Kim Cheng Boey reviews Man Wolf Man by L.K.Holt

Man Wolf Man

by L. K. Holt 

John Leonard Press, Elwood, 2007
ISBN: 9780977578771
78 pp. pb. AUD23.95


Reviewed by KIM CHENG BOEY




           Lyric poetry has the power to slow time down to intense, expanded moments of seeing and feeling. Its measured breaths connect language and silence, music and poetry, the visible and invisible in an attempt to assuage the longing for answers to the deepest questions of what it means to be human. L.K. Holt’s Man Wolf Man is a wonderful proof of the potency of the lyric. It is an astonishing and deeply satisfying debut, its lyric grace and power, strongly evident from the first to last poem, sustaining the enquiry into the nature of human bestiality, art, beauty and love.


There is a remarkable range and reach of theme, style and form here, but the underpinning question is Shakespeare’s “How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?” Beauty and terror, eros and thanatos reside together in these poems of baroque equilibrium and decorum. Obliquely the poems seek grace and redemption in the face of the unspeakable. The opening poem broaches the dualistic nature of man, the barbarism of truth in the title and the imagery:


We want not beauty

but light for aim, or the cover of black.

Sometimes the enemy knocks before

entering. A baby is hidden in the drawer.


            There is none of the portentous gravitas that many poets fall prey to when dealing with such grave themes. It tells the truth but tells it slant, as Emily Dickenson counsels.


Death and its violent disruptions are taken up in different ways in the rest of the collection, in “Slaughter House,” “The Botanist,” “Violence,” and most movingly in “Long Sonnets of Leocadia,” a sequence about Goya, the master of the abominable and grotesque. The speaker of these dramatic monologues is Goya’s housekeeper-mistress, who is rumoured to have borne him a daughter and who was erased from Goya’s will by his son. Here, in a reinvented sonnet form and in stanzas effortlessly rhymed, love and loyalty are held in tenuous balance with horror and death. Goya’s art of unflinching witness is vividly rendered: “every horror a new eyehole/ for you to focus.” Holt captures Goya’s signature subject and style in precise, fluent strokes: “You paint a purposeful silence, mouths chasmal/ to consume all sound, small complete eclipses.” The wolf motif in the opening poem looms large in the last poem of the sequence, and refers to Goya’s crayon sketch “Wolf and Man”; in its central location in the collection and in its foregrounding of the key motif, “El Otro,” which means “the other,” as the wolf is called in Spanish folklore, becomes the pivotal lyric in the collection. It depicts Goya’s art of witness, the vigilant wolf-like way he observes and turns human carnage into art. Goya himself metamorphoses into the animal that is his emblem for the human condition:


Yet when our time comes

we want nothing but to stay wanting; to be consoled


looks a lot like the end. I’m scared of dirt.

You, of the wolf who does not flee but, slowly, turns.


The sequence, like the other two sequences “Unfinished Confession” and “Glove Story, Paraphrased,” reveals a capacity for sustained engagement with the subject, and a delicate, thrilling fusion of intuition and intellect. There is an erudition that is never showy, a deep engagement with historical facts that feeds her quest for understanding and equilibrium in the face of terror. Indeed, Holt wears her learning lightly, gracefully: Galen, Donne, Shakespeare, Kristeva, Primo Levi, Althusser all cohabit harmoniously in a language and form that is intricate and sinuous. The elegy to Althusser captures his life and work in a powerful psychological snapshot, the lyric cleverly miming the postmodernist reflex of “interpellation”:


He has no history: a thorn of theory

for the biographer. He ‘epistemologically breaks’

from himself each moment of each day

and in a such break – a tiny slice of clock –

He Killed His Wife. Capitals his punishment.


The discontinuities of death faced are not merely public or historical. There are intimate familial portraits of profoundly moving elegiac note. “Grandmoth” commemorates the poet’s grandmother through a marvellous metamorphosis of image and theme. In its lyric grace and delicate handling of detail, it is an impeccable elegy worth quoting in full:


On the wall the moth has fashioned itself

two-dimensionally, self as self-portrait.


Its eye-forgeries see everything in the room:

where I see memories it sees a great feast.


They are always fleeing, like thieves, like bits of dusk

left behind, at the opening of drawer or door, their stomachs


freshly full of coat or jewel-box lining; tweed and velvet

are left a demented lace of their hungry design.


From the box where I keep her necklace

(in non-existent photos I see her neck laced


with it, I see how it hangs consolingly beside

her one lonely breast) out stole a moth


and I thought it was her: my grandmother

returning as something hungry for a time not lived.


           The moth, a symbol of transitoriness, triggers the memory of the grandmother, and a fleeting moment of recognition and rebirth. The details are never loud, gently evoking the movement of thought and feeling, aided by the couplets that render the sonnet all but recognisable, another instance of Holt’s formalist leaning, which is not content with using inherited templates but turns them into startlingly fresh and coherent forms. “Half Sestina” is another example of Holt’s confidently deft handling of form; here the sestina is remodelled to convey the narrative threads between parents and child: “In sepia wraps, father is a baby I can hold anytime. / To forget my beginning and console him in love’s-end: / an oxymoron brutal; impossible by design.”


Holt handles serious themes with delicate grace and irony. There are also playful erotic moments of Metaphysical or Cavalier verve and wit. Donne is present not just in the parody “The Flea,” but also in “Pompeii” and in “Sedimentary Layers,” which, like Donne’s love poems, yokes the serious and playful together in a carnal moment:


If a geologist were to wander in

and see us lying here


– my head on your chest but

but your legs on top of mine –


he’d certainly be a little perplexed

over whether you or I came first.


           This is one of the delightful lyrics of the here and now, an instant unburdened by history and death. “Bird Ghazal” offers a train of fleeting avian transcriptions, revealing a mind as alert to innocent pleasures as it is to the sombre shades of history:


The tern – wings ink-tipped – is poised mid-thought before

a thermal, formal arc: wind’s calligraphy in the sleight of bird.


These are necessary moments of light relief. The collection returns to a more sombre note in the last poem, “Time of Houses,” a lyric sequence exploring the existential ideas of habitation and home, man’s tenancy on this earth. The sequence sifts the different meanings of “house” in relation to different stages of life and ends memorably with “Apocalypse House,” recapitulating the key motifs and images and resolving tentatively the conundrum raised by the opening poem. It is a solution that we all expect, but the way Holt broaches it is arresting, unaffected, and makes us pay attention to a common truth – that we must love one another or die:


You leave in the time of houses always assuming

you need not say more than a ration of farewell,


nor shake out the pit where your head emptied out

into pillow, not smooth out the sheet’s seismogram


of ripples, nor pack your things into boxes, your hair

from the plug, not pre-prepare in lines in my tongue


every is into was, nor unfocus your face caught

and framed into that of the stranger you were but


once, nor snuff out the synapses I light for our love,

little bonfires of love, man’s first type of home.


          In its Auden-like affirmation of human love, the poem answers the questions explored in the earlier poems and also imparts what Yeats calls “a unity of being” to the entire collection. The book has a wonderfully coherent feel to it: the man/ wolf theme explored in different variations, the subtly orchestrated leitmotifs of art and death, and the way inexpressible truths are intuited or glimpsed rather than overtly stated. Yeats says that man can embody the truth but he cannot know it. In their persuasive music and electrifying imagery, Holt’s poems embody the deepest truths of the human condition.


Holt possesses a rare Mozartian grace and range: witty and light, erotic and playful, sombre, meditative and elegiac. Her mastery of form is exquisite and exemplary; she has devoured and assimilated Donne and Shakespeare, and is able to turn inherited forms into something uniquely her own. Holt has set very high standards in her debut collection, not just for herself, but for Australian poetry.


(Parts of this review, written entirely by the author, are reprinted with permission from the Judges Comments 2009  NSW Premier’s Literary Awards)

Cyril Wong reviews Young Rain by Kevin Hart

Young Rain                                                          

New Poems by Kevin Hart

Giramondo, 2008 (85 pages)

ISBN: 9781920882457



Reviewed by CYRIL WONG


            Kevin Hart’s poems are full of darkness and light, oscillating gracefully between meditations on death, the limits of selfhood, sex and the erotics of longing and memory. And although they are composed in a style that seems disarmingly straightforward, the poems sometimes suffer from a barefaced corniness.
            When the poet is attempting to draw our attention to a name within a name, within which his dead mother sleeps (“My Name”), or the life “barely lived” that brushes against him on its way to somewhere far away (“That Life”), it is with a elegiac sense of loss, as well as a desire to define the ineffable in life and language. At times, reminiscent of Robert Frost, the speaker celebrates the reduction of his life to the barest of essentials: “My hands – I rest my head on them. / My eyes – I rest my mind on them. / There’s nothing that I really need” (“Nights”).
            Other times, such as during the “Amo Te Solo” sequence, the language becomes trite (“There is no life on earth / I would not spend with you”), quasi-poetic without being funny (“When a tornado starts its crazy swirl / Just let the house blow down”), even banal (“And my right hand works o so quietly there”) and the poet seems to mistake crudeness for authentic candour (“Fuck off, fat clock – I want her now”). It is also amusing to note how John Koethe, on the back of the book, is eager to claim that such “lustiness…has almost disappeared from contemporary poetry.” Koethe has obviously not been to many slam-poetry readings in- and outside of his country.
            It is during the shorter lyrics that follow that the book seems to really take off. In “The Great Truths,” for example, the poet juxtaposes a self-conscious sense of banality
 (“The world is love / No matter what we make of it”) with the cleverness of lines like “The pen must know a hand on it” and “pens fly quickly to our hands,” while in “Lightning Words,” a mental struggle plays out in taut moments like this: “Prayer, / That terrible, strange thing – // A soul / Unclenching something fierce to play…With evening falling fast…And hoping to be gripped / Halfway down.” A grappling with the onset of darkness, and with what this darkness can mean for the spiritually anxious speaker, forms the troubled heart of this quiet and sustained meditation.
            In the fourth section, a long sequence, “Night Music,” takes centre stage, where a greater poetic artfulness and an infinitely more affecting display of honesty are showcased: “The day my mother died I was home late: / My lover told me bluntly at the door…I heard her slice / Onions and carrots while I simply say / And waited for the thought to cover me / So I could live inside it for a while.” Then in the fifth and final section, a stirring and evocative long poem, “Dark Retreat,” takes on the dark again (whose meaning is personified dramatically): “Dark One, you know me to the bone, / You scrape my heart / And find too much that frightens me. / The dead are yours, I know; but still I turn.” But the speaker is ambivalent about this terrifying union with the dark; there is the chance that it might reunite him with loved ones, after all: “My father – he is dark / My wife – o she is dark / They are not far: take me.” 
            Here is a poetry that bravely attempts to speak to a universal experience of desire and love, but also loss and mourning. It is full of equivocation and a brazen sentimentality that occasionally undermines the force of its message. Yet, as a book, Young Rain has enough of a convincing sensuality and a persistent sense of metaphysical wonder to make up for its deficiencies.


Rizio Yohannan Raj

Dr. Rizio Yohannan Raj is a bilingual writer who has published poetry, fiction, translations, criticism and children’s literature in English and Malayalam. 

Her debut novel in Malayalam, Avinashom (2000) was shortlisted for the DC Books Silver Jubilee Award and is presently being translated into English. Her second novel Yatrikom was published to critical acclaim in 2004. She was part of the revival of the Mumbai Poetry Circle while she lived in the city. Her poems in English have appeared in journals and anthologies in India and abroad. Her debut collection, Naked by the Sabarmati and Other Guna Poems is under publication at the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi 

Rizio has also translated into English, some of the landmark poetical works in Malayalam such as Kumaran Asan’s Veenapoovu and Chintavishtayaya Sita, and many of the 20th Century Malayalam writers from various generations. She has done translations from other languages, the latest of which include two novels by the Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren, The Way of the Serpent and Sweetness into Malayalam, and the co-translation of the first single collection of Maithili poetry in English, Udaya Narayana Singh’s Second Personal Singular. She has also translated and introduced Gujarati and Marathi Dalit poetry into Malayalam.

Apart from her literary writings, Rizio has been balancing two simultaneous careers in publishing and higher education. During her decade-long career as a books editor, she had headed the editorial departments of Navneet (Mumbai) and Katha (New Delhi). A PhD in Comparative Literature, she has also been a faculty member in the Mass Media department of Sophia College, Mumbai. She lives between her home in Mumbai and Kasaragod, Kerala, where she serves as Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the Central University of Kerala.



While the show is on
beneath its sprawling shade,
age creeps in
without the tree knowing it.
the whole spectacle
is another ring of memory,
the trunk, older by a year.


Naked by the Sabarmati
You beckon me from the purple trail of the day,
I rise from the warm shore:
our clasped hands, a thorny globe in mid-air.
The salt in the air nearly blinds us;
yet we look into each other’s eyes
and find the first stars of the evening.
‘We must cross the night together:
it is time we sought the river.’
The silhouette of the hills
is a reverie etched along the horizon.
We are as prayerful as the trees,
hymns frozen on their way to God.

We walk under the moon in growing silence,
waiting for a song to come by.
Someone whimpers–
a feverish piccolo or a sunflower withering?
It’s one of those strange nights
one smells the dew on autumn leaves.
I close my eyes and chant –
Wind! Wind! Wind!
The road leads us to the wall of the city by the river.
We press our palms against it;
our touch, a sigh dividing a swell of silence.
The wall eagerly splits before us: we enter the city:
hushed slums and stained minarets, our witnesses.
But where are the men and women
who had painted dreams of hukkah on my autumn nights –
the handsome kite-flyer, the fat woman of wit,
the bearded old philosopher, the paanwali behenji,
the turbaned tractor driver, the Madrasi mechanic?
Where are the farmers
who had squatted upon after-harvest stories –
Chandrakant, Lalitabai, Bhoomir Dhrumesh, Fatema, Aalam?
Where are the sleeping children?
Where are the bhajans? Where is the banyan?
A tremor runs
down to my toes.
‘Your hands are flushed, ’
your quivering voice breaks deeper into the air.
Dear, I am red from within; I have swallowed embers:
words, gestures, silence.
You know it; your face shows your knowledge—
the stars in your eyes are tired while you whisper.
I cannot bear uncertainty any more, and run to the river.
But there are only dead stars and our pallid reflections in it.
Comrade, can you name this moment
to which even the river has lost its flux?

Perhaps, the river must wait
before it can flow again,
for everything waits:
field for seed,
serpent for woman,
fig for hunger,
rock for diamond,
bansuri for breath,
quill for ink,
parchment for Time
Waiting fills the elements, too:
a white piece of sky
a coppery speck of land
a cobalt drop of sea
a black pole of wind
an orange sun,
wait for Word.
And then you and I run
as though a lightning has entered us.
Through the flight our clothes leave us
one by one, till the skies offer
themselves to us, and we grow wings.
The peeling was abrupt; nothing
had prepared us for this bareness.
Now we are gliding witnesses
to the trembling of the city –
is it seized by fear or shame?
We can’t make out:
Have we been late in arriving?
Have we no choice now
but to flee in our starkness
as though our sins are chasing us?

City of opposites,
along our naked flight across your breast,
you remind us of our one true Spartan.
His frail body had warned us
against choking in our clothes,
like truth getting lost in words.
We now remember our semi-clad martinet,
and see how this age asks for all we have
to be allowed to return to our nature.
From the bare banks of this river
it is clear now: we have endured too many guises;
a shedding is inevitable.
We must lose all our garbs:
we must turn digambaras,
with just the ashen horizon on us.
Our wild bodies alone may save us now:
they will tell this blind century
that we are woman and man first.
Our nakedness will again connect us
with this river,
and with each other.

There, the river calls us now to its flow,
even as our last clothes renounce us:
‘Let us share our remains:
you, the sweat on your brows, and I, my longing.’

Now you and I stand in knowledge of each other
as in a garden of memories.
With infinite tenderness I tell you,
‘Comrade, let us celebrate our freedom.’
We embrace by the Sabarmati,
bare, forgetful.
And we enter the flowing river:
light floods us –

Ali Alizadeh

Ali Alizadeh is an Iranian-born Australian writer. His books include the novel The New Angel (Transit Lounge Publishing, 2008); with Ken Avery, translations of medieval Sufi poetry Fifty Poems of Attar (, 2007); and the collection of poetry Eyes in Times of War (Salt Publishing, 2006). The main themes of his writing are history, spirituality and dissent. His current projects include a nonfiction novel about the life of his grandfather (to be published in 2010) and, with John Kinsella, an anthology of Persian poetry in translation.  





A Familial Rennaissance
for Saf


Like the Italian one, my family’s rebirth
spawned masterpieces, caused a breakdown


like the civil wars of the Reformation
with few victors, countless casualties. Mine


a kind of persecution: bullied, beaten
at school for being a ‘dirty terrorist’ and


my resurrection stunted, my ‘new
start’ delayed. Immigration was more than


traumatic, abusive, for my father: defeat
and capitulation at the hands of employers


dreading a foreign-educated ‘wog’ without
‘acceptable’ Western work history. Mum’s


reshaping as an ‘Aussie’ almost aborted:
she returned to Iran (temporarily, it turned out)


when denied recognition of her degrees
by the union. I took up drugs; became a drunk


to forget the bullies, banish from my ears
the din of my parents’ jousts in the kitchen. But


my sister, a triumphant genius, the Leonardo
of this renaissance tale: the death of her Iranian


identity, followed by calm gestation – caring
daughter in the crossfire between workless father


and alcoholic brother – and then, yes, successful
delivery: a modern young woman, her alacrity


salary, property, paid holidays, etc. In photos

her posture, an homage to Michelangelo’s David.




A Sufi’s Remonstrance


I’m sick of You. Your magnificence
precipitates mental pain, ethical


cramps. That You continue to shine
blinds, asphyxiates, twists the sinews


of my words. How dare You bewitch
in an aeon like this? 14 year-old


Iraqi girl kidnapped, raped, burnt alive
by American servicemen; Palestinian


toddler’s head pulped by the shrapnel
of Israeli bombs; sleepy Israeli civilian


shattered by rubble while drinking tea; not
to forget the forgotten diseased, starved


billions expiring in the squalid ghettos
of ‘globalisation’. Could You possibly


justify the garish brilliance of your
intractable, effervescent spring


as rivers shrivel and soil turns saline
due to pitiless ‘progress’? Or the candle


of compassion in this starless night
of cyclic hatred? I honestly can’t help


my revulsion at Your volition to remain
prodigious, enchanting, Beloved. So what


if You discharge life, if my life is nothing
but a valley along the trajectory of return


to You? You flaunt the ecstasies of Union
and transcendence when reality demands


outrage and obduracy. Why won’t You
let me loathe my fellow creatures instead


of being mesmerised by Your allure? It turns
my stomach, aches my intellect, since I hope


and even occasionally smile, sleep and dream
in spite of the calamities, because of You.



I can’t pretend
there’s beauty to exhume

from these slabs
concrete and sandstone

planted in the sand
funereal totems. I can’t

harmonise with the drill
fracturing the boulders

beneath the desert
puncturing the landscape

holes to insert
pillars as foundation

for incipient towers
towards a veritable

concrete forest. What
palm trees remain, inspire

the outline of the artificial
island, beach resort

to A-list celebrities. Camels
happy and humanised

logos on T-shirts
at the gargantuan mall

the largest in the world
outside of USA. Burger King

and co. don’t clash
but complement the Arabic

kitsch. I can’t conjure
my gifts (meager

as they are) enough
to resemble this reality

in an aesthetically refined
string of words: only this

beveled cluster
of clauses and the like

summoned by a Colossus
of a place called Dubai.



Dinah Roma-Sianturi

Dinah Roma-Sianturi is an associate professor of literature and the director of the De La Salle University’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (Manila). Her first collection of poetry A Feast Of Origins (2004) was given the National Book Award by the Manila Critics’ Circle while her recent work Geographies of Light (2007) won a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature.



Family Portrait 

Where I touch their faces
creases cut through their gaze,
dreading the escape
past the lens.
Too many times I looked,
too many times I fancied
where they had gone after
the stillness, how into the fields
blurred by their shadows, they had
shaken the horror off their bones.
Among them, I could have
taken my place, stepped into
the imperceptible pact of light
and shadow, past and present
conniving where I’d stand
in that instance of bodies
composed for history—
Next to my mother, perhaps, barely
sixteen, faint in the background,
her lean arms limp at her side;
or, beside my aunt, a nimble girl,
whose hair shorn of passion,
sang herself to exile.
What story of that year
and place recalls the daybreak
they were herded into the river mouth,
the hour calmed by the leaves’
consenting sway?
In this airy, well-lit room,
a tale long sealed in glass
shimmers each time light shines
on them now, as when sun hits
water, as when surface breaks
in ripples of fear.

After Hafez

I did as you say.
I did not surrender
my loneliness
too soon.

I waited for what
it can teach me
of heaven
and earth,
of what keeps
them apart.

What blessing it is
when voice breaks
crying out for God—

a heart seasoned,
the body scarred
by cuts deeper
than divine.


The Naked Imperative

Endure is what the morning
Wants to say each time dawn
Bares the gentle sprawl
Of her body as light seeps
Through the thin shade
Failing to honor why she is here—
The shifts of joy, the unbelief
In promise that moves her
Past space, her steps,
The pardon of distance.

And what is it like
When she stands bearing
The gift she mourns and seeks,
The desire that comes
With the world, and offers
No door out of it? 

                     Endure is this
Woman’s will and giving.
The earth stirred, hewn
By its own longing.

She is still. Naked. Sleep
Of deep valleys, ridges and planes—
The nightfall’s landscape
Of blissful absolution.


Enoch Ng Kwang Cheng; translations by Yeo Wei Wei


Enoch Ng Kwang Cheng is a poet, literary translator and publisher. Since 1997, Ng has been at the helm of firstfruits publications. In 2005 he won the Golden Point Award for Chinese Poetry. In 1991 his first book of poems were awarded Best First Book by the Taiwanese literary journal “The Modernist”.  His poetry has been featured in journals in Singapore, India, Malaysia and Taiwan, and anthologized in China and Singapore. Ng is one of the awardees of the Singapore National Arts Council Arts Creation Fund 2009.



Yeo Wei Wei is a teacher, literary translator, and writer. Her interest in translation began during her PhD in English at the University of Cambridge. Her translations have recently been published or are forthcoming in journals in India, Taiwan, and the U. S.  She is currently working on a translation volume of Enoch Ng Kwang Cheng’s poems (to be published in 2010). She lives in Singapore.



The caterpillar
Munches a few lines
Tasty leaves for its repast
Lining the walls of its cocoon
With the uneaten parts of the poem –
Therein and whence
The light.
住下, 就是一生:


() 晚餐
                    黑猫 白猫
From Family Matters
1. lamp light
After the flood recedes
foreheads red as fire
dogs barking
sturdy fences
a sliver of moon
To stay is to settle down, a lifetime:
colour tv
neatly crouching
time spies on mice in the distance
with watchful cat eyes
2. circus act
One-eyed bull
on the steel wire of fancy
calibrates the ancestors’
pigs fatten
floods follow suit
3. dinner
In fatigues
the night the revolution ended
stepping on stones
the generalissimos cross the river, returning
raw oysters for dinner
peking opera for company
black cat white cat
hunt in vain for mice
地表, 板块, 土拨鼠: 松动的日子
the police siren makes familiar rounds
through the seed grooves of an afternoon.
thus the blue sky surveys:
a ball rolls from one end of the court to the other, after class.
mushrooms, newborn after the rain,
daintily lead the eye and mind astray.
these days of unwinding, a palpable reprieve tingling soil and sundry:
earth’s surface, tectonic plates, groundhog.
moments, perhaps, for spectatoring and speculation:
chrysanthemum flowers, bursts of moistened jade, bloom and fade, just so.

鼻穴, 深埋梁祝
嘴, 沉默得很大声
Portrait of My Father                 
In the twilight years
His face bloomed into chrysanthemums.
The eyes that crossed the South China Sea
Were weaned off the tides.
The ears followed still the trail of nature’s sounds.
The nose, buried deep in the legend of the butterfly lovers,
The mouth spoke loudly without words.
Time and again his brows made the mad flight
Flailing again and again
before the barbed wire fence,
exiled by the barbed wire fence,
from the land over there.
急急急带雨: 床在异地, 前世是码头
天空系在脑后, 我们是风里来火里去的云
高人江湖满地, 踢踏过唐人街, 已是中年
猿声多一阵少一阵, 人倚斜了天涯


Remembering Du Fu                                  
– in memory of the time spent with Boey Kim Cheng in Sydney
After the wind died down, ruins rose from the water.
The rain poured, making haste, making haste:
our beds are remote from home; our past lives, a quay.
Sprawling behind the mind is the sky –
while we who have no care, we clouds blazing through wind and fire,
what care have we for the masters? Already there are too many in the world –
enough that Chinatown was our playground until middle age caught us playing truant.
Marking the rise and ebb of monkey cries, man leans to rest and the horizon slants.
Ranting and raving along the borderlines of winter;
The pained skull shelters a piece of porcelain, perfection no less.
In July 2006 I was in Sydney for the launch of Boey Kim Cheng’s book After The Fire: New and Selected Poems. It was a holiday as well as a work trip for me. We spent quite a lot of time traveling by car and we listened to his CDs of Du Fu’s poems.


Zuzanna Nitecka

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Zuzanna Nitecka left her home country in June 2008 to seek inspiration under the palm trees of Spain. Her greatest inspiration is the magical world of Richard Brautigan’s imagination. She is currently living in Madrid, writing, wandering around at night and making friends with struggling musicians. And teaching English in her free time.






You get on the train at 6:45 giving off waves of afterlove frequency.

There is a glow under your skin as if you had dozens of very small Christmas candles in your belly. You stand out against the cold fluorescence of the metro. Eyes turn to follow you as you pass by in search of a seat. You sit down, oblivious: perhaps you pull out a book from you bag or sip tea from a green thermos. All the while. The car gradually fills up with your mind that is aglow.





There’s nothing more sadly sensual than after-rain pine trees stuck into earth like paper umbrellas dropped into a cocktail glass.

As I walk under dripping branches, thinking my thoughts, I see a black scarf on the concrete path before me. It belonged to a woman. She wears heels and perfect make up. Sweet perfume. She is afraid of growing old. The wind must have untangled the scarf from her shoulders. She walked all the way home from this little park with the ghost of the scarf wrapped around her neck. Before she realized it was gone.





The clanking of pots and pans drowns out the music (a sonata of practicality). She brings out the dinner: rice in asparagus sauce. As the music begins, she will fidget. Thinking about plates that should be washed; drinks to be served; stains on the tablecloth. Meanwhile, the musician plays

as if he was taking revenge on the world. To avenge some terrible grievance. Then. The trembling of strings announces it’s over. In the silence

that comes, a question: “Will you help me clean up?”





The demon of disturbed sleep


in bright daylight





A hudred years ago, it was 7 am. Beds rocked softly

on cold floor like empty peanut shells.


Nandini Dhar

Nandini Dhar’s poems have appeared or is forthcoming in Muse India, Kritya  and Sheher:Urban Poetry by Indian Women. Nandini grew up in Kolkata, India, finished her M.A. In Comparative Literature from University of Oregon, and is now a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at University of Texas at Austin.




inking the hyacinth


knowing how to make

                             the rosemary smell

                             like thyme is not enough.



her  brother told her. with a touch on her forehead,

which, he thought, would reassure her. if she really

wants to be the kabiyali she thinks she is, she must

learn how to make pearls  from inside her spleen.


                           and that, he said,

                           requires perseverance.

                           amongst other things.



not yet ready to give up, she  spent days

sorting through spine splintering brick.

looking for the right kind of dust.


                     holding the specks

                     against the sun with

                     her three fingers.


the other two craving for shades of green

she had never hoped to touch. then, once

she had them all, she  swallowed the dust

drops. one by one. every one of them. not

noticing that her forehead now bears five

glowing blue spots.


                          exactly on the places where

                          her brother’s fingers touched her

                          cantaloupe skin.


probably because, she wasn’t feeling anything there.

almost in the same way the leprosy skin fails to notice


                            the prick

                            of a pin

                            on itself.


in the bread-colored desolation of a machete moon,

she  had to admit that her brother did not want her

to pull out her eyes one after the other and serve them

to him in crystal jars.


                        marinated in lemon juice, rock

                        salt and cinnamon flakes. neither

                        does he want her to spend the day


sweeping speckless the ground under the guava tree

but, being just back from turning an oyster princess

into a porcelain-doll, he believes his assurances can


                      turn all silhouettes into full-blown

                      statuettes. she, on the other hand,

                      would rather scratch the oyster-shells


hard  and let the blood dry under her broken nails.

blood, when allowed to harbor chaos on its own, can

become a bladed verb which will pierce a bone right

in two. yet, eager to regale in his desperate certitude,


                       she gave up the bristles,

                       the blood,

                       bones and the blades.


for thirteen years, three months and three days, she made

the hyacinth leaf her bed. fed on air. and woke up every

morning to throw up spit the color of deep brown earth

and sunlit scar tissue. which she would then use to sculpt

rabbits, deer, sparrows and hedge-hogs.


                     and once she crawled back

                     into her hyacinth bed, her brother

                     would break them all. one by one


too ordinary, he would say, with an expert frown. the morning

she spat the pearl out, her brother held her head, picked up

the pearl stone, and after looking at it for two whole minutes

through purple tinted field glass, said, sissy dear, you are yet to learn

the art of madness wild. it was then that she smashed


                       the pearl on the rock. collected pieces

                       too pink. and  wrapped them up in

                       her rainbow-skinned scarf, walking off


towards her hyacinth-shield.  needless to say, no one

saw her ever again. Nothing much happened to her

brother either. only the white hyacinth flowers, in

the lake, turned fluorescent  violet. and on full-moon

nights, they bleed red. routinely. ritually. without fail.




irreconcilable:lines for virginia mem-sahib


My aunt, Mary Beton, I must tell you, died by a fall from her horse when she was riding out to take the air in Bombay. […] A solicitor’s letter fell into the post-box and when I opened it I found that she had left me five hundred pounds a year for ever.


                                                                                                     A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf



since 1835,

when abhinavagupta, shudrak, and rumi were forced to sit

tight-packed on a single shelf, leaving the rest of the world to alphabets

that jumped out of ships and judge-sahib’s wigs, textbooks have perfected

the art of making crazed scribbling-chicks look tame.


tame enough to be tapestried into buttercream muslin pillow cases


tame enough to be painted on jasmine-white schoolroom walls


tame enough to be talked about without once referring

to that conch-shaped nose of yours

the look in your eyes, which says,

i am perfectly capable of drenching myself

in the purple-blue of a drizzly-day sun, claiming, the sun

belongs to me and only to me, and can,therefore,

be swept away, into the abyss of my purse,

just like the peacock-feather of my hat.



my tongue was daffodil-bruised.

the little man made me peel oranges

for eight hours every day, my ass on wood,

the tip of his beard brushing off the last traces

of elizabeth, mary, all those poet-girls who walked straight

into the smoke-filled coffeehouses, corsets tightly folded into eight

in their armpits.


hell,i didn’t know that even sammy dear

had waved off the sugar-bowl with the back of his left hand while pouring

out a full dose of white guilt in the wings of albatross


so, i held on to your lonely sun. although,

for my own sake,i would have rather opened my lips,

tongue,limbs and nipples to the storm. yet, there are days,

when i craved for a share of your sun, with bleeding fingernails

and all.


you were running,

your skirt hitched up to your knees,

from the very old man

with scissors for clipping the wings of women

who build abodes other than the ones thrust upon them

by holy matrimony.


i was running right beside you,

trying to figure out the color of the thread of your hems.

i would have given anything for them to be the shade

of clotted blood, rust, deep-fried, well-breaded mutton cutlet.


and there was mary beton.

bombay.the horse. the fall.

five hundred pounds a year. a room ensured.


damn it, girl, i couldn’t care less

for your aunt beton or her fall. but I did care

for the five hundred pounds, which, had they

stayed behind, could have been used to build

my own room. Or, for that matter,

one for my sister

one for my cousin

one for my aunt

one for my mother

one each for my father, brother and uncle.


ginny dearest, i don’t trust you

with the carving of my wood.

for all practical purposes, you’re just

another mem-sahib.


nothing more.


Nija Dalal

Nija Dalal was born in Atlanta, GA; she’s a second-generation Indian-American, currently living in Sydney, Australia. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgia State University, and she produces for Final Draft, a radio show all about books and writing on 2SERfm. Her work has been published in Dry Ink, an online magazine based in Atlanta, and in Ordinary, an online magazine from Sydney.

photograph by Dorothy O’Connor



A Midget Toe


A sign of inbreeding long ago that weaves through generations from a small Indian village, where people still die of live wires in water, to a city where the rich live in sparkle-ugly towers built on top of slums. This minute warp in genetic code weft its way through my mother’s DNA and winds with her across oceans and continents, over, under, over, under.  

I have named it “the midget toe.” The fourth toe on my right foot, it sits slightly higher than the others; it’s never quite fit in. It assumes a superior attitude, never touching ground unless forced, leaving the other toes to do the actual work of walking.  

Because of the midget toe, my right foot’s profile looks oddly truncated. A delicate heel, an elegant curve at the arch, a big toe, and the rest is misery. A downward sloping hill ends with a shock flat diving board. The other foot bears no match; no, the toes of my left foot follow the graceful gradient you might expect, if you ever expect things about toes. The midget toe means every open-toed shoe purchase is fraught with one very disconcerting question: does it create the illusion of symmetry? The sales girl is never paid well enough to respond kindly; closed-toed is my refuge. 

Like a grown woman wearing a padded bra, I hide my toe’s shortcoming and my shame with curved rigid structure. It feels wrong inside my shoe, self-consciously insufficient, while the left foot rolls easy and confident.  

I share the midget toe with my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, but not all the women in my family. Irregular, unpredictable, like a needle skipping stitches, the toe dances with some, slights others. If my lineage were woven in an ever-lengthening fabric, if the midget toes were marked, the tapestry would show a sort of hidden genealogy, a kind of coded secret, and it seems slightly magical, fairy lights twinkling in a family tree. I didn’t choose to have it; life might be easier without it. But the marvel of the midget toe lies in the knowledge that no matter how far I travel, if I unravel, a twisting thread keeps me tethered across oceans and continents to an immigrant home, a leafy Southern suburb, a sour-smelling sea-borne city, and a small Indian village, over, under, over, under.


Peter J Dellolio

Peter J. Dellolio has published critical essays on art and film, fiction, poetry, and drama. His poetry and fiction have appeared in various literary magazines, including Antenna, Aero-Sun Times, Bogus Review, and Pen-Dec Press. Through 1998, Peter was a contributing editor for NYArts Magazine. Currently he is working on a critical study of the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  He is a graduate of New York University, 1978, and holds a B.A. in cinema and literature.





I will leave the building with her.  We will walk together for several blocks.  It will be night.  Before we leave, she will say something to me, she will make some remark about the tone of my voice.  When I speak to her, the tone of my voice will have a certain effect on her, and so she will make this comment.  As we leave the lobby of the building, I will notice that its beige marble walls have a faint glow.  This will be the effect of a street lamp shining through the glass doors of the entryway.

      I am not speaking to her at this moment.  I am going to speak to her.

      After turning my head to the right, I will lower my eyes and see the bicycle that she will be wheeling alongside her.  I will notice its two wheels.  She will have painted the black rubber blue, for aesthetic effect.  The black night will be filled with cool air.  The blue wheels will appear many shades darker than they are. This will be caused by the numerous shadows the night will have cast upon us.  The cool air will make me feel carefree and somber at the same time.  This association between atmosphere and emotion will be unconventional.  For the darkness of the night will give me a carefree feeling, and the coolness of the air will give me a somber feeling.  She will glance at me from time to time.  These glances will be unrelated to the movement of the bicycle she will be pushing alongside her, except of course for the contrast between the dark circular wheels and her bright round eyes, but I will not notice this contrast.

      She is not glancing at me at this moment.  She is going to glance at me.

      It will not be late, but the streets will be empty.  It will be quiet.  For the most part, the only sound to be heard will be the softly squeaking wheels of the bicycle.  I will have forgotten the sound of the door that will slam shut as we leave the lobby of the building.  However, she will remember this slamming sound, because while we are walking, she will glance at the dim, empty doorway of an abandoned building, making a remark about how unusually quiet it is. I will feel particularly lighthearted if I too look into this doorway.  The moment she turns to look towards it, a zephyr will lightly blow across my face, and thus I will suddenly be arrested by a desolate feeling.  A huge flag will be attached to a pole protruding from the window of a building across the street.  It will wave slowly and gently in the night air.  By the time I notice this flag, we will have passed the abandoned building with its caliginous entrance, but the flag will continue to wave in the breeze.

      It is not waving at this moment.  It is going to wave.

      When we reach the subway station, we will part.  I will enter the station and board a train.  She will begin to ride the bicycle home.  Before we part, we will stop for a few moments by the station entrance.  It will be located on the corner of a main avenue surrounded by traffic and pedestrians, and so the silence of the night will be gradually filled with the noisy sounds of traffic and talking people.  From below us, in the underground tunnel, a chaos of vibrations, created by the parallel trajectories of many speeding trains, will suddenly emerge, and at this moment I will glance at the two blue wheels of the bicycle.  She will be looking at me when I glance at the shadowy wheels.  Her head will be positioned at an angle that will allow the whites of her eyes to shine very brightly.  By this point, the air will be still, and the flag we will have passed will hang down limply, no longer waving.  I will not see the flag in this state of immobility, but I will be reminded of its waving when I lift my head from the wheels and look at her.  This reminder will be triggered by a cool gust of air, lightly blowing across my face just as I lift my head from the wheels in order to look at her.  At this moment, a passenger sitting in one of the passing trains will glance at a public service poster for the homeless, displaying a photograph of a derelict building, glowing in the moonlight.  When I lift my head and look at her, we will say goodnight.  As I turn away from her and start walking in the opposite direction, I will glimpse a gleaming yellow taxi speeding behind her head from left to right.  The streetlamp will no longer shine directly upon the marble walls inside the lobby; the glow of the taxi will diminish considerably as it falls under the shadow of a newsstand in a futile attempt to miss her.  This attempt will indeed fail as the cab strikes her fatally during the moment she closes her eyes while waiting for the traffic light to change.

      She is not closing her eyes at this moment.  She is going to close them.