2016 Australian Book Review States of Poetry – Listen to podcast here
3 points of recognition
Is the miracle that we can bear to see each other at all
that we do not freeze in the stark clarity of reflection or
spontaneously combust in the transient rapture of being?
One inexplicably melancholic lunch break
from a job she neither loves nor hates
a young woman (once the girl most likely)
enters a café and asks for her usual
(hazelnut latte extra shot full cream).
The barista, noticing some subtle change
in demeanor; the unset jaw perhaps or
a certain resignation in each breath and blink
refrains from their routine exchange,
forgoes the standard Rosetta
and in a tone suggesting more
than a welcome back to the hive
today I make for you this …
Now decades on eyes closed
she can still see the impossibly detailed
feathers feel the lick of flames in the tease
of an updraft.
Clancy at the door is saying yes
just like the poem he gets that a lot
and with his fresh shave strawberry
blonde curls and lilting accent
he knows he could be the poster boy
for Garda Síochána na hÉireann
or the reformation of priesthood.
His smile is solid as the equal armed
red cross embossed on his t shirt.
Once a clipboard and tin can man
did the job now it’s all ipads and
credit cards. He reminds each resident
in the carbon copy block
one in five report a symptom
of mental illness
and it all goes like clockwork
until one of them asks not unkindly
and yourself Clancy?
In the early hours of a near perfect autumn day
a gentle breeze rolling leaves between the houses
of a hushed suburb a woman stands in her driveway
car door ajar about to get in or having just got out
answering the upbeat jingle of her mobile
and a passer-by (let’s say a jogger) glancing over
notices the stiletto heels and thinks how?
when unexpectedly as if some bored director
flipped a switch the scene changes;
the woman’s mouth a slow motion opening
emits a strange guttural hurt animal sound
as she doubles over in the kind of pain
the jogger (who is now the witness) knows
from experience can only be the jagged firing
of the starter’s gun of grief.
The phone clamped to her ear now a lifeline
for as long as she doesn’t let go
for as long as she continues to keen
(3rd place in the 2018 ACU Poetry Prize)
(After a drawing by a pregnant woman on Christmas Island, who asked if her baby could be adopted by an Australian family)
It could be the same butcher paper I once drew on; bold out of proportion larger than life mostly happy-to-be-here Crayola child drawings. But it’s not is it? It’s detention issue paper. And you are not a child. You are with child. And you cannot be happy to be where you cannot be more than this; incarcerated self-portrait with foetus. Pencilled in grey. You draw yourselves into a birdcage. Angle your long hair at a sway. How much time do you spend rocking to sleep? Does your joyless face dream-smile? The umbilical cord reaches up, connecting to your valentine heart. Your unborn baby’s speech bubble begs for misspelt help because, like love, help is one of those words we should recognise before we translate, interpret, process. At the bottom of the page the outline of Australia. A cut out blank. The ignoble space and silence of it. Where your feet disappear. Correction, you have no feet. You have drawn yourself without feet. So we must ask the questions: What happens now? What happens next?
(First published in the anthology Writing to the Wire UWA Publishing 2016)
A note to the guest from housekeeping
(from Days Like These – new poems)
I remove all signs of the previous occupant. Both the crestfallen
and the overly pleased. This is my area of expertise. I restore innocence.
It is what I do. I scatter rose petals on the bed. Sometimes chocolates.
Place a complimentary bowl of fruit on the side table. A bottle of wine.
These are regulation. The heart shaped bonsai is my own creation.
My job is to make you feel like the first, the only guest the room has ever known.
I am no thief but admit to being easily distracted by the lure of all that is other:
The smudge of lipstick on a broken champagne glass.
A week’s wages in an unsealed envelope bearing the name of the doorman
or the other, prettier housekeeper.
The way you can spread out, take up the whole space with your freedom.
This tempts me most of all. It is why I start my shift early.
Why, if you enter the room before it is ready you might find me dreaming
in the unmade bed. Please close the door quietly behind you.
In my own way I too am boundless and just passing through.
On World Heart Day
I notice your scars more than usual –
life-saving stuck zippers.
I want to plant kisses
like votives along each one:
along the delicate ribbon of light
between your extroverted nipples,
along the scythe shaped slash
de-freckling your right calf.
Hospital flowers bloomed, petals fell
in the sterile-fresh air that day.
I wove endearments like chainmail
across the terrible divide
as miracle drugs fought to save you,
leaving demons in their wake.
Somewhere in your addled brain
a small piece of trust remained
and you gave it to me –
love’s indefatigable radar homing in.
That first night home we read
Postoperative Delirium over beer
and ice cream the way we once
read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
With no more to wish for we fell asleep
to the tick of your tin man heart.
But they cracked open your breast bone
and I cannot think too long on this.
The pressure it took. The precision.
The stillness of your heart and lungs.
The machine that breathed for you.
The one that brightened your blood.
And the tunnel, that anecdotal tunnel
you say you never saw coming
returning you to me like fortune,
my light-scarred Lazarus love.
(First published in The Level Crossing Dedalus Press Ireland and in Australian Book Review – States of Poetry 2016)
On entering the city of possibilities
(from City of Possibilities)
Cry a little. People expect it. It will show you are happy
to be there.
Reach out; touch all you can before it’s frowned upon,
before you are accused of appropriation
(any imprint you leave will have some historical value).
Learn the language. Learn how to speak it with your eyes,
with your hands. Lose your accent incrementally –
too slow and you’re not trying hard enough,
too fast and who do you think you are?
Experiment with suspension of disbelief as if
any city could be the city of possibilities.
Don’t forget to breathe.
Search for meaning. Briefly. It’s not worth the grief.
Turn your deep longing for something more into art,
into the opposite of neutral territory.
Fall apart. Pull yourself together. Fall apart. Don’t make
a habit of it.
Break all the rules but not all at once.
Remember you are just visiting. Try not to get too attached.
When you’re ready, come home. I’ve left a light burning
in the ruins.
(from the Last Tourist)
here is a weeping man standing his ground
before the giant tortoise
and anyone passing might think him noble
for clearly his heart aches
though it aches for every tortoise he has known
among his own kind
for those who carry on their backs
the shells of their fathers
into which they shrink
from daily disappointment
from the risks as necessary to love
as sun and moon are to life
for tortoise hearts like his
with their slow and steady beat
dreaming freedom is the bigger cage
and love will come to those who wait
Everything about us
Everything about us makes us strangers here. Out of place tourists waking into another Ramadan day. Into a culture we are privy to but not part of. A neighbourhood free from souvenirs, from brochures and itineraries. The taxi driver asks Why ? The memory-making of everyday living elsewhere is a blueprint for home. The call to prayer echoes across tiled rooftops, dipping and rising through alleys and stairwells. Our hosts invite us to celebrate Eid al-Fitr: the sugar feast, the sweet festival. But this morning and for seven days more their first meal of the day must be eaten before sunrise, sate them until sunset. We buy street food from vendors who smile at us curiously. Our cameras become dangerous pets questioning intent; tourists bring back photos, travellers bring back stories. But labels are blankets we hide under, revealing selective truths by torchlight. Empty beer bottles replicate like drones on the laminate bench top, then stop. We moderate. Abstain. Our bodies thank us. A new ethos sidles up to the old one, we let parts of it in – no more or less than we need. Children signal our unbelonging in hand-cupped whispers. The mosque’s blue domed minaret, zigzagged with gold is striking as lightning in a cloudless sky. Motorbikes and pedestrians move in practiced, haphazard synchronicity, suggesting accidents happen anyway, anywhere. Hijabs form part of the landscape – their colours and patterns individual as dreams. A woman and child cross the road slowly, a small sway over their journey’s end. As she bends to his level, the traffic adjusts itself around them. She kisses his left cheek, right cheek, then again – before watching him disappear through the school gates. And this is the familiar. The anchor I hold to. This gesture of loving separation. This unified prayer that all we see in our children will be seen. As we hand them over. As we let them go.
(First published in the anthologies Everything About Us 2016 Kuala Lumpur and We Society 2016 New Zealand and in Poetry Australia)
(from Begging the Question)
this is how it happens you are exactly who you think you are
someone who’s been around long enough to know the world
is spinning without needing to feel it when out of the blue
carbon copy day a young woman half skipping toward you
waving her long arms and shouting hey happy new year happy
solstice all piercings and dreadlocks when she gets close enough
she says sorry she thought you were someone else someone
she once knew someone named Arrow and all the rest of the way
home you wonder what freedoms a name like that a name like
Arrow might have meant for a woman like you perhaps a market stall
or self defence classes a degree in emotional intelligence hitch hiking
alone at night eyes like star charts amazon women warrior friends
dropping in for morning tea and all your dreams flying out like
arrows from the scar that marks the spot where a breast used to be
this is how it happens how you find yourself suddenly airborne
and spinning through that first tunnel of light