Carol Chan

Carol Chan is Singaporean. Her writing has been published in Singapore, Edinburgh and Melbourne, including Softblow Poetry Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ceriph, Cordite Poetry Review, WetInk and Meanjin.



Say the state is
what you imagine

it to be. Say what you run
up against

are only the lines
from your dreaming

or the language to speak
out of line.

There can be no reality
without your yes.

Say the answer lies
in our denial of this crate;

don’t pretend
the lack of dream thinks.



5pm, and I’m craving popcorn, one of those afternoons
that smell of warm rain that hasn’t yet fallen, the smell

of warm, baked roads and the anticipation of a real good
wash-your-migraine-out storm. I want popcorn.

Popcorn in a bag from the margins of Bangkok, caramel crisp
coffee popcorn from that loved-up train station where

the corn-popper is also a barista who lovingly burns my coffee.
I’m sure she never drinks that filth. But she’s not here

so I make do with cheap popcorn from 7-11. I almost miss her.
The bag says it’s made in Singapore, product of America.

So much of what we eat and do is a product of America
and China. Just last week a Chinese migrant told me he’s never

drunk canned Chinese herbal tea with his meal before. You’re joking,
I said, surely you drink tea with meals. This isn’t tea,

it’s a soft drink, qi shui, he insists, and by the way
in China only white collared workers drink coffee.

His small eyes widen as he adds, and the food here is inedible.
Your people mix different foods together on a plate. It’s all a mess

and tastes nothing like home. He should know; he’s a chef back home.
I don’t tell him that this is home on a plate for me, that in Melbourne

where I lived for four years, I missed this shit everyday.
He spends his days here slicing gourmet cakes, twelve hours a day,

in a factory I have never seen. Those delicate cakes sold in cafes
slicing up his hours, graying those small, surprised eyes. 

But now this popcorn will have to do. It’s too soft and plasticky,
tasting of nothing but 7-11 florescent lights

and first-world boredom,
human dreams.


common state

What is it I’m fishing for
if not difference. What is there
but the hope this lack of fire,
these safe words will lead us
to what we cannot yet expect,
but expect to find.
Are we on the same side of the question,
or are you tracing a common state
meant for someone else you hope is watching,
recording this like a home video
for no-one but the future you think is possible,
the one I do not see. The moon tonight is an earring.
Why am I here wondering why I am here
with you in this dead silent country,
fishing, when what I want is to drink all this
air, and what I need is what is left after the fire,
not safe words or careful dreams of light. 


Laura Woollett

Laura Elizabeth Woollett was born in Perth in 1989. She currently resides in Melbourne, and has recently completed a Bachelor of Creative Writing and Philosophy. Later this year, she plans to travel to Avignon, where she will study French, before returning to the University of Melbourne for her postgraduate education. Her work is inspired by mythology and she has a passion for the art of the Pre-Raphaelites.



swift albine
beneath the evergreen

coniferous bristles
won’t penetrate that

kissed by frost
death-lips upon navel

going down
drawing a shiver
out of soul

A tiny heart scampers
inside a cold breast
Europe’s bluest blood

freezes in its veins,
as berries

weight the leaves above
fat & dark as blood clots

bears down
scoops up
the virgin’s lifeless body.



Hard to believe that your blood flows through them,
my dear
So cold
So marble-bright

Like rivers in relief:
Euphrates, Tigris,
or your native Volga
(a Slavic thing, you’ve told me,
like your Tatar eyes,
your morosity).

At other times,
they have the look of earth fragmented:
Tectonic plates
trapping heat
swelling strength
another volcano—

or else the roots of some old, great oak:
feeding pale sinew
bulging after the elbow
into white-muscled boles
and pits of lush green-brown
where arm meets shoulder.

In the spaces between
I see landmasses
cut gems
the plates of a tortoise’s shell
I see Venice from above,
broken by canals

my gondola tongue travels down.

My lips chafe, endlessly
over those dry blue rivers
rivers old and young,
never breaking the skin
never tasting the source
of your lifeblood

You tense up,
as strong and vulnerable as a god.


Rumjhum Biswas

Rumjhum Biswas’s prose and poetry have been published in India and abroad, both in print and online, including Per Contra, South, Words-Myth, Everyday Fiction, Danse Macabre, Muse India, Kritya, Pratilipi, Eclectica, Nth Position, The King’s EnglishArabesques Review, A Little Poetry, The Little Magazine, Etchings and Going Down Swinging. Her poem “Cleavage” was in the long list of the Bridport Poetry Competition 2006. Her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among the notable stories of 2007 in Story South’s Million Writers’ Award.





“Shiuli!” called Nityananda as he peered into the dark. The pre-dawn air was chilly even though winter was months away. Nityananda hunched his shoulders and tried to draw the threadbare shawl tighter around him. Shivering as he rubbed his elbows in an effort to increase the circulation, Nityananda wondered how many more seasons his old bones would take. He prayed God would let him live long enough to see Shiuli married and Laltu and Poltu settled. “Shiuli! O Shiuli!”  But the girl was nowhere to be seen. She must have gone to the pond. Nityananda had half a mind to go there and drag Shiuli back. It would be heartless, no doubt, but the girl had better learn early how hard their lot was.

Shiuli was eighteen and under happier circumstances would have been married already, with a child or two to show for it. But the double tragedy of losing both parents to Cholera one after the other in a span of just four weeks had turned Shiuli into a surrogate mother for her two younger brothers from the tender age of twelve. The boys, twins, were four years old at that time. Shuili’s three other siblings had also perished in the epidemic that swept their whole district, mowing down village after village. It was a miracle that three of his grandchildren managed to survive. Nityananda knew he was lucky. God had been merciful and spared a portion of his family when he could have taken them all in one fell swoop. Still Nityananda rued his fate. He wished that he had died instead of his son and daughter-in-law. God’s mercy was cruel. Or else why would able-bodied young people like Nityananda’s daughter-in-law and son die instead of an old man like him? Why would they, who were barely able to eke a living from the few animals and the little land that they owned, be assaulted by this sudden new scourge of such epidemic proportions? Why God why?

Shiuli had wanted to study. From the time she could hold a slate and chalk, she had followed her grandfather about repeating the letters of the alphabet and writing them down after Nityananda had scratched them out on the dry soil, frowning and wrinkling up her snub nose to see the letters better. Shiuli never let go until she had fully grasped Nityananda’s lesson for the day. The girl was smart. By the time she was seven Shiuli could add or subtract a whole bunch of numbers in her head and write full sentences. Haripada, Shiuli’s father used to be so proud of his clever daughter. Being the youngest child – the twins had not yet been born then – she was easily his favorite.

“Shiuli will be a teacher,” Haripada would say, picking up Shiuli and swinging her above his broad shoulders. “Every time our Shiuli walks past adjusting her spectacles and brandishing her ruler, everybody in the village will say, ‘Namoshkar Mashtarni Didimoni, namoshkar!”

Shiuli would giggle delightedly. Then, Nityananda would pipe in with a twinkle in his eyes, “But our Mashtarni Didimoni will say namoshkar to me, with folded hands every time she leaves for school, because I was her first teacher!” And Shiuli would promptly swing towards her dadu, her darling grandfather, from her father’s perch and grab his arms.

Yes, they use to have many dreams about Shiuli, dreams that were as sweet as the jasmine that scented their garden in summer. They would lie down under the stars and talk about Shiuli’s future even though Madhobi, Nityananda’s daughter-in-law, grumbled under her breath that the rightful place for girls was in her husband’s house and Shiuli was better off learning to cook and clean instead of getting her head full of frivolous ideas. Shiuli’s mother had her reasons. Neighbors often passed snide remarks about Haripada’s and Nityananda’s dreams. Besides, girl children were normally never allowed to finish school in the village. It was not the custom. At the most they studied up to class five or six. The village elders disapproved of so much attention paid to girls. They frowned upon girls gallivanting around after puberty. The earlier you married off a girl the better it was; there were few troubles and the groom’s family was usually willing to settle for less dowry, because the girls were fresh and tender. Nityananda himself had brought Madhobi home when she was barely fourteen and practically illiterate, but well versed in household duties and an expert cook. Madhobi was only twenty eight when, already weakened by multiple pregnancies and miscarriages, she succumbed to the Cholera epidemic when it hit their village. Haripada did not get a chance to mourn his wife for long. He followed some weeks later, after watching three of his children writhe in pain and die, one after the other.

Nityananda wiped the tears that pricked the corners of his rheumy eyes and trickled down. He went in to wake up the boys. Laltu and Poltu helped him feed their cow and the two goats. Meanwhile Shiuli fed the chickens and ducks. They had their breakfast of tea soaked with puffed rice only after all their animals and birds were fed. This was the first thing they did each morning, and it had been their routine ever since the rest of their family had died. The children had insisted on it; they could never bear to eat until all their four legged and winged family members had had their fill.  The three children’s world revolved around these mute creatures that demanded their love and gave back in full measure with their nuzzling and cooing and clucking, following them about whenever Nityananda and his grandchildren were nearby. Shiuli always chattered with the chickens and ducks as if they were her own babies. She also chattered with the cow and the goats. But ever since the ducklings had hatched, all three children had become unnecessarily attached to them.

Not becoming unnecessarily attached to their livestock was something that Nityananda, being a life hardened and practical man believed in staunchly. His own behavior towards their livestock was gruff, not that it made much of a difference as far as the animals were concerned. They still went up to him and followed him when he was near them. Nityananda scolded them as he stroked the larger animals or threw a handful of puffed rice at the chickens and ducks. Nityananda knew that attachment created problems. Like that time when he had to sell the year old pie-bald male kid to the butcher and Laltu and Poltu had cried for days. Shiuli had consoled them and given him black looks side by side. She would never know how bad Nityananda had felt that day; as if he had sold his own grandson. But he had had to do it. What choice did he have? There was the loan to be repaid and taxes too. Someday, when they were grown up, they would understand.

Nityananda crossed the narrow four poster bed sized bit of courtyard that separated his room from that of the boys. He bent his head to avoid the strands of thatch hanging over the low doorway. He didn’t like to wake the boys up so early. They were so young; if they didn’t play and read and have fun now when would they ever? Time flows like a river and never stops for even a moment, thought Nityananda to himself. Soon the boys would be lost to manhood. The pleasures of running down a field or splashing in the water would be lost to them. The magic of a new world unfolding day by day would be gone forever. But what could he do?

Laltu and Poltu went to the free government primary school. Before they left for school in the morning, they helped Nityananda with the cow and the goats. Together they untied the animals and led them out down the village road. Once they reached a customer’s house, either Laltu or Poltu called out while Nityananda sat down on his haunches to milk the cow. The boys were quite adept at milking the goats, but Nityananda still preferred to do the cow himself. There was time enough for his grandsons. He measured and poured the milk from the pail into the vessel that his customer handed over. Laltu collected the money or wrote the amount and date in a notebook kept especially for those who preferred to pay at the month end. After that they moved on to the next house and then to the next, until all their customers were served. This was a slow and sometimes tedious process. It would have been better for Nityananda’s old bones if the boys’ took the milk to their customers later on in the day. Raw milk didn’t go bad if you kept strips of straw in the cans. It stayed good for atleast an hour or two. But people liked to buy milk that they could watch being milked straight from the cows. So Laltu and Poltu had to be woken up at the crack of dawn, even during holidays. Today however, they seemed to have got up on their own. Nityananda rubbed his eyes and looked again. The grass mats that served as their beds were empty.

“Shiuli! O Shiuli! Laltu! Poltu! Where are you?”

No one answered.

Suddenly feeling alarmed, Nityananda hurried out. He looked to the right and left and then went down to the pond. In the brightening morning light, though still misty, he was able to make out shadowy shapes huddled near the pond steps. He called again. The shapes remained still. A broken sob caught his ears. Nityananda ran towards the sound.

He found them sitting there, hugging the ducklings. This time it was Shiuli who was crying her heart out. Laltu and Poltu were crying too and trying to comfort her at the same time. Shiuli, bent over with grief, sat holding the ducklings to her bosom which would have held babies had their circumstances been different. Shiuli, weeping her heart out as if she was going to lose her own children to sickness. Shiuli, who no longer ran up numbers inside her head or read fluently from the day old newspaper that Nityananda sometimes brought home from the village school master’s house. Shiuli, who had grown day by day into an exact replica of her mother, and turned into a quiet dutiful woman, a good cook and a devoted home-maker.

Nityananda felt his heart cracking up under the weight of sorrow. His eyes stung, but the tears remained inside. He wished he could weep like these children. Hold the half grown ducklings to his bosom; shower them with kisses. But what was the use of getting emotional? This wretched bird flu had hit every village for miles around. The men in white suits would be coming over to claim the little ones, any day now. Any day.


Alan Gould

Alan Gould has published twenty books, comprising novels, collections of poetry and a volume of essays. His most recent novel is The Lakewoman which is presently on the shortlist for the Prime Minister’s Fiction Award, and his most recent volume of poetry is Folk Tunes from Salt Publishing. ‘Works And Days’ comes from a picaresque novel entitled The Poets’ Stairwell, and has been recently completed.





Works And Days

Now and then throughout the night, other coaches arrived at this depot, passengers disgorged, bought coffee at the all-night stall, returned to their seats, whereupon with a growl, their vehicles departed, for Athens, Istanbul, Skopje, Sofia.  Henry and I returned to our seats, dozed upright, bought further coffees, waited for what the Turks might do.  Dawn came up, strobe-yellow from behind the angular roofline, the disco closed down, and in the early light, now resembled any old garage. But our two feckless Turkish drivers had vanished along with their plump Greek girls and the hundreds of spectral dancers we had glimpsed under the blue lights. As it became clear some fraud had been practiced on us and we were not going on to Athens, one by one our fellow passengers took their bags from the lockers and dispersed into the industrial town.

            ‘What’s the verb from ‘feckless,’ I tilted to Henry.

            ‘Well and truly fecked,’ he rejoined, hoisting his pack. And we went looking for a roof.

            We found a room in Thessalonika quite quickly, but the city promised to be tedious for an enforced stay. Here were shopwindows displaying lathes, compressors, saw-benches, a workaday town without a historic relic in sight. By late morning we had wandered to the waterfront, where we met Martha.

            There was a wharf, and a Greek woman thrashed a squid against the timbers. Behind her the Aegean resembled hammered tin. To one side were monstrous derricks and several bright container ships. The day was warm and the scene was held by a complete inertia but for the woman’s exertions with her squid. Some loafers sat on bollards, watching her or minding a fishing line. And there was also the American girl who had been on our Istanbul coach, regarding the treatment of the squid with evident dismay. Hup! And thunk!

            ‘Like, I know they gotta eat,’ she said, seeing Henry and I approach.

            ‘It loosens the guts, I suppose,’ I offered.

            ‘That is still one helluva way to treat a squid.’

            ‘You’re probably right.’

            We all three watched. This American girl was solidly built with short blonde hair and small eyes that now showed an expression of affront. Indeed I wondered whether she intended to intervene on behalf of the squid. If she did there would be a scene, and this, I recognized, would disappoint me because I found the Greek woman’s heave and slap rather magnificent. Here was someone putting her whole being into the simple domestic task. Up flew her arm with the long, glistening squid at the end of it. Then with an undulation that ran from squid-tentacle to human ankle, down came the creature with a forward jerk of the woman’s torso, a bounce of her ample bosom and a resounding crack as the squid hit the boards. Hup and smack! Hup and smack!  I thought of Eva, and how she would have relished this turning of task into dance, immemorial.

            ‘One helluva way to treat a squid!’

            Henry had watched the spectacle, then lost interest and gone to the wharf edge where he gazed at the oily sway of the sea. But for our different reasons the American and I remained transfixed.

            ‘I concede I’d prefer gentler treatment for my own insides if I was being prepared for a meal.’

            ‘I’m thinking of that squid,’ she dismissed my attempt at charm.

             ‘Actually, I find this rather a thrilling sight.’

            Hup and smack, hup and smack, and the Greek woman a silhouette against the glary Aegean behind her!

             ‘O sure thing! It’s ethnic as hell.’

             ‘And beautiful in its way.’

            ‘It’s still one helluva…’ and she shook her head, leaving the sentence unfinished, distressed by the sight, unable to tear herself away.

            When I made to rejoin Henry, I found she had followed me. ‘May I tag along awhile?’ she asked. ‘I’m kinda lonesome right now.’

‘Of course,’ I agreed, and learned that she was Martha from Muncie, Indiana, where

she practiced as a plumber. I saw she had big hands and long fingers.  ‘Boon&Luck,’ I introduced ourselves. ‘Both poets,’ I owned.

           ‘You say that’s your livelihood?’ asked Martha. ‘That’s weird.’

           ‘Not livelihood,’ I allowed. ‘Somewhere between an aspiration and a place in history.’

            ‘History? Speak for yourself,’ Henry interposed.

            ‘I don’t get any of this,’ said Martha. ‘You gotta have a livelihood.’

            ‘Poetry is a kind of money,’ Henry was prompt to supply the Stevens, which left Martha further bewildered.

            ‘And you…um… plumb?’ I asked.

            ‘You getta lotta treeroots and sick smells come out of a job,’ Martha brought our conversation to earth.  ‘But sometimes I get to do a course on plastics or the latest hydraulic theory. I never grew outta liking being in school.’

            ‘What brings you to Greece?’ Henry asked.

            ‘I got kinda itchy for some of the things I learned back in school.’


            ‘Like, well, that war they had with the Trojans. I’ve just come from there. And like, all those Gods and Goddesses having ding dongs with each other.’

            At a waterside café, we took coffee, then some lunch. Martha did most of the talking, about her visit to the Troy diggings at Hissarlik. It was a methodical presentation, but something in this person brought out a kindliness and patience in Henry that I might not have expected. We wandered further down the waterfront, retraced our steps and found ourselves back beside the Greek woman, now resting from her squid-thrashing, her galvanized bucket containing a mash of several squid at her side.

            ‘I kinda think I’ve seen this town enough,’ Martha stated. ‘I don’t like discos and bad ladies and someone smashing hell out of a poor squid. When you travel, you come across places that kinda have no poetry I guess.’

            ‘On the contrary!’

            We both glanced at Henry who held his body poised with conviction, like a heron that has just seized a minnow.   ‘Everywhere you look you can see a town saturated with Hesiod.’

            ‘What’s Hesiod?’ asked Martha.

            ‘A poet,’ I knew enough to explain.

            Henry might have given us dates, a lifestory, but instead he advised us to check out Works and Days. ‘Hesiod’s your boy for tool shops and working women of one sort or another.’

            ‘I don’t know that guy,’ Martha decided, her attention drifting back to the tub of mashed squid and her face clouding as she did so.

            ‘Do you believe in the dignity of honest labour?’ I should say that Henry was positively firing his questions.

             ‘I guess.’

             ‘Protestant work ethic, etcetera.’

             ‘Of course,’ Martha glanced at her interrogator with sudden suspicion. ‘I belong to our church.’

             ‘Good. Well, the Protestant work ethic is pure Hesiod.’

             ‘Hesiod was a Protestant?’

              ‘Absolutely,’ Henry nodded with that grave deliberation indicating he was having fun.

             ‘I didn’t know that,’ Martha pondered this new information. ‘At school I learned about Socrates and hemlock,’ she decided to risk.

             ‘Hesiod is pre-Socratic.’

             ‘And yet he’s a Protestant?’


            ‘I don’t get that.’

             ‘Do you think present times are degenerate in comparison to a past golden age?’

            This caused Martha to take her eyes off the squid bucket and look at Henry’s intent, mischievous face reflectively. ‘I sometimes have a gut feeling that things are coming kinda unstuck these days,’ she conceded at length.

              ‘Mankind has a golden, silver and iron age – in that order?’

             ‘I guess we all think that deep down.’

             ‘Then Hesiod’s your boy for things coming unstuck.’

             ‘So he’s important, right?’

            ‘He’s critical,’ Henry affirmed for her. ‘Final question!’ and my companion poet was not quite able to hide his smirk, ‘Do you like the poetry of Robert Frost?’

             ‘Of course! Frost is a great poet. He is taught at school.’

             ‘Frost’s poetry could not have existed had there been no Hesiod.’

              Martha’s brow furrowed at this connection. ‘I don’t get that either.’

             ‘Poets of a present age learn to speak by taking in the speech of poets from an earlier age.  It is a process identical with how infants learn to speak by absorbing the speech of their parents. Frost is a pastoral poet because Hesiod established the territory of pastoral poetry.’

             ‘That’s kinda neat.’

             ‘It is very neat indeed,’ Henry trumped.

            ‘I thought Frost was a pastoral poet because he liked writing about his farm,’ I ventured to check the progress of the lesson.

             ‘The farm was incidental,’ Henry could not disguise his smirk. ‘The farm was inert without earlier text to animate its possibilities of meaning.’

             ‘I guess this Hesiod must have been quite some guy,’ declared Martha.

             ‘He was,’ said Henry. ‘For instance he advised people not to urinate where the sun can see you.’

             ‘I can see that makes sense,’ Martha the plumber nodded, willing to be taken along now, for all that the information came at such headlong pace.

             ‘Hesiod discouraged people from telling lies simply for the sake of making talk….’

             ‘Ri-ight,’ Martha was not sure how this one related to being a poet.

              ‘…Which is to say’ Henry continued headlong, ‘we have a poet at the dawn of poetry who understood the pathology of people who get nervous in conversation.’

             ‘I get nervous like that,’ Martha brightened at the recognition. ‘I get kinda muddled and blurt, and then falsehoods come out.’

              ‘Exactly,’ Henry clinched. ‘Hesiod also said that sometimes a day can be your stepmother. And sometimes a day can be your mother.’

            ‘I think that one just gets me confused,’ she decided. Nonetheless I could see she was intrigued by the proposition.

            ‘So you see, Hesiod tackles the gut issues,’ Henry summed up. ‘You must read Hesiod at your earliest opportunity.’

            ‘I guess I’ll do that.’

            She had been distracted entirely from the squid-bucket now. So had I.  And once again Henry had performed according to his genius. He had taken the substance of books and brought it to thrilling life. Yes, I would re-read Hesiod at the earliest opportunity, now that print on a page was somehow made vibrant, as the blades of light scintillant on the sea beside us, as the gleam of the squid in their galvanized bucket.

            We strolled the waterfront. Henry moved us from Hesiod to Heraclitus and the pre-Socratics. Thales, with his view that the underlying substance of reality was water, was a plumber’s gift that Henry did not neglect to present to Martha. We took an early dinner of moussaka and retsina at a waterside café, walked some more in order to tackle Pythagoras, then parted, Martha to her tent at a campsite, Henry and I to the small, cement-smelling room. In the morning the three of us met again at the same café and when it came time to catch the Athens train Martha again requested she be allowed to tag along.

            ‘I’m kinda more curious than lonesome now,’ she said.

            ‘There’s ground to cover,’ Henry welcomed her along, and in Martha I recognized, we had a Henry Luck project in view.  From it I would gain an insight into the purity of his altruism.


Maria Takolander

Maria Takolander’s poetry, fiction and essays have been widely published. She is the author of a book of poems, Ghostly Subjects(Salt, 2009), which was shortlisted for a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award in 2010. She is also the winner of the 2010 Australian Book Review Short Story Competition. She is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies and Creative Writing at Deakin University in Geelong.



Night has settled through the house like silt. My bedroom is as dark as my nursery memory of it, as dark as my child brain, which is only beginning to build an image of the world inside my skull cave. The plaster walls are what I remember the most, although I think of them not in terms of paint colour or wall paper but only in terms of their hidden chalkiness and how they persist in the shadows. I remember, too, the framed cavity where the door hangs open to the darkness of the hallway, and the draped space where the window is allowed to exist untroubled by day. I remember nothing about the furnishings, although I assume—or is this a memory?—that in the room there is a foam mattress and bedclothes colourless as the walls. And I assume that I am on that bed, too, although I cannot see myself or feel myself on it. It is as if I do not exist in the world. It is as if I am like the shadows. But I know that I exist because I know that, out there, beyond my bedroom door, something terrible is happening.

            My sister, barefoot in her synthetic, pale-pink nighty, appears in my room, body-real and dangerous, urging me to leave with her, to come and help, even though I am not really there, even though I will never want anything less. Are there words for this child-whispering, for the flesh-and-blood crumbs she holds out to me, compelling me to come out of hiding, to cross the threshold into witnessing and remembering?

            Sometimes I think that the memory belongs to her and that she gave it to me, like a birthday cake, at a later time. But I must own this memory in some original way because I remember the warmth of her hand. I feel how her nylon nighty hides electricity as she leads me down the hallway, dense with night. And I see how the floorboards and wall in the hallway ahead, outside the entranceway to the lounge room, are striped by the streetlight entering through the Venetian blinds. I find myself remembering that, on some other night, strange men with shaved heads and tight jeans had gathered on the street outside the lounge room in packs and that a brown bottle had crashed through the window, tangling in the still-broken blinds. Another evening in the lounge room, abruptly littered with gifts, I had unwrapped a tin of colouring pencils next to the white figure of a tree fit for a storm.

            At the end of the hallway, past the striped light, there is a bedroom with its door ajar, behind which there appears to be a movie screening. I can tell by the yellow light streaming through the crack of the door and the loud voices and the skin noise that it is an adult movie, not a movie I want to see, not like the one about Mary Poppins, who has a friend—the smiling chimney sweep—and an umbrella like a lollipop with which to steal me away into the spangled night.

My sister, in her synthetic, pale-pink nighty, moves down the hallway towards the bedroom, pulling me behind her. When she reaches the bedroom door, with the vertical stripe of yellow light beaming along the door jamb and the movie playing inside turned suddenly quiet, she lets go of my hand. I watch as she touches the painted surface of the door with her fingertips. Then, from my position behind her night-gowned body and her outstretched arm, as the electric light, like radiation, floods her face, I look at what she is looking at. And I see what is on.

            There is a naked light bulb and a mirror, gilded and tricky, on the wall above a double bed that has a threadbare, purple coverlet. And there is a man kneeling on the rumpled, purple coverlet with his back to me. The blonde hair on the back of his head, which I can see directly in the bright room, is matted, and his face, which I can see in the shining space of the mirror, is flattened. His fists, which I look at in the glinting mirror and then in the luminous room, are clenched by his sides.

            My sister, standing in the frame of the door in front of me, lit up like a shard of glass by the sun, says something. She opens her lips and makes a sound. She says his name. She says it in a voice so small that it could be me who is saying it.

            The man turns, the yellow light bulb setting his face aglow. He is in the room, and he is in the mirror. He looks strange: empty or full. I wonder if there is a man behind his eyes. I am afraid, but he does not see me among the shadows. He looks at my sister in her pink nighty and in her skin, and she glimmers and burns while he flares and blazes like a fire lapped by the wind. When his mouth opens, he roars and leaps from the bed. The light is shattering.

            The door slams shut.

            I see a gush of air puff my sister’s hair and nightgown, and then suddenly there is my face and body cast like the living into the ashes of the night. I am aware of my skin and the way it covers my flesh and bones and of something else—strange, jagged and quiet—embedded within. But only after I glimpse, in all that razing light, a woman’s body—adult words: torso, arms, legs—on the purple coverlet, and a white, cotton nightgown—private word, child word: nighty, nighty—ripped on the floor.


Afternoon has settled through the house like a ghost of the day. I am older—just a little—and this is a room that I remember. I have hidden under the bed with the threadbare, purple coverlet, lying on my stomach on the dust-covered floorboards, feet to the headboard and the wall. The mirror, I know, is hanging above there, its depths swallowing light, but it helps that I cannot see it and that it cannot see me.

            What I can see, straight ahead of me, are the tapered, timber legs at the end of the bed, and the dangling, ragged fringes of the purple coverlet. I can also see the fourth and last drawer of a timber-laminated dressing table that occupies the wall at the foot of the bed. One of the handles on the bottom drawer is missing, and although I do not like the bronze shapeliness of the one that is there, I dislike even more the two, dark screw-holes in the timber where the handle was once attached. Between the bed and the dressing table is a stretch of clean floor, but beneath the dressing table is dust, so still, like a held breath, that the mirror cannot see it. There are maroon curtains to the right, hovering just above the varnished boards, with dust hidden beneath them, too, and a tall cupboard to the left, which is made of heavy timber and has doors that do not properly close. The hallway is also to the left, and I can see its emptiness through the open bedroom door.

            I am not alone. I have, clenched in my arms, squashed between my body and the floor, a toy clown. It is as big as me and so floppy in its limbs and neck that it might be broken. The fabric is felt-like and yellow-coloured where there is skin. It has yellow wool for hair, and its eyebrows and mouth are made from white sausage-shaped pieces of material. It has crosses in the place of eyes, sewn in inch-long, blue, woolen stitches, and it is clothed in a jumpsuit, which is fastened to its body at the ankles, wrists and neck and made from flannel patterned with images of children’s blocks, each with letters of the alphabet.

            The clown feels misshapen and fragile tangled beneath my body and in my crossed arms, but I am trying not to move, and I believe, in any case, that I will not be waiting here long. I breathe lightly through my nose so as not to disturb the yellow wool of the clown’s hair, which sticks out through my arms, or the dust on the floor in front of my face. I watch the vacant hallway through the frame of the open door.

            I have since been told—perhaps after looking at a photograph album, in which I remember seeing a badly lit image of myself on a vinyl kitchen chair with the clown in my arms—that I carried the clown everywhere with me as a child, until the day its head broke away from its torso and clots of wadding started to fall out. I know that the toy was pressed, as I slept one night, into one of the plastic bins crowded with shapeless rubbish bags in the dark, narrow yard at the side of the house. But I can remember having the toy clown with me only one other time.

            I was squatting with my sister in the backyard in the shadow of the grey paling fence. The grass there was lush and long. There were crickets, black and sleek, clinging to the blades of grass, and cobwebs packed in the crevices of the old fence like stuffing. I had my clown with me, bunched under one of my arms. My sister had her clown with her, too. We were listening to three children, older than both of us, playing on a trampoline on the other side of the fence. I remember that I wanted to look at them and that I wanted them to look at me, with a desire I felt in my crouched body as if it had been invaded by a stranger, reckless and ready to be unmasked. But climbing the fence was my sister’s idea.

            Standing next to her, with my toes on the middle rail of the fence and my fingers curled over the splintered wood of the top rail, I held my silence. My clown hung beside me, one of its yellow, fabric hands trapped between my hand and the rough timber of the fence. My sister had her clown with her, too, folded under her left arm. She peered over the ragged edges of the palings. I raised myself on my toes and peered over, too.

            I saw three dark-haired and bare-footed children on a trampoline in an otherwise empty backyard that looked much like ours. There was a fat girl, curled into a ball in the centre of the trampoline mat, and two boys, who were older than her. They were trying to make her bounce. The girl saw me and sat up. Her brothers then stopped and looked. They said things in a language I did not understand, but I recognised the slow smile on the girl’s face and the boys’ too-loud laughter, and I was glad that the worn fence was there, marking the edges of the known world. I climbed back down, and my sister climbed down after me. As I stood on the cool grass, holding the hand of my clown, there was nothing to be said. I remember the feeling of loneliness that comes with shame, that I looked to the dark windows of my house, but there my memory fails.

            My memory of the day that I lay under the bed with the purple coverlet, with my clown tucked in my arms, is clearer. I am waiting for my sister to come home from her first day at school.

            The hallway remains empty. The dust beneath the dressing table in front of me does not move. I look at the two, dark screw-holes in the veneered timber of the bottom drawer, where the bronze handle is missing. I think about the mirror on the wall above the bed, and I find that I am suddenly unsure.

            Should my sister be home by now? I no longer understand why I came to hide under the bed. Do I want my sister to come looking for me, or am I afraid that she will?

I hold the clown tightly and keep still, but I feel that I have been robbed of something, as if the mirror had been looking at me all this time after all.


The morning arrives with a dusky silence. With my sister, I walk down the hallway, past the empty lounge room with the damaged Venetian blinds, to the bedroom at the end. The maroon curtains are still drawn, the mirror, in the dimness, is closed onto itself, and the bed with the purple coverlet is unmade. The knotted fringes of the coverlet trail on the naked floorboards, and in the murkiness of the room they look like the legs of so many large spiders, all dead.

            I do not know what time it is, but I have been going to school for some months now—my sister for more than a year—and I understand what I have to do. I begin to get dressed. There is enough light coming through the curtain parting to enable me to see what I am doing. In the tall cupboard with the doors that cannot close, I find the short slip-dress with the blue swirling pattern, like marble, which I especially like, and a pair of white shoes. My sister chooses an orange dress with buttons. On the dressing table, there is a tube of lipstick, a bottle of mascara, a compact with three colours of eye-shadow—green, blue-green and blue—and a small round mirror with a retractable silver stand. I do not look at the dark mirror on the wall behind.

            Before I leave for school, my sister makes us both lunch in the kitchen, buttering four slices of black bread, which she pulls out of the plastic bag left on the table. I put my sandwich in my handbag. We leave the house, my sister making sure to close the front door behind us, and walk down the driveway. We pass the line of khaki-coloured succulents, which seep pus when the leaves snap, and turn onto the cement footpath. As we walk past our neighbour’s house, a squat woman in a smock, with curlers in her netted hair, rushes out from behind a screen door and across her front lawn. She grabs me by my wrist and my sister by her forearm. She looks at me as if I have forgotten something.

            And it is true that I have, for while I remember what happened that morning, I remember little of the preceding night. I assume, for instance, that there was a drive home from the hospital along streets fire-lit by headlights. I should be able to remember the private feeling of being in the backseat of the car in my dressing gown and, when I got home, the glow of the porch light and the sound of scoria under the tyres. Did I click on the bear-shaped night light on the floor next to my mattress when I got back into bed? Did I ask my sister to sleep with me then?

            But I remember nothing of the events that occurred after—or before—I saw the woman on a trolley, its wheels dark as ash and uneasy on the vinyl floor, disappear down the yawing hallway under the fluorescent lights of the hospital corridor, and the man with the blonde hair re-enter the waiting room, looking at the wall.


Maria Freij translates poems by Lars Gustafsson

Lars Gustafsson (born May 17, 1936) is a Swedish, poet, novelist and scholar. He was born in Västerås, completed his secondary education at the Västerås gymnasium and continued to Uppsala University; he received his Licentiate degree in 1960 and was awarded his Ph.D. in Theoretical Philosophy in 1978. He lived in Austin, Texas until 2003, and has recently returned to Sweden. He served as a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, where he taught Philosophy and Creative Writing, until May 2006, when he retired. Gustafsson is one of the most prolific Swedish writers since August Strindberg. Since the late 1950s he has produced a voluminous flow of poetry, novels, short stories, critical essays, and editorials. He is also an example of a Swedish writer who has gained international recognition with literary awards such as the Prix International Charles Veillon des Essais in 1983, the Heinrich Steffens Preis in 1986, Una Vita per la Litteratura in 1989, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for poetry in 1994, and several others.


Nyårskantat år 2007

In med tenorerna i höga lägen, pukslag!
Snabb övergång från ess-moll till C-dur!

Champagnekorkarna som lättar

är som änderna som flyger upp ur vassen
skrämda utav kyrkklockor och ångbåtsvisslor

Jag har aldrig förstått varför man firar nyår
Mig skrämmer de rejält

på samma sätt som morgnar skrämmer
med sitt kalla ljus. De vill för mycket.

Varje år som vi har upplevt
var en gång ett nyår.

Vad är skillnaden emellan framtid
och förfluten tid? Ingen vet.

Vad väntar oss strax bakom hörnet?
Krig, pest och annat fanskap? Eller Eden?

Ej kan vanans nötta läxa
Evigt repas upp igen

skrev en aktad kollega,
herr Tegnér, år 1813.

Jaså kan den inte det?
Hur kan man vara så säker på det?
Vissa dagar kan man undra.

Får man skriva så i en kantat?
Det är nog fel. Kantaten är beställd.

Beställaren är optimist.
Vi antar det i alla fall.
Hans yrke kräver det.

In med tenorerna
i höga lägen, pukslag,
snabb övergång till C-dur!

Vet: denna match är inte avgjord än.
Slutsignalen dröjer.
Minuter och sekunder!

Visst finns här plats för någon överraskning.
Visst gör det så!

Sensationsmål  i sista sekunden!
Ett sådant där som ändrar hela läget!

Och i det mellanrummet,
i en hårfin spricka mellan tid och tid

där allt är möjligt, önskar jag er lycka till.
Mellan ”inte än” och ”strax”

hörs nu tydligt ljudet av
en kork som lycklig lämnar flaskan.


New Year’s Canto year 2007

In with the tenors’ high notes, kettle-drumbeats!
Quick transition from E flat minor to C major!

The champagne corks taking flight are the wild ducks dashing out of the reeds
frightened by church bells and steam-boat whistles

I have never understood why they celebrate new years They scare me soundly

in the same way that mornings scare with their cold light. They want too much.
Every year we have known was once a new year.

What is the difference between future
and past time? No one knows.

What awaits us around the corner?
War, pestilence and other damned nuisance? Or Eden?

The worn lesson of habit cannot
Eternally be unravelled

wrote an esteemed colleague,
Mr Tegnér, in 1813.

Oh, can it not?
How can we be so sure?
Some days make you wonder.

Can you really write that in a canto?
It is probably wrong. The canto is commissioned.

The commissioner is an optimist.
We assume so at least.
His profession demands it.

In with the tenors’ high notes, kettle-drumbeats,
quick transition to C major!

Know this: this match is not yet decided.
The final whistle is delayed.
Minutes and seconds!

Of course there is room for some surprise.
Of course there is!

A last-minute sensational goal!
One of those that change everything!

And in that interspace
in the thin rift between time and time

where everything is possible, I wish you good luck.
Between “not yet” and “soon”

the clear sound can now be heard of
a cork happily leaving the bottle.


De första
är mörka fästningar

som byggdes av furstar
i en längesedan bortglömd tid.

De ligger tätt intill varandra
och kastar långa skuggor,

landet omkring dem är en platt
och svårförsvarad våtmark.

De är byggda av en stenart
som ingen tid kan söndervittra

och alla de andra är byar
som hukar runtomkring dem.

Sedan blir de allt sällsyntare:

man måste rida länge över stora slätter
för att se ännu en vid horisonten.

Sanningen är att de blir allt färre
på sin väg emot de ofattbara djupen

Och doktor Riemanns skugga står
onaturligt hög och varnande

i en oändlig solnedgång


The Prime Numbers

The first are dark fortresses
built by princes

in a long-forgotten time.
They lie close together and throw long shadows,

the land around them is flat
and hard-to-defend wetlands.

They are built from a variety of stone
that no time can crumble away

and all the others are villages
crouching around them.

Then they become more rare:

you have to ride across vast plains
to see yet another on the horizon.

Truth is, they grow far fewer
on their way toward the unfathomable depths

And doctor Riemann’s shadow stands
unnaturally tall and cautionary

in an infinite sunset



Sjöar utan öar
har inte mycket att säga.
De ligger där på sin plats.

detta Mellansveriges bleka emaljöga
skulle då kunna tjäna som exempel.
Exempel på vad?
På sig själv, naturligtvis.


Sverige, somrarnas ljumma regnland
med tydlig doft av allt som
murknar, ruttnar, flagnar
De gamla ensamma husen i skogen
sjunker långsamt in i sig själva
och ett mossigt äppelträd
försöker berätta, men
kommer sig inte riktigt för
att komma ut med sanningen.
Berätta om vad?
Sanningen, som är alltför förskräcklig.

I somrarnas milda regnland
blir det inte så mycket över att säga.
Hörendesjön  inåtvänd.
Och sedan mörkret,
en våt och ljummen mur.
Vi signalerar över sjön
med våra alltför svaga lampor.
”Och sedan mörkret”

Logonauten lyssnade uppmärksamt.
Och kommenterade sedan
på sitt stillsamma sätt:
”Den som har stora mörka rum
inom sig, mörka som potatiskällare,
mörka som rummet mellan galaxerna,
känner sällan mörkrädsla.”


The Lakes

Lakes without islands
do not have much to say.
They lie in their place.

Lake Vänern
this the pale glass eye of middle Sweden
could thus be an example.
An example of what?
Of itself, of course.


Sweden, the land of warm summer rain
with a palpable scent of everything that
decays, rots, peals
The old lonely houses in the forest
slowly sink into themselves
and a mossy apple tree
tries to tell, but
cannot really bring itself
to tell the truth.
To tell what?
The truth, which is too terrible.
In the land of warm summer rain
there is not much left to say.
Lake Hörende turned inside itself. And then the darkness,
a wet and warm wall.
We signal over the lake
with our too-weak lamps.
“And then the darkness”

The logonaut listened carefully.
And then commented
in his quiet way: “He who has large dark rooms
inside himself, dark as potato cellars,
dark as the room between the galaxies,
is seldom afraid of the dark.”


En försommardag vid Björn Nilssons grav

(Midsommar 2005)

Väster Våla kyrkogård i försommarljuset
och med den vänliga sydvästvind över

Bruslings ängar som måste ha rått
den milda förmiddag på sextiotalet

när vi uppfann Monstret i Bo Gryta.
Monstret var en jättemal, och vi behövde den

för att ha något att skriva om i Expressen.
(Det var en av dessa  förargliga veckor

när inget vill hända,

världshistorien tvekar eller grubblar
på hur nästa verkligt taskiga överraskning

skall se ut och ingen stjärna hade brutit benet.)

Bo Gryta är ett djuphål i Åmänningen.
Man hittar det någon kilometer utanför

Bodarnes och Vretarnas byar, på en linje
mellan den gamla Bodahamnen, där vraket

efter en i åskby kantrad och sjunken malmjakt
skall ligga men ingen vet var, och Tandläkarudden.

Hur djupt detta djuphål är? Ingen vet.
Mången har försökt med lod och lina.

Och när linan kom upp, avbiten
lika elegant som av en rakkniv

eller kättingen de prövade i stället
lika blank och prydlig i snittet

efter vad som väl bara kunde vara
mycket stora tänder, gav man

upp försöken. Christopher Middleton
beskrev dem i sin dikt ”The Mole”.

Det blev förvisso verkningsfullt,
för ett par somrar senare kom en busslast

av engelsmän, excentriker och experter
på djupa sjöars monster. De lodade

och antecknade. Per Brusling bjöd på kaffe,
nu en äldre man som vet en del om sjön.

Över Björn Nilssons grav går sommarvinden.
Och jag fruktar att jag är den ende nu som vet

hur det egentligen gick till.

Expeditionen återvände
djupt övertygad att denna jättemal,

inte bara jättelik och illasinnad,

också är slug, mycket slug
och vet att gömma sig i dunkla djup

närhelst det kommer någon dit
som söker den.


An early Summer’s Day by Björn Nilsson’s Grave

(Midsummer 2005)

Väster Våla graveyard in the early summer light
and with the kind south-westerly over

Bruslings meadows that must have blown
on this mild morning in the sixties

when we invented the Monster of Bo Gryta.
The Monster was a giant catfish and we needed it

to have something to write about in Expressen.
(It was one of those annoying weeks

where nothing happens,

world history hesitates or deliberates
over what the next really crude surprise

will be and no star had broken a leg.)

Bo Gryta is a deep hole in Åmänningen.
You will find it about a kilometer outside

the villages of Bodarne and Vretarna, on a line
between the old Boda harbour, where the wreck

of an in a thunderstorm turned and sunken iron ore carrier
supposedly lies but no one knows where, and Tandläkarudden.

How deep this deep hole is? No one knows.
Many have tried by lead and line.

And when the line came up, bitten off
as elegantly as by a barber’s knife

or the chain they tried instead
as neat and tidy in its incision

after what surely could only be
very large teeth, they gave

up trying. Christopher Middleton
described them in his poem “The Mole”.

It was certainly effective,
for a couple of summers later a busload

of Englishmen, eccentrics and experts
of deep lakes’ monsters. They leaded

and noted. Per Brusling made them coffee,
now an older man who knows something of the lake.

Over Björn Nilsson’s grave, the summer wind blows now.
And I fear that I am the only one who now knows

what really happened.

The expedition returned
deeply convinced that this giant catfish,

not just monstrous and ill-spirited,

is also shrewd, very shrewd
and knows it must hide in dusky depths

whenever someone comes to seek it.


Ouyang Yu translates three poems by Shu Cai

Born in 1965, in Fenghua, Zhejiang, Shu Cai was originally Chen Shucai. He graduated with a BA in French literature from the Department of French Language and Literature, Beijing Foreign Languages University in 1987. From 1990 to 1994, he worked as a diplomat in the Chinese Embassy in Senega and has since been working as a research fellow in Foreign Literature Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He won the Medal of Academic Palm Knight in France in 2008. His publications include such collections of poetry as Solitaire (China, 1997) and Short Poems by Shu Cai (Hong Kong, 2004) and his translations of French literature include A Selection of Poems by Pierre Reverdy (China, 2002), Selected Poems by René Char (China, 2002), Selected Poems by Nine French Poets (Shanghai, 2009).





















About death
What can the living say
And the dead just
Wouldn’t say

‘Look, no one can avoid
my measuring up!’
That may be what
God of Death wants to say

The dead have died with resolution
And the living, still living punctiliously
The greatest puzzlement remaining
That of being born and having to die


Hai Zi Forever

A friend, heart filled with water, has travelled far from home
A friend, walking as he looks towards the far fire, has travelled far from home
A friend, murmuring the names of his loved ones, has travelled far from home…
He has since gone into hiding deep in his undying heart

His eyes, stopped, are like two holes on the ridge of a field
His name, his pain, in which the face of his previous life changes
The bad news, spreading across the land along the railway…
So many are saved for that!

Brother, you have not fallen, and we are still on our knees
Our native home so richly abundant you can’t keep tasting it
Our fields so fertile bones turn up when you dig them…
How can you so ruthlessly grind time to pieces?

Your early dreams will definitely be realized, and because of that
You’ve got to trust me with the road behind you. Like you
I love the body temperature in labour, flowers and grasses in the eruption of the mud…
I am alive, but I’ll keep being so till the end

When you died, the legend has it, you looked well
Like the sun whose blood rose in another direction in blood
Your pain already scattered in the enclosed words
He who trembles in the touch will be happy for the rest of his life!



Tonight, a pair of eyes in the sky
Kind, honest, brimful with sadness!
Tonight, the pair of eyes speak to me: Son,
Cry, cry and be strong!

For long, I watch the eyes
That look like the skies
Unlike the dew or grapes
No, but they look like the skies!

Unstoppable tears make me glitter
The May night makes me glitter
Everything so distant
But the distant is something that I can never forget the rest of my life

Wherever they are
The eyes, wherever they are, are like the skies
For every day I stand under the skies
I can feel the light coming from Mother



Ouyang Yu came to Australia in early 1991 and has since published 55 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, literary translation and literary criticism in the English and Chinese languages. He also edits Australia’s only Chinese literary journal, Otherland (since 1995). His noted books include his award-winning novel, The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), his collections of poetry, Songs of the Last Chinese Poet (1997) and New and Selected Poems (Salt Publishing, 2004), his translations in Chinese, The Female Eunuch (1991) and The Man Who Loved Children (1998), and his book of literary criticism, Chinese in Australian Fiction: 1888-1988 (Cambria Press, 2008). The English Class (Transit Lounge), has been named as one of the Best Books of 2010 in Australian Book Review and The Age as well as the Sydney Morning Herald. His third English novel, Loose: a Wild History, is forthcoming with Wakefield Press in 2011, which, together with his first English novel, The Easter Slope Chronicle, will form the Yellow Town Trilogy. His latest book of poetry, titled, White and Yu, was released in April 2010 by PressPress. He is now based in Melbourne.


Priya Sarukkai Chabria translates Aandaal

Aandaal, ஆண்டாள், an 8th century Tamil mystic poet followed the poetic conventions of her time by requesting monsoon clouds to act as messenger to her love, the God of the Universe. Besides the literal meaning, each verse embeds parallel and inset meanings that are left to the reader to discover. Simultaneous shifts in meaning dynamize each verse into a literary trompe l’oeil. The following are translations from Naachiar Tirumozhi, a poem of 143 verses that belongs to an erotic genre of spiritual verse, not favoured by conservative Tamil Vaishnavites.


from The Sacred Songs of the Lady 

Song 8: Dark Rain Clouds Be My Messengers


Dark cloud roof unfurling beneath
           the roof of the covering sky
Do you herald the coming of my lord Tirumal from high
                    Venkata hill where the bright waterfall plunge?
My tears, luminous, stream between the full
           hills of my breasts
I am not to weep; yet he makes me break my vow,
           how does this honour him?

Vast curly vault veiling
the sky’s   star drizzled dome

Does your darkness hide
his gleaming     darkness    from which shimmer

into my body’s wet valleys?

I weep, forsaking secrecy.
How could my coursing silver illumine his glory?

My love
vast   star-filled

in separation.
Still I flow
a stream lightening –struck

to  lustrate
see my glory


Monsoon clouds you spread across
           the sky, slash
it raining torrents, you shake the honey-heavy blossoms
           of Vengadam and scatter scented petals.
Go tell the dark lord who killed the demon Hiranya
           ripping him with paws of  fury
that he has robbed me of my bangles.
                     He must return them to me now!

Dark clouds you enlarge in anger, growl and roll
across the skies rending it open

with rain, lightning bolts; you tear
flowers, spill honey, petals clot like blood on earth.

Go to the fiercest lord who plunged his claws in Hiranya roaring,
mane tossing as his bloody paws ripped insides out

tell him: I’ve grown thin with longing, bangles slip from wrists!’
He must heal me with his touch


engorged with anger

nails extending you kill

plunging wrists in


these very hands I seek

to caress me

gather my swollen ripeness in



spilling nectar

my body’s blood flower bursts



In his avatar as Kurma, submerged tortoise, he supported
           the churning of the star –milk ocean awash
with gems; cosmic treasures bubbled out.  Descend
           clouds, down to the lotus feet of  Vengadam’s lord  and lay
there my surrender. Fragrant saffron paste covers
           my breasts — that must be wipe
on him; he must embrace
           me if only for a day or I waste away.

Splendid the Milky Way spreads
spinning constellations plucked from its depths shimmer

as the great churning begins — before
Time begins.  Lotus eyed Nayarana, the Eternal

One caused this to be. Dive deep clouds and lay
me at his crimsoned feet. Tell him of my

surrender; tell him to wash my body’s scarlet longing
for just today else I die.

Time’s great ocean, each second, each eternity

churn away my adornments
churn my body’s milk
churn me red

from my ocean
churn out my truest self.
Let me rise to you my love
or let me die

Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator. Her publications include Dialogues and Other Poems (2005) reprint (2006) and Not Springtime Yet (2008)

Sarukkai-Chabria edits the website Talking Poetry and edited the anthology 50 Poets 50 Poems. Recipient of Senior Fellowship to Outstanding Artists from the Indian government, she has worked with the Rasa Theory of Aesthetics, co-founded a film society Friends of the Archive and collaborated with classical dancer Malavika Sarukkai. She has been invited to The Writer’s Center, UK; ‘Alphabet City’, Canada; Frankfurt Book Fair etc. and many literary festivals in India.  Her work is published in numerous international journals and websites, and anthologized. She is translating works of eighth century Tamil mystic poet Aandaal; writing a travelogue and a story collection; all three books are to be published in 2011.


Susan Fealy reviews Colombine by Jennifer Harrison

Colombine, New & Selected Poems

by Jennifer Harrison

ISBN 9781876044657

Black Pepper Press


Reviewed by SUSAN FEALY



For Jennifer Harrison, discovery occurs through play with language and in Colombine, New & Selected Poems we see a dialectic stance to her investigations.
The tensions of mind/body, freedom/constraint and the lyric ‘I’ /modern awareness of its language medium appear in a variety of metaphoric guises.

In ‘The Wheel’, from her first collection, Michelangelo’s Prisoners, the poem introduces us to a body that has been impinged upon by medical science:

Under the tongue, after meals
the little pill melts. A mongrel dog
infects an embryo with its indolent lick.

We can bear it we say. Look now
at the human genome, a shiny new ship
emerging from the dock.

The body has been infiltrated by a mind that is ‘ambitious’ and seeking ‘a perfect pot’ but which, in its very certainty, may change what is inherently a soft, organic substance. It is tempting to see this as metaphor for Harrison’s poetic. Her erudite interest in the mind’s processes and in language (the medium of her perceptions) conflicts with a sense of being that is fluid and disrupted by such investigation. How the creative process mediates the two is seen in her work. As a psychiatrist, she is attuned not only to her mind’s processes, but to those of others. She gives us many languages by speaking through the lens of others; languages wrought by a rare attunement to the multiplicities of perception.

‘Aus-lan’ is a poem of intimate encounter with the mind of another. It is also a celebration of a transmission of mind that seems to reduce the gap between mind and body experience more so than spoken language:

I hear a quiet voice in my hands
in the silence when I am speaking 

and foam, rubber, snow and glycerine
seem softer in the fingering span

than spoken words falling short of what they name.

This poem’s celebration of the mind’s different ways of knowing is also a comment about how direct in-the-moment experience through the senses is attenuated and distanced by language. Yet, in the same poem, with a magician’s hand, she offers us in words a child’s pre-language experience:

I once saw a baby catching sunlight in his hands—
everywhere the child touched
he laughed at what he could not touch

until language wheeled his pram away
and he learned that silhouettes and sun
were called chair and where.

Different languages for suffering, how it is shaped and wrought by the mind and body, are explored with astute and compassionate insight in Michelangelo’s Prisoners. We see in ‘Hysterical Blindness’ a code for surviving trauma where:

Her eyes punch back memory
as though what has happened

happens only if you look.

This is contrasted on the next page with ‘Amok-runner’s Mother’, a monologue of a mother perplexed by the violent gaze of the media and by its images of the victim’s female relatives. She survives the distress of her son’s killing spree by making him and his victims the ceaseless subject of painful rumination while protecting herself from the full, violent separation of his loss:

…No solace
and still I call his murders—mine.
I leave sound on
for emptiness, too, is a violent companion.

In ‘Cancer Poem’, language’s multiplicities and apparent freedom offer solace from the painful bondage to a body scarred by breast cancer:

Need no one. Need words that are
shuffled for comfort, meanings that multiply
defying the rudderless air.

A refusal to be pinned by male aesthetic portrayals of women, and investing in the creative process and its constant movement seem means of resilience in ‘Michelangelo’s Prisoners’:

She will look her father in the eye
a clear gaze which travels into his
so that he remembers Florence
where Michelangelo
left his prisoners unfinished
to state with impossible perfection\
that it is not the anguish of the chiselled stone
which matters.
It is the standing-still which kills.

Poems selected from Cabramatta/Cudmirrah take the reader on a road journey where Harrison is uneasily distant from, and somewhat repelled by a return to her childhood suburb of Cabramatta where ‘furry dice swing’, ‘my grandmother serves tea on a plastic cloth’, and ‘ceramic ducks fly by trifecta on the wall/ the plastic roses smell of tripe’.

The road shapes this sequence; we are moved through the rub of the real as Harrison revisits the suburb where as a teenager she breathed roadie culture. Memory fragments of men and adolescent boys are charged with danger and animal physicality: ‘I saw a man decapitated by the guard-rail and from the corner of my eye I watched/ a bikie gang called the rats, each a silver-studded/dirty-jeaned, black booted grizzly/ gulping beer as they lounged over petrol tanks/like they were shiny young bulls’.

The road also conveys the flattening predictability of suburbs where ‘your car’s a burrow’ and where ‘this road flattens/sterilizes everything—an efficient /movement of cartilage, stretch of vocal cord/even the wind can’t alter the pitch of its voice’. The road as metaphor allows the poet’s engine–mind to become the subject of its own travel:

travelling now for years
without arriving at the place you left
you can’t arrive because it’s gone
and possibly did not exist…

Towards the end of the poem, the poet finds an uneasy identification with the ignition of the engine, the attention-seeking car and the rhythm of the ride. All seem akin to the journey of making a poem. The final repetition of the jingle underlines her control as driverpoet as she evokes, yet drives away from, a world where little has changed:

the minute you put a key
in the ignition
a word on a page
you feel the engine strip down…

and the rhythm of your words
finds you pronouncing what you know:
it’s King John here calling for a copy
you flick I’ll switch
go down Brother Butch
go down Brother Butch
go sweet

Harrison is literally closer to her childhood in the selection from Cudmirrah: up close and intimate, as opposed to distant and travelling through. She stays to investigate the subtle detail in the micro-world of rockpools, examines sea creatures and her memories of foraging in the sea. In its formlessness and random offering of tiny treasures the sea seems a metaphor for the unconscious mind. All this is the opposite of the predictable and crass she finds in the suburbs, as is her intimate memories of childhood conversations with her grandmother, and Moss Wickham, a childhood mentor and gypsy of sorts. Her investigations often include her fascination with adult perception and memory. In ‘Rockpools Referred To and Illustrated’ she nestles in the lull of rockpools:

I lie between backshore
and foreshore (as though between
the pages of a scarcely remembered
oceanography book)

The shells of her childhood are recalled through a culturally referenced lens that is afloat with her adult love of language such that words, like shells, become celebrated things of fascination:

And tapestry cockles
with vestments of Florence
(oceanic scribbled faces
anti waistcoats from Portugal
lips from a brothel…

Her stream of consciousness leads to the insight that the rockpools ‘are boring now’. The poem ends with the somewhat clichéd ‘It depends what you see when you look’.

An investigation into how her childhood imagination (with its story making and language play) is its own fecund journey away from, yet also representing, the primitive world of the body is found in ‘Electra’:

      …I dream
flat on my back, as an animal does, and
hundreds of kingfish swim in fertile pairs
gliding over wrecks where gold coins
dance in the fists of statues

Poems selected from Dear B, her third collection, comprise a long sequence titled ‘Boston Poems’, likely written sometime prior to the publication of her first collection. These poems are often memoir fragments, accessible and immediately affecting. For example, in ‘Diary, Boston, October 1190–June 1991’:

I ask questions
but more arrive
later when I’m at home
alone in the dark with my cells

There is also a long sequence of ‘poems as letters’ each titled ‘Dear B.’ This collection has been named by some reviewers as her weakest, yet Dear B was short listed in the poetry category for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, the ACT Book of the Year Award and The Age Book of the Year Award. The loose narrative coherence around the themes of suffering and survival, the particularity of place, and the raw pain of the cancer poems likely made it distinctive.

Sometimes poets find the perfect container to hold the content of their poem and sometimes, even more rarely, a perfect container across a whole collection is found. Folly & Grief is a dazzling example of the latter. Its blurb describes the collection as ‘beauty under pressure’, a descriptor that captures something of what good poetry is: distilled emotion and tensions held by the precision of word-music, line and form. The definition acknowledges that effort is exerted to effect this balance.

The street performer motif is perfect for Harrison in so many ways: it showcases her strengths of mental agility and capacity for acute, humane observation of other people. It is also a rich way to explore her ‘looking over her own shoulder’ self-awareness. As poet, she is observer/mirror/audience and performer. The street performer motif allows examination of language as the purveyor of human truths and its slippery, shiny, fabulous capacity for play, artifice and disguise.

This selection from Folly & Grief omits the longer, more meditative poems. We are treated to an exotic, glittering, array of lively characters and beautiful artefacts presented with precise, imagist language and occasional flashes into the surreal. The poems are in free verse and almost all of those included have the precision of a regular stanza structure. Harrison’s cultural erudition, her considerable experience as world traveller and her interest in how language’s multiplicities offer freedom, inner travel and play all come together within the street performer motif. The success of this collection lies in the way that the poems’ polish, energy and agility match that of their subjects.

‘Funambulist’, the first poem contains in microcosm many of elements of this collection. Harrison seems closely identified with this tightrope walker, whose task is not to touch for pleasure, but rather to locate the performer within a structure and design: ‘we have touched only the details of maps’. It is a place of work, and perhaps of self-prescribed healing. The funambulist carries:

a black cat, a peacock, a box of rain,
a streak of lightning,

a ladder, a pipe, a coffin, a fan,
a pumpkin, a skull, a book of law.

The list of words evokes the sensual quality of real objects, as well as their symbolic, mythic, magical properties. Harrison’s list focuses on language’s mutability; on its capacity to carry the weight of our mortality and its magical ability to transcend it. As this poem progresses its sings increasingly within each line with alliteration and assonance, taps with end rhyme, and momentum carries like a roll call into battle:

and a globe, a bag of nails, a carton of crème,
a rolypoly of doves.
I carry the city, the cleft mirror,
the faked fight of the fist on the drum.

The final, resonant ‘the faked fight of the fist on the drum’, evokes the control and tension of art’s balance between violent inner impulses and order.

In ‘Hand, Chainsaw And Head’, Harrison balances mothering her soon-bored children with her entrancement in a juggler’s ‘steady touch’ of ‘ a macabre salad’ of ‘chainsaw, a rubber hand and plastic head’. Then, like the performing artists, she too is travelling (driving her children home). She observes, with consummate skill as poet, how nature is both a quiet performer (‘A star drags the ceiling of a cloud’) and an observer: ‘Wanting to be entertained, the landscape leans in—watching’. As the jugglerdriver, she is alert to how close safety is to menace as laden lorries ‘sweep past like mescaline thunder’ and inner demons may lurk inside ‘The gossip of a child asleep’. This poem’s long-lined tercets balance the quiet tensions, the three things juggled and the three main players (Unfortunately, due to editorial problems, the effect is a little marred by one stanza losing its three-line structure.)

It is no great surprise to see that Harrison’s tighter lines and regular stanza structures in Folly & Grief progress to even greater use of form in her new collection. Nor does it come as a surprise that there are two long themed sequences; they appear in her earlier collections Dear B and Cabramatta/ Cudmirrah. The second sequence, ‘Colombine’ centres on the major female character from Commedia Dell Arte. She is the wife of Pierrot and the lover of Harlequin.

Colombine’s story is structured, almost mannered, by twelveline poems divided into three quatrains. Each poem is linked with the next; a phrase from the proceeding poem becomes the title of each successive poem. The container melds with the cultural artifice of Colombine herself and is the starting point to investigate her. How do you understand someone who is both a mask and a woman? You have to inhabit her form and contours: you have to inhabit her bones.

In the first poem, Colombine tells us ‘ I’m a body/frost-stilled to the form of twig, eyelash, grass—all is outline’. Harrison explores how it is possible to be a woman yet also be all artifice, all mask, all a purveyor of the culture she travels through, yet reflecting some the deepest desires of her audience: this is the role of the performance artist.

Colombine’s raison d’etre is disguise, artifice and vagrancy: she lives outside of any community, yet she is also defined by her roles of wife and lover. This love triangle seems represented in the three-stanza structure.

Colombine is not bound to any community or place: she is always moving through. Thus, the Colombine lens refracts via contrast something about how human identity is woven to person, place and community. It is an ambitious, complex work: at times obscure, often achingly beautiful and often moving, because Colombine is a woman; she is replete with desire. She experiences longing, and deep distressing loss as she lives some of the myths and stories from history. They are reborn in her.

Colombine’s story starts with her birth and progresses linearly through time; story fragments are lived and suffered, but over the years, just as a mask and glitter are hard, she also hardens. Colombine’s curlicue and ornate language of artifice (what else could it be?) is replete with metaphor and symbol, and often tied to historica, mythic fragments. We learn of her husband Pierrot’s aesthetic purity: ‘He sleeps immaculately in the dark, bathed in glow/like winter branches under snow’. He is ‘the shadow who wastes between the shroud and the angel’ and ‘In him, there is too much whiteness—too much absence’. She accepts his gift of a Chinese bowl: sensuous, erotically charged, elegant, fragile: cracked yet still whole:

Long-tailed birds wash their feathers against
the bowl’s celadon hip. It has washed against me
like a cuttlefish; like the precious amethyst of a bishop’s ring.
It’s cut my heart with its shimmer, its flaws of skin—

I am sunk into the drowned flower of its sex,
hurt by the crack, licked by the lip; the rim copper bound.

The apparent cost of drinking from it, is to suckle and then lose her infant daughter to the plague. Named ‘Genevieve, /‘white wave’’, she becomes, like the child’s father, out of the reach of Colombine’s desire. With a shocking, self-empowering action she severs her breast ‘the sense I loved best: its tickle/ beneath Pierrot’s thumb—its milky amaranth’. This action and its consequences evoke the self-blinding of Oedipus, and the singing of Orpheus. She ‘fashions a new breast from wool’ and embroiders it with scenes from her porcelain bowl. Unlike freer Orphic singing, her destiny is to harden progressively: ‘she is gravel collected’.

Colombine remains elusive, but as a performer of stories she carries the possibilities for her rebirth and survival. As Colombine exits, Harrison as story teller returns something of the private woman behind the mask:

…She tells a story already told.
Elsewhere she might be whole. In her story. Not here.

Poems encountered in any new and selected invite a measuring of each against the others: some as stand-alone are obscure and lean towards prose. Yet, ‘Colombine’ as a sequence is a remarkable, original achievement and is worthy of being extended and published as a single volume. When ‘Colombine’ stands alone her resistance to easy meanings can be better understood on her own terms.

Harrison’s poetic concerns are somewhat encapsulated in ‘Fugue’ a sequence of seven pantoums (within the larger section titled ‘Fugue’). The form of the pantoum seems organic yet integrates an ancient cultural heritage. It provides a kind of endless recurrence, waves that both bring in and take out, and so the form is ideally suited to elegy and memory. The repeated lines bring greater musicality. The greater constraint, and perhaps the organic form of the pantoum, give rise here to simpler language which is at times unusually outspoken. Comment about asylum seekers, and sexual relationships among some male prisoners in Changi are found here. There are also pantoums in which colour and symbol drift memories of emotionally complex nuance from her childhood.

Her recurring interest in place is found in the ‘Fugue’ section. Harrison is located within her family while journeying locally and abroad. These poems seem confident, at ease, closely observed, playful, at times even humorous. The rubber hand juggled in Folly & Grief and perhaps a mannered Colombine are re-found with softer edges in ‘Busker And Chihuahua, Chapel Street’:

and his white Chihuahua elegantly avoiding all eyes—
disdainful as a mannequin to out-mannequin God.

The poem ends on the image of the busker’s glove ‘tossed on a pale blue blanket/like a hand begging all alone on the sea’.

In Colombine, New & Selected Poems, themes and characters recur and within some new poems, lines repeat as part of the form. In its entirety, this volume is somewhat like the sea itself. Where will Harrison travel next? Perhaps her process will be like that of the roadside potter, ‘pushing each cup to the point of destruction’—with all the grit and glitter of Colombine herself.


SUSAN FEALY is a writer and clinical psychologist who lives in Melbourne. She is the winner of the 2010 Henry Kendall Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared  The Best Australian Poems 2009 and The Best Australian Poems 2010.


Phillip Ellis reviews Swallow by Claire Potter

Click Here to Buy - Swallow


by Claire Potter

5 Islands Press

ISBN 978-0-7340-4159-3




There is a thing called midnight, within which we may awaken and listen to the sounds of the night that are heightened by the darkness. And we may remember that one of the functions of poetry is to heighten, not so much the sounds but other aspects of our lives and world through sound, to the point that they seem not only unfamiliar but new. This is the sort of effect that Claire Potter’s Swallow has for me, as it develops itself from the opening piece, “La Haine des Fleurs” to its last, “A While”. And this is an effect that is, for me at least, welcome and worth understanding further. So that the awakening to the world which happens, as a result, and when it happens, is understood and prepared for. And the whole is an orchestrated awakening of our insight into the world, through a set of images that appear, disappear, and reappear through the poem: swallows, bees, and so forth. I say poem, rather than poems, because Swallow is a livre composé, the book of poems whose whole comprises a single poem, that formed created by the Symbolists and introduced into Australian poetry with Christopher Brennan’s Poems. So it helps to dip into Swallow, keeping that point in our awareness, and to understand something of its pleasures, and its need for a wider audience.

H. P. Lovecraft defined art as an “elegant amusement.” By this he meant the role that pleasure plays in the effects of a piece of art or poetry. Swallow, like all great poetry, delivers much. The following lines, from the second section of “La Haine des Fleurs”, are immensely pleasurable

and stars
and storm lightning
and a stranger who opines neither to stay nor to leave
but squat inside an acorn tree within the gravity
of a feathered cape

Likewise, the opening line of “Glass Bead Meadow”, “Into a curved field of grass,” is also immensely pleasurable; the whole of Swallow is marked by these flashes and passages where pleasure is invoked and made memorable.

Yet the rest of the poem is not measurably weaker: the whole of Swallow is of a uniform standard, with no pieces being real failures. There is no sense, as there is with Brennan’s Poems, of a piece having been written solely to find a place in some predetermined scheme. There are, that is, no poems forced into place; everything reads as if it fits naturally and easily into the whole, and the design of the whole poem diffuses to a point of almost transparency. This is testament to the skill and ability of Claire Potter, both technically, and in terms of the wider sense of the poem’s ethos and narrative lines. And the end result is a poem that is unmistakably an almost perfect poem; for example, the first strophe of “Highest Tree” reads:

she fell
from the sable carton box
into which she had been

The weakest line of this strophe, and of this piece, is that fourth line — “wrapped” — which remains a strong line despite that. The weak ending of the previous line, with the almost sour note with the break between the auxiliary verbs, and the adjective on the following line, is actually strengthened through the firm sounds of the consonants in “wrapped” in a word that essentially puns on “rapt” as well, widening the effect of the lines. The result, that is, is no bum note. The effects of lines and passages like these, as a result, involve risk, risk in language and risk in technique. Claire Potter takes those risks, and, as a result of her strong editorial work on the poems, she succeeds.

Yet I wrote that Swallow was an “almost perfect poem:” there is no real chiaroscuro among the poems. The register of “A While”, the last piece of the poem, is essentially identical to “La Haine des Fleurs”, and all of the other poems between. And it is this lack of contrasts in the tone of Swallow that effectively prevents it from being perfect: in this aspect, the fact that this is Claire Potter’s first full-length collection becomes apparent, so that, while there is much to commend the poem for, there is still an area where work needs to be done, and where improvement can be made. While it may be said that the uniformity of tone does strengthen the poem, helping to lend to it a strong sense of unity, it does, rather, lend a uniformity that effectively prevents Swallow from exploring more than a narrow register of emotions.

That said, having read Swallow no less than five times, and having dipped into individual pieces, I can say with certainty that it rewards rereading. The poem, like all great texts, is capable of being found to be richer each time we return to it, and this is a clear mark that this is great poetry. Each time I have read it, I have found my understanding of the poem’s meanings and structure becoming fuller, so that what I experience each time is a poem that means more to me, and that means more through me as well. I cannot read the opening lines of “Ladies of the Canon” —

Far from where antique cycads sleep
I wonder about nests in a circular park
wonder how the downy baskets creep
through vines and weedy bulrushes
wonder how a nest might float
carrying five speckled pledges under midnight’s coat
 wonder how a bird might cheat
and drink its music from the canon

— without experiencing the same sort of frisson that I receive from great music. The effects of the rhymes and the departures from them, at the start of this poem, is part of that, and it magnifies the pleasure to be found in these lines and in the piece as a whole.

While my emphasis, here, has been on pleasure, there is more than just this aspect to Claire Potter’s poem. Swallow is pleasurable, yes — we can see it in such lines and passages as “fire-flies and other insects webb-wagged from the air” (from “As Regarding Rhythm”) or “a pear takes shape” from “Promethean Fruit”, or the following passage from “A Truth in Lilies”

              We mark our descent
from the secretly divine to the scarcely arrived
              with lashings of pollen

But there is more than just pleasure to this poem. There is a very strong, and very real, engagement with the outer world, whether it be the world of cycads and parks, as cycads and parks, that we find in “Ladies of the Canon”, or the world of language, as in the poems of Judith Wright that also underlie this same piece. When we are aware of the allusions, whether they be covert or overt (for example, in the “drunken boats” of “An Asra Bird”, or the Asra bird of the piece’s title, for example), we can read the poem’s relations to other texts. And in this way it is no different from other poems. The whole, in a sense, alludes to the wider worlds around it, in such a way that, once read, a change has been effected, and we look at the world and ourselves in new ways. It is not that the wider world has been changed, but our perception of it has, and this is one of the major functions of great art.

There are many things which should give us pleasure: poetry is one of them. And the poetry of Claire Potter, in Swallow gives quite a large degree of pleasure. This is in large part due to the uniformity of excellence among the pieces. As stated, there are no real failures among the pieces, and the end result of this is a poem that does not fail as a result, or which is less of a qualified success than other, similar poems. Yet there is no real sense of breadth of tone among the pieces; this is, accordingly, the only major weakness of the poem as a whole, and I hope that it will be remedied as Ms Potter progresses as a poet. In addition, the fact that Swallow rewards repeated readings, and that it also changes our perceptions of the worlds that it engages with, enables us to argue that Swallow is not only a strongly pleasurable poem, but that it deserves a wide circle of readers, because its insights and pleasures are both strong and lasting. My poetic world, as a result, has become wider and richer, and I hope that Ms Potter will develop into a strong and important part of the Australian poetry scene, even if I judge solely from several readings of Swallow alone. There is much to commend here, and there is much that is worthy of both praise and our time. Let us then remember Swallow, and allow it to remain a strong and essential part of our poetry reading, lest we become impoverished as a result of neglecting its clear and present pleasures.