ward are as starkly fluorescent-lit and brutal as the space itself; heart, poetry and humour are hallmarks of this book, despite its dark subject matter. Even in bleak moments her probing mind pulls observation and insight to the fore. The psych ward is a terrifying and unfriendly place, where, “within this chemical straightjacket I am the final tiny babushka.” (p6) yet equally, I laughed out loud at the, “blue plastic mattress that farts if you sit down too quickly,” (p8) and her cataloguing of all the details in the room. “Familiar Air Vent, oh how happy I am to see you there!” (p15)

Esme Weijun Wang writes in The Collected Schizophrenias, “Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy. Craziness scares us because we are creatures who long for structure and sense.” My Friend Fox is unwieldy, and difficult to categorise – which fits the subject matter perfectly. Everett’s prose gallops from the page, full of allusive language and metaphor – and this brimming is intentional, is part of the experience of living through and with mental illness. The non-linear structure and movement between non-fiction and fiction, with animal voices and illustrations interspersed throughout the book create a text that is bursting forth with life, rich in metaphor and unafraid to sit with complexity.

Ruby Hillsmith writes in, ‘The problem of living: Dispatches from deep psychiatry’ (Griffith Review 72: States of Mind), “The psychiatric ward is gravely ill. The psychiatric ward doesn’t want you to know this. The psychiatric ward is in deep denial. Heads down, thumbs up.” My Friend Fox is in a way writing against the psych ward, kicking back at a system that all too often strips those who use it of their individuality. Hillsmith comments, “It’s up to the patient to cling to their identity in a context engineered to break it.” Memoir as a form provides Everett an opportunity to witness herself – or selves, evolving over time, as the case may be – to cement her own narrative in her own words. It blew my mind when I was first introduced to the idea of history as plural – that capital ‘H’ History wasn’t only something to be mapped and pinned down, attached to a series of dates or verifiable facts according to whatever documentation was available. That it was a living, breathing thing – a collection of narratives that intersect and contradict, and that of course there are power dynamics, inequalities, biases and inaccuracies at play within the records and accounts we have to make sense of what has happened. Our own histories are plural too – growing and morphing as we age, adapt, re- or mis- remember, and My Friend Fox acknowledges this through its experimentation with form.

My Friend Fox is punctuated by Everett’s illustrations, which depict scenes from the text and offer a visual entry point into her perspective, in a very literal sense. The style and level of detail in these images varies throughout, correlated to where Everett’s state of mind is at within the narrative. Some illustrations are breathtakingly photorealistic, some figurative, with close attention paid to shadow and where it falls, and some are rough sketches. The drawings of animals in particular carry the most detail, in contrast to the loosely depicted faces of people. Art and animals are ultimately the keys for Everett to find more balance. From the old man who plays the guitar on the psych ward and inspires Everett’s own love affair with the instrument, to the songwriting group run by the Bipolar Bears and a local TAFE course in illustration, the healing influence of the arts cuts through like no other treatment within the book, and sits in start contrast to the terrors of the psych ward.

Animal voices are central to the text – from the field of cow, and seashore of her eponymous friend fox, and a final letter from her dear friend Tigger; the gorgeous mutt who was Heidi’s best friend for almost sixteen years. Tigger, “the calm, regal, little red dog,” who is “immediately exposed as a young tearaway canine backpacker scamming the system to escape,” (117) the moment Everett leaves the pound with him, is a central figure within the book. Everett describes their relationship as “a symbiotic friendship,” herself, “a human scraped out, empty of any affection. Yet I became lovable through his animal eyes – so much so that I could really feel that love. Tigger became my muse for everything.” (p. 118) This deep affinity for animals is a healing influence, and one I – and I’m sure many other readers – can relate to. When I was catatonically fatigued in my late teens and could rarely move from my bed, the terrier I’d grown up with was my constant companion. David Stavanger’s poem ‘Suicide Dogs’, from his 2020 collection Case Notes, comes to mind – “They will never abandon you. They will forever hold / the slender bone of hope, tender in their jaws.”

Nuanced representations of mental illness that make space for the positive elements that can come with altered reality as well as the destructive, dysfunctional or painful aspects can be difficult to find. In My Friend Fox, much of Everett’s path to healing comes through creativity, in contrast to the traumatising experiences of the mental health system. This little book carries with it a lot of wisdom, and Everett manages to carry a lot of compassion for herself as well as others.


IZZY ROBERTS-ORR is a poet, writer, broadcaster and arts worker based on Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung land in regional Victoria. Currently completing a book of elegiac poetry, Raw Salt, Izzy is a 2020-2021 recipient of the Australia Council Marten Bequest Scholarship for Poetry.


Christine Shamista reviews How Decent Folk Behave by Maxine Beneba Clarke

How Decent Folk Behave

By Maxine Beneba Clarke


ISBN 9780733647666


Building glass walls to show ‘how decent folk behave’

From the beginning to the end, front and back covers inclusive, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s newly released book, How Decent Folk Behave, is rich with carefully curated images and words that connect with and confront the reader. Poetry is both mystical and tangible. For many of us, particularly us writers of colour, it’s the natural way in which we tell our stories. According to Nina Simone, the artist’s duty is ‘to reflect the times’. This quote precedes the table of contents and gives context to the following pages – Beneba Clarke’s account of our recent collective events. 

Beneba Clarke’s refusal to use traditional punctuation, her playful and clever use of line breaks and formatting, her exploration of place, historical references and lived experiences make for a rich and unique collection. How Decent Folk Behave, ethically provocative in its title, takes us on a cleverly sequenced journey, commencing with a prologue that warns us to ‘be prepared’, for there is poetry beyond! It starts with the day before the year 2000 in the first poem ‘when the decade broke’. Many of us will remember this day very clearly. We were warned that at the stroke of midnight, catastrophe would occur due to the constraints of and our over reliance on computer technology. Beneba Clarke carries a sense of dread throughout this first poem, and so begins the rollercoaster ride as we read the poems that follow. Her poetry weaves through recent events and connects personal micro moments to the systemic macro moments that mark our time. Like lockdown life enforced on us, she carefully gets us to slow down and observe,  as we ‘… also … learn/ how to grow the world; from seed’ (‘generation zoom’).

Beneba Clarke’s critique of our recent times doesn’t attempt to claim there is a perfect way. In the searing poem, ‘my feminism’: she writes that ‘all feminism is flawed, but/ my feminism/ will try… my feminism/ will amplify/ the songs/ of the silenced … my feminism/ does not go/ smashing glass ceilings/ at the same time it builds glass walls’. Yes, we women march for feminist causes, yet we often do so at the cost of other women’s sacrifices. Past and present sacrifices have given us the opportunity to have an amplified and powerful voice. She shows us the shadow side too – that domestic violence for example, is perpetrated by the hands of those we thought we brought up right. The facets she reveals expose the disturbing intersectional layers of abuse, racism, ableism and sexism.

In her 2009 TED talk, ‘The Danger of the Single Story’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns: ‘The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.’ Beneba Clarke exposes the myth of a single story through her writing, which is how she describes her feminism – strong, fierce, burning, alive, smart, intersectional and kind. 

As a woman of colour and a mother, ‘grace’ was another poem that resonated strongly with me. She explores the truths that our children teach us in the relentless and exhausting lessons of motherhood: how it opens our hearts; how it decentralises from just us; that we are shown life through our stubborn, strong willed, ‘solid’ child, in the mess, in the constant waking through the night. Beneba Clarke explores the high price of the motherhood journey while acknowledging it also adds a ‘hum’ to the home we build and maintain. We then need to let go of the beings who are ours, and also not ours.

‘the monsters are out’ weaves this description of motherhood to the uncomfortable truth that ‘… monsters/ have the same face/ as our sleeping four-year-olds’, our wondrous children. She takes us through the tragic accounts of Jill Meagher’s final hours, and then doesn’t let us ignore the accounts of those less recognised, like Natalina Angok. This particular part of the journey takes us to the ‘capital’ poem, our nation’s capital, and specifically, our Parliament House, where men flourish and women languish.

The experiences of not being believed, being misunderstood and left suffering is powerfully explored in ‘trouble walking’. This gave me disturbing déjà vu to health issues that go misdiagnosed among people of colour, showing the reader that for some, it’s easier to cope with pain than have to engage in discriminatory health systems that are quick to judge. In ‘muscle memory’, she rightfully takes us through the ‘us’ and ‘them’ that occurs to ‘communities of colour’. The ‘they’ constantly remind us we are more susceptible to infections and diseases, yet less likely to engage in health care support. Both are reductionist generalisations that fail to recognise the various ways in which societies and systems perpetuate racism. Paradoxically, it is often these ‘communities of colour’ that sustain health practitioners in the workforce – looking after their children, cleaning their houses and workplaces, making food, and driving them in Ubers.

When we’re halfway through the collection, prepare to feel deservedly uncomfortable at ‘home to biloela’. We read Beneba Clarke’s account of one of our greatest current failings: the attempted deportation, detention and continued uncertainty we’ve given Priya, Nades, Tharnicaa and Kopika – often referred to as the Biloela family. She continues her portrayal of control in ‘surveillance’ which explores how surveillance legislation continues colonisation of brown bodies by the law enforcement institutions. Her focus narrows on the perpetrator in ‘wolf pack’. Beneba Clarke challenges the term ‘lone wolf’ which, in the events of the Christchurch massacre, descriptions of the ‘blond boy’ with his ‘mock-shy smile’ (and other lone wolves across the globe, in the USA, Norway, England) rightfully question our broader role and responsibility in the formation of ‘lone wolves’.

‘fourteen and nine months’ took me back to that golden age when we get to have our first job. And grateful we are, right? For our first pay cheque? Finally, for the first time, we get money straight into our hands. Many of us didn’t really know or care that we were receiving the minimum wage or lower. And our bosses knew that, and also knew there were plenty of others who would be happy with getting these low wages too. Beneba Clarke then connects this experience with the making of Australia’s ‘self-made’ male millionaires, before juxtaposing the crime of underpayment with the brutal notification of Centrelink overpayment, via robocall.

Her final poem, ‘fire moves faster’, is like a benediction to this collection. It’s a reflection of 2020, taking us from Wuhan to Italy, reminding us of the great toilet paper and canned goods drought, of empty cities and online learning. It was the year when nations watched and then retold the message that ‘black lives matter’; a phrase that needed to be told over and over again because racism occurs on such a scale that it results in a US man like George Floyd being murdered by those who are meant to protect and keep him (and all of us) safe. There are far too many accounts of similar instances here in our soil, experienced by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And so, as she writes, the world was proclaiming ‘black lives matter/black lives matter’, and ‘… just for a moment/ you [we] could taste a dream of hope.’ Yes, despite it all, there was hope.

Beneba Clarke’s final page reminds us that 2020 went full speed, and yet was so slow. She recalls how we returned to a gentler rhythm, observed the wonder of nature, of children playing old-school style, how we had the time to actually find out our ‘neighbour’s name’. She reminds us of the hope that exists, because of us ‘ordinary people’, and our ability to fight and survive. And tell our stories.

I marvel at her concise approach to every day racism that is delivered with such intimate detail. It is a superb curation of uncomfortable truths for those of us who experience such oppressions and those who are willing to listen, and hopefully be part of the change. I’ve read nothing like this collection. But don’t take my word for it. Read it for your self.

CHRISTINE RATNASINGHAM is a writer and poet who lives on the land of the Wangal people of the Eora nation in Sydney. Her writing has been published in Sweatshop Women Volumes 1 & 2 anthologies (2019 & 2020), Sweatshop’s Racism AnthologyContemporary Asian Australian Poets (2013) and a number of journals including Mascara Literary JournalFourWHypallagePeril, and extempore.