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.
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
This is the same spot where, last summer,
you collected tiny frogs in buckets.
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.
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.
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.
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.