Peter has been HIV positive since he was 19 years old (since 1988). In 2008, Peter has decided to cease mainstream media. He is launching in March 2008 at radio 3CR in Melbourne a weekly program called ‘Radio for Kids’, which will present kids speaking about their world as they see it. Peter lives in a small town in Victoria; a place where he can walk a few minutes down the road and be in a bit of forest.
Peter Davis has been a freelance writer and radio documentary maker. He won the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia award in 1995 for best Information documentary for ‘The Joan Golding Story’. In 2006 he won the Judy Duffy award at RMIT given to one writer each year in the RMIT writing and editing course. He has produced regularly as a freelancer for ABC Radio National including Poetica, Radio Eye and Hindsight. He has written six feature articles for The Age.
when i die let my dog serenade me
thanks for your card from India: a lot of animal activity around Baba’s resting place
like many I am also somewhere in between drug addiction and a Ph.D perhaps
learning how to recognise the jewelled mystery that falls from the neck of self
my son told me he dreamt about a land of small noises and imagined Shiva yawning
he also saw how Buddha’s shadow continues to meditate with no body under the tree
I spit against the wind, a desire for afterlife, hands at the surface while the table tilts
yes I believe in life after death, of course I believe that life will continue without me
we can learn to support the sky with dust, singing of faith like crickets in chorus
death is a serenade by a dog licking a busker’s watch and leaving three whiskers
a journey for tranquil moments (lines written whilst hitch-hiking)
in my own private Idaho
standing or laying beside a sealed or unmade road
whilst eternity lays across my homeless soul
its thin blanket of dust
my skin slowly turning blue in the predawn
when the trees won’t speak above a whisper
just so the first birds can be clearly heard
and the orange glow of the sun beneath the horizon
reminds me of a glow from an orchestra pit
then curling-up on the road’s edge
shivering with my eyes closed and one thumb still out
in my other hand a cigarette lighter that hovers
like a firefly for the motorists to see
asleep after entering a car before the driver could ask three questions
his or her face floating upwards inside my first dream
asleep yet listening to the colours inside their voice
a yellowed or reddened or brown leaf
filled with fresh waste from the tree
I wake and a driver is smoking my joints and talking to my puppy dog
a dog that I dressed in a nappy in case he pisses or shits
“Just 120 clicks to we arrive at Goulbourn and the big sheep, little mate”
and the dog is ignoring the driver and mumbling in my ear again
its winter of meditations
a thick snow upon the past
Peter Boyle lives in Sydney. His first three collections of poetry Coming home from the world(1994), The Blue Cloud of Crying (1997), and What the painter saw in our faces (2001) have received several awards including the New South Wales Premier’s Award, the South Australian Festival award and the National Book Council Award. His latest collection of poetry, Museum of Space, published in 2004 by University of Queensland Press, was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award. A chapbook Reading Borges was published by Picaro Press in December 2007. The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy, fictive translations of imagined classical texts, is due out from Vagabond Press in May 2009. Since 2001 he has also worked on collaborative poems with Australian poet M.T.C. Cronin. A first collection of these collaborative poems, How Does a Man Who Is Dead Re-invent His Body? The Belated Love Poems of Thean Morris Caelli, is forthcoming later this year from Shearsman Press (UK). His translations from French and Spanish poetry include The Trees: selected poems of Eugenio Montejo (Salt Publishing, 2004), as well as translations of Federico García Lorca, Luis Cernuda, César Vallejo, Pierre Reverdy, René Char and Yves Bonnefoy. In 2004 he was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for translation.
Poems from The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy
Book III, VII
Half an arm’s length above me
mosquitoes tracing a zigzag pattern,
more beautiful than stars.
I watch the grey swarm’s
inexplicable drawing –
tiny masters of life and death,
(Erycthemios, Knowings, Book IV)
Book III, IX
three women, an old man
with a cart, two children.
two women, two men,
a young boy with a dog.
two years passed.
Flies zigzag on the air;
a stone lies
where it has always lain;
in a green space between silences.
Today, looking down on the plain
where three roads meet,
a white dove settled
on my shoulder.
There is only
Rain falls on dark roads.
Behind rough white walls
tears are endless.
In salt brine
olives best preserve
their sharp pure hunger.
Just above the level of the trees
two lightning bugs flicker their passage.
In the garden a single candle
shows me the path to the sky.
In the outer spaces of the world
the pure light awaits.
(Irene Philologos, A poetic journal of ten years in Boeotia)
Book III, XI
“The blue snail”
It does not offer
where it has dragged
its own sky
everything it touches
Over a stone bridge
all feet leave their own
residue of mud.
The vendors of bread and sweet pastries
stalls laden with beads and perfumes
mansions of the rich
sinking yearly deeper into the city’s
And before me
the white butterfly confused by the wind’s messages
the plum tree opening its fragrance of coolness.
(The Green Book of Ebtesum)
Book IV, XXX
The blind horse knows the scent of the world.
Walk with it slowly.
Rest your hand on its mane
so you may know that nothing is endless.
There was a river that restored the tracks it erased.
There was a pebble not touched by any journeys
left behind for you alone
forgotten in the hands of the sky.
Book V, VI
Among the Mountain People II
And it was a tiny hand reaching out of the soup,
the tender grasping cry of a flying fox
whose bones the old men were crunching –
and the bitter chill was still
around the oil-doused cauldron.
The fire blazed its monumental resistance to night.
How they laughed, the women,
seeing our startled gaze,
our lips dropped in disbelief –
they knew that even children of the forest rafters
don’t begrudge the passage of their still budding flesh
into thin broth.
This gliding that goes on when the last skin dissolves,
the tenderness of wild faces.
(Iannarchus, Poems written while travelling with the embassy of Antoninus to the Silk Kingdom)
Book II, XXVII
To the north
scatter the beads of water
gently scoop tufts of wheat
let the wind trickle
To the east
scatter the grains of dawn
may your hands be open
let where the sun is
“Shame on my head
on my eyes
Shame on my lips and tongue
Shame on my hands
on my walking
Shame of the seed
and of destiny.”
Again dip slowly your hand
into the grain sack
scatter what lives
what will live
“Grain of grains
dew of sea
fire that rises from mist
accept our shame”
lightly sprinkle the water
To the south
stand firm that the realms
of Four Heavens
may see you
scatter the grains
let the ghosts
know of your presence
scatter the dew of water
let the beads of water
rest on the lips of all people
let the thirst of the living
and the thirst of the dead
wait for the silence
to give you permission
To the west
eyeing the west as an equal
eyeing the west as a mother
eyeing the west as your child
scatter the grain
scatter the bright joy of water
kneel do not speak
wait for the light that rises and sets
to touch you
wait for the winds that come
from the lands of all the dead
to filter around your ears
wait for their voices to enter you
wait till their voices speak
wait till the words
are fierce and tender
wait till the words
tear at the sinews of pain
till the words slice
through forehead and skull
till the heart is open to all words
the earth is struggling to say
wait till their voices
wait till the silence steadies you
“I give back
I give back
I give back”
(Dawn Ritual of Purification for families and descendants of those who participate in slaughter,
to be used by all visitors who enter the Holy City of Kitezh)
Book III, XVII
He is coming,
the great poet of African silences.
Water is in his steps,
the great torrent
of water crashing though rocks,
water that slips and glides
through the locked fingers of children
dreaming of sunlight.
He speaks the soft rain of all seasons,
he speaks the fragrance of fruit,
the drawers and porters of water,
the skilled craftsmen
who shape and guide water
to accomplish all the longings of men.
He speaks the unspoken abundance,
the full granary’s ease, the floor laid out
for the ritual greeting,
In his speech lives the woman whose soft voice
tames all beasts,
who feeds doves and scorpions alike.
He knows the secret name smoke carries in its own language.
He understands night and speaks its infinite epithets –
he knows the twelve words for waiting,
the three hundred diminutives of sad.
And through his voice
flows great calm
and the five tones that unite
thunder and raindrop.
His voice is the child at five
and the woman at eighty.
He comes to renew our world.
(Thrasymenes, poet and archon of the Greek colony of Phos in Mauretania)
Book III, XXV
Nausicaa: You have come from far, and love
is a stranger’s right. But first
speak to me of the journey, of what news you bear
of places known only to exile.
For from strangers all seek a name or a word,
a presence, a gift brought back.
Osiris: Many wonders mark the earth.
Small fish that climb the sky and race across water –
I have seen their wingbeats dazzle the sailors at noon.
Or an old man bent above a blue lute
out of India, I’ve watched his worn hands
making the horizon at midday tremble,
settling the shape of sunset in lands
where the water-craftsmen dwell.
Beauty is the one word uttered by earth –
it is beauty I bring you.
(Fragment from “The handmaidens of Persephone” by Xeuxis of Anagoge)
Kristine Ong Muslim lives in The Phillipines. More than six hundred poems and stories by her have been published or are forthcoming in over two hundred journals and magazines worldwide. Her work has appeared in Dog Versus Sandwich, Foliate Oak, GlassFire Magazine, GUD Magazine, Iota, Noneuclidean Café, and Slow Trains, Cordite, Boxcar Poetry Review, Nth Position.
This is how we bloom: a dance of petals–
each one whiter than the other, each one
glances at another’s husband, another’s wife.
We follow the white line on the road. We let
the turning wheels desecrate the graves
of forgotten roadkill. The black dust-wind
hurtles beside us, a windshield’s width away.
There are urban cathedrals, sixty-four floors
of stacked cubes made from glass, marble,
reinforced concrete. We spend two strokes
of summers assembling corners out of round
objects until there is nothing left to stretch,
nothing left to pave. Drawn to the colors
of the maps, we mark the wrong turns
of the city streets before they disappear.
Small Town Rain
The elders insisted that our small town was built
by their hands alone and that the rain always came
on time for the planting season.
We were seven then, and we believed them.
Ten years ago, frogs rained down from the skies as well.
They were still alive when they hit the ground. Their eyes
had a quiet dignity in them; they were the eyes of creatures
who had seen too much. Their limbs cushioned their fall
from the sky. Not heavy enough, the frogs took gravity
But the town folks stomped on them,
declared that they were the enemies.
We were seven then, and we believed them.
So we joined in the rampage.
Ten years later, we drove towards the city,
and lost our names, faces, memories.
Perhaps, there were times when we dreamed
about the frogs and what they represented.
Some of us ended up living with the homeless.
Some of us wore suits and traded stocks for a living.
Some of us learned the language, gnawed at the edges
as the city swallowed in satiation day after day.
Some of us gave up and went home,
told lies about being bored with city life.
The town elders always believed our contrived success tales.
Every morning, all of us saw our eyes in the mirrors.
We did not know what they had become and what they had seen,
but the look was familiar. We did not want to recognize it.
When my little brother found the shack last summer,
it was already decaying so it had to be alive once.
He savored that moment until there was no need
to ever look back. It was, would always be, his shack.
The field of wild grass supported the abandoned
hut’s impending collapse. Behind it was a cypress,
where owls spent two winters sharing their kill.
Rodents foraged from mound to mound, still looking
for the right place to die. Wind rattled the wooden
boards, and my little brother gasped–half in fear,
half in anger–knowing that the shack would not
last. That day, he went home with the clump of moss
he had scraped from the side of the shack. His shack.
He reveled on the moss’s instinct for regeneration.
Zenobia Frost is a creative writing adventurer at Queensland University of Technology whose work has appeared in Going Down Swinging, The Definite Article and LOTL magazine. In 2007, she collaborated with musician Timothy Tate at the Queensland Poetry Festival as Colouring by Numbers. She keeps a photograph of Oscar Wilde beside her bed and takes particular interest in children’s literature.
A Poem Finds its Twin
~ for JH ~
Perhaps they were conceived
in one sanguine swell of thought,
and were somehow later
drawn apart, adopted out,
such that the words
took on different meanings,
wore different haircuts
They met years later, hanging about
at a reading in clusters of old poems,
printed and permanent,
freckled with commas but
still alive with shifting intonations.
There was confusion
but also calm.
It was as though one’s reflection
had reached out from the mirror
to take the other’s hand
and say, “I know, brother; I know,”
and nothing more.
with thanks to mr cummings
Not even the rain has such small hands as I.
These wrists might snap as soon as bend,
with batwing bones extending to the fingers.
A dainty hand that cannot open jars,
a girlish hand, with soft pink fingerprints
and wrists that might just snap as soon as bend.
But fingernails bitten to the quick:
a ragged end to all that charm,
that girlish hand, with soft pink fingertips.
Chaos-lined palms: what fate lies there?
A heart-on-sleeve adventure or perhaps
a ragged end to all that charm.
I hope it is the former they shall weave:
these hands brimful of curiosity.
A heart-on-sleeve adventure would be grand.
Yes, I think they were designed for impishness;
not even the rain has such small hands as I,
nor so restless, compelled by curiosity,
with batwing bones extending to the fingers.
My mouth is burning
You kissed me
with raw chillies
on your lips. You knew
revenge was best served
directly – forget plates
and forks and all that
coy formality. Just
feed it to me; I deserve
to eat my words.
1. Cicada escapes her shell.
How does she undress herself?
Dried upon my hand her castoffs seem
an armoured corset, and that zipper
down the back doesn’t really give.
She must squeeze out like a newborn,
skin moistened with morning dew.
2. Cicada courts the night.
He is but a shell already –
no former self to speak of:
a resonance chamber whose quest
has become him. When he calls to her,
he must deafen himself, so as
not to hear his loneliness.
Note: The male cicada disables his tympana (membranous structures used to detect sounds) when calling so that he does not damage them.
David Gilbey is Senior Lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University (where he teaches Australian Literature, Children’s Literature and Creative Writing) and President of Wagga Wagga Writers Writers. His new collection of poems is Death and the Motorway, (Interactive Press, 2008). In September 2008 David is writer-in-residence at Bundanon. He is currently editing fourW nineteen, to be published in November 2008.
My former students take me downtown
for Japanese food and drink
through postmodern fashions of Kokubuncho,
the entertainment district.
Hisae is suffering a post-Hawaii virus
after her sister’s wedding.
Bikini flu? I ask, after the swimsuit photos –
then I have to explain the joke.
Chiharu shows phone pics of her new budgie.
Call him Red, I say,
you know how Australians like opposite nicknames –
It’s because they live upside-down. Antipodeans.
I can’t stop being the English teacher,
even after eleven years.
Akane comes late, orders beer and hoya,
daring me to try this Sendai specialty: ‘sea pineapple’
a soft shellfish whose orange flesh
you eat with vinegar, a dash of soy and ginger to taste.
‘Sea mango’ would be better: more accurate for size
and flesh colour, more palatably oxymoronic.
I want sashimi and order tarakiku,
the soft, whitish, brain-textured convolvulus
of the male codfish genitals. Oishi.
Yuko settles for maguro – burgundy tuna –
with aromatic shiso leaves, and only pretends to choke
when I hail it as ‘marijuana tempura’
Akane asks me for some words for this month’s
food ‘n fashion mag’s slogan ‘Exeo’ –
Japanese latin wanting a youthful urgency.
I suggest ‘break out’.
I write in my shadow
a fool in nature.
Curves flatten to lines.
What’s a good word?
She’d climbed a eucalyptus fork
over a dead stump,
stretched her arms along the ghost gum’s
half a world away
from the snows of Japan.
That was summer –
dryer, browner, greyer.
Now, in winter’s nervous sunlight
a single green blade splits a crack
in the lichened rock.
We stand on the hill
like silent haiku: strange
birds in dead branches.
Writing Class Sonnet
One day I was watching TV
suddenly I saw a illustration of a biscuits.
I married a rich man. And my friend won a billion yen in the lottery.
So I plan to go to Australia.
And I am without passport. So I need to obtain it.
The hotel there was more beautiful than our imagination.
At the lunch I eat crocodile and lasagne.
I go to sea and swim enough with a shoal of fishes.
We saw many famous animals.
If I have a driver’s licence I drive Ayers Rock,
Great Barrier Reef, desert, and so on.
Finally I would like to play the star watching.
Of course I buy souvenirs for my family and friends.
Maybe one day I become English teacher.
Ouyang Yu is a poet, novelist and critic, whose fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation has been published in both English and Chinese. His latest collection of poetry is The Kingsbury Tales: a novel, published by Brandl & Schlesinger (2008). Please refer to his website http://www.ouyangyu.com.au/
I am a poet
There are many times I hit the rock bottom
& I write about it
There are many times I hit the roof of heaven
& I write about it
I am a poet
I’m not anyone’s poet
Not a working class poet
Nor people’s poet
I am the one doomed
To poetry doomed
To a future
A fleeting thought at one of the books short-listed in a shop window
Perhaps I’m sick
The world is sick
As the cities become more obese
Than obesity: o b city
I am sicker
When I decide never to read it for the rest of my rest
After it won something
And goes on to win more
I strike you dead, English
Language of the enemy
Even when you abuse me with one of your gentlest words
Calling me not good not good enough or very
hongmaohua, red-haired speech
You think you are the Language
You think you are the Language
I stopped there only because something else happened
Something infinitely better than English
Happened five or six hours ago
And now I don’t want to write another word in this poem
Let the dead die the death
I embrace the living with the ease of a living
“I want to die forgotten”
In the Blockbuster City
you are seeing yourself off
your car in the long-distance car park
when you arrive
you meet yourself
in the mirror
and take a digital photo of yourself
camera in hand
you couldn’t meet your dad
you couldn’t meet your mom
you couldn’t meet these other living
people you know
you’d listen to a voice or voice message: I’m busy could you…
moneyloose for the end of financial year
eyeloose for a city on heels
fingerloose on the pulse of p-
the blockbuster city is
one that quotes differently for the same thing
one in which people run vehicles stalk stall accents e/merge
one that can be booked for a few nights
one with galleries victoria where one doesn’t even see a work of art
one where you decide to retire early
to a hotel sleep
the city grows more blockbusterly each person
creative zen crashes
ipod records no voices hears no fm except for a fee, no, for 2
cowon a2 available at bondi junction
the city takes all without distinction
a city literally
of no original faces
an ariel view: a building behind another building
a close-up: someone wanking
a restaurant sign: thai to remember
a city into itself
By excluding us
They become them
By excluding them
They become us
You in me
And me in you
Ross Clark teaches part-time at two universities in Brisbane, Australia. Seven volumes of his poetry have been published (Salt Flung into the Sky, Ginninderra, 2007), and two chapbooks of haiku. He has toured his work as writer, performer and workshopper to city and rural Australia, to Japan, and through central Texas. He is currently working on a teenage verse novel trilogy and a DVD of himself in performance (with The Mongreltown Allstars). www.crowsongs.com
they have gone off, they will not lay me eggs. three chooks, and not a single egg produced. i need a china egg to encourage them by fooling them, but all i have is my shaker, my percussion egg, filled with seeds and painted gold, so that will have to do.
in the morning, they have laid their clutch of warm eggs; all of them brown, but i can celebrate my brilliant husbandry, golden as a percussionist’s egg, with a little jig, unaccompanied and careful, up the stairs to the kitchen.
from childhood practice, back when we sold eggs direct from our farm, we still date them all by hand, the phone-message pencil just right for the four or so our chooks produce each day. we give them to neighbours, visitors, eat plenty ourselves, always from the earliest date. whenever and however i cook them, i will be eating yesterday, swallowing the past, enjoying.
For the Next Seven Days …
i want to write a poem
so tough that
it hurls Uluru back into space
and dives down into the crater
i want to write a poem
so revelatory that
God weeps with shock
i want to write a poem
so complete that
dictionaries illustrate every word
with a quotation from it
i want to write a poem
so minimalist that
when i open the page
to read it aloud (but
before i say anything)
everybody thinks of you
i want to write a poem
so lyrical that
the Amazon the Nile
and the Murray-Darling
will flow symphony after symphony
i want to write a poem
so soft that
when i read it aloud
my breath shivers on your nipples
i want to write a poem
Michael Sharkey has worked in publishing and editing, and has taught literature and cultural studies at several universities in Australian and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing, rhetorical analysis and American literature at the University of New England at Armidale, New South Wales. He has published essays, articles and reviews as well as several collections of poetry, the most recent of which is The Sweeping Plain (Melbourne, Five Islands Press, 2007).
The Demagogue Writes His Program
Nothing in writing so hard as the start
unless everything else in the work.
All of that countryside: where to begin?
In the forests he walked as a child
when the first buds appeared and the slow rivers surged
to the sea? Recollect bourgeois rubbing their eyes
at the unlikely sight of the sun, when the clearings were bright
as cathedral naves lit by the saints?
Later things: wandering lonely in crowds
to free libraries, galleries, parks;
all of those flophouse proprietors waiting
for cash that was never in hand?
Lyric fluidity won in the end
and he sang like a magpie in spring.
He watched the movies in his head
and wrote what the actors should have said;
the headlines’ chatter went in, too,
while cameras clicked and the tourists queued
at the door of his room: a modern mystic in his cell
reciting cures and casting spells,
a secretary taking dictation as fast
as a cobbler hammers a boot on the last.
He thought of the world to come, and smiled:
the final chapter would drive the fans wild.
Nothing To It
This is the place where nothing you’d think of occurs,
Visitors go down the stairs
to the valley alone:
there is no space for side-by-side travel
and no place to pause
till they get to the floor of the gorge.
Then they do not go far.
From the floor they cannot see the top.
From the top they could not see the place they are standing in now.
Now they can look at the lichen, the moss,
And the ferns.
Maidenhair’s perfectly still.
There is no breeze down here.
Bush-lawyer, past all those visitors:
gorse, angel’s trumpets, lantana, they met on the path.
Then the climb to the top. Till their legs start to ache.
And they say they saw nothing of note,
And they’ll never come back.
The Plaza of Hoon
The hoon is Australia’s gift to the world:
it was spawned at the nation’s creation;
barbecue sites and trolley-strewn malls
are its haunt; it is free of mentation.
Cowboy of cul-de-sacs, clearways and crescents,
it grazes on petrol and chrome;
it disguises itself as a slab of cold beer
that litters the place it calls home.
It travels in groups like a troop of baboons
giving tongue in the language of apes:
it eats and it roots and it shoots and it leaves,
and it comes in all genders and shapes.
Its ancestor spirits are convicts and oafs
from each class and each trade and profession;
it mates with a creature resembling itself,
and so it ensures its succession,
and having done that, it subsides with a grunt
to observe the career of its clone,
a dysfunctional loud simulacrum
without an idea of its own.
It’s a do-it-yourself sheltered workshop
where bigotry’s watered and fed
by talkback noises of overgrown boys
whose morals and ethics are dead.
So think of the people you cannot abide
when the time for gift-giving draws near,
and wrap up a hoon in the national flag
and send it away from here.
Jane was born in South Korea, but has grown up in Sydney, Australia. She works at the Museum of Contemporary Art and is inspired by paintings, ceramics and music – a lot of which figures in her poetry. Jane studied a B.A. Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney.
This is the dream that most people never have
unless you sleep
It might be a wait
when I am living again
& meant to help men with their desire for a drink
and never ending queries for another
story or reassured lie.
never comes easy to the men
who sleep sound
a terrible day. It doesn’t chase them, this
life and leaves them so free, I’m
constantly stepping over
a gap to make
sound – so
my limbs, how young is my heart & how flex, this muscle,
doesn’t keep me up, and waiting for the next day
or the next, or
to be done.
After today, which really is the hardest part, I’ll
say nothing more & wonder
whether it was right
to ask him an easy question –
it’s put us back in touch. I’ll slip away
right away again.
I won’t come around
and see we both bought black
jumpers by the same
the same wool &
machine & make
but different cut, one for a man’s shoulders
and the other for a girl’s waist.
I’m sure another distant friend might buy
a similar garment to wear
while out for a drink &
I’ll think it’s him because I
look for him everywhere, even though
it was decided – the way
is not enough.
I imagine you sitting there on a box
but it’s alright, there are four hideous chairs & perhaps music, lots
of it, stacked,
you know where everything is.
is the driver to every artwork that you’ve bought
& the posters that you like.
Sometimes, we find another prison to love. Is
freedom an edge that you find on a stage (?)
I’m reminded when you engulf somebody, arms open
her wooden waist
it was always there. A song to grow into & find
E A Gleeson is a Ballarat based writer and Funeral Director. Earlier this year she featured at the inaugural Australian Poetry Festival in Castlemaine. Her poems have been published and read in Australia, Ireland and the USA. Gleeson was awarded the 2008 Interactive Press Best First Book Award for her poetry manuscript, which will be published later this year.
Making a different path
Plunging into the huge pile of rubble, digging through it
she rescued them, whole bricks abandoned for a chipped
edge or a flaw in colour, and then, when it looked as if
there were no more to be had, she went back into that pile
uncovering the halves, throwing them into the barrow and
then thrusting her arms deeper into the broken bricks, each
time going down further, fingers tipping the bricks, sliding
along them, feeling for length and then, gripping fiercely
with her finger tips, she pulled the new found brick through
the pile, setting the others crumbling and tumbling.
With the string lines curving across her block, she placed
the bricks across and down, three by three. She wove
the path across the yard, curving it around the place she’d
marked out for fruit trees, setting it beside the squares
that would become a vege patch. All evening, she carried
aching muscles about the house. Unused to the heft of work,
she filled a bath and eased her body in, stroked the cloth
along each scratched arm, dabbed at each blistered palm
and later, found herself clasping her hands as if she were
holding some hard won precious thing.
Sunday Afternoon Bush Walk
Eucalypts drip amongst the quiet voices
of strangers taking each other’s measure.
Fog clings to the stand of mountain ash.
We step out slowly. Mud sucks our boots
We scramble fallen logs, wade through bracken.
Cautiously, we move to higher ground.
Sliding alongside one another, keeping pace
with bits of chat, we slip in on other conversations:
film reviews, travel stories punctuated
with bird calls, snapping twigs. Paragraphed
by steeper slopes, the talk moves up a notch
hedges on the personal.
You’re telling us about your birth.
Doctors thought you good as dead
offered your mother special care staring
through Plexiglas at your ribs heaving
Rejecting this, she took you home. For fourteen
days and nights, she held you. Snuggled between
her breasts, dribbles of milk, temptation to suckle.
Her heart beating like a metronome.
Her skin. Your skin.
Her breath. Your breath.
We tramp along the sodden track.
Bursts of warm sunshine challenge
the winter landscape.
Is this all there is?
We spend the whole day together and then the next.
For me, it’s as if we’ve always had and always will
have a part together. Haio becomes my teacher. I
want to know how to behave in this different country.
I learn that it is not OK to eat a naked banana and eye
contact is not such an important thing, though I notice
that when we are part of the throng of motorbikes
surging along Tran Hung Dao, she turns right round
to talk to me. I am relieved when she leans forward
again, until I realize that she does this to read
the map and answer her mobile phone. I am not sure
of the protocol of gripping her buttocks with my thighs
but as my jeans take the dust from the buses we pass,
I am thinking about other things.
Never have I felt such a part of a people’s movement.
There are more people on motorbikes on either side
of me than could ever fit in a Swanston St. peace march.
Haio weaves her bike through the city traffic as if these
days are all that we have. She wants to show me what I
need to learn. She cuts to the chase. She asks questions
that I never ask before a third date. She points to the people
whose disfigured bodies bend awkwardly along the pavement,
She tosses coins, chats to the locals, coerces the officials.
She takes me to see her friends and the paintings that she loves.
I feel as if I have met someone who might be a Buddhist, well
along the path to enlightenment, or perhaps that rare thing,
a Christian who knows what it is to love one another.
When she is not asking questions, she is my tour guide.
I begin to understand why the figure of Ho Chi Minh
whom I feared in my childhood, will always be Uncle Ho
for her. She shows me what she wants me to understand
and says, “This is what you need to write your poems about”.
I want her to tell me that these huts made from split boards
and bits of tin are summer residences for the rice growers,
shepherd’s huts for the farmers, that way up in the hills
beyond the paddy fields are cosy cottages all decked out
with woven mats and polished teak and that behind these
are gardens full of vivid vegetables and bunches of bananas
bowing from the trees, but I know before I ask the question
that this is all that there is.
Each time we pass the central Post Office, the man with
the gummy grin is sitting in his cyclo smiling at the tourists
because he does not have the quick repartee of the cyclo
owners with the clean cotton covers and the sunshades,
“Where you from, Madame?” “Ah my friend in Melbourne.”
“How can I help you?” “Special price for you, Madame”.
Tell me that last week it was different, that the tourists
hurried to his cyclo like children to a merry-go-round,
that he took them to the mountain statue of Buddha
and the huge church with its concrete Virgin Mary
and said same same but different and laughed at his own
joke and the irony of it all, but I know that when we’ve
ridden past late in the afternoon and he’s sprawled
across the cyclo, that every day, this is how it is.
Haio takes me to visit the children whose parents
were hit by the orange bombs. The crazy boy
who is tied to his cot with his skin dropping onto
the linen, yells at me. And the girl who seems to be
all torso and head, reaches out and pulls me towards
her as if to show that for a hug, a neck is not necessary.
There are children who stare blankly from misshapen
bodies and others who grin and giggle and bottom shuffle
towards us clutching at our hands, rolling us the ball,
peeking into our bags. As we walk from the last room
in the Peace Hospital where the children’s heads
are bigger than any of my questions or answers,
I turn and ask, “Haoi, what do you believe?”
She tells me, ” I don’t believe in anything.
I know that there is nothing but this.”