Mark Tredinnick

Mark Tredinnick is a poet, essayist and writing teacher; he lives in Burradoo, in the highlands southwest of Sydney in Australia’s southeast. His books include The Little Red Writing Book (published in the United States and the United Kingdom in 2008 as The Cambridge Essential Writing Guide), The Land’s Wild Music and A Place on Earth. His landscape memoir, The Blue Plateau, and The Little Green Grammar Book will appear in 2008. Mark is also at work on a volume of poems and a book about the consolations of literature in a frantic age. Mark’s prizes include The Newcastle Poetry Prize, The Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize, The Calibre Essay Prize, The Wildcare Nature Writing Prize and shortlistings in major awards, including The ABR and Broadway Prizes. His writing (poems, essays and criticism) has appeared in many books and anthologies, in Best Australian Essays, and in Australian and overseas journals and newspapers including Island, isotope, Orion, Manoa, PAN, Southerly The Sydney Morning Herald. He has written regularly for The Bulletin.

In recent years, Mark has edited a number of collections of Australian writing, each published as a special issue of a literary journal: Where Waters Meet (Manoa18:2, with Larissa Behrendt and Barry Lopez), Watermarks (Southerly 64:2, with Nicolette Stasko), and Being True to the Earth (PAN 4, with Kate Rigby). He has taught landscape writing, creative non-fiction and poetry at centres in the USA and at The University of Sydney.

Photographer :Tony Sernack


Urban Eclogues

I

Adrift in the middle of my years, I sit in a corner and drink. I eavesdrop
a tableful of girls romancing their cell phones, workshopping
love’s abstract particulars.
            Football plays on the big screen;
I listen like a thief in case the women know the score.
But I never could tell. At fulltime I walk home like a motherless child.

II
    
Witness is a solitary game. There isn’t a thing I have left to say
but back in my room I ring like a singing bowl,
empty and unable to stop.
        You’re in nine kinds of pain, my friend; you know
the twenty-seven strains of despair. And your lovely hair has fallen.
The moon at my window is a rusted shot, caught in its corrupt trajectory down.

III

The world was always someone else’s oyster, a metaphor
I never could prise open.  
All I’m good for tonight
                     is to let the night pass,
while beyond me the world peters and my friend fights beautifully
like a trout on God’s line. The usual idiots are still in power. But they’ll keep.

 

Two Hens

Make prayer at the concrete trough
beneath the dripping tap. Flush now with summer
the water poplars graze a slow benediction
over the birds, and a miser’s rain falls through the
morning.

From my desk I look out on this
epitome of good fortune and pray for more

rain. The weather has turned. It will do that
if you wait. The wind is in the south
and the leaves of the poplars shiver silver
as though something that was wounded is now healed.

These past days have tried and found me
wanting, and I have almost failed, but here

I am, still who I always was,
only more so. The days you love are not
the days that prove you. Winter is my weather;
I grow by waiting. And there is no end

of the dying one did not know
one had yet to do to one’s self.

But you’ve had days like these. I envy
the hens the steady circle of their days,
but this is not how mine go; I am strung from stars
that once were gods and can’t seem to forget.

 

Plenty

Dandelions break out like lies in the grass. There’s an election
in the wind and promises on the table beneath the poplars and even the weeds
look good in the spring. But not far west        
                        crops fail in their red fields
and rivers wither into memory. The future fails and the economy blooms
its profuse abstractions. What will the children eat when the wheat no longer rises?

 

And You

One child learned to walk
                 the day another learned to drive
and in between sixteen years ran before they could crawl
me any closer to who I’m meant to be
by now. November’s fallen back into winter. All day long on the roof
the rain writes the only script there’ll ever be for any of this.

God delivers when you stop
                   praying. The music starts when you stop
playing so hard and listen.
Some good came along today when I was busy hoping
for nothing, sweeping the cowshed instead and putting things off.
Want only the rain to fall and your children to find out for themselves.

Oh, it’s way too late now
                to hope to say anything new.
All the music and all the meaning there ever were
have been here all along, and you may catch some –  
but you mustn’t try too hard – between your child’s first steps, between
downpours, between the sweeping judgments of the broom.    

The way Nan walks the lane
                   morning and evening behind her dog,
each step sounding one year of the ninety
she has seen; the way the black ducks land like tardy extras
on the rainy grass at dusk – enactments that say something I’d like my life
to say. Something the weather says, my children say, and you.

 

Mario Licón Cabrera (México, 1949) has lived in Sydney since 1992. His third collection of poetry, La Reverberación de la Ceniza was publshed by Mora & Cantúa Editores in 2005. He was invited to the Spring writers Festival (Sydney) in 1998 and to the Semana de la Poesía Barcelona, 1999, and to The National Poetry Week in 2006. He has translated the poetry of Dorothy Porter, Judith Beveridge, Peter Boyle, J.S. Harry, Robert Adamson, amongst other Australian poets, into Spanish.These poems are part of Yuxtas, a bilingual collection (Spanish/English), written with the assistance of a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts/Literature Board. Read Peter Boyle’s review of Juxtas in our Reviews and Essays section.                                    

                                                                                                                                                    Photographer: David Cahill

 

Osario
 Will these be  the 206 aristocratic bones of my father?
		R.H
                                                                                             
I
 
Rodolfo Hinostrosa speaks of his father's bones and 
   I think about yours, padre,  
   and suddenly I wanted to see them.  
Will they have survived this quarter of century 
   buried under those drastic, 
   so insolent climate changes?
The scholars in such matters say that one or better said, 
   our bones  can survive thousands of years 
   buried in the Sahara sands.  
But you are not directly buried in the sand.  
   I don't even know what kind of coffin 
   my brothers had elected for you. 
In any case, I don't believe that you were buried 
   in a dark and fresh clay wombs' pot
   as our ancestors used to do it.  
II
Will they move. Will they change site  
   skull, humeri and femurs?  A shoulder blade  
   on a fibula or a tíbia?  
Will they seek the trace of the once beloved bones, 
   the bones loved
   beyond the skin?  
Of what will they dream? 
   Which song they will remember?  What name 
   will they want to name the bones , in their darkness?  
Perhaps when it rains they are scattered? 
III
Once, as a boy, I saw the relics of some coffins 
   and in them  remains of hair 
   and clothes stuck on some bones.  
They had removed a cemetery to build a playground in its place.  
   We never played there:  
   It was so much its dryness that we all crossed  in full silence.  
IV

One night, a couple of years ago  
   I passed in front of your last shoe-repair shop, 
   that one near the now extinct creek  of your Villa de Seris.  
The doors were wide open. 
   A dark deep silence inside. And the ruins 
   of the old huge house of Los Gómez more dead than ever.  
Now I think that the ideal place for your bones would be there 
   beside the ghost-creek, near the narrow bridge where all passers-by 
   greeted you with so much respect:  Don Ventura.  
 

Tonight
Tonight  I will not read 
any of my poems.
Tonight I want only to give thanks 
thanks to Poetry and to a bunch of poets.
To Poetry herself, for having given me 
another voice,
another voice with which I can talk
to the trees and stones and birds.
I want to say thanks to the Aztec poet 
Ayocuan Cuetzpatzin for his deep knowledge 
of the human heart. 
To Saint John of the Cross
for his advice on how to make love
to my soul. 
And thanks to Dante Alligieri and Arthur Rimbaud 
for having given me such good instruction 
on how to commute through the Hades.
To poetry for giving me a pair of hands 
with which I can greet  the wind and touch
the faces of my beloved dead-ones. 
To Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca
for the profound resonance of their cry and for
the great love the second one had for the first one.
To Vicente Huidobro and Nicanor Parra for
taking off the face of to-much-solemnity 
that Pablo Neruda gave to poetry. 
And because the first one showed me how 
to fall from the bottom to the top.
Thanks to Jorge Luis Borges who in his noble blindness  
thought that paradise was a library. 
And thanks  to Cesar Vallejo, for all 
his sorrows, his solitude and his  poet's bravery. 
 
Esta Noche
Esta noche no leeré
ninguno de mis poemas.
Esta noche quiero solamente dar gracias 
gracias a la poesía y a una banda de poetas.
A la Poesía misma porque me a dado
otra voz,
otra voz con la que puedo hablar 
con los árboles y las piedras y los pájaros.
Quiero dar gracias al poeta azteca 
Ayocuan Cuetzpatzin-
por su vasto conocimento del corazón humano. 
A San Juan de la Cruz
por sus consejos de como hacer el amor
con mi alma.
Y gracias a Dante Alligieri y Arthur Rimbaud 
por darme tan buenas instruciones de como entrar y 
salir de los infiernos.
A la poesía por darme unas manos
con la que puedo saludar al viento y tocar
el rostro de mis queridos muertos.
A Walt Whitman Y Federico García Lorca
por la profunda resonancia de sus cantos y por
lo tanto que el segundo amó al primero.
A Vicente Huidobro y Nicanor Parra  por
haberle quitado el rostro tan solemne que Pablo
Neruda le dió a la poesía. Y por que el primero me 
enseño a caer de abajo hacia arriba.
Gracias a Jorge Luis Borges porque en su noble ceguera 
confundió el paraíso con una biblioteca. 
Y gracias a Cesar Vallejo por toda su tristeza 
todas sus soledades y toda su bravura de poeta.

 

Maria Freij

Maria Freij is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle where she also teaches. Her theoretical work focuses on literary representations of melancholy, place, and identity. She is also interested in translation between English, Swedish, and French, especially of poetry. Maria has presented her work in Australia and Europe and her poems have appeared and are forthcoming in journals and anthologies. Her collection, I Was Here, won the University’s Harri Jones Memorial Prize in 2007.

 

 

Kindergarten (I)

The child’s breath appears
and disappears on the window-pane.
Beyond the reflections
of the others playing catch
and the smell of orange and clove
lies the forest with its secrets.

Shadows join deeper shadows,
melt with the tree-trunks,
sweep away the toys left in the playground,
the stray mitten.

The sweet odour of sweat and wool    
blends with the sound of the ticking clock,
the voices of parents collecting their children,
the bitter taste of orange peel on fingertips.

No one notices when the child falls
through the reflection of her own eyes.

She finds herself standing
in the middle of the yard.
All is quiet;
the sky is a black bowl
over her head.

In the air,
snowflakes hang suspended
like promises.

 

Kindergarten (II)

This is the same spot where, last summer,
you collected tiny frogs in buckets.
Frail lives:
delicate legs and sticky eyes.
This is the same spot
where the girls shrieked in pleasure
when cold little feet touched their palms.

The boys collected more and more
until the sun set behind the pines
and the air turned cool and wet.
This is the same spot
where they sometimes found a toad
and beat it to death with a rock.

The air smells like it is about to snow.

Last year’s air is trapped in the crystals of ice
that form in lumps of moist, aerated earth.
Inside, your history shines in the sharp light.

You look inside:
see yourself walking to kindergarten in the dark,
being collected in the dark,
the soft toy that went missing in the forest,
the silence at the dinner table,
water tracing the outline of an icicle.

The flat rock burns white before you,
its surface smooth like a skull.

Spears of ice whirl through the air
as the other children throw the porous chunks
into the rock face. You, too, lift your hand.

 

Kindergarten (III)

Monday afternoon: playtime.
    Long johns, socks, trousers,
        shirts, sweaters, scarves,
            mittens, bonnets, jackets.

The sun has already fallen
behind the red shed; the roof’s ridge
is alight for one more minute.
Always this sense of urgency,
of having to savour the light.

Too late.
    The fire goes out;
        the drifts turn blue;
            wind blows the snow into waves.

Under heavy layers of down
the children play hide-and-seek in the half-light,
stand still in the shadows.

            When you turn your back,
            the shadows break free from their objects
            and dance over the snow like birds.

 

Amber

How many times has she been to this beach? When she was a child, she used to come every day. Countless times she’s walked by the water’s edge trying to find an amber bead lodged in the wrack after a stormy night. She turns the seaweed over with a stick: a cloud of sand flies, some wet feathers, bleached bones. The air fills with the scent of stale water and rotting wrack. No pearls. Every day the newspaper reports findings of large chunks of amber, with mosquitos, bugs, rainbow-coloured beetles trapped inside. The jeweller on the corner polishes the amber into art. The girl presses her face against the window but never steps inside the shop. At night, she is a spider scurrying down a tree-trunk. She cannot seem to move fast enough.The drop of resin, like a ball of lava, catches up with her. She strikes a pose.Today, the ocean is calm. She swims one hundred and eleven breaststrokes just like when she was a child. She spreads her towel, lights a cigarette.On her back in the sand, she closes her eyes. The insides of her eyelids burn like amber.

 

 

Lou Smith

Lou Smith’s poetry has been published in Wasafiri, Overland, Kunapipi, Undergrowth, Mod_Piece and various other journals and anthologies. She is currently re-tracing her maternal Grandmother’s life story – her migration from Jamaica to England to Newcastle, Australia, through narrative poetry. Lou also loves making handmade books.

 

Remembrance

Over fig-roots from Moreton Bay
cracks in roadways
and cicada shells dropped
crunching under soles
with a shock  
lubb-dupp lubb-dupp
of the heart

the tips of summer grass singe brown

and the cattle in Abermain grow thin to rib

curtains closed halfway
from glare off pane of glass
we squint at the world outside
our island,
red-tiled roofs, and Jacaranda trees
that have lost their leaves

the bush has burnt black, ash
falls like feathers
and green sprouts from crevices
in trunks of Banksia

after dinner we dust fritters with fine castor sugar

yellow-combed cockatoos feed on berries

you bite into pawpaw flesh
the seeds spilling
down
your neck
like strings of black pearls

 

Setting Sail

Sports on deck
quoits and rounders,
to prepare you for English life,
holidays at Brighton
on pebbled beaches.

and there
next to you
smoking his pipe,
his boater shading the
familiar sun,
stood Grandad
leading you
to your new home.

Columbus sailed this sea,
thinking he was in Japan,
thinking he was in Cathay,
thinking he was anywhere
but here.

And in the sea
you saw the sky,
intense, endless blue
ripples of cloud
skimming the water’s surface,
the sea, where in 1494, mermaids sang
and led sailors astray.

Staff Sergeant Butcher
posted back to London
left Jamaica with you that day,
the year 1930,
the year you married
at the Scots Church in Kingston,
the year before my mother was born
in London, England
and your mother was already in her grave.

 

The Sadness

It’s in the currawong’s song
dropped bark, groundfall
moist rocky clay soil.
It’s caught in corner
of the eye
between
cilia of leaf
and cicada wing.

And here it is seamed
scars,
raised white
wounds carved in
deep
and bloody

in my palm.
I hold a river stone,
my fingertip rests
in the cool hollow
of remembered  
grooves and ridges.

 

 

Lorne Johnson

I was born in Sydney in 1972. I currently teach English in a Loreto Sisters secondary school in Sydney. My work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, Eclogues (The 2007 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology), The Big Issue, Spinach 7 (online), Vegan Voice, The Drum Media, The Brag and 3D World. My poetry was highly commended in The Broadway Poetry Prize 2004 and The Inverawe Poetry Prize 2007. I am passionate about bird watching, traveling about Australia and the electro-reggae band Dreadzone. I am married and have a baby boy.

 

Trolley Man

For over twenty years you pushed your trolley between Sydney’s glass and chrome
with a red crash helmet protecting your imagination from having a head on with reality.
Hunched like Atlas during his nursing home years, villagers who worship rice,
you were this bitumen Bedouin who’d arrived from the far corners of abstraction,
never the Central Business District’s central business, but always mine.

Your ambiguity unhinged me; your tongue carried the weight of Bedlam’s flare; your
ubiquitous presence provided this surrogate backbone through my edgy Marist
testosterone years. Along with the Monorail’s click-clack glide-hum, Club 77’s pop arc,
the hanging whale geometry in the Australian Museum foyer, neon-smacked vegetable
boxes in Dixon Street and whispers within St. Mary’s Gothic skin, you were my Sydney.

Your origins and the contents of your trolley were the stuff of Holt’s conclusion.
The dove-hearted who fed the wandering bed cravers said you were a shipwright and a
knife-sharpener. Homeless men with ashy cigar toes and Orc profiles said your trolley
contained old letters and photos from a frozen bullet space you’d fled. To open truth, one
would have to make a point of cross-questioning the pointers of The Southern Cross.

The only certainty is that in nineteen ninety-four, you pushed your fading street-life
into the gardens between The Domain and the cool jade lapping that defines us. Amidst
weaves of lush multicultural foliage, under a sweaty scarlet sky cooled by the wing flap
of fruit bats, you sat facing The Bridge’s inverted robot-smile, shut your eyes and waited
for the long golden afternoon to cave in on you and your bright dancing secrecy.

 

Sixteen Pieces from the Forty Weeks of Pregnancy

On Christmas morning, after months of hollow days, you whisper, “There’s someone
who wants to meet you”.

Praline butterflies, chocolate bilbies, Iranian floss-candy; sweeter than all these Easter
gifts, the knowledge that our child blooms within its rich, dark egg.

My ear on the side of the most buoyant balloon… under nine layers of skin, the magic
mammalian swish cycle.

Off Mistral Point, in splattering skua weather, a humpback spy hops. If it were to dive
after drifting unicellular snacks, perhaps their breech baby would finally face downwards.

At the ultrasound checkup, a midwife uses her Christ-pen to find the beating bubble, and
next to it, the blackest of holes from which fragile primal light tried to escape.

For that divine moment of release, you will concentrate on peony roses opening in
spring-shine; I will recall fluid falcon flight through The Valley of The Winds.

From the neighbour who talks to The Southern Cross at four a.m., barks at laughing
children and fears visiting her letterbox, an article under our door on raising healthy
infants.

At the antenatal class, the kebab king said his wife would have to work in their restaurant
up until the birth, so they’d reserved table nine for the delivery.

Tunes by Mahler, Ravel, Sigur Ros: daily aural Valium for delaying the inevitable, acute
extremities.

In the private Royal Prince Alfred room, a melting mother cradles her hour-old twins in
the half-light of late dusk. By the bedside, her husband, in a Wallabies jersey, gives in to
the heaviness of it all.

During the Calmbirth sessions on Merrigang Street, Bowral, a merry gang of expectant
couples learned to breathe for the first time.

With her three-year-old on her lap, the Newtown back street soprano says, “Before I gave
birth for the second time I ate chilli chips, drank Cascade and went on the swings at
Enmore Park for half the day.”

How there must always be poetry within the delirium of sleeplessness.

Whilst watching Desperate Housewives, you hum private melodies and your hands move
slowly over your swelling belly, as if God conjuring Earth-stillness.

Between every layer of tiredness, the dramatic acrobatics of our weightless little
astronaut, rocketing towards his or her new sun.

This never-ending heady longing to meet our child’s midnight banshee guise and that
first ever smile that has the potency to soften extremists and inject this fearful age with
the sugar-stuff of afterlife.

 

Jill Chan

Jill Chan was born in Manila, Philippines. She migrated to New Zealand in 1994. She has two books of poetry: Becoming Someone Who Isn’t (Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, 2007), and The Smell of Oranges (Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, 2003). Her work has been published in Poetry New Zealand, JAAM, Trout, Takahe, Brief, Blackmail Press, Deep South, Southern Ocean Review, foam:e, MiPOesias, Tears in the Fence, Blue Fifth Review, Asia and Pacific Writers Network, and many other magazines.

 

 

Body

There was a woman who wore nothing but silences. All the men would bring their words to her, make her dream
without sleeping, next to the loudest scream. How each of them would pronounce their words like a body running
into language, full weight of vowels and purse of lips.

And in the farthest hidden corner where not even silences could exist, a rolling of thoughts into flame. A game of
never ever losing, hot rays, and runs always near enough to win. No worms, no forms of death to worship or deny.

Neither the woman nor the men went there to stay. They visited a few times a year or if they could, every second,
but couldn’t stay longer than that. Time lay down to dream in that corner.

They took from there the loud gazes, and went home with their words like a body running out of language.

 

Places

When we first met,
you were living
in that stone house.

Salt air, strong winds.
You stood afraid of nothing.

Is fear just a turn
towards many destinations,
fulfilling none?

I could just as well stay here
in my house of straw,
drawing near the sky,
filling the ground with feathers
of abandoned flights and starts.

Where you are,
I have no chance of following,
now that the years
have become stone,
heavy, edgy with character.

 

The Poet

You are always the poet
with no ending,
with an ever-present way
of continuing,
looking a little shy, perhaps,
about making too much sense
with too vast a purpose,
how we try to remember
every beginning
that dares to become another,
a suddenness
beyond quickening,
to arrive like the many shapes
it makes of appearances –
your word calling to be written.

 

Ian Irvine

Ian Irvine (also writing as Ian Hobson) is an Australian-based poet, writer and academic. His work has featured in many publications, both in Australian and overseas, and his poetry has appeared in two national anthologies. He is the author of three books and currently coordinates the Writing and Editing program at BRIT, Bendigo. He has also taught social theory and history at La Trobe University (Bendigo) and in 1999 was awarded his PhD for work on chronic ennui in European literature, philosophy and psychology. He lives with his partner, Sue, and their children on a bush block not far from Bendigo. His poem “If You Eat a Pomegranate” is dedicated to our feature poet Thanh Thao.

 

Soft Breeze of a Temporal Implosion

After the bus trip:
        light-green peaks, rice
        plateaus and quiet water
        buffalo.

As good a place as any  
        to reconstruct the countries
of the past.

And  there is nothing generalist
        about the H’mong children
        dancing the narrow street below,
or
the German tourists, pleasantly
        drunk on the hotel’s upper
                    floor.

We’re sandwiched,
as always,
        between the present
and the impalpability of memory –
I muse:
        Indonesia 1994:
        3,300 rupee to the dollar.
        Vietnam 2007:
        16,000 dong to the dollar.
This impulse to quantify comforts
                    the illusion of time
        as something solid.

Like the Dao coin I wear as
        a necklace, the seller said ‘1820, Sir.’
Its shape is strange, like
        a man without arms, ‘an ancient
        unit of exchange’ before the
        coming of the French.
The guide whispered:
        ‘A fake.’ But the shape
and the smooth-rust brown surface,
        are all that matter to me
        at four dollars US.

And the practicalities of spirit –
those women at the pagoda.
At the entrance –
        dark rocks and lush
        miniature trees.
Inside –
        incense-drenched fruit,
        a giant cauldron-urn, and
just above the entrance –
        multicoloured lanterns.

They loaded us up with free fruit
        and hugged our children.

Such calmness
        like the men in the white-domed mosques of Java –
        bowing, praying whilst
out on the street,
        similar densities of
        do-it-yourself technology.

I was thirty then, musical, reciprocating
        love – and we’re still together
walking the town of Sapa,
negotiating maps, as always
                   will to will,
appreciating the flower-banked
lake, exchanging gifts, raving
        about the view, caressing  
        and enjoying the local food.

A pleasant time-warp, like a lost map
        to an old intensity of being
Making love in a grass hut in
central Sumatra – her soft
        tanned skin, our
       mutual freedom.

And then the day with icing:
as if outside time, and
        abnegating the difficulties
        of culture shock,
our daughter
        her first poem.

 

Hospital Cave and the Superpower

The old man is 76 years old
        still wears the khaki hat and shirt
        of the North Vietnamese army.

He lives less than a kilometre
        from the place that defined
        his life. He’s
fit and stout and funny not at all

like the devil promised us by LBJ. Carries a
       flashlight and knows
       every inch of this
underground labyrinth.

During the war hundreds of people –
        soldiers, surgeons and farmers –
took shelter in this cave. These days
it’s deserted, just damp concrete
        floors and walls beneath
        an eroded lime-rock ceiling.

When the Americans bombed and
        bombed the island the locals
        would crowd in here:
what
did it feel like
        waiting for the superpower?

He shows us the ‘reception’
        the doctors’ sleeping quarters
the medical rooms proper to the left and
right of a long corridor, until we arrive
at the ‘lunch-room’. Here
he drops his flashlight, introduces
        himself again in Vietnamese
and asks (commands) us to sing
        “Vietnam-Ho Chi Minh”
        “Vietnam-Ho Chi Minh”

He lets me record the performance
        and suddenly
all the war before me, cold chills.
        Tonnes and tonnes of bombs
Agent Orange, vast networks of tunnels
        in the South, the Tet Offensive, the
        fall of Saigon.

I’ve met some Aussie Vets
seen them join the Anzac day throng
still tentative-as young boys
        they met their reality match
        in quiet Vietnamese determined to
        end colonialism once and for all.

Here, just 70 miles from the Chinese border,
       I begin to understand.

The digital video is blurry in the cave
        (all sorts of shadows)
as the tourists sing and clap (nervously) the echoes
        are immense, like 1969, like 200 people
        singing, like injured farmers, like jets
prowling the paradise skies – and before us
        this old soldier
        like a phantom,
38 years among ghosts.

 

If You Eat a Pomegranate

For Thanh Thao

If, after eating a pomegranate underground,
        you manage to return to the surface
it is said  that you will have acquired
         the ability to see ghosts.

Perhaps I’ve consumed such a fruit
by accident. Things have been strange
for over a month now – began with my
memories of that sunrise crossing
the DMZ:
        The sun coming up
        and all those people on the roads
        in the rice paddies, or hanging around
        the gravestones or houses.

I’m  no longer certain who was alive
        and who was dead. As though
another layer of memory-repressed
        at the time – has invaded
the ‘realism’ of what I
        thought I remembered.

The problem: supposing all memory
        collapses like this? What
will stop this tendency invading my
        day time consciousness?

And the train,
        as I recall it now, moving slowly,
            far too slowly
along the tracks,
        as though the dead
            had engineered some kind of
deceleration – so I could see them,
        so I could begin to hear them speak.
Though for the moment
        the protection of glass
remains.

Who knows where this is headed.

It is said that a spell three times spoken –
        especially if by the caster, the
recipient, and an unbiased intermediary –
        is certain to work.

Leaning forward across the table
he asked me something in Vietnamese:
        ‘Why do you think I continue
        to write poetry
        at my age?’

Despite clear translation
I had no answer, said:
          ‘I don’t know your work
          well enough to say.’

Eventually he replied in Vietnamese – and
after this was translated, I heard:
        ‘For those who are unable to speak’
But she wished for further clarity, said:
        ‘He says he writes for those
        who have no voice … who are
        no longer with us.’

Startled, I asked –
as though struggling to absorb the future –
        ‘For those who died – for the dead?’
She nodded, said:
        ‘Yes, for the dead.’

the table went
very quiet.

 


 

Greg McLaren

Greg McLaren is a Sydney poet and critic. His books are Everything falls in (Vagabond, 2000), Darkness disguised (Sidewalk, 2002) and The Kurri Kurri Book of the Dead (Puncher & Wattmann, 2007). Greg is presently co-editing a collection of essays on Australian poetry, and is poetry editor at Puncher & Wattmann.

 

Transit Lounge

On the last day
I leave work hours early
and bus in to meet you by the quay,
you nearly drunk
an hour before you reach the ferry

Past the terror-proof windows
everything is busy-ness,
flight preparations are tinted
a pale yellow that in some light    
might seem orange        

I wander through the fluorescent mall
of the airport, wait thirty minutes
for a train and dawdle
in the bookshop underground
until a friend rings my mobile

At cruising altitude
you’re sheeting across the south east
of the continent just short
of the speed of sound
My bus slopes back up Parramatta Road

Your mother the commercial artist
greets you past the gates
with something between coldness
and expectation, and with news
of her latest exploits on e-bay

Somewhere, I’m not sure,
I’ve kept the train ticket,
that emblem of love,
its coded magnetic strip past expiry,
peeling from the backing like a mirror

 

Retail Therapy

        for R.B.

With a face like a Castlecrag property deed,
and the spruiker voice you got from your brother,
you interrogate clients and staff alike:
Do you like the new fit-out?, and What
do you think of the chandelier? As if you had

a North Shore mortgage on taste, judgement
or – get this – delicate tact. After the half-
a-mill reno: the cut-back in casuals’ hours.
After the million dollar fit-out in Melbourne:
the nervous house-sale, the knuckle-size mention

in the weekend rag, and, always, the lack even of an
ironic self-awareness. The mission statement is riddled
with typos, and reads like a hippy business plan.
You want to target “the high-end literary market,
or even just general readers”, and to hose them

with “Paris Café Jazz”, that iconic genre. You hire doctors
and pay them peanuts: we fart in your car.
The in-store music? A burnt CD you paid money for,
and could never sell: Roberta Flack, singing “The first time
ever I saw your face”, followed by James Reyne, “Fall of Rome”.

 

Wangi

Seen from the car, a blurred barcode
of trees against the background of the lake
The lake is a fuzz of smoke. The heavy clang
of cicadas engulfs us, crashing through

the bush and cramming the thin black road
with noise. The car’s metal body keeps out
nothing; heat and noise seep and drip like sweat
on cracked vinyl. Our parents are two heads

bobbing, neither wanting this exchange
of one place for another. They become
bored children again, visiting her mother.

The grey-green racket rolls, sea-sick
in waves as we slide up and down hills.
I think for a moment I ought to be in it.

 

 

Bonny Cassidy

Bonny Cassidy is completing a PhD thesis on the poetry of Jennifer Rankin and Jennifer Maiden at University of Sydney. Her poetry has been published in various journals and anthologies, and her first libretto will be performed as an opera in June. In 2008 Bonny will be undertaking a residency in Japan supported by AsiaLink and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation. Bonny co-edited The Salon Anthology: New Writing + Art (Sydney: non-generic, 2007) and works as Chief Researcher for The Red Room Company.

 

The mourner

His right foot drags an affected waltz
as if the way back lingers behind –
to a time of still
before he were wiser –
a time that comes after
death, after knowledge.
His legs snap shut. Only
the mules fill the cone of dust
before the next heave forward.
They bungle right through it on the double,
and he imagines animals alone
must own that frosting time,
always between one step and another.

 

Weight
For Mo Jingjing

A punching bag rises
in the breeze before rain. Above it,
waving, thumbs of mango buds.
She shows me how to pinch
egg wrappers into goldfish;
warm and yellow corners
of mushroom jostling, plashed with flour
to grow clear and tight in soup.
A small and dusty crowd gathers on the tabletop –
leaning one another in stretchy fatigue, pleated tails
skirting the fingerbowl.

The radio jabbers into the trees.
I wonder how many mangoes
will grip the end of winter;
and whether she’ll be here to slice them,
or back in the thick of Hunan, deaf
to that blushing drop of night fruit.
We’ve been hushed by our silent, signing work.
Dumplings bob through plain, hot water
as the storm clouds twist and slow.

 

Vivienne Glance

Vivienne Glance’s poetry and short stories have appeared in journals (incl. indigo, Blue Dog), anthologies (incl. The Weighing of the Heart, Open Boat Barbed Wire Sky, Friday’s Page) and online (Poems Against War 2003) and other publications and she’s won prizes and a commendation in competitions (C J Dennis Literary Award, Split Ink, Southern Cross Literary Award). She is currently working on her first collection of poetry. She runs a performance workshop for writers and was a finalist in the 2007 National Poetry Slam. Her writing for theatre has been performed in Perth, Sydney, Seattle USA, London and Edinburgh UK, and she is a professional actor and theatre director.

 

 

Spectrum

There is no real difference between dark and light
though I measure memory and beauty by shades
and love by the umbra of what you said.

Your spectrum ranges far beyond my sight
and as the palette of this landscape fades
I am left with burning visions of infra red.

But still my breath stops suddenly when i see
a crow’s laborious ebony above my head
or water sparkling under broadleaves shade
the gash of black dissecting sterile white –

you asleep upon my bed.

 

first appeared in Indigo, August 2007

 

Indian Tea

On tea clinging mountains
my father lived with green
waves filling his vision
monsoon washing his skin

He saw colour-draped women clip verdant tips –
bitter scent seep into brown skin. He stood by  fresh
green spread to ferment and succumb to slippery black

Furnace-breath-dried leaves stuffed
weighed, labeled  in coarse sacks –
a pungent harvest stacked
awaiting English tables

My father inhabited this place between coast
and plain – its contours bowed like the backs of women
and colonised by tea. Born into this place but

serving another place –
foreign stock grafted on
native root belonging

to neither