Jen Webb is the author of a poetry collection, Proverbs from Sierra Leone (Five Islands, 2004), a short story collection Ways of Getting By (Ginninderra, 2006), and a dozen scholarly books. She edits the scholarly journal Axon: Creative Explorations, and the new literary journal Meniscus. Jen has lived in Canberra for twelve years, and is an inaugural member of the International Poetry Studies Institute at the University of Canberra.
1. On Brighton beach
Three a.m. The sea is black against the black sky,
but light hints along the tacked horizon line.
Yesterday the air was full of sound – the outrage
shrieked by gulls as they sailed
on spinnaker wings – the irritable sea
flinging itself on me. Now only small waves
shift on the stones; the only sounds now
are the cries of sleepless gulls.
Yesterday the carousel’s hurdy gurdy played
while dogs barked in syncopated time and
the painted horses galloped up and down.
They are still now, shut down,
the beach is asleep, the party done.
I am wasting my life. I am wasting your time.
2. In Christchurch
Stand under the doorframe, brace yourself
the way that we were taught
the floor rolls under your feet
the skin of the world is water
its bones twist and crack.
Don’t think those worst fears:
the earth has been closing over you
for days. Earth? or its fault lines,
they’re viscous, honey or jam lines—
oh and here come the ants.
Take heart, sweetheart, something
sweet is in the air, it’s the scent
of honeysuckle, it’s the idea
of tomorrow, it’s the promise of calm.
All we need do is wait.
3. On George Street
The red lotus
at the edge of the road
softens the traffic
at the heart of Haymarket
between the gutter and the sky
the bus driver coughs,
turns right into Bourke,
takes the airport road
I will leave where I should not be
I’ll fly home, meditating on
wrong love, on that red lotus
in the wrong place that
says it’s time to repent.
4. Collins Street, autumn
The rain is staining the pavement
rendering it black on grey
You have left your umbrella at home, again;
that meeting will have started
and you late, again. It can’t go on
The sudden crowd surge takes you
unaware: three pregnant girls bump by
and then the mob is on you,
the lights turn green. You step
between the pavement and the road
Do you turn left here, or right? Is that
your phone ringing? North has blurred
with south, all the buildings look the same
you’re late again
and you can’t recall the way
Between the traffic and the crowd
you have lost your way
And how do you cope? You run;
between the people and the trams,
you run; you hope you will not fall