All Events: Poetry

Chlorine

in the changing rooms, what are you? you, wet and warm in muscle, you open-eared behind

cubicles, finally safe from aqua profunda and a fear of limbs seizing and drowning, dialling for more hot water from the shower timer.

 

it’s a slow collapse into the steam

or maybe it’s as simple as the pleasure of skin and the taste of tap water

or how breasts compare by the lockers the way they dive from chests.

 

in the changing rooms, what are you doing? looking through mirrors

unpacking infinite thighs the reflection of your body

loosening like segments pulled from an orange.

 

dipping body, a heron-head pulling up knickers over knees, rolls of belly fat pressed into legs

it is OK to admire how you are always a new type of fish, a vertebrate with a

broken neck when damp and slipping into jeans

 

To be invisible, bliss. Slicking a still wet finger along clavicle like gathering sugar

twisting hair above the nape your bones, the big bang

in new clothes, mirror mist.

Origin

Earworms of Road to Gundagai and Qantas advertising

make something snort within my gut, and retch

in that cultural cringing way you get in piazzas of Naples

when you hear the accent cut through air like chemtrails on blue sky,

Barbecue sauce for the pizza, mate? Or when in Turkish towns

a grieving young man takes umbrage at history and sings, loud 

and tuneless, that other Waltzing Matilda, about being shot 

to hell, and camera-clad blokes take him aside and say 

Not on mate and the young man cries 

about his great-grandad, though the Turkish guide is gracious.

 

Long-time apologia for whiteness and no apology

to this invaded land of my birth and its beginning peoples, 

only three of them at school. My friend Tarnie became 

one helluva basketballer and she works in welfare now, 

one was that boy who kissed me then left town with his parents

and played footy like a boss. But one ended up in gaol for murder 

where she made art exhibits about loss for civic buildings, 

as though that would make it all ok. They gave me something I saw again 

in Alice and the Kimberley, Katherine and Adelaide, and Awabakal land

where I first heard a true name given. But I don’t know them. 

 

My contemporaries were Guidos and Vitos 

Marias and Annas and not so milky-white

I wasn’t a Karen or a Sharon or a Deborah or a Susan

like the other freckled girls with plaits of honeyed straw,

I was between those places of belonging and rack off, 

familiar and foreign, native and alien, fitting in 

and odd as a wrongfooted shoe. It’s not where I began. 

If you ask a chemist in New Farm or a nail artist in Hawthorne 

or a bank teller in Cottesloe or a tourist on the Opera House steps, 

they’d likely say I look the part; I sound like I’m at home. 

 

If you ask me, here, now, I’d say, but without aplomb, 

Yeah, it’s my country—but it’s not where I’m from.

Urban Birdsong

One’s still asleep

the other pounding over Harbour Bridge

in his new Christmas runners. 

I lean into right hip 

the way the physio warned 

was a bad habit and stare 

into morning: gifted 

like crinkled sheets 

of tissue paper, unfolding 

pale blue from open concertina doors.

 

A few optimistic fruit flies 

hover over scraps spilt from the pedal bin. 

Stretching squeal, screech 

of trucks, train, and cars, distant 

shout, honking horns, maybe a siren 

but only me 

before this open balcony. 

Faint scent of Frangipanni 

on the breeze softens last night’s remnants 

of fried onion.       A cabbage moth 

meanders over trees

settles briefly on blossom and green 

then floats across another canvas. 

 

Yap of dog in nearby courtyard

           traffic chopper

           somewhere, a pneumatic drill

creak of upstairs floorboards

neighbour’s turning faucets, boiling water

beginning or ending things. 

But it’s all out there

beyond doors, streets, clouds. 

Glint and clatter simply background 

to my solitary moments sipping tea

and breathing start of day.

From Small Beginnings

Beginning with the smallest sign, a tiny wisp that seems benign,

the embryo of devastation glows,

till embers stir to spread, ignite, as suddenly they flare alight,

to catch the scrub with vicious seeds it sows.

The smoky tendrils feed the flame determined to release and claim

surrounding vegetation parched by drought,

then in a trice the tussock burns as southern wind whips up and turns,

and panicked wildlife tries to struggle out.

For soon enough it breaks its ranks to make its mark and breach the banks

of riverbeds drained dry through constant sun,

and hurtling over baked terrain it infiltrates the blistered plain,

a ruthless monster freed and on the run.

The conflagration swiftly grows as southern wind whips up and blows;

the blaze seems filled with incandescent rage.

The undergrowth explodes and cracks, as standing on the dusty tracks,

we battle on determined to assuage.

We’ve stood to face such flames of hell – have felt their heat, inhaled their smell,

have witnessed mates succumb and breathe their last

while fighting wild frenetic beasts the devil’s aminions have released

and knowing rest won’t come until they’ve passed.

When finally the thunder’s heard and drops of rain mean hope is stirred,

we cheer, as far above the heavens quake.

As night falls on an eerie scene obscured by ash with sights obscene,

we count the cost of ruin in their wake.

A few weeks later, sweet relief as sprouting leaves help soothe our grief –

a new beginning bringing faith again.

Yet still we sometimes question why we do not listen and apply

more wisdom from our country’s native men.

Beginning in the smallest way, these fiery foes devour their prey,

deliver heights of horror none transcends.

We cannot underestimate their faculty to desolate…

for ultimate destruction’s how it ends.

Teacher

How late our lives have moored up side by side.

I, in my seventies, you, in your eighties;

a coming together of deep accord.

My world is suddenly richer

as the power of your giving

fires up ambition in me

I thought was dead.

As you present your wealth of gathered facts

to eager learners,

I watch and notice 

rather than listen,

feel rather than hear,

marvel at the mystery

of such a small woman

holding so much knowledge,

such erudition.

 

You have declared me your assistant.

I am puffed with purpose as

layers of myself I thought depleted

have plumped up again.

In quiet times I think of you

presenting in your retro chic,

me carrying your equipment

to your car afterwards

as you munch on a biscuit

scooped up from the morning tea table

on your way out.

As I hug you 

crumbs fall on my shirt front, and yours,

and this slender new alliance

hums with potential.

The Field

Once I stood in a field very far from the city and said – 

Your will, not mine  

as if I was a believer. 

 

The sun beamed down with its strong, almost blinding light. 

I felt it on my back, stroking me, 

then enveloping me 

 

like a blanket of dandelions and daisies so that I fell 

to the ground, almost swooned 

as if drunk or dazed, and into

 

a long deep sleep that lasted probably no more than a minute. 

But when I woke, I’d let go, 

I’d surrendered. I rose up

 

and knew I’d stopped fighting my fate. I was able to breathe, 

all the tightness and tension had gone 

as if someone had come and lifted it 

 

from my shoulders, moved it through me to the grass and the ground, 

through my feet, my fingers. 

I walked back to the house 

 

where we were staying, my family who’d brought me there 

but who were somewhat like strangers. 

I said nothing, of course, of what had happened 

 

for my family are skeptical of anything that sounds close to God. 

So I held the sense of peace 

that had come over me 

 

like a prayer, and returned to the city, resolved. 

Mangoes & elephant bones

How do we make elephants bones our origin? We pluck them from basements between late night projections when we linger on the outskirts of friendships for decades. These are our museums, our artifacts. Singing Toto at the top of our lungs, so loud you miss the plane out of Melbourne. This despite, our blessing. How an email stuff-up becomes a hell yeah. See baby, I’m rushing out the door to buy us slurpies – thinking, which leather couch would look better in our living room? Thinking, we’ll have to get rid of your double, or at least move it into the spare room. Thinking, how many candles is too many before we burn down the bedroom? Thinking, I couldn’t give a stuff who’s looking through our windows. Thinking, we’re tea-light-shadow-flickering – we’re the hotness of infrared. God, I’m loving a blister in its proximity to a memory. I want to light every candle until my thumbs bleed. Thinking, should I tell my dogs that you’re they’re new mumma? Thinking, Sydney would be different, this time – wouldn’t it? We’d have art hanging from our ceilings, gold vases for houseplants & velvet sheets for slick bodies. Our life: dinner parties so lush they’d call us living terrariums. See how we grow inside of one another, perpetually. Just two rubber duckies bruising on the dance floor – all black-clad like the locals, we’re smirking, tonight, through flash point – the fem-punk trio hurling, don’t call me a good girl. Like you, I’d be anything you want me to be. I’m slipping off this David Beckham bad cologne and manifesting a thousand film essays just to see you. See, how I’ve fallen for a lacklustre hotel room & and even an old housemate saying he’ll stab everybody, cause its kill or be killed. All these places, all these pieces – they’re our details. Our origins. Our late night museums, polished statues, our scriptures – no state line between us. Our memories, mutually domestic. On the street, I want to pin you against brick and suck the dry ice off your nipples, fresh as mango. Always, our home is right here, but a bed is never as convenient. Remember, how we cut those mangoes into pieces? Weren’t we homely? I want to hold that cut mango up – our golden lawn bowl, on the days before we knew – and see how its two halves make a whole. Make the shape of the moon in a space where stars didn’t fill.

Sacred Country

At a Goolmangar acreage on Wijabul/Wia-bul Country, a camphor-laurel

sun-faces. The sky’s lion speaks light day & night. Year-by-slow-year,

 

day-by-slow-day, growth rings seasonal stories about nearby trees – some

long-gone, some still present, all a community of devotion.

 

The owner, a carpenter, treads revolutions around the tree’s base.

Head bent in deference, his feet make maps on Country

 

& intuits camphora secrets: a chair, stool & archway are companions

& have waited eons to reach out & meet the gathered peoples.

 

He picks a ground-near branch as thick as three forearms

held together & as long as a cathedral spire. His fingers

 

circle the axe’s handle as questions of angle, curve, slice

& weight are considered. He slants the tool; it glints

 

the morning air. A deep cut reveals honey-rich hardwood.

Mystery guides this shaper’s fingers. A hand-plane back-pares

 

roughness; nails sing the hammer’s down-swing.

Timber glows in stacks on the work bench. Inside each length,

 

the grain beats & flows more than the tree has ever known.

This resonance laces new patterns, new stories to tell,

 

legends that bind earthly matters to those not of this world.

The wood-carver arranges a steam box: a cooking-pot with a coat-

 

hanger across the inside. These wires elevate the wood as the steam

of change bends the lengths to archway curves. Later the beams,

 

plinth & other pieces are blocked together as one deified piece.

In the church, the woodworker & others install the archway,

 

hammer in the final cogs. A bow of light, deities, devotees

& devils enter this building on Sacred Country.

 

All this gathered wood resonates with the great old stories

too – every action, every utterance a benediction.

 

Dust motes like half-remembered sins float the yellow air.

Also a passage of departure, the deities & devotees leave,

 

but fallen angels, even with wings folded tight,

cannot. For now, they’ll pray in silence.

 

Will recollecting this knowledge from their ancient

ways activate reverence on Sacred Country?

Xenos

Your poems make me feel like a refugee

cut off from my homeland by some nondescript disaster.

 

The start of some new war, perhaps?

The ending of another?

 

I wonder if it matters – either way, the way is shut. 

Now I must raise my children from this plot of bloody ochre.

 

Can you make a house a home

if you stole the land it stands on?

 

I promise I’ll be grateful – God knows I have no choice.

We’ve all seen what they do to those who don’t agree to grovel.

 

My son will learn your alphabet; I’ll shoulder your traditions.

I’ll make my customs edible and highly photogenic.

 

I’ll be a model citizen, and tolerate your tolerance – 

I’m sure we’ll learn to rub along just fine. 

 

But every time I read about your eucalypts and flyscreens

and see you waxing lyrical for some suburban memory

 

I hear my spirit whispering:

This is not my land.

 

We know I’ll never show it; there is no greater trespass here

than flinching from the fingers of the hand that gave you succour.

Recoiling means inviting down a hail of flagellation

the punishment reserved for the different and ungrateful.

 

And then the final knockout – my family inheritance:

Why don’t you go back to where you came from?

 

But home is not a place we left. 

It’s something we were ripped from.  

 

Chiselled off its surface

by the batterings of fate. 

 

And how like you, to misconstrue my apathy as hatred

as though I have to love a thing to comprehend its purpose.

 

I know the words are music, but the meaning is beyond me;

You pulled them from a story I will never understand.

 

Because you are not my people.

And this is not my land.

Personal Best

She sabcos the floor with the babies on it

sitting amongst the saucepan lids and cake tins.

She moves them round as if sweeping them up

they love the ride and the ruckus

as she slides them across the floor until

a wet patch puts the brakes on. 

Lids bang on pots as she

muscles her way through the chore.

It’s a happy tin can slum of a kitchen floor

the early prototype of a ball pit.

Soon they’ll go down for a sleep

when she can sit outside and roll

a ciggy, relax while hubby’s

at work greasing the Jesus cap

on the copter rotors at Hawkers then

drives home using the egg shell method

to survive the petrol shortage.

Later she’ll watch them sitting in the sandpit

like small loaves leavened by fresh air.

They are ripples under her skin

itchy and breathless for food

at the end of the day and

she’s almost unhinged with fatigue.

Her home is a tightly run ghetto of achievement.

She rings the bell at the end of another lap.

It’s not a record 

but like every other day

it’s a personal best.