Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 11 countries in 7 languages. His 8th book of poetry is the Ambrosiacs (Island,2009).
He talks about childhood
and prays for old age. There is no middle.
Ishmael Beah shot their feet and after a day of screams
shot their heads for the birdless quiet of evening.
Soldiers in the grasslands
reciting Shakespeare while they
He was twelve.
We are all programmed to believe, a flaw
in the biology.
Our flaky hearts
on all those disappointing flags.
Look Who’s Morphing
by Tom Cho
ISBN 978 192088 2549
reviewed by CYRIL WONG
Reading all of Tom Cho’s stories in a single sitting proved to be an exhilarating experience that left me reconsidering past and broken familial relationships, the politics of identity-formations, as well as the insecurities and uncontrollable desires that rule both heterosexual and homosexual bodies alike.
Kafka crept into my mind the moment I entered the first story, “Dirty Dancing,” about a man who becomes a third-person observer that watches and comments as his old self engages in sex with another man; this observer-self is later coddled like a baby in the arms of his parents, but he swiftly manages to convince them of his adulthood by performing a “big raunchy dance number” at Melbourne airport, joined in by everyone around him.I am always surprised that not more writers execute surrealist fiction like this, with its Kafka-esque mis-directions and its exploration of the uncertainties of human communication. The authorial sense of freedom is mind-blowing. The form allows that wall between the structured mind and the broiling subconscious to go up in flames as one crazy plot twist leads to another. Theodor W. Adorno wrote that every sentence in Kafka’s writings seems to cry out, “Interpret me.” Unlike Kafka’s stories, however, which can be read allegorically or as absurdist fables (such as the famous one about a man who wakes up as a cockroach-like creature), Tom Cho hides little of himself behind his dazzlingly warped narrative threads, which includes how he once turned into a protocol droid which attacked the United Nations Headquarters, or how he was forced to become a Muppet on Jim Henson’s show.
The most psychologically revealing is the final story, “Cock Rock.” In this terrifically self-indulgent close to the book, the narrator turns into a giant rock musician who ends up being cock-worshipped by Lilliputian, Japanese fan-girls; at the heart of the story is an individual, existential complex about the writer’s unique attraction to both the world of fantasy and of the literal: “Am I drawn to the world of the literal because of its apparent certainties…Am I drawn to the world of fantasy for the very opposite reason…What would an experience that perfectly combines fantasy and the literal look like?”
There are those who will tell you that Kafka himself hid little about his own daddy issues in his work, but Cho’s fantastical forays into the Twilight Zone of the diasporic-Chinese-queer-male mind tell us readers straightaway that his bizarre tales are, without a doubt, autobiographical, even confessional. Cho is clearly fearless and has nothing to hide. As you enter one crazy piece of short fiction after another, you will come to recognise the writer’s deepest fears and desires. But if you are not interested in ever meeting someone like Tom Cho in your real life, you could be quite put off by what you will read about him in these pages. (In the author’s defence, I would be quick to argue that any aversion you might have in reading his book would necessarily make you a poorer soul; you must have been reading it through a homophobic, self-censoring lens or something.)
The particular insecurities of belonging to an immigrant culture in Australia and having to fit in come to the foreground particularly in such stories as “Suitmation” and “Look Who’s Morphing.” In the former, the narrator’s mother buys a “suit” that makes her look like Olivia-Newton John, while in the latter, title-tale, the Kafka-esque transformation gets weirder or nightmarishly contemporary: “I began to morph into a kind of infomercial cyborg – half-human, half-home-fitness-system.” It is all in the name of gaining re-imagined entry into hegemonic, cultural discourses of the western world. This also explains the recourse to popular films like The Exorcist and The Bodyguard, movies whose scenes the author steals and refashions in his own calmly psychotic style, inserting himself frequently as a significant character.
In “The Sound of Music,” the narrator, as the new Maria, develops a sexual, but also profoundly complicated, relationship with Captain von Trapp, in which he slowly becomes an isomorphic version of the latter. With Mother Superior’s blessing, Maria is encouraged to go to Switzerland to try living as someone more like the haughty Captain and he soon realises that “while our fantasies allow us the pleasure of imagining who we might be, can’t they also make us painfully conscious of who we currently are?” All this while Mother Superior is singing “Climb Every Mountain” in the background, of course. But the collection is grounded in the need to reconcile with loved ones and to celebrate the vulnerability of relationships, as when the narrator’s family all morph into The Cosby Show at one point, just so that they can get along.
We are never made to forget that not only are these stories about the author’s life, but that these stories also function as a means of catharsis, or a means of coming to terms with difficult truths about the delusions of the self, with internalised frustrations of being sexually deviant and diasporic. The imaginative ride for both author and reader is long, hard and nasty, but ultimately mutually beneficially. All of us learn that nothing should be taken seriously. And that being too concerned with our cultural identities can drive us mad. And a dark and cynical laughter, mingled with a little empathy, remains the only cure.
Felix Cheong was the recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist of the Year for Literature Award in 2000. He has published three books of poetry, Temptation and Other Poems (1998), I Watch the Stars Go Out (1999) and Broken by the Rain (2003), which was short-listed for the 2004 Singapore Literature Prize. Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems will be published in 2009. Felix edited Idea to Ideal: 12 Singapore Poets on the Writing of Their Poetry (2004). A Bachelor of Arts (honours) graduate from the National University of Singapore, Felix completed his Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland in 2002. He is currently a freelance writer and an adjunct lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Temasek Polytechnic.
In Praise of Sloth
Not writing is a pain
five years in the making,
a knot you choose not
to untie, pact of convenience
with time, vow of silence,
itch at your back, the back
of your voice you can’t reach,
neither pen nor stick.
But how it grows, terrible
territory; you flog dead
lines, sub-verse, start
false and stutter, follow
the lead as it sinks, suspect
animation, play dumb, downplay,
punctuate yourself with commas,
poems in coma, this lull, dull period
when you have nothing to say,
nothing to say it with.
For not writing is a virtue, let
sleeping words lie,
an implosion of sloth
before you find the gift.
Before Reality Shows
It will be, will it to be,
faith that a wall
is your window to morning,
glory, gilt-mounted, coughing out
the sun, sheen and shine
as if no closure, never
foreclosure. Imagine, yes, hold
it together with words or gods,
that into the distance,
doors lead you on,
corridors steep as the steps
you can carry on your feet,
before dead-ends chase you down,
nail your head to your heart,
seal them blinding shut.
There are no alternatives. Nothing
else will alter what is native
inside you: A box
where not even silence escapes.
Soon, your day will
pass, no matter how fast,
vast, furious, light will run
itself out, like a boy
given legs for a field
or a man, women for a song.
It’ll always be too soon,
like that last kiss,
the lasting kiss, a kiss at last,
at the mercy of needing
too much, saying too little.
When dark matters, rises, steadies
itself for the kill,
you’ll not be this weak again
but complete, completed,
taken out of circulation
and buried among stars,
want for nothing.
Desh Balasubramaniam is a young poet. He was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in both the war torn North & Eastern provinces. He fled to New Zealand at the age of thirteen with his family on humanitarian asylum. He is a qualified barrister & solicitor of High Court of New Zealand. He has spent number of years travelling on shoestring budgets around the world with the strong desire to understand the world and his place in it. His first return to Sri Lanka in 2005 had further enhanced his passion in writing and various forms of art. He describes his writing as “a voice for the unheard”. His work has appeared in Blue Giraffe and Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) Online. He is currently working on his first poetry collection.
Woods behind the yard
a month-old calf cries into deep night
Dogs in wolves’ mask
yowl in cemeteries of the streets
Voices, voices––that scream
fade as another gun fires
Nail the windows, slam dark the doors
Hide within the cracks
next to centipede stings
Last night’s blood in the throat
taste of cold feet to the heels
A game of hide (without seek)
as death nears the bend
Neighbour’s misery (a school teacher)
baton across his learned temple
the rusting knee caps
His wife’s sari on the floor
––scream of silence amble
Shadows beneath the door-split
hunting dogs––their prey
Will you fight for freedom?
Will you rather pray for life?
(a lifeless life)
They came and they came
to our homes lit by kerosene lamps
dressed in green, a metal face
to liberate us (they said)
Armed with a paint brush that fired
the island’s expressionists they screamed
Painted our homes with bullets, and
a trail of blood they walked
Waiting for Freedom
Down a blurred alley off Serangoon Road
in view of Perumal temple
five-headed bells ring
waking the sleepless sleep
Familiarity within unfamiliar corners
strangers begin to lose their shadows
Courtesy of a spaceless room––windowless
shoulder to shoulder, the six of us
Staring at the dim of ceiling
waiting for words
madam from the mansion
Through the racket
rough lovemaking from the neighbouring room
father confirms: “freedom awaits in a new land
––away from the death knot of civil war
the unforgiving sharpness of a knife
She screamed finale––a long aaahh!
a moment of freedom felt by all
Dressed with a thin noose
the interview at High Commission
Raised to answer every question
in little known language of English
Yes madam, even though it ought to be no at times
she smiled at my village-school politeness
Father forced to turn home
five unguarded left on our own
––the bells kept their heightened blare
Months passed, so did my case of puberty
Sympathetic strings of sitar
our story in a melodious eulogy
Unable to meet the rent
sought asylum from the unknown
Perumal stood his solitary stance
unheard our pleas
Living on milo bungkus
and daily dollar of curry puffs
Counting the number of passing cars
drunken men who sing their misery on Indian streets
wiping the tears of mother
(I had grown––
faster than the roaming clocks)
Month after month
under the lowering opaque ceiling
we waited––shoulder to shoulder
for a letter of freedom
Month after month
under the lowering opaque ceiling
we waited––shoulder to shoulder
for a letter of freedom.
On My Way To Asylum
script of my memoirs, I find
on unlined pages
rear of a novel I read years ago
written with blood of my own
photographs in black & white and burnt edges
smell of ash
brittle memory of a life buried beneath
an affair with question
never leaves the bed
mind hangs on a barbwire fence
commas turned to colons
showing clear breaks
story with a struggle for breath
born on a tear of Indian ocean
without a nation for some years
covering the scars with a silent pair of eyes
crawling on bare knees, with
broken body of words and a weightless bag
I arrive here in the cold
with and without will
searching a new beginning
my drawn hand to greet the horizon
Emma Carmody is working toward her PhD in creative writing and French at the University of Adelaide. Prior to commencing her doctoral project, she worked as an environmental lawyer in Sydney. She has also worked in a volunteer capacity with several NGOs that provide legal advice and support to asylum seekers. Her poetry, prose and translations have appeared in Australian and foreign journals, including the Australian Book Review and New Translations. She currently lives in the South of France.
Divinité Khmère, Musée Guimet
A thew of root around her
She meditates on centuries,
Incubates the temple’s
There is no modesty
In the jungle:
Between her virgin thighs,
Monkeys take their pleasure
On her naked breasts,
And in a flush of humid green
Quake about her feet
Like nerve endings of the understory.
What memories she must hold
Of another world,
Where each dawn was guarded
By the season’s alms, humble
On the altar,
The droning of the sutras –
Her divine core.
Being so vital,
So sovereign to the shrine,
She offered up her wisdom
Her naked arms severed,
The empire slain:
Rebirth in the wild.
Piano player. Hands agonised into
By ten you’d almost
Charmed an octave
(While I was chasing insects
With a salvaged net,
Suckling the nectar out of
Wildflowers). In a
Pool of light
You press needles
The wings are clad
In scales of dye,
The proboscis quavering
Beneath your weight.
We listen to Liszt’s études in the kitchen;
You palpate the tune
Across my rib cage.
You tell me:
My right hand’s too stiff
For these studies
As I disrobe grapefruits for the salad,
Divest the flesh
Of seeds and rind.
In summer, we drive South.
In valleys that antler
Through fists of granite
And nimble scrub,
You hunt Lepidoptera,
Circling flowers in adagio,
Conquering with ease
The woman in the tent –
Your fragile prey.
Though there was
An evening in Cassis
When the cicadas,
Corralling the earth to their staccato
Spared a moth its genus
And I bunched
Up in specimen jars marked
Parnassius Apollo, Polyommatus Eros.
The Shore Line
Alone on the beach
with the lovely slaughter of evening’s
thrust: puffer fish, a slick of gull,
crushed shells. Between
open ocean and smaller things
I walk North, through fits of rain.
You stay inside.
Three urchins on my mantel now,
vestigial spines worn but keen.
We grieved our loss on the phone last
week: the garden’s thriving, your brother’s fine,
may I visit? Such responsibility for
chance words, barely meant –
such tenderness, these killing fields
at lowest tide.
Justin Lowe was born in Sydney but spent large portions of his early childhood on the Spanish island of Minorca with his younger sister and artist mother. Completing his schooling back in Sydney, Justin gained a BA in the Central West of NSW and then spent several years in Europe working odd jobs and honing his skills as a writer. On returning again to Sydney, Justin settled down with his partner in what was then a fairly crusty Newtown teeming with disparate souls where through the course of the 1990’s he published more and more of his poetry and collaborated with some of Sydney’s finest songwriters such as Tim Freedman of The Whitlams and Bow Campbell of Front End Loader and The Impossibles, as well as editing seminal poetry mag Homebrew and releasing two collections, From Church to Alice (1996) and Try Laughter (2000). In 2001 Justin moved to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and has since published one more poetry collection (Glass Poems, 2006) and two verse novels (The Great Big Show, 2007 and Magellenica, 2008).
smells of the earth
where I will hum my one, long note
in the powdery dawn
when the crocuses are budding
and the quicksilver in their irises
speak of poor choices
a fatal misreading of the times
though if there are limits
to the limitless
they are drowned
in the banquet trill of the magpie
and she turns
so slowly, anyhow
she barely troubles the creases
where I have let my hand travel
like God’s cold eye
along the ragged exodus
feeling out the green, ticklish spots
the gentle frost that never lifts
the hmmmm of the little girl stuck in her throat
and the question always asked
when the end is slowly dawning on us
crisp and golden in the lattices
baby, what time is it?
hers is the beauty
old prophets once exhorted
too long in the desert
pining for that cold touch
what some call purity
others a blade
the idiot wind
how many times how many times
but I am already
turning this poem on its head
for she is not one of those
ice maidens of sepia
the fog light tavernas
of the mud-caked generations, the ashen-faced:
the gods have not been kind to her
but nor have they played their usual games
she had a good man
a good, sweet, honest man
and he stuck by her
the Lord alone knows why
for she sang of him
but never to him
sang so long and loud of him
that all the nameless suddenly had a name
all the faceless had a face
all the silent stirred like crumpled paper
while all the blameless suddenly confessed
and all the heartless wept
and this good man drowned lonely in her throat
his was the first instinct
to protect his own
and so he did
the pinched face stares up
and the pinched little fingers scratch at the sun
and the line crackles
and I am back there as he cooks
buttering over the thousand silences
so I assume
she cackles as at a name
she does not like
water with oil
the absence of hesitancy
is the absence of humour
a dry cackle
some ancient enmity
neither has the time to explain
or perhaps because
he clutches his pink little fingers
at the myriad whispers, the opaque face
and a lonesome baritone
and every river gurgling down to the sea
the salty death in his tiny mouth
where the gulls hover hungry
and the sun feasts on the eyes of everything
if by a gypsy you mean
a man skirting the hearth light
the spastic dance of the tv
then I am your gypsy
I have a home, Johnny
but it is not of this world
whisper of traffic on a rainy Sunday
I am that hunch you see
on the stone plinth in the trench coat
with the eyes of tarnished copper
the stiletto wind on Canal street
the echo of your guitar in the old farriers
like a tap dripping steel in the old farriers
I hardly know you
why do I bother trying
to cut this cloth for you?
tapping away on that fretboard
like the ghost of a factory child
humming my heart and soul over and over
time is not our currency –
is that what you’re trying to tell me?
live short and punchy, Steven
make shapes of their hours
Cassandra O’Loughlin is an Arts graduate from the University of Newcastle. Her poems have appeared in the Newcastle University Creative Writing anthologies, Southerly, Poetrix, Eureka Street and Catchfire Press publications. She won the Catchfire Press regional poetry prize in 2004
South of Birubi on Newcastle Bight
An evening breeze cools the hot sand
down by the shacks in Tin City
where a woman squats, scaling fish.
The iridescent scales are adding lustre
to her freckled, weathered skin.
The air smells of summer, salt,
the sea-spray is seasoning my tan,
and everything is tinged with fish-oil yellow
from the kerosene lamp and the crackling campfire.
Her grandfather built this shack
in the Depression.
It’s mullet-coloured, makeshift,
with a low-hipped lean-to
that drains rainwater into a fluted tank.
Potted gardens and pumpkins
stand as if in a dole-queue,
bleached and sun-hardened.
Beachwear pegged to a rope, is wind-filled
and ghost-dancing in the dunes’ creeping shadows.
All around are the vast and shifting sands,
arrested in the west by the Old Man
Banksia trees, bracken fern, mat rush and burrawang.
Small shrubs on the occasional knolls
look like old men dancing.
I tell the woman my grandfather is dead,
and I’m looking for his mate.
He’s dead too, she says. All the old ones are dead.
A mug of tea, offered at arm’s length, draws
a line in the sand between us.
She wipes the beautiful sequins from the worn blade,
as the ocean spills its long syllable
between the land and silence.
Then she scoops the prawns
from a bucket of brine
and drops them into the boiling pot.
They turn from slime green to salmon pink,
and I think:
nothing ever is as it seems.
The sun is shining
through the warp and weft of black velvet,
and a lifetime
is creeping up behind me
as if on stilts.
In the shadow of my hat
I watch the waves
rising as if behind glass,
suspending shoals of fish—
silver, catching the light.
I stride over the low-tide rooms,
periwinkle bathtubs, basins
and slap-stuck seaweed curtains.
My name is uttered
amid the litterinids: conniwinks and noddiwinks,
as if I existed in the gaps of memory
with the ghosts of the wind and the water.
There’s an ancient, liquid language
over the dunes, the middens,
and a sudden, eerie chill lifts me up,
and like a great wave in the throes of being itself,
tosses me as if I were weed.
Women, squatting on spinifex,
weave green reed baskets for the tourists.
Their skirts are a brilliant blaze
against the red earth.
Their eyes and teeth a shock of whiteness.
Their talk on and on
is as old as the sand.
Now one of them, a wizened Elder,
tells stories about the water-holes, the rocks,
the stars in their flight across the seasons.
About the Dreamtime,
Uluru and the Snake-people,
how terrible things happen
if ancient laws are violated.
Her voice is eerie,
as if from deep in the earth,
it resonates like the long vowels
of a didgeridoo.
Then one woman, feeling movement
in the spinifex beneath her,
springs to her feet.
Cheeky blighter, she says,
and with sleight of hand
flings a snake into the air,
a Brown, writhing—its flat head
flaring against the cobalt sky.
Now their laughter
swims through the coolabah trees,
fingers the reeds
like a cool breeze.
A hawk is hovering high up,
too far away,
like me to feel that kind of belonging
to this curious land.
After Judith Wright
A storm roiled in an icy blue-green front
and set the early light back an hour.
The willie wagtail, in his surplice and cassock,
retraced his steps to stillness, and the giddy wrens,
Blues with their Jennies, vanished.
After the bucketing, the earth squeezed
it’s citrus everywhere, the trees scintillated
a trillion suns. The dam receded under the sheen,
and the scent of pollens punctuated the silence.
I rested easy in my age. The wrens returned,
thirty or so, like wind-blown flowers on the lawn
and along the long, low sills, their rivals danced
in the glass, the pane thin between us.
Then, I vowed never to worry again
about this vertiginous life.
But, the dazzle dissolved too soon,
and things were as they had been before,
except the dam had filled, darker. From the stony rim
old-age stepped, with her palms extended,
and yesterday now blooms with a new flourish.
Stuart Cooke is a Sydney-based writer but at present he is in Chile undertaking research for a PhD on Australian and Chilean ecopoetics. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in various magazines in Australia, the USA and the UK, including upcoming editions of Overland and Meanjin. In 2007 his translation of Juan Garrido Salgado’s Once Poemas, Septiembre 1973 was published by Picaro Press.
The entire memory of waking, a
quarter of an hour ago, might also
be handed back to forgetfulness, incurring
no loss. It’s amazing
how quickly it goes – money, I mean,
and love. I had love, once.
I had it I knew
it was there. But
you can’t write about that swift
and sudden fall from grace It’s
that mild evening, ruled
by still air. “Mordecai,” she asked, “what
became of the old books?”
He could have been contemptuous or filled
with hope: you can write this way, you
assembled in wash, blubber, observation,
can. Write. And I
turned on the television:
Germany’s done with words:
too much to be said; nothing
to say Our
daydreams carry us back to it. Love.
in the faint, white light. You can’t write
about that. At dawn
I see a fox
on the lawn the queerer
the dearer in pink the moment leaves
and passes on.
I was filled with a desire to say, ‘Those
were the days’. Return. Victory shifts, you know, now
one man, now another. Shift. Light
shift. What silly
physics! (now as I look) You
can write lonely poetry. This armageddon of the brain
is lonely poetry and the Jew,
who was seen to be quite elderly,
made his own way to the door.
I came back filled. I hate
birthdays, this enforced
loneliness we step into
locations and change them history
I’m sorry, for whereas the real beginnings
will give concrete evidence I
wouldn’t have fallen in love of the non-I
that protects the I if I wasn’t a lonely poet to teach
the world to laugh at virtue to drink
gin like love
on leaves. Parks filled
with the dream departed,
leaving him there, his heart racing with hope
shifts, birthdays shift
new work in old
‘Breakfast’, by Martin Harrison
‘Stranger in Moscow’, by Michael Jackson
Riders in the Chariot, by Patrick White
‘Lighthouse Series’, by Kate Fagan
The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard
‘hare encounter’, ‘art nouveau’ and ‘nella casa di balla tutto balla’, by Michael Farrell
The Iliad, by Homer (trans. Robert Fagles)
Those Without Limbs
from Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Those without limbs, those
with round stumps or shards of bone
are absent from clubs.
are the realms of the beautiful,
the bodies untouched by history.
Those without limbs are left
to drag themselves along the beachfront,
their half-thighs drawing thick lines
which we, the varnished, the well-
step over with wet feet, with
smiling, and damp wads of riel for the white
blood of bulbous, dissected coconuts.
Margaret Bradstock has published four books of poetry. The most recent are The Pomelo Tree (which won the Wesley Michel Wright prize) and Coast (2005). In 2003 she was Asialink writer-in-residence at Peking University. Margaret is co-editor of Five Bells for Poets Union, and Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of NSW.
“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” – Thoreau
When Aborigines watched
Abel Tasman beating up the coast
(overhangs of cliffs
their camping spots), the great eucalypts,
sclerophyll forests, were already old.
Green is the colour of renewal,
of wild woodland and cultivated garden,
amber the fossilised resin
like tears, or blood on a scimitar’s curve,
the nets and traps of war.
If no-one is there can you still
hear the forests screaming?
Bulldozed out of history,
the gestures of reconciliation
become sites of mourning,
incendiaries dropped from a helicopter
our defeat, the blackened
‘Memory is the only thing that binds you to earlier selves; for the rest, you become
an entirely different being every decade or so, sloughing off the old person,
renewing and moving on. You are not who you were…nor who you will be.’
– Sebastien Faulkes, Charlotte Grey.
Your gardens reminding me
of a different space, penny-frogs
pulsating in darkness,
tea-lights on water.
always water, recurring,
water I dive into, under,
breathing, floating, drifting
in tadpole existence,
my memories fabrications.
Sometimes the tide rises
to the head of the cliff
(sighing among grasses),
green weed tangles like hair.
Dead fish, two-dimensional,
clutter the shoreline,
eyes whittled out
like holes in memory,
moonlight’s abandoned haul.
on the white tide.
You are insubstantial,
stitched into the seascape
and the clacking sound of boats.
There are dwelling places,
mansions within mansions,
rooms within rooms,
a labyrinth of mirrors.
Waking, I am not here,
my amphibian selves
to the sea’s wrack.
Shadow-puppets rap sound-tracks
in crazed patois
on the garden wall.
Light like gauze,
an oasis somewhere before me
or a Messiah descending.
Living on locusts and wild honey
(dreaming of wine, of bread)
I find my chapel in the wilderness.
Caravaggio will paint me
identifiable by my bowl, reed cross
and leather girdle.
Herod Antipas will proffer my head
upon a platter
to please a lissom dancer.
And I will ask
if what I saw as baptism
was merely death.
– after St John in the desert, by Sidney Nolan
Anuradha Vijayakrishnan was born in Cochin, India. She completed a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from Calicut University, Kerala and a post graduation in Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur. She writes fiction and poetry while pursuing a full time corporate career. In 2007, the unpublished manuscript of her first novel, Seeing the girl, was long listed for the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize. Her work has appeared or is due to appear in Eclectica, Bare Root Review, Nth Position, Orbis, Desilit, Aesthetica, The Pedestal Magazine, The King’s English, Every Day Poets, Stony Thursday Anthology, Poetry Chain, Indian Literature, Muse India , Asia Literary Review and Magma.
In her hands they are like dust. Or sun-dried
blood, fine-polished. Glittering, unlike
her eyes that slept through the day and through
the caveman nights that came snaking
out of their den and shed their skin
on hers; on hers, for god’s sake.
With her hands, she unravels them on her
skin; that skin scrubbed twice and raw. The beads
drizzle over, touching off cold sparks, tiny
nerve spots that meet and combust. So there is
life yet, and there is something that lives. Rubies
beneath the damaged soil, secret black emeralds
that laugh at the night, laugh at the scarred day.
On her hands she makes red markings. One cross
for every spent force, one knot for each thing
that was taken. She moves those hands in clenched
circles – willing them to cleanse
and be cleaned.
The beads find their way to her feet. Sunspots fall
into her eyes and she turns them into tears.
When I dance, I am like a rustic. Oily-haired
and round armed. I flap my head and grin
at invisible birds. I rise and fall in the garden
sand, laugh out loud when the rhythm
beats my feet.
So this music suits; this wooden bench
on which I can dance suits too. I can clank
my rings, my beaded chains here. Can imagine
wood drums, swing my bountiful hips, go one-two
with my heels, my shoulders, my chin.
Snake-dance, peacock-dance; dance even
like a happy calf with new milk sloshing
in my mouth. Kick my donkey heels
as if they can’t break.
And then, the neighbours fall off, their pet dogs
and their studio kitchens fall
off. My cellphone shatters against the wall, and the internet
dissolves into unreality. Beetles and moths
gather in the corners to watch.
Green plants in window boxes shiver
at the feet, of this goddess
who dances, like a rustic.