The past is all about us and within

We are delighted at the response to Issue 7 – Memoir. It’s our biggest yet with over 500 poems received from near and far: every continent represented, except for Antarctica and South America.

It’s very clear to us that women poets wanted to write and share poems for this Memoir issue that ‘resonate with the desire or compulsion to revisit, relive, interrogate, reinterpret, record and recreate the past’.

The provocation is consonant with the times we are living through. Poets used it as an opportunity to look back, to explore many different memories. A compelling trigger for reflection, speculation, reconciliation and closure but for some it led to uncomfortable, disturbing and challenging memories and often raw personal writing.

It was a great privilege to read the submissions and a very difficult task to narrow down the choices for publication. This is a weighty Issue in every sense. A very diverse collection of eighty poems that ranges from narratives to short lyrics in a variety of forms drawing upon direct experience and the transformative effect of poetry.

We want to thank sincerely every poet who submitted their poems to Issue 7 of Not Very Quiet.

We also want to acknowledge the poets who contributed audio recordings of readings of their poems and thank Melinda Smith who contributed a review article of collections by the four Canberra-based Not Very Quiet editors. Finally, we thank guest editor Anne Casey and feature artist Teena McCarthy for their substantial contributions to this issue.

Moya Pacey and Sandra Renew (founding editors)

The Homes of Others

I was static, the city moved.
It travelled beyond Worli blues, beep-beep news, smashed-now-proud-once cotton mills,
beyond the coccus-shaped prison where a butcher ate fictional biryanis.

For some, this land was Bollywood Dreams, for others it was Still Life.

Juggernauts terrorised jaywalkers, towers showed off Xuzhou crowns. Cuboids
were carved out of megaliths to be peddled by
erstwhile Miss Worlds;

a new realty soared over Nanometre Joshi Marg.

Sahana Ahmed

Listen to Sahana reading ‘The Homes of Others’ (0:43).

 

Sahana Ahmed is a fiction writer and poet based in Gurugram, India. She is the author of Combat Skirts (Juggernaut Books 2018 and Quignog 2018). Visit her online at www.sahanaahmed.com.

© text and audio 2020

Millennium

Remember when 1995 was shiny and new
everything unknown: five years before the millennium—
the magic year approaching fast, the one we’d all written
about in grade school: we’d ride hovercrafts to the mall and
we’d return the planet to full eco-balance complete
with restored forests and sleek modern buildings powered by
scent-less human excrement; toilets flush recycled water;
trash compressed into water resistant bookless libraries:
landfills eradicated while convenience multiplied.
When the odometer flipped 1996, 19-
97, 1998, closer to the magic
two and three zeroes, some still thought we’d flip to perfection
but many of us upon seeing the lack of unwheeled
levitating transport believed indicators pointed
to annihilation. Softly, softly, 1999
laughed at our canned food stacks, our computer backups and stored
hard drives, printed emails, bracing for the symbolic click
of the millennium. Quietly, 1999
tossed the storeroom key over with a stifled laugh.
The Gregorian calendar had no year zero.
The next day, once the champagne wore off and computers pinged
on bright as ever, we understood the joke, and ordered
another shipment of freeze-dried food for the next crisis.

Wendy BooydeGraaff

Listen to Wendy reading ‘Millennium’ (1:40)

Wendy BooydeGraaff holds a Master of Education degree from Grand Valley State University and a graduate certificate in children’s literature from Penn State. She is the author of Salad Pie, a children’s picture book published by Ripple Grove Press (2016). Her short fiction has been published in Across the Margin (2020), Oxford Magazine (2020) and Jellyfish Review (2020), and is forthcoming in NOON (2021).

© text and audio 2020

List of Illustrations

  1. Tomboy?

a. A pleated pale-yellow skirt stained with mud.

b. A frog collected from the floor of the forest in a
knitting machine box.

c. 2 small pale hands holding worms and flowers.

d. Pink plastic stable doors and blue plastic trains.

2. “You’re too much like a boy…”

a. High heeled shoes on a skateboard.

b. A stack of mixtapes.

c. Multiple ink drawings of Jean Grey.

d. A navy-blue cardigan covered in pastel pink paint.

3. “…You’ll never find a man”

a. Plastic platform stilettoes with cigarette trousers.

b. A tumble of nail varnishes piled into a box.

c. A wedding dress hanging in a pale hotel bedroom.

d. A list of birthdays pinned as a note on the fridge.

4. Who needs one?

a. A pile of purple hair snipped off on the salon floor.

b. A tattoo of the Rocky Mountains.

c. A Hawaiian shirt billowing over a mini dress.

d. A woman performing poems in front of an audience.

Siobhán Carroll

Siobhán Carroll is a queer writer and performer based in Edinburgh. She lives in Leith with 2 cats and a lot of books. She writes poetry, prose, and personal essays. She is an editor at trashheap and in normal times performs around Edinburgh and Scotland.

© 2020

On not having kids

Circa 1980

Anne M Carson

 

Anne M Carson’s poetry has been published internationally, and widely in Australia. Recent publications include Massaging Himmler: A Poetic Biography of Dr Felix Kersten (Hybrid 2019) and Two Green Parrots (Ginnindera Press 2019). She has initiated a number of poetry-led social justice projects, and is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at RMIT.

© 2020

Elegy For Me and My Mother

After Gregory Orr’s “A Litany”

I remember being fourteen,
sitting next to my mother’s hospital bed,
how close the thin bed sheet was to covering her head.
I remember reading The Odyssey
out loud to her to finish my homework.
In Book XI, Odysseus meets the ghost
of his mother, tries three times to hug her,
but his hands fall through her phantom form.
I remember my mother’s stomach, pregnant
with her own fluids.
I remember sharing Pad See Ew with my mom
because she was in hospice and could eat whatever she wanted.
I remember my mom’s voice diminishing,
her struggles to whisper.
I remember crying in the shower
so no one would hear me.
I remember my mom emaciated,
attached to a tube that drained her stomach.
I remember the hospice grief counselor handing me
a shoebox and a disposable camera for a memory box.
I remember it being Ash Wednesday,
a priest rubbing the dust of burnt palms on our heads.
I remember thinking it would save her.
I haven’t bent to receive ashes since.
I remember being fourteen,
kneeling next to my mother’s coffin,
not knowing where she went.

Teresa T. Chappell

Listen to Teresa reading ‘Elegy for Me and My Mother’ (1:31).

 

Teresa T. Chappell is a poet passionate about tethering the unseen onto the material. Her work has been published by Coffin Bell Journal (2019), Indie Blu(e) Publishing (2019), and Variant Literature (2020). Besides writing, her hobbies include: reading, eating, and swimming in the Long Island Sound.

© 2020

Slow Food

Fai passare due volte i pomodori
she tells me, connecting the heavy grinders of the food mill
with turquoise-ringed olive hands.
Dopo un po, passare la buccia di nuovo, poi buttala.
I nod and grunt, heaving against the weight
of another tray of tomatoes; sweat-damp, copper smeared.
I’ll leave you. Cri, buon lavoro.

The morning passes, in shaded relief from hammering sun
that tumbles through the walnut trees to the open door.
Deep pink flowers iridescent by the window
make me squint behind the screen,
tapped at by the brown hum of bees.
I wash tomatoes in solitude,
cut them in two;
sniff warily at soft ones –
Va bene
sing along to the radio,
and smile at the soft, squelching pat
of pomodori, landing
one by one in the pentola.

Only a quarter hour gives rise
to the warm, round sugo smell
seeping into corners,
hollowing my hungry stomach;
Mangiamo la pasta al pranzo,
Eh, Cri?
Then when the sugo cools, I’ll pass the skins.
The gratifying joy of oozing red pulp,
the perfume-fresh, warm smell
and emptied oranged skins snaking from the mill.

Poi passare due volte
and a chaos of crimson spatters
on my apron, my arms, the floor – white tiles, flecked red
and gold in juice
and I laugh as too-hot drops hit my calves and feet.

As I cut tomatoes, every summer,
leaning, gently aching, against the sink
I remember my anxious self in a younger year,
learning nouns – coltello, lavandino
transitives and verbs –
all for food; the language of cooking;
learning myself as tomatoes ripened, deepened, marinated,
learning what was enough – at the start of life.
Questioning certainties over hours
picking warm tomatoes until winter – then home:
to more questions.

It took till now
to learn the wisdom in patient cooking,
to learn what she told me with a bemused shrug;
this woman, questa Contadina –
her head stuffed like peppers
with literature, socialism, travel, four languages,
connecting them all to the supreme enough of a life
con le mane nella terra.

The gentle patience of sowing, growing, cutting, stewing
learning from bringing life forth,
growing children, reaping love,
taking your time,
wresting out each valuable drop of precious pomodor.

Waste not,
and take it home
to feed your whole life.

 

* Pass the tomato skins twice
* After a bit, pass them again, then throw them away
* Pasta for lunch, hey!
* This woman farmer
* With your hands in the earth

Chris Collins

 

Chris Collins is a Morris dancing, shanty singing, narrowboating English teacher who writes. Previous publications include ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’ (Enchanted Conversation 2019), ‘Beck in the Garden’ in From the Ashes (Animal Heart Press 2019) and ‘Out Damned Spot’ (Cephalopress 2020).

© 2020

My First Issue of Ms.

I was at Auckland Airport (why)?
It was the late ’70s (perhaps).
I needed (needed!) something to read
so I lobbed up at the news stand.

Unhopefully. But there it was.
The youngish guy who sold it me
said dolefully —
“There aren’t a lot of laughs.”

But as I said
when I wrote to them —
I get enough laughs already
stuffing a mushroom.

(Not that I ever had.
You understand.
Stuffed.
A mushroom.)

Ms. printed my letter
in the next issue.
I was stoked.
We used to write each other letters.

When I wrote to Spare Rib, Virago Press,
Doris Lessing, Shirley Hazzard,
and affixed the stamp,
they wrote back.

The sheet of quarto
rolled into the Remington,
(or Olivetti, mayhap)
the clattering, and at the end

of the line, the bell rings!
Then the envelope which
often went skewiff.
The fold, the stuff, the lick.

The taste of glue. (Fft fft.)
Doris wrote on flimsy blue
in fading biro slanting
across and down.

(Her missive turned up
under a feather
on my doorstep
which seemed apt.)

And Shirley wrote, elegantly,
of chaps she quite liked.

Jennifer Compton

 

Jennifer Compton lives in Melbourne and is a poet and playwright who also writes prose.

© 2020

In a section of the museum we find

the statues painted pink
the statues splashed with red
the now rainbow statues
the whingeing statues
the weeping statues
(“it’s so unfair” they say, those statues,
and write letters to editors
with thick granite pens)
the smashed statues
the graffitied statues
the unstatuesque statues
(reduced to rubble,
useful for the museum’s gardens)
the headless statues
the unconscionable statues
the unrecognisable statues
(only a few knew them before
they were revealed for what they were)
the submarine statues, scaring fish
the many moustached colonial statues
the statues who only looked at horizons
the statues dragged behind vehicles
(roads scholars, those statues)
frisky statues of horses with riders removed
and then we go outside
and picnic, on treed, statueless lawns.

PS Cottier

Listen to PS reading ‘In a section of the museum we find’ (1:13)

 

PS Cottier’s two latest poetry books are Monstrous (Interactive Press) and Utterly (Ginninderra Press).

© text and audio 2020

That Velvet Skirt

She could take our ideas and translate them –
make a pattern, find the right material –
even cut up her wedding dress, satiny, pearl-buttoned,
to deck us for our first communions.

That velvet skirt was the best though.
A haze, mist over the hills, skimming the toes
of my black boots, hinting at possibilities.
Looking forward but not quite sure where to go,

it took me East of Eden jig-a-jigging,
snogging at Redcar Jazz Club, swigging lager,
making an entrance at college parties,
took me sobbing on Leeds station.

In Roman times it took heaps of murex snails boiled up
to get just the right shade to edge a tunic.
But she found it – purple like the clove-scented stocks
she brings me ten years later when my daughter’s born.

The colour and the scent combine, become euphoria.
The old Singer wheel turning, her feet paddling
the treadle, reaming the bruised fabric through the needle,
stitches tight-packed into seams of love.

Ann Cuthbert

 

Ann Cuthbert lives in the north of England. She loves writing and performing poems, usually with the Tees Women Poets collective. Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies online and in print, including a poetry chapbook: Watching a Heron with Davey (Black Light Engine Room Press 2017).

© 2020

On Joy Hester’s late portraits of girls

Sun behind her on threadbare floor,
at thirty-seven, draw
girl and dog in ink,
a yearning, younger self
has dabs of nail polish pink,
girl and gold-washed hound,
peaceful on the (h)earth,
‘gainst the ground of brown.

And did dogged drawing of
Girl with Dog,
Girl with Goanna,
Girl with Hat and Far Away and
Girl with a comet tail,
dull the burn of radiotherapy?

Those Girl portraits
hung stark in the winter dark
and shuttered at Heide
from your view
through cigarette smoke and the
hubbub of Hester’s lovers and contemporaries
now streaming into the gallery
from the Field of Reeds.

Sally Denshire

Listen to Sally reading On Joy Hester’s late portraits of girls (1:20).

 

Sally Denshire PhD is an occasional poet living in Albury, NSW. Recent poetry at riparianalbury.com include The Chooks’ Poet (fourW twenty-seven New Writing 2016); after “Horses” (fourW twenty-eight New Writing 2017), Reading the Moths (fourW twenty-nine New Writing 2018) and High Above Beds of Seagrass (fourW thirty New Writing 2019).

Note: Joy Hester: Remember me celebrates 100 years since the birth of this significant Australian artist. Due to covid-19 restrictions this exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art is temporarily closed to the public at the time of writing. For updates see the Heide Museum website.

© text and audio 2020

Biology Homework

Still some red in her hair, my mum took me down
to the lough edge, always at home with leftovers

of empty shells, translating how they had once
lived, turning over unnoticed millennia in her hands.

Late August afternoon, Strangford cold hollowing
my back as we leant over pools, I was a reluctant

student, a little sick with first unlove, unmoved
by the rich seaweed that slipped into steely water

full of brittle stars, sea anemones; a menagerie
of creatures with Latin names she could still recite,

held sugar kelp across her arms like amber silk,
a gift for me that I wasn’t ready to wear. Bending

over, she wanted me to love her sweep of salty
exotica, from metal to opal to white at our feet –

Now, I want to go back, draped in sea-green,
arrange the sea aster, thrift, campion in her hair,

let her take all afternoon to lift each shell and tell
me its story, turn a mussel over to see an oil slick

of blue, its shape like a whale that swallows us
whole, call the strong tide of that place our own.

Olga Dermott-Bond

Listen to Olga reading ‘Biology Homework’ (1:36).

Olga Dermott-Bond is originally from Northern Ireland and lives in Warwickshire. She was the winner of the BBC Proms poetry competition in 2019 and her first pamphlet ‘apple, fallen’ was published by Against the Grain Press in March 2020. She is a teacher and has two daughters.
@olgadermott

© text and audio 2020

Chronicle of Lost Moments

Mrs. Dalloway said she would return the library book herself
had they even read the same book if books mirror the soul
then what sort of woman occupied her narrow bed
their connection had been close almost mystical
if not always harmonious lazy summer days by the lake
long winter nights reciting Shakespeare seemed a distant memory
Richard knew how to tend to her misgivings drag her out of dark moods
their love—or what passed for love—had seen her through many tempests
the fapping of flesh beneath the sheets, the averted glances
the weary sighs and queer day-to-dayness could not overbalance
the astonishing pleasantness of their extraordinary affection
a thunderclap and rungs of cold rain sent her dashing across the street
tucking the book beneath her mackintosh she ran under an awning
wiped her glasses with a small handkerchief then lit a cigarette
the book was blotted but not irrevocably still they would not take it back
better to leave it on a café table to dry and catch the eye of a passerby
she could purchase a copy of her own one she could pencil with marginalia
how many words could be written with a single pencil she wondered
before the end of its useful life a stub to be discarded in the trash
suddenly whelmed by a wave of despair the idea of abandoning
something felt very very dangerous she had forgotten the point of it all
she ashed the cigarette between the heel of her galosh and a wet cobble
hurled the book into the nearest puddle and walked out into the storm.

Lara Dolphin

Listen to Lara reading ‘Chronicle of Lost Moments’ (1:58)

 

Lara Dolphin lives in Pennsylvania. She is a recovering attorney, novice nurse, and full-time mother of four amazing kids. She is exhausted and elated most of the time.

© text and audio 2020

Leaving the First State Home I was Placed In

It isn’t Visitors’ Day, but my mother visits.
The matron takes me to her
in the room called Hatchlings, tells me
to make her be quiet or they’ll throw her out.
She’s standing among the rows of cots, rocking
herself and her baby, while a nurse sits smoking
by French windows, staring out at children playing.

My mother is holding my sister too tightly
and making noises that aren’t like talking.

She asks permission to walk in the grounds:
her voice a gravely croak, her cardigan snot-streaked
by my sister. In the sunshine, there are swings
to play on but we stay close, pretending to be happy
because the nurse is watching. Mum says
I abandoned my sister, but there were rules
about separating siblings and I am crying.

I tell her, if she stays, there will be fruitcake
because it’s Wednesday.

Holding my sister, my mother walks away
up the sloping drive towards the gate,
and I follow. Nobody sees us. Nobody stops her.
Behind me, children play on the climbing frame
where last week a boy broke his arm.
Girls are swinging across the suspended ladder,
their voices like bird calls filling the sky.

I don’t wave or shout goodbye; if I don’t hurry,
Mum will leave me behind.

Karen Downs-Barton

Listen to Karen reading ‘Leaving the First State Home I was Placed In’ (1:46).

 

Karen Downs-Barton is a neurodiverse poet from the Roma community. She is a Creative Writing Masters candidate at Bath Spa University, her manuscript exploring her experiences growing up in the state childcare system. Her work is forthcoming or published in Ink, Sweat and Tears and Tears in the Fence amongst others.

© text and audio 2020

a house i remember that isn’t mine

the white, paint-chipped door lies slightly agape
you can’t tell whether or not they want to let you in
they do and they don’t.
the cold atmosphere of the barren trees and dead grass
envelope the remnant of a wheelchair ramp.
the stillness of the neighborhood contradicts the warmth within the house.
photographs urge the past into the present; soft smiles urge the future
to slow down for a couple days.
everyone’s in black, but i swear the mood is orange

Ariana Eftimiu

Listen to Ariana reading ‘a house i remember that isn’t mine’ (0:38).

 

Ariana Eftimiu is a student who has been writing for ages, and has received a couple of awards, including the National Just Poetry award. She likes to write poetry, she says, because it helps her be introspective about what she’s feeling and share that with other people. She likes to say that writing is a conversation; an open letter to whoever’s willing to listen, or to whoever needs to hear something in the moment. It’s a way for her to be there and comfort someone she doesn’t even know.

© 2020

Staying with the Grey Sisters at Age 3¼

In the inchoate umber of a May
cot, up against water

piping heat, autumn
chills the silence of her daddy’s

squeeze. Sirens box
the night like absent love

that a child paints
as tree. Red leaves

scatter at its base. Who can
ease the crying days?

When she asks, a lesson is
denied. A coif covers

power as it switches and
she stands up in bed –

a mimic of containment – while
a small fly butts

a pane that’s specked with strikes.
Floor’s polish shrills

with sin and a visit disallowed.
Everywhere is the drear beige

of things she cannot be
as she reaches for it all.

Anne Elvey

Listen to Anne reading ‘Staying with the Grey Sisters at Age 3¼’ (1:23).

 

Anne Elvey lives on BoonWurrung Country in Victoria and acknowledges elders past, present and emerging. She is author of On arrivals of breath (2019), White on White (2018) and Kin (2014) and co-author of Intatto (2017). She is editor of hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani (2018).

Note: The ‘Grey Sisters’ refers both to the Family Care Sisters and the Institution they ran in Melbourne to care for children for short periods to give mothers a rest, or if a mother had no one to care for her children during the birth of a sibling.

© text and audio 2020

in / delible

then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story
—mary oliver, ‘breakage’

the bald-eyed camera, obsidian-pupiled. it exposes everything. that trick again, everything smaller than you recall. viridian tides grow more mercurial. lips, close-pressed as pages, & a face like a gun, silenced to remembrance. sleek blackness. the road, the sky. rain-ovalled stones marking a collection of bodies. the memories are gathering around your feet like fish, like the immeasurable slips of immutable tongues. you are blurring. even your face, milk- paled, cannot escape the disquieting rush. senselessly miring, words repeat, repeat. annihilating meaning, a tongue tolls tonelessly in its skull spire. nothing has any sense anymore. whitened expanses obliterate. an eye. wide, wide, pulling wider, an oblique gate against which the sky mourns sullenly. each shutter close flakes time to pieces. disintegration. the images, the memories, are they even real? mirrored, cracked. aurulent. the white overhead light blinks facilely, offering no answers. singly, delicately, each shard-sharp catchment of light draws its hooks into flesh. the insubstantial voices, these keen glints. this beautiful torture. are your teeth on edge yet? the blood-bright acids, the iridescences, eat through. each visitation subtracts. flaring neurons refract. they fracture. in the dark, the recollections burn out. they grow moon-softened, dull-eyed. they catch at you, web you. fingers, five, close in on your throat. the estranged, dead, forgotten, shove in. the turn of your head, your profile against the light. the rain cries through. seemingly indelible. like you. yet soon the amputation from reality will be complete. this stability is only temporary. a tomb of photographs, a sepulchre of dead ink. a collection of instances. frozen.

Ellie Fisher

 

Ellie Fisher is a poet, and student of English and History at the University of Western Australia. Her work has appeared in Not Very Quiet Issue 6, and Once: a Selection of Short Short Stories (Night Parrot Press 2020). She is a regular contributor to Pelican, Australia’s second-oldest student magazine.

© 2020

Little Scissors

I keep losing those scissors
that I use to trim their nails
because I keep hiding them
so they don’t cut themselves
I keep them so well-hidden
I have to buy another
Do you know what regret is?
asks the New England-trained counsellor
as if I had never listened to Leonard Cohen alone in the dark
Forty little finger- and toe-nails to trim
I did not bargain on another twenty
Have you changed your mind since I saw you last?
I can’t remember how to fold the paper
to cut a chain of dolls holding hands
so we try snowflakes instead
and it unfolds like a broken accordion
I am a crap mother
I can’t even cut right
three little ducks in a row
and then there were two

Lara Frankena

 

Lara Frankena’s poems have appeared in publications such as Free State Review, Unbroken and Midwestern Gothic.

© 2020

The Lesson

There we were in the photo, heads above the clear
Emmagen Creek, as if we’d been caught in a family
reprieve, any issues dissolved in the ripples. Though

the youngest was already out and up among buttress
roots, focussed on his feet and how his teenage hours
set with friends had been reset to the Daintree,

that thick vine draped across the banks like a lifeline
he didn’t see. Nor did he think this was where much
happened – we’d think rain on the mountain forms

rock forms soil forms forest over eons. He clambered
on grey limbs, while we felt the bounteous weight
of the place, even with the ferns and palms and lichen

at eye level, that bigger picture of diversity to grasp.
We’d struggled then to frame his young needs. As
I now suspect we failed to point to the fig leaning

in the next photo, its fruits spiralling up the trunk
in hues from leaf green to deep wine. Some design,
this age-old plant with its live-in wasp, and perhaps

we were right to let this story slip and hope he saw
us above the pebbles letting him be, unconditionally,
as the water swirled and held us and nothing more.

Kathryn Fry

Listen to Kathryn Fry reading ‘The Lesson’ (1:31).

 

Kathryn Fry has had poems published in various anthologies and journals, including Antipodes, Cordite Poetry Review, Not Very Quiet, Plumwood Mountain Journal, and Westerly. Her first collection is Green Point Bearings (Ginninderra Press, 2018).

© text and audio 2020

MEMOIR

i’m writing in the dark
without a light while the
coming-of-age movie narrates
on the screen it’s a déjà vu
landscape i know the scene
gumtrees overhang the road
like a cathedral a bushtrack
meanders to some place
of transgression the nostalgia
of a country town where there
were always too many hours
when nothing begins this
story is about boys

but i want to talk about girls

i always followed the risk-taker Wendy
the wilful one the husky-voiced one she
went where she wanted like Angelina Jolie
in Girl Interrupted so normal to be naughty
your mother frowned ‘she’s a funny one
wish you’d choose nicer friends’ but we
rejected her routine churchgoer collection
plates hymns sung out of tune cake stalls
cross-stitch samplers hung on the walls –
God Dwells In This House

we lived at the periphery
where it was easy to fall off
though we could never let go
of our delinquent dreamscape

how game i was then kissing a boy from
a bodgie gang in the dark after the school fete
while everyone waited & watched & when
Wendy and me were pursued through paddocks
& drains by a boy we knew with an Elvis pompadour
high on something wicked & a loaded rifle even today
could never understand why we were prey luckily
the bullets never hit but the fear was left inside

i am i am i am

until I’m not

I am I am—–until I’m not’ – quoting Maggie O’Farrell

Carolyn Gerrish

 

Carolyn Gerrish is a Sydney poet. She has published five collections of poetry. The latest being The View from the Moon (Island Press 2011). She enjoys performing her work and is currently working on her sixth collection.

© 2020

Pandora’s Kitchen

Epimetheus shuffled Pandora
into the house
with slight trepidation;
her skin still seemed too soft,
too new.

Here is the bed.
Here is the grain.
Here is where we build the fire.

Pandora tiptoed into the kitchen,
trailed her fingertips along the counter
and over the stacks of unwashed dishes
while Epimetheus watched, giddy
as a bottle of champagne.

Here is where you pluck the chickens like lyres.
Here is where you bake the daily bread.
Here is where we fill our bellies
with all the goodness from your oven.

Pandora felt his eyes dig into her
like twin sickles. Felt her flesh
grow red. Turning away, her errant
elbow sends the water jug crashing to the floor.

The familiar curves reduced
to shards at her feet.

Pandora stared at the ruined thing,
then at her husband, then back down
and began to scream.

Allison Goldstein

Listen to Allison reading ‘Pandora’s Kitchen’ (1:11).

 

Allison Goldstein received her MFA from California College of the Arts. She is a professional writer who has been published in a variety of literary and cultural publications. Allison currently lives and writes in South Florida with her husband and two cats.

© text and audio 2020

How to Make a Funeral Wreath

I’m fourteen. Big enough to work at the florist’s shop on Saturday mornings. There are orders to make up. I’m learning how to make a funeral wreath. The frame is shaped like a donut. I’d love a donut right now. Cover the wire with grease proof paper and fill it with moss from the big hessian bag in the cool room. I bet the morgue is like that creepy room. Keep watching what I do. I wire shiny camellia leaves together, like the paper dolls we used to fold. Keep the leaf tips neat. One inch apart. Miss Slater is getting old. She’s always drinking stuff from the Health Food Shop.

Blue hydrangeas come next, resurrected in a bucket. I wonder how the person died. Hydies drink through their heads. Remember that, my girl. Now the part where I can be creative. Miss Slater gives me a vase of roses. Pick off the dead leaves and petals. No one wants old blooms. I turn the remaining petals over, revealing the buds. They look like dancers with swirling skirts. I add some fern. Stand to admire my work. It’s much nicer than hers. I hope the dead person isn’t cremated. Wait a minute. Miss Slater grabs a corsage of yellowing gardenias. Plonks it in. Hands me more fern. That’s better. It only needs to last a day or so.

passed over
my masterpiece jabbed
right through the heart

She pays me ten shillings for the morning’s work. This afternoon I’ll catch the tram to Saint Kilda. Go ice skating. Forget about morgues, funerals and dead people.

spent petals
a long time to go
before I’m old

Hazel Hall

Listen to Hazel reading ‘How to make a funeral wreath’ (3:10).

 

Hazel Hall is a Canberra poet and musicologist. Her work has been published in many Australian and overseas journals and anthologies. Recent collections are Step By Step: Tai Chi Meditations with Angie Egan (Picaro Poets 2018). Moonlight over the Siding (Interactive Press 2019) and Severed Web (Picaro Poets 2020).

© text and audio 2020

Building Memories

(a sequence)

i: My First Memory is a Room

It has walls, my memory, dark and determined as
the workings of a watch. Its movement is captured
in light, a broken blind. The locked door is a mouth
from which screams can’t escape. The freestanding
fridge, tall as a casket, stares it down. A pale body
confined to the ceiling is a cloud turning
this room, this memory into the sky, and I
hang in the shadows, solid as a ghost, seeing
this memory, this room make sense of what unfolds
and how the floor – antiseptic clean; asymmetrical,
stepping stone tiles – is a jigsaw …

piece of

time, swollen as a punch, moves this memory,
this room on. IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou! Quickening,
a body – shadow, spirited – looms over me. Still
the cloud, meek girl, circles the ceiling,
and this room, this memory and I turn to
face one another, embrace; we will get through this,
we say. Then we are sent flying. Not shapeshifters,
not Alcyone, Leda or Hecate, not even moons, we
spin through space, set to freestanding, and always
I move forwards with this memory, this room.

ii: My Second Memory is a Duplex 

Tight and narrow. Thin-
walled. The noise of
neighbours, other memories,
barks in upon this. Bad dog!
No escaping the unleashed:
remembrance of being locked into
hunched space, hungry, fierce
heat of high summer, afternoon
light full, the father gone
to nightshift, turning of
his lathe tirelessly through
the coming dark, and the mother
abandoned to squabbling
kids, to exercising the hound,
and her temper. All the energy of
my five year old body resists
being still, not even when bolted
door opens on this squat space,
Get to sleep! The dog snarls; the strap
is set free. The memory owned
by this duplex hunts the mother
back to the kitchen, Bad dog!
slinks in the corner, rage
of the radio turned high
to hungry wails with news
of the cruel weather, forecasts
for an ongoing depression
and how – a mindset, really,
a confined space – there’s more
of everything bad to come.

iii: My Third Memory is a Bungalow

Looking back, this memory is a single storey, the view coffined
from cement blocks, grey sky, low light and I – clothed in
second-hand, crouched and alone – shrink to the raised
voices at my back, I can’t take this hellhole anymore! as leaves,
dead red, fall from trees, and I slip away, like her bags,
into this memory on repeat, this space reduced to one outlook
as if lost to an exit for which I’m to blame, for everything
would be fixed if I wasn’t broken, and by such narrowing,
I hear door closed to echo through my future, body fixed by
this bungalow to a pane tight with memory of an abandoned
day, night set free, her body, shadow, an ever-diminishing thing.

iv: My Fourth Memory is Semi-Detached

It survives beside the others,
this memory, resident of
the lives I didn’t choose:
semi-

detached,

I’m a stay-at-home
mum married at eighteen
to a man I met at school,
two kids, two Minis, pets;
semi-

detached,

I’m confined
to two-up, two-down, safety
found in small spaces like
a neighbour’s inner-life,
part-time job at Poundland,
boarding house holiday in Rhyl;
semi-

detached,

I’m too close
to the cast off, broken
toys, broken bones
which build each day
in my parent’s half-house
of kaleidoscope pieces –
bright and dark – not quite;
semi-

detached,

I’m torn
by these memories,
exile of the in-between;
for which are made thin
as fabric, and which real
things settled for when
semi-

detached?

Siobhan Harvey

Listen to Siobhan reading ‘Building Memories’ (11:27).

 

Siobhan Harvey is a migrant author of five books, including the poetry collection, Cloudboy (Otago University Press 2014), which won New Zealand’s richest prize for poetry, the Landfall Kathleen Grattan Award. She’s also co-editor of the New Zealand bestseller, Essential New Zealand Poems (Penguin Random House 2014). Her work has been published in Arc (Canada), Asian Literary Review (Hong Kong), Griffith Review (Aus), Segue (US), Stand (UK), and Structo (UK), as well as the anthology Feminist Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cyren US 2019). She won the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award for a Sequence of Poems, 2019 Robert Burns Poetry Prize, and 2016 Write Well Award (Fiction, US). She was runner-up in the 2011 Landfall Essay Competition, and 2015 and 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competitions. The Poetry Archive (UK) holds a ‘Poet’s Page’ devoted to her work.

© text and audio 2020

The expat reconsiders

I’m back planting shoots
in a back garden
where every blade of grass
switches off the sun
its two faces in my sky
five languages I can’t hold

Be my Taxi rank seatbelt duty
free cigarettes boarding pass landing card

I miss the crust
of summers baked bald
crackle of cicadas
churn of the surf
the body’s effortless
holding of breath
in a listless garden

Be my Charles Austin from bud to full blown flower

Be my hyphen

I watch seasons change

I grow thin and cold
sprout a growth
not quite a child
tend tough roses that catch
their second wind without me
knowing their names

My hair falls
like autumn leaves
and the idea of me

les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle

Be the finger that pulls the trigger

Be my last breath

Dominique Hecq

Dominique Hecq grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She now lives in Melbourne. Her works include a novel, three books of short stories and nine collections of poetry. Kaosmos (2020) is fresh off the press. Dominique is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize.

Note: ‘Les feuiile mortes se ramassent à la pelle’
(Dead leaves are picked up by the shovel) is from a
Jacques Prévert poem made famous by French singer
and actor Yves Montand.

© 2020

That Woman

whose youth is a hard drug rushing slowly to the brain
who is always spilling tangled letters from her hands
who has a restless tenderness for thesauruses
and for expressionist paintings and antique coffee cups
and for Monk piano riffs and an incurable
longing to be fluent in French and to live
in a country she’s never been to before
and a mind dimly lit with a thousand old voices
like candles flickering in an empty cathedral,
and a tenderness for public transport, where the train-cars
are peopled with dozens of stories all wearing different coats,
and an infatuation with the color blue
and the sound that “M” makes in the mouth
and the soft diffusion of her skin into his hands
and that bad habit, downtown Las Vegas,
and the taste of tangerines, of water
and of his lower lip, sweetness from the
jar of sugar on her childhood kitchen’s countertop,
and certain dog-eared pages and a burnt-out bulb,
who, here, stands at the lustrous cusp of her unfolding,
and puts down the pen.

(inspired by “That Man” by Jorge Luis Borges)

Ariel Horton

 

Ariel Horton is a 21-year-old poet, actor, and college student. Among others, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rogue Agent, Impossible Archetype, Vagabond City, Bones Journal, ANGLES Literary Magazine, and The Greenleaf Review.

© 2020

HIROSHIMA

At the Peace Park today,
we followed the crowds around the museum,
absorbing the poems,
the photos, the pain, from the bombs
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then sat numbly in the
downstairs chairs,
before trudging down the peace walk
to the Bomb Dome,
a mangled heat-melted wreck of a building.

Rooted at the memorial
to Sadako, we felt the flutter of
a thousand futile cranes
brush our cheeks like tears.

Susan Howard

Listen to Susan reading ‘Hiroshima’ (0:33).

 

Susan Howard is a poet and playwright living in a small town north of Auckland, New Zealand. She has been published in Takahē, The Blue Nib, Shot Glass Journal, Poems in the Waiting Room, a fine line, and Poems in a Mirror.

© text and audio 2020

For the Girl Who Worked in Leonard Hall

You turn the knob on the metal heater with the broken
leg,
given to you because the winter
came through the cracks in the windows.
It reminded you of your great grandma’s house.

Graduate English office
Room 111
Maggie, the secretary, would tell you about her
husband’s bees
And the new book that she bought on her Kindle.
You ate your lunch at your desk,
And bumped your chair into the printer

every now and then.

You were always on time

even in the snow.

Ph.D. folders are green and red.
Masters are yellow, blue, and maroon.

The ceilings dripped when it rained.
The bathrooms echoed with public pool acoustics like
the hallways.
On the women’s second-floor restroom,
The stalls were a writer’s notebook

Room 205
The gold, mailbox numbers are on the top of the door.

The middle window was always open in September.
Your first English class was in this room.
You sat in the middle seat
when you took Critical Theory.
Then, you sat in the seat in front
of the cute guy in British Lit, the one
who always forgot a pencil.

All of the boxes are packed,
And the professors are moved out.
You lock the office door one last time,
in December,
just before your exam.

You forgot to turn in your key.

Katherine Hughes

Listen to Katherine reading ‘For the Girl Who Worked in Leonard Hall’ (1:47).

Katherine Hughes is a writer and an Adjunct English professor in Florida. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. Katherine is a fan of trivia quizzes, baking, and lavender lattes. She has been published in Wingless Dreamer and Aloka Magazine.

© 2020

Kitchen

It had to go, the sunless kitchen,
ceiling streaked yellow down the years
from Dad’s roll-ups.
His gnarled fingers pinched a pencil stub,
as he mulled over the Mail crossword
in the table lamp light.
It was a collaborative effort
and we filled in the gaps where we could.

And Mum in a headscarf at the stove,
a maelstrom of chopping, frying and shouting:
“Keep the door shut, darling! Keep the smoke in!”
She sprinkled love into the pan, but the oil sizzled
way beyond the smoke point, making us splutter.
Over time, a sticky layer of grease settled on
the Tyrolean jug lady, the tinkling cowbell
and the fridge magnets.

And now the light floods in, to my new open plan home.
It’s a cool, heritage inspired kitchen,
where spotlights pick out flecks of pink marble
and cast the dove grey units in a soft glow.
Engineered oak floorboards (Smell the forest!)
replace the fault lined linoleum.
Glass hatch out, breakfast bar in,
complete with three rustic high stools.

It’s called a Shaker Kitchen:
Shaking Quakers? Second Coming?
Dad would have laughed his head off.

Linda Kernan

Listen to Linda reading ‘Kitchen’ (1:48)

 

Linda Kernan is a recently retired EFL teacher, living in Hong Kong. She has taught in England, Tunisia, Japan, Hong Kong and India. She taught English at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for 15 years. She enjoys studying and writing poetry. She is planning to move back to her hometown in Kent.

© text and audio 2020

Redbird

I.

For him I undress in quiet layers, past purple bruises to bare bone—
slip into a new skin, hang the old one with my winter coats.
I unbutton my throat hastily; smooth my words on the back of the chair.
I shimmy out of my stomach; toss my brain on the counter
leave a trail of organs to the bedroom.
I spread open like dull hunger,
I drown holding my breath in a desert.

I do it for love.
For love, I starve the most modest night.

II.

Let us forget the work day,
undo the buttons on your ironed dress shirt,
let us explore whatever bare part of our bodies
the light touches
through this open hotel window.

Breathe it in. Like we are a lit cigarette
dangling
between crooked lips
and at any moment we could burn out,
we could set this town on fire,
we could lose it all.

III.

This is the art of love:
it saves us, and then it kills us.
And still, we frame it— hang it on our wall
as if everyone couldn’t already see the colors bleeding.

IV.

Keep your hands steady, eyes up for the moment,
preparing you for a Divided Sky. You’ll be alone—
it was always the Devil’s Invention, brewing sadness
into something you loved the taste of. Tell me—are you drunk
off the dark, or just too addicted to the Absence of Light?

V.

Weaving electric through our fingertips
hot needle in the night.
Fabric a black leather miniskirt in the passenger seat,
the pattern of how good it feels to be touched in the dark,
insatiable, my mouth all over you
can’t unfasten fast enough.

How it begins, rip of stitches, who can say
what causes the tear?
This is the way we unravel, come apart at the seams,
pull the string and watch it,
just watch it—
look how wildly the thread spins.

VI.

each night you crash into me, every morning after
I raise my white sails to the wind and surrender
again. this is where oceaned water becomes air,
how our bodies become the very last breath we drown in.

VII.

He calls me sunshine and I grin
knowing I am all rain,
a hurricane forming at the base of his mouth.
He says you should strip for me and I do:
I take off the notion that I belong to anyone.
I tattoo my name between the valley of his shoulder blades,
I burn him up with all my bright and beaming beauty.

VIII.

Lather, lies, repeat.
Where do we hang thoughts up to dry? Who is there
to fold and put away our pain but ourselves?
What cycle is this?

If only we wouldn’t let our words gather
at the foot of the bed —
If only we could stay naked, dirty, and free.

Can we push it past gentle,
will we ever be ready
for the earth to stop spinning?

Maybe then we could trust ourselves
enough to undress this life together.

IX.

I only drink when I want to rage against love or make it.
Which is to say, always.

X.

You loved me when the dawn folded like a white napkin in your lap & done was a four letter text
to let me know you’d be home from work in fifteen minutes / when the dirt lived hard &
comfortable under your nails & the smell of sweat from the day clung to you sweet like spring
rain / when I was unbroken, clean / the soul unchanging, the dead unflinching / back when the
country of your smile was a double wide bus / summers ago when the water scooped from your
soul the electric music like gold / before another man’s watch hid underneath the bed / keeping
time / before I bled on hotel bath towels / and now this is a pyramid of maybes stacked to the
sound of you saying nothing / this is how much I hate every part that you are / when I hold who
you were up to the light

XI.

I took the alphabet of my spine
to spell out how to stand up straight.
Gathered the bones fashioned from dust,
made a necklace stretching the length of the earth.
Fastened my tongue to kiss harder, longer
so I can taste everywhere beautiful I don’t know.
My breath took even God by surprise
the day that shredded stomach
became hunger for my own damn self.

XII.

I don’t know how we got to this place // where my name isn’t a word that always sleeps // safe
on your tongue // where the language of your strong hands translate evenly for hers // where love
is a four letter word for betrayal and my mind wants a room where you never owned a key to //
Measure this however you need to // understand //you can spell it like abandonment but pronounce it hurt // can’t you hear it sounded out? // can’t you see the context clues // silence
anchoring my tight chest to a dirt floor

XIII.

So much suffocates like dust on the dashboard of your F-150
which is to say, some mornings I miss the sound of your engine starting
strong against that six a.m. sky.

But I never want to kiss you again.

I want the space back where you parked, parallel and hard,
the driver’s seat still warm, its tired interior
too knowing,
my heart
too lived-in.

Kara Knickerbocker

Listen to Kara reading ‘Redbird’ (7:01).

 

Kara Knickerbocker is the author of The Shedding Before the Swell (dancing girl press 2018) and Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press 2017). She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she works at Carnegie Mellon University, writes with the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University, and co-curates the MadFridays Reading Series. Find her online at www.karaknickerbocker.com

Notes: Section I is after Kim Addonizio’s “For You.”
Section IV was inspired from the  Four Hands Brewing Co. in St. Louis, MO. Part of section VII was published in Pink Panther Magazine.

© text and audio 2020

the garlic wife

my parents honeymooned

in niagara falls. it’s an old

 

story. our bedroom walls

stained with parliaments,

model planes, a tired

 

stamp collection

I found, years later,

in the kitchen drawer.

 

there were also pinking

shears, rosary beads,

a collection of unwanted

 

tradesmen, miracles

hourly, in neon, pulsing like the last

sun rise of a failing earth.

 

later, he moved

to a desert place, slicing

grapefruit in a new language

 

I married by the ocean

in a second-hand veil

astonished by the weight of my dress at the ceremony.

 

Nellie Le Beau

 

Nellie Le Beau’s poetry appears and is forthcoming in Australian and North American journals and anthologies, including ‘Domestic Violence’ (Westerly 2020), ‘Primary Examiner’ (Rabbit 2020) and ‘On the Level’ (Cordite 2019). She is a a 2020 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow.

© 2020

How to Make a Snow Angel

Equipment
A reasonably thick blanket of snow
A subject: a daughter will do
Optional: waterproof, warm clothing
(if you wish to appear to be a good parent.)

Method
Walk away when your daughter cries – whatever upset her will pass
and dealing with her emotional dramas is an unnecessary time suck.
Let her make friends at school but restrict how she sees them outside
school. You want her isolated so her focus is on you.
Be hypercritical: she must never feel she deserves warmth.
Be capricious in your decisions: she must never be able to predict
you or feel stability.
Ignore her boundaries: secrets separate her from you.
Dampen her ambitions – her purpose is to reflect you.
Challenge everything she says so she comes to see your view
is the only one that matters.
Push her out into the snow so she will lie in its cold embrace.
Force her to move her legs in a scissor motion.
If she begins to show symptoms of hypothermia,
be clear it is due to her failure to keep warm.
Make her flutter her arms. Be clear she will never fly
no matter how hard she tries.

Conclusion
Instruct her to stand unaided.
Be ready to blame her if the imprint in the snow is damaged.
Push her aside, photograph your snow angel and publish on social media.
Your daughter was merely a tool. The credit is all yours.

Emma Lee

Listen to Emma reading ‘How to Make a Snow Angel’ (1:49).

 

Emma Lee’s publications include ‘The Significance of a Dress’ (Arachne 2020) and ‘Ghosts in the Desert’ (IDP 2015). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea (Five Leaves 2015), is Poetry Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com

© text and audio 2020

I Presented at Your Surgery Still Wearing the Opaque Wristband

It felt so right — there on my arm
as if a nurse had not fastened it on the rounds.
As if my soul had been left in that room with its carbolic
and ether — floated to the ceiling with no attempt to get back.
You said Let’s get rid of this and circled my wrist,
slowly drew my arm to its length. Your warmth as you snipped
that which had grown under my skin.

Wes Lee

 

Wes Lee lives in New Zealand. Her latest collection By the Lapels was launched in Wellington (Steele Roberts Aotearoa 2019). Her work has appeared in Best New Zealand Poems, Westerly, Poetry London, Australian Poetry Journal, among others. Most recently she was awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 by Massey University Press.

© 2020

Speak for your mother to keep her memories alive

She churned butter as a girl.
I never asked if there was butter for
purchase
at the store, because
no store lived near
where her family lived.
I never questioned the access to store where
she made our family. Never considered the access to butter.

She played the piano. Her fingers lightly touching
then pounding
the keys of a dirtied-green upright,
her eyes closed,
her
face serene,
body swayed.
I came to see piano as her first lover.
Her solace.

She saw her grandfather corral a rattle snake
in the split of a stick.
Helped him slip that snake into a canning jar covered with wax
paper,
small holes poked in to keep the thing alive
for
reasons she never asked.
Unasked, he never answered.
As a girl,
I played with the rattles taken off
maybe that snake,
at least three total.
It never seemed odd until I told other,
rattle-less
children.

She had a spearhead found on ranch land.
Same grandfather found that
as found the rattle snake.
Same grandfather gave it to her.
It sat on bookcases, in display tables,
carried
from
one home to the next
until she wasn’t there to carry it anymore.
It sits in my home. An inheritance. A burden my daughters are
choosing to
bypass carrying forward
on that someday when
I’m gone.

She had a mother who could not love evenly.
This was the one
grandmother I knew, the other having died too soon. It made the
unloving of my daughters
easier to ignore.
By
me,
at
least. I have learned her lesson in this and love all of the children in
my world readily,
continuously,
regardless of actions.
And when they ask for a thing within my reach,
I force
myself to say
Of course.

Sally K Lehman

 

Sally K Lehman is the author of the novels In The Fat, The Unit – Room 154, and Living in the Second Tense. Her work can be found in literary magazines including Lunch Ticket, The Coachella Review, and Another Chicago Magazine. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

© 2020

Hospice Sonnet

“Remember, once, the rain poured down so fast—
that time you drove us all home from the beach—
you parked an hour beneath an overpass?
We gorged on cake, Aunt Mae peach after peach,”
I say. I place a cool cloth on Mom’s head
just as I did for her when I was ten.
An only child, I watch beside her bed.
She holds my hand and begs for death again.

“Maintain the graves. Get Perpetual Care.
I want plain pine like Dad’s; I’m not a queen.”
I nod. I ask her what she’d like to wear.
“My burgundy—,” she gestures, “—velveteen.”

I fetch her yogurt, Jello, ice-water.
At last I have become the Good Daughter.

Sandi Leibowitz

 

Sandi Leibowitz is an elementary school librarian who performs folk, early, and classical music as well as writing fiction and verse, primarily speculative. Her poetry has won second- and third-place Dwarf Stars and been nominated for the Rhysling, Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net awards. Other work appears or is forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Verse-Virtual and Trouvaille Review. Her collections, Ghost Light (Alien Buddha Press 2020), Eurydice Sings (Flutter Press 2018) and The Bone-Joiner (Sycorax Press 2018), are available on Amazon or through her website, www.sandileibowitz.com. She lives in New York City.

© 2020

Taking a picture

My grandmother’s hands are a mosaic.

They’ve brought mango trees and gourds from Pakistan, planted them in the creases on her fingers. The patchwork of sun-spots hide on the back of her hand, camouflaging with her mother’s olive skin. Her veins have swelled as they fuse her farms in Mirpur with her detached houses in Lancashire. She likes to watch my father’s bare nails to remember what her own look like, then she lets go and gazes towards them; they are, and have always been, coloured with the red henna she commands. It’s the smell, she says. It reminds me of home.

My grandmother rests her hand on mine, so I take a picture.

Sameeya Maqbool

 

Sameeya Maqbool is a British South Asian literary scholar, short story writer and poetess. She is currently finishing a combined MA in Creative Writing with English Literary Studies at Lancaster University. Her main areas of interest are works that play with genre boundaries, creative-critical writing, contemporary fiction and hybrid poetry. She has published a poem titled ‘Bucket List’ in Flash Journal as well as a poem titled ‘hashtag clean the air’ in the anthology Assembled Selves.

© 2020

Things Learned

Never bend below an open cupboard door.
Shortbread is one, one two; two being the flour
one and one the butter and sugar.
Warm honey to soothe and heal,
ginger for sickness,
hellebore for shame.
Save coins every day to pay for Christmas.
Long hair hides scars.
Eat the things you don’t like first.
Never write down secrets.
On rent day always hide.
If mother comes home with a stranger at night
stay out of sight.
But if he sees you with lidded eyes,
while she sleeps,
Be still as a mouse, so he can’t say
you led him on (he will anyway).
Don’t trust doctors.
Priests lie.
Sticks and stones will break your bones
but words will seep into you, like blood
in deep water.
On the surface you look bright
and cool and clear
but the blood is all through you,
just invisible now, unseen fear,
and sharks will sense it and smile
to swim in you, stain you
more, until gradually nothing lives
you are stagnant, a dead thing.
Bad eggs and witches float.

Sadie Maskery

Listen to Sadie reading ‘Things Learned’ (1:15)

 

Sadie Maskery lives in Scotland near the sea. She was a singer until March 2020 and hopes to be again, but words have always been her first love.

© text and audio 2020

Scraps of a Life

When I said childhood, what I meant was
the silhouette of a witch on my wall
a coffee table that served as a slide
a fall breeze whispering through kitten fur
the half-frozen mud at the edge of the pond
the sound of my brother picking my lock

When I said sexuality, what I meant was
my unshakeable fear of rollercoasters and my body
soft serve ice cream, and its risks
deep dish pizza, and its consequences
the hard slyness of Missouri eyes
cold nights in Massachusetts crying near the ceiling

When I said love, what I meant was
two sun-baked bodies on a gravel beach
my sweater that smells of campfire and whiskey
one final turn on the carousel
the fatal attraction of a man with a cigarette
your face in the amber light of jazz

When I said middle age, what I meant was
fallen pine needles rusted with time
the taste of burnt toast and spicy noodles
the scraping hinge of a sore hip
my crooked middle toe, numb and broken

When I said you’re beautiful, what I meant was
your old phonograph and your white straw hat
my grandfather’s gold-tipped walking stick
the leather easy chair with the brass buttons

When I said marriage, what I meant was
the afterglow of laughter in our yard
the touch of your hand on a cold night

When I said goodbye, what I meant was
an empty pair of sandals on the beach

Cynthia J. McGean

 

Cynthia J. McGean is an educator, writer and theater artist with a background in social services. Her work spans a range of genres, including short stories in publications such as SQ Magazine, VoiceCatcher, Kaleidotrope and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as stage and radio scripts produced around the country.

Note: this poem is in response to the poems of Li-Young whose works explore the dialogue between what is said and what is meant. See especially his works Book of My Nights and Behind My Eyes.

© 2020

Terra incognita

On the map of who I am, this is the ripped edge:
dragons, sea-beasts, a rented car outside his house.
Roses and natives. Red brick. Tight chest.
Can’t meet my eyes in the mirror.
Heels on driveway. New 4WD.
Blue door. Plain. Electrified gut. My finger on the bell.

A woman opens the door. Thickset. Short.
Silver hair. Pale eyes.
Pale.
I was wondering if I could speak with Peter Chant?
He knew my family in the late 60s.
I hand her the photo, folded so he takes up the whole frame
my mother, her shiny beehive and smile, tucked inside.
What’s this about?
Cream skivvy. Lavender tunic. Clean nails.
I need to say it to him, first. The words. You’re my father.

I’d just like to speak with him. Please.
So polite. So needy.
Do you have a number where he can contact you?
Scrabble in my bag.
You’d think I’d be more organised.
Yes, I say that.
I hand her my card. She closes the door.
Thank you.
Blue door. Plain.
She still has the photo.

The car. Sunshine. Gulps of breath.
Cottesloe. Indian Ocean. Bare feet.
The waves are glassy then turbid. This is not my ocean.

Three days. Hotel room. Phone fully charged.
Pillow nest. Vikings binge. Mini-bar.
Boarding pass.

Rachael Mead

Listen to Rachael reading ‘Terra incognita’ (2:16)

 

Rachael Mead is a South Australian poet, writer and arts reviewer. She is published widely and the author of four collections of poetry, including The Flaw in the Pattern (UWA Publishing 2018). Her debut novel The Application of Pressure has just been published by Affirm Press (2020).

© text and audio 2020

Loop

Ward Mountain, Goshute Ancestral Land

In the weeks before I leave, I drive up the canyon road before sunset
to park at the south trailhead. I am here to memorize.
Rises and dips, cracks in earth where water

collects and dries, spots of shade
made through juniper branches, distant hills
folded like bolts of blue, green and purple cloth.

In a story I read, one of three friends fakes her death
in calm waters to disappear from failed confidences.
Every departure a death with mourners and celebrants.

As a child I walked another desert trepidatious of space and rattlesnakes.
I hoped and feared a body would appear in the next gully or on the far side
of an unfinished wall. My mother fed her hungry spirit with mysteries,

paperbacks and TV. My father studied horror, brought me along
to cool downtown cinemas on summer days when sweat
pooled on every skin and people we passed on iron stoops

drank deeply from forties. I learned early that life can be stolen
by apathy and avarice. On the mountain, eyes shut to feel
contours beneath my feet, I backtrack to repeat what I have seen,

commit it to my fallible mind. My felt hat catches wind
off the piñon
like breath. A spin of the wrist lets it go and I chase
after. A good trail
ends where it begins.

Alexa Mergen

Listen to Alexa reading ‘Loop’ (1:55)

 

Alexa Mergen lives on a boat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California. Her poems have been published in Claw & Blossom, Turtle Island Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review and other journals.

© text and audio 2020

Family Landscape: Colchester 1957

Still the chrome laburnum casts its Midas-glow;
Its petals drift as late May snow,
Upon this far-off garden long ago.
Red brick walls retain past heat,
Contain a lawn, square-trimmed and neat.
Smug pigeons strut, with cooing bleat.
A potting shed, with tiled roof-scales
Holds sun-warmed seedlings, jars, old nails;
With pea-sticks propped like fencing rails.
Whitewashed frames hold puttied panes
Whose finger smudges tell of games
That cracked the glass, betray no names.
Paint flakes swell and drop their scurf
On flower-beds; the time-dense earth
Hides daisy-heads close in the turf.
An apple tree, its corded arms
Tattooed with lichen, raised in alarm
Routs vagrant birds, intent on harm.
Brush-strokes trace the fleeting leaves
Meld paint and time to canvas-weave:
No-one in this garden’s left to grieve.
Time holds what the mind’s-eye sees;
Stripy deckchairs, summer teas,
Each to their own memories.
Other childhoods, times and lives;
Faded photos, babies, wives.
Paint holds true and love survives.

Kate Meyer-Currey

 

Kate Meyer-Currey is the granddaughter of the South African poet, R.N. Currey and grew up in a writing-oriented family. Diverse life experiences in challenging environments and a sense of ‘other’ shape her poetry.

© 2020

Tale of an Australian Opal

i.m. Great Aunty Val, 1932–2017

This fairy-wren of a woman (oxygen tubed into her nose, head nestled in pillows) lifts each eyelid & with a hand too casually bruised, bids us round the cool blade of air into her corner of the hospice.

Grog & drugs had mucked up husband & kids, while a life on cigs has left her gasping for breath. Yet she’s alert, keen to see her great nephew & to meet his English fiancée.

Perched at her bedside, we exchange news, hear about the habits of birds & the great cetaceans she watches on TV. I’d like you to have this, she announces, apropos nothing, tugging a ring from her finger.

Bluey-green set in silver filigree, the warm teardrop flashes like fire on water as it tumbles into my palm. I’ve been waiting for the right person, she nods encouragingly.

Surprised & teary I stammer thanks, ask about its provenance, what it’s meant?

Its story starts with you, she replies, & I sense the gravity of this elder like a pebble bearing history silently down-river from the mountains.

Does it begin with Oceania’s Eromanga Sea & the Dreamtime Creator, who (I’d heard a First Australian say) slid down a rainbow, sparking life into such stones as a gift of peace for humans?

Lucky opal, I wear you proudly & remembering miners’ silicosis, ravaged Country, wounded souls – dark shadows of the settlers’ burning for all that glitters in the spirit.

Helen Moore

Listen to Helen reading ‘Tale of an Australian Opal’ (2:43).

 

Helen Moore is an award-winning British ecopoet. She has published three poetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books 2012), ECOZOA (Permanent Publications 2015), acclaimed as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (Awen Publications, 2019). Helen offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, at www.helenmoorepoet.com

© text and audio 2020

Death Without a Body

I want to know what kind of
mother
I could be
if I were in
a happy marriage
Where a raised voice
would never be followed by a raised fist
& apps to track cellphones
would truly be
for safety
& not
control,
So he would never appear at my car window
after an argument, ten blocks from our house,
black-passion clouding the green
of his eyes
pounding his fist against the dash & his
rage into my ears until
I opened my door
& ran—

In the dark
I hid
behind a cypress tree
whose sea-serpent roots
became my toeholds,
palms flat against rough bark
steadying
centering
Crouched, I could have been a child playing.

What kind of mother would I be
without the anchor of fear that keeps my face
just barely above the
rising tide,
If I’d never said to a friend
on a thick summer night
after too much wine
“If something happens to me
he did it.”

What kind of mother could I be
if instead of explaining what a bad childhood
Dad had
& wondering
if I’m setting you up for a lifetime of similarly
cold & broken men,
If we could have the carefree kid silliness
that I had with my own mother,
Simon Says, armfuls of daffodils, scary movies
with all of the lights turned off
& a whole Hershey bar to myself,
a Cabbage Patch doll for each visit to the
dentist—
I want to make our darkness disappear for you
gift you
the teenage bonding, nurturing
over heartache, friends over for sleepovers,
a party for making the volleyball team…
anything but the fibrous connection of love,
fear
apprehension
& guilt that we have,
bonding over the black eye that
your father gave you.

Emily Mosley

 

Emily Mosley grew up in a small lakeside cabin in rural Georgia, but has spent the last six years in the gritty wonderland that is New Orleans. She can often be found sneaking into strangers’ yards to smell their flowers and pet their cats, and is mother to three surly but hilarious daughters.

© 2020

Nani

A-1/177 Safdarjung Enclave.
Not quite the Taj Mahal
But still very much
A memory of love
Like all objects and things
Greater than itself.

In the palm of my hand curls
Strands from a cotton pouch
And I think of her luscious hair
Dropping
Like a waterfall
Down the cliff
Of her back.

I dip my finger in
An empty Ponds jar
And I remember her skin
The colour of creamy caramel
With grooves and edges.

The frilly bible cover quivers
When her favourite lines appear like
Braille beneath my fingers:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and
A light unto my path.

Her cotton-thin nightie
Unravels on my body
Encasing it with an emptiness because
Everything’s her really
But she’s not here.

Kavita Nandan

Listen to Kavita reading ‘Nani’ (0:57).

 

Kavita Nandan lives in Sydney with her partner and their six year old son. She has not written poetry for over a decade but the pandemic created this need in her. Ordinarily she writes fiction. This poem is a memory of her Indian grandmother.

© 2020

Watt and the onion

Back in the days when they used to visit every year
before everyone got too old for it
my lad would say ‘Do you know what?’
and his grandad would reply ‘well yes
actually, I do. He was in my class at school.
Always had an onion in his pocket
which he’d ferret out, take a bite
and back in his pocket it would go’.

Great Uncle John’s Great Dane
Used to wait stock-still, solemn-jowled
a trick shadow, pony sized
but with the wrong head
paying no mind to scraped knees,
wingnut ears, cowlicks, shouts and jeers
jumbling past over the other side of the wall,
eyes fixed only on bobbing school caps
just visible above the bricks
Gently, with purpose, he’d whip one off and trot away
chuffed with his prize.
Less gently, the lad wi’ a bare head
would get a clip round the ear come home time.

Later, there were Woodbines and apple scrumping,
kick-the-can, near-drownings off Seaton Carew
where the offshore wind blew you past the pier
out into the foothills of the North Sea
ketchup sandwiches for tea and sometimes pease pudding
A good stock of stories
for when your own dad came back
from the war with nothing to say.

Jilly O’Brien

 

Jilly O’Brien is a writer from Aotearoa NZ. She has had poems published in Landfall, Cordite, Takahē, Catalyst, The Spinoff, The Beach Hut, Otago Daily Times, Newsroom, and Blackmail Press as well as anthologies worldwide. She has had her poetry displayed on the ice in Antarctica, on benches in Dunedin, and on the back of parking tickets. This year she has been runner up in the Monica Taylor International Poetry Competition, and Highly Commended in the Charles Causley International Poetry Competition.

© 2020

The papering of distance

I picked out an old letter the other day
At random, from a drawer of old letters,
Ink-stained and fringed in red and blue
The base of a coffee cup ghosting its corner,
And tasted again the flavour of a childhood
Spent drifting the slow space between things,
And glossy moments fashioned from nothing
Kicking pebbles along a road to nowhere,
People watching through grimy bus windows,
Or catching the bounce of the letterbox lid,
In the fly-buzzing heat of an August morning.

Later, the careful unsticking of envelopes
From the mysterious other side of the world
And unfolding of letters on the kitchen table
Smoothing out a latticework of handwritings
The cursive, the slanted, the doodles and smudges
Each one its own signature. All this a prelude to
The papering of distance lined in hopes and regrets
From aunts or cousins I could barely remember,
On tracing-paper thinness, heavy with importance,
Or friends emigrated to their ‘country of origin’,
And in a postscript, how they yearned to be back,
While I, teasing stamps from envelope corners
In bowls of warm water, yearned to be there.

Denise O’Hagan

Listen to Denise reading ‘The papering of distance’ (1:36).

 

Denise O’Hagan was born in Rome and lives in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing, manages Black Quill Press, and is Poetry Editor (Australia/New Zealand) for The Blue Nib. Her poetry is widely published and awarded. Her latest publication is poetry collection The Beating Heart (Ginninderra Press 2020).

© text and audio 2020

I Do Remember The Wall

The Monkey Puzzle, a prehistoric tower of a tree, stood at the laneway entrance to my grandmother’s farm. As a child I often tried to spot the monkey that must be hiding there and never thought to climb those green-black branches, scratching the sky.

Half a century later, I have questions for my mother.

Why was a Monkey Puzzle, a native of the Andean mountains, in her front garden in Drumagarner? Why was this-must-have garden accessory there alone? Not one like it for miles around. And who chopped it down and what happened to the wood?

I don’t know she says though I do remember the wall … my father whitewashing the wall.

He took great pride she says, in the wall that ran alongside the laneway. She remembers him often in early Summer, whitewashing the wall. Standing back to admire the wall, with its black tar footing. Ready for the men marching in Orange. And she’s not sure she says, if it was for the men who marched in July, or the ones who marched in August.

He was a good businessman she says

Rosa O’Kane

Listen to Rosa reading ‘I Do Remember The Wall’ (1:47).

 

Rosa O’Kane is an emerging poet who was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. Her poem ‘Hydrography of the Heart’ was a commended entry in The Hippocrates Prize 2014. She has been shortlisted for the ACU poetry prize in 2018 and 2019. Her poems have been published in Axon Journal, Not Very Quiet online journal, Blue Nib and The Canberra Times. Rosa now lives and works in Canberra.

© text and audio 2020

Grandmother’s Quilt

Each line on grandmother’s rumpled
face tells a story. Her eyes are wars
won, her lips are peace that comes after.
Grandmother’s quilt too, is a map, a
calabash filled with the songs of our

ancestors. She paints the details of
our past with sharp, moving
colors. Women that kept the realm,
bare chested, only a neck, laced with
cowries to keep their naked breasts

company. Bare foot, they navigated
the Idoma kingdom, raised, Ogbadigbo
making the thatched roofs over red
mud huts. We kneel on the raffia mat,
drawing shapes of things in the

sand, on the sun baked earth. Rays of
sun pierce spaces between bamboo
tree leaves to become pockets of light
on the sand like thousands of tiny, yellow
light bulbs. You, the magician who

makes pounded yam disappear before
we even sit to eat. We, too, were
once beaming, cackling, round the fire
place, exchanging stories. The glow
from the embers, lighting our faces,

giving us shadows, warming our cheeks.
Laughter, from our bellies filled the empty
spaces, voices spelling life, lapping over, like
sea waves, merging as colorful, magical,
northern lights. In the end, I am grieved,

we did not archive our own memories,
on parchment, like grandmother’s quilt.

Vera Oko

Listen to Vera reading ‘Grandmother’s Quilt  (1:58).

 

Vera Oko holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Film Arts and a Master’s of Arts in Women’s Studies. When I’m not writing, and even when I’m writing, I am mothering the sweetest little girl, my muse.

© text and audio 2020

The Shore You Left Me

Remember how you told me
that you and Dad
were ships passing in the night –

I thought how lonely
that sounded, how maybe that’s why
you sometimes fill the glass

too much. How maybe that’s why
you settle for content –
joy is the only good

I am willing to pay for,
but I have never seen you
hold it. I have only ever seen you

breathing to fill other sails, making yourself
the bucket to everyone’s bail out –
and how that looks a lot like drowning.

Mom, did you know
that there is more to swimming
than keeping your head above water?

Did you know that I heard the storm
across the hall? I heard the banks of your lonely
overflow. I heard how you weathered it

alone. And maybe that’s why –
maybe that’s why I have always been afraid
of open water.

Lisa Olsen

 

Lisa Olsen lives in Ottawa with her partner and their two cats. She teaches English as a second language to newcomers.

© 2020

Lake Havasu, Arizona: late 60s camping trip

Each morning my sister and I woke early to
eat breakfast. Over sugary cereal we’d pour milk
into absurdly colorful plastic bowls saved just
for vacation and head over to our inflatable craft

Bowls balanced on the rippling boat bottom,
we held onto the sides and smoothly kicked out
onto the lake, right up to the edge of where we
could go without being told we’d gone too far

We took our bowls out and placed them on the
water, as gently as building a house of cards,
then flipped our boat over on top of them,
ducked under, and deftly bobbed into the
instant secret hideaway of the air pocket

We kicked like mad, and ate our breakfast
that way – the lake’s surface our table. This
floating repast, rich and sweet, infused itself
into every sense: cool water to our chins;
warm air above, slightly stuffy; the way our
voices sounded both muted and echoey

This morning I eat sensible cereal from a white
ceramic bowl, seated at a wood and tiled table,
wrapped in a thick terry robe, sleep stodgy.
What’s the opposite of the buoyancy we felt
then? This bittersweet containment of age?

We were mermaids that perfect summer,
strong and facile, full of light and whimsy

Sheltered in our alcove, the sun refracted
through the water to reflect our giddiness
in moiré: rainbow colors bounced from our
bowls to dance upon our beaming faces.

Alyson Ayn Osborn

 

 

Alyson Ayn Osborn is an actor, teaching artist, and audio describer, writing and narrating scripts to accompany film and theatre for blind patrons. She’s a proud member of the Disability community, working to end stigma around mental illness. She lives with her animal family of one dog, three cats.

© 2020

Mother is a Cyclo

Mother is a cyclo.
She streams like platelets
along arterials, swims like a fish
down Duong Nguyen Thi Minh
she slows, but never stops.

Mother is a cyclo.
She is a whole family on one chassis
her body is strong
she flows like the tide:
her movement orders the city.

Mother is a cyclo.
Industrious with ropes
she can carry fifteen birdcages,
a display of kites, a block of ice:
she is as big or small as she needs to be.

Mother is a cyclo.
Nondescript, she buzzes and weaves
through Saigon street traffic
always incognito:
she hurries just enough.

Mother is a cyclo.
She gets by on a sniff of fuel
and a slip of silk,
constant inside service:
her wheels spin on instinct.

Mother is a cyclo:
an unconscious convoy,
gridlocked along a sleeping fault line.

Vanessa Page

 

Vanessa Page is a Queensland poet. She has published four collections of poetry including Confessional Box (Walleah Press) which was the winner of the 2013 Anne Elder Award. Her most recent collection is Tourniquet (Walleah Press) which was launched in Brisbane in 2018. Vanessa blogs at vanessapage.wordpress.com

© 2020

A Crimson Rosella on Wednesday Trading

An old woman visited us in the store today,
she had a soft Edwardian bun with the sides falling
onto her

red jumper.

She stayed longer than most, so
I looked up at her, bewildered at her
insistence;
listen, listen to me, it seemed
she cried, like a bird
that needs
talking.

And I knew it was one of those things, those
Old People Things that no one dares think about
let alone
imagine, for themselves.

She was neat, a crimson rosella, and lonely.

I heard her, I heard
her, speak, finally –
“this is my outing

for the day!” and

my colleague, she spoke to her, so, there was no need…
I read the news online until she left.

Later I finish work. I walk to the shopping centre exit and stand in the cold which slaps the
calcified air out of my system, when my mother pulls up right in front of me and I open the car
door to step inside.
I turn in greeting and see her
warm and nested

in a red jumper.

And suddenly I feel afraid.

So I talk about myself
and she listens the way only a mother could be expected to listen,
which you would be foolish to expect from
anyone else especially a
lover, because who cares so much so
blindly about you and your
little ministrations.

We drive through the rain (it is raining) and
the warmth of the brake lights
suspend us
in ruby jelly.
While I look out, ahead of us, maze of
car lights snaking, water and grease
deep into the night and know
I have been reminded again, deeply,
nothing is the same
everything is taken.

Fix down stay
put my
precious people
do not
fly away from me.

Helena Bryony Parker

 

Helena Bryony Parker is an emerging writer from Sydney, Australia. Currently she is undertaking a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney. Helena is a contributing writer for the student newspaper, Honi Soit, as well as a regular theatre reviewer for the Sydney-based company, Theatre Travels.

© 2020

Outside A Pocket, 1947

We tumbled
Outside a pocket of Time
Into a blood-stained heap
Of discarded faces.
Our family hid in
Darkness cloaks and
Crossed borders to stay alive.

We begged, ‘We aren’t miscreants,
Only pariahs
Escaping genocide.’
Made ourselves nugatory,
In tiny line rooms, and
Stitched two tea-leaves
At the hem of
Our fractured lives.

The children were taught
To sew their way up
And so we did.
Now, to boil a cup
In faraway land, we
Wrap aroma about us
Like a shawl, and pluck
Memories to
Fit into its folds.

Mandira Pattnaik

Listen to Mandira reading ‘Outside A Pocket, 1947’ (0:41).

 

Mandira Pattnaik writes in India. Previous poetry publications include ‘Erosion’ (Eclectica Magazine 23/4, 2019), ‘The Recruit’ (Runcible Spoon 2019), ‘Our Light Hearts’ (Clover&White 2020) and ‘I Am’ (Panoplyzine 2020).

© 2020

Karanga

Visiting the urupa, with
ancestor-photos clutched under arms,
there was weeping
at the broken tombstones,
the swallowing earth.

We had walked across cow-rutted fields,
some holding children’s hands,
the elderly aunties with their walkers
to where the land was
taking back the graves.

It was beginning to be autumn:
leaves were yet to blow up the road,
there was just a stillness under the sky;
the power-lines edging
the dry fields of corn.

Weeping at the untended graves,
I’m flung back
to that Cornish cemetery;
to my father’s grave,
his final resting place.

One day I will wipe
the mown grass from his headstone;
leaving him there, far
from his mountains, his father’s sky,
away from his cows, lost to his fields.

Sarah Penwarden

Listen to Sarah reading ‘Karanga’ (1:09).

 

Sarah Penwarden is a therapist and counsellor educator based in Auckland, New Zealand. She has had more than 40 poems published in various literary journals in New Zealand and Australia including Poetry New Zealand, Turbine, Meniscus, Southerly, Quadrant, and tākāhe. She has had short stories published in tākāhe, brief, and a story broadcast on Radio New Zealand.

© text and audio 2020

Brown Snake Awakens in the Everywhen

She emerged from the rushes and appeared to me
splayed on the path like the mathematical symbol for
‘similar to’, my fear edged out by stupefaction
and the urge to inspect her, she sensed this
on the tip of her chisel-shaped snout, fleeing
moving like an embodied soundwave into the tree
shadows. I dreamt she swam in the lake that morning
to dispel her hibernation drunkenness. Her new
vitality momentarily electrifying the grey matter
of the nineteen souls who had drowned there
over the years. Memories as fleeting as fast-moving
currents, shooting into their stem cells: the feel of
a wife’s soft belly; the smack of a school cane
against a buttock; an old man’s face bathed in
stained-glass rainbow colours; that hymn they
sing at church with the words ‘mighty thunder’.

Fiona Perry

Listen to Fiona reading ‘Brown Snake Awakens in the Everywhen’ (1:17).

Fiona Perry’s poetry and short stories have been published in Lighthouse, The Blue Nib, Other Terrain, Boyne Berries and Skylight 47, amongst many others. Her short fiction won first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction awards 2020, and her poetry was selected for the National Poetry Day Ireland 2019 ‘Labellit’ project. Alchemy, her first collection of poetry, is forthcoming from Turas Press (Dublin).

© text and audio 2020

Public pool, women’s changing room

The daring, naked beauty of the changing rooms. It flops and bulges, full breast, full bush. An unruly bouquet. Wild, flowering pubic hair and pink areola. The damp cloth of swimming costume unhooked, clinging around navels like loose skin. Shapely thighs, legs, a spidery tattoo of veins. Flat-chested school girls observe with wonder at the specimens. Older women wearing caps, pendulous breasts and wiry mane stuck to unmentionable places. Teenagers rolling g-strings over peach-like buttocks. The smell of chlorine in their noses, the wet floor under small feet. Oh! (they think) we could never be so bold. A nipple, the pointed treasure of a stolen look. Little girls take such care to conceal themselves. This unclothed world must belong to an alien race, blending in once their bodies are hidden from the prying eyes of children.

Stephanie Powell

Listen to Stephanie reading ‘Public pool, women’s changing room’ (1:20).

 

Stephanie Powell is a poet based in London, originally from Melbourne. Her prose-poems recall a girlhood in the suburbs, with all the tenderness, sometimes painful truth of growing up. In September 2019 her first collection of poetry, Strange Seasons, was published by Enthusiastic Press.

© text and audio 2020

Ashridge Forest

Sometimes mist would swirl,
soften the darkness
as my father drove me
back to boarding school,
my trunk heavy in the boot,
headlights on high beam.
We hardly spoke, instead
we’d look for fallow deer
eyes shining, ears alert,
seeking out the freshest grass
in moonlit forest clearings.

Once we slowed,
stopped behind a car
to see a doe sprawled
on the tarmac, her eyes
a well of fear, her spindly legs
flailing wildly. Impossible
not to look as the ranger
aimed his rifle, fired,
the shot ringing through
that twilight wood,
cold and hard, the darkness
I had tried so hard to contain
slowly seeping into everything.

Vanessa Proctor

Listen to Vanessa read ‘Ashridge Forest’ (1:18).

 

Vanessa Proctor is immediate past president of the Australian Haiku Society. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Australian Poetry Journal, Island, Meanjin, Meniscus and Southerly. Her poetry has also been carved in stone, printed on teabag labels and set to music.

© 2020

Certainty

A cold morning, and no coal
for the classroom grate.
I was chosen, with two others,
to crawl beneath the building
and fill our tin buckets
with black lumps of fuel.

The door of the cellar opened
to a smell of dust and stone.
Light fell in, grainy as soot.
A shadow peeled from a beam
and quivered in a corner
out of reach and sight.

I knew the mouse-like features
from a book, its webbed wings
folded like a sleek umbrella
about its elfin ears. No one else
saw it. No one believed. They laughed
and said, There are no bats round here.

But I remember it as clearly
as if we’d sat down to tea together
and told each other stories.
Some things only you can see.
Trust the evidence of your senses.
I am certain of this

because when I was eight years old
in the musty air of the coal store
at the school’s stone root
this knowledge flew into me
a velvet whisper
insistent as echoes.

Lyn Reeves

Listen to Lyn reading Certainty (1:24).

 

Lyn Reeves has read at festivals and venues around Australia, received Arts Tasmania and Australia Council grants and several residential fellowships. Her poetry collection Designs on the Body (Interactive Press 2010) won the IP Picks Poetry Prize, 2010. Her eighth and most recent collection is Field of Stars (Walleah Press 2019).

© text and audio 2020

Interview with the Jibber-Jabber from Grey Matter’s Junkyard (A Self-Portrait)

Thanks for agreeing to chat with us! Let’s start with the obvious. Why is creating so important to you?

When the salvagers saw the Volkswagen brain,
they intended to scrap it for parts. Instead,
the animal malfunctioned itself back to life,
switched on autopilot and prayed, please,
for the love of all unseen flowerbeds, work.

Okay…how intriguing! Sorry if it’s rude of me to ask, but why are you speaking like that?

On mornings when the sky is pink and soft,
able to breathe new life into cracked asphalt,
I become something pretty. Maybe, the leaves
seem to say, you’re the clumpy moss you find
in every makeshift garden you’ve ever loved.

I’m sorry, but I’m not following. Can you try to help me understand?

It’s all rotten work, and it peels like dried glue.
Nighttime shines with black intimacy and I feel
my eyelids melt with sunsets. Poesy means
poem. If we’re incomputable to other universes,
do Pampas grasses then become too flowery?

I’m very confused…are you alright? Was it something I said?

I don’t need to make sense to you I can veer
into potholes I can drive right off a scenic
cliffside view! My brain’s sludge is hopelessly
infatuated, she wants to intertwine her body
with the oil leak. Hell, I’m not even driving!

Alright, I think it’s time to start wrapping this up, so if–

I like the pulse that’s made when I decide
to start whacking out some nonsense rhythm
on the steering wheel. With enough traveling
and time, I’ll learn a tune with a resonance
that invites the snowflakes to waltz with me.

That’s all the time we have. Thank you. 

M. J. Ridley

 

M. J. Ridley is working towards an English (creative writing emphasis) major, with environmental writing and education minors. Her aspiration is to become an English teacher at the high school level. She is an emerging writer, with no published pieces at the time of submission. She uses a pseudonym.

© 2020

misInheritance

withered blue ink
scrawled in grandma’s Bible
between columns, margins
what does it say?
Mom shrugs (her sisters won’t know either)
we weren’t allowed to learn,
she retells,
how grandpap bruised her
for speaking i love you
in her mother’s tongue

I trace strange apostrophes, wondering
what the syllables taste like

Autumn Riley

Listen to Autumn reading ‘misInheritance’ (0:32).

 

Autumn Riley enjoys writing prose and poetry as a hobby, and hopes to do more. She lives on the seacoast of New England and works as a music teacher and performer, specializing in violin, viola, and cello.

© text and audio 2020

Gaslit

Tiny, though I remember gargantuan, that jagged-toothed gas fire we gathered
around. You would light your cigarettes from the grate (Benson & Hedges)
claiming to save money on matches (5p a box). I remember the tip flaring, you
blowing it into an ember before taking a drag. Sometimes, we’d skewer cheap
(sticky) white bread, hold it steady until browned (cheating the gas meter
with a stolen key that did the rounds in our estate) then slather margarine,
quickly, until melted. A little salt, when we had it, for flavour. I think I remember
sugar too (that might be another friend’s memory, borrowed while reminiscing
about hunger). Your right leg was dappled like the rag-and-bone man’s pony
(this is the 80s, Thatcher’s Britain, not historic) after years of sitting rigid
in that one spot – right on top – while we swapped places and squabbled, taking
turns to warm. You hid beers, your dinner too (when neighbours came knocking),
poverty making you greedy. You had no pride. Would take anything from anyone
(clothes, food, money, cigarettes / neighbours, family, strangers) then, sit back,
cross your legs victorious, while we burned with shame, unable to gather enough
heat from your jagged-toothed gas fire. Tiny, though I remember gargantuan.

E.R. Murray

 

Elizabeth Rose Murray writes for children, young adults, and adult audiences. Her books include the award-winning Nine Lives Trilogy (Mercier Press 2015, 2016, 2018) and Caramel Hearts (Alma Books 2016). Recent anthology and journal publications include The Elysian: Creative Responses, Reading the Future, Autonomy, Popshots, Terrain, Tiny Essays, and Banshee. She lives in West Cork, Ireland. www.ermurray.com and on Twitter @ERMurray

© 2020

Leave the Light On … please

Back home after decades away, the smell of wood
in his garage workroom overpowers as I de-clutter
for my father, now one hundred. But I won’t open
the door there to clear away memory under the house.

I can hear the adults talking,
floorboards only a few feet above.
Earth smell is damp and cold.
It is very dark. Imagine a grave.
He is eighteen, next-door-but-two.
I am eleven. I don’t remember how
I was lured here. Small hummocks
of dirt press into my back.
He is heavy. He rubs on top of me,
hard. I will worry for weeks,
do girls get pregnant that way?
I had been to mother and daughter talks
at the church on our corner, white
with a really tall pointed steeple.
Diagrams showed seeds dropping
from the outline of a woman,
tadpoles from the outline of a man.
They met in the free air. Then, there was
a baby. It was a miracle, if you were married.
He wants me to say it. You like it don’t you?
Don’t you? I squirm. I push. Just say it!
I hear the adults deaf above, laughing.
Come on, you like it, don’t you! Pinned,
rigid with terror – yes, yes. He laughs.

Fear is the air you breathe, just before the moment
you know there’s danger. Twisted scrimshaw,
it would live in my bones for years.
I would need the light on, even with love.

Robyn Rowland

Listen to Robyn reading ‘Leave the Light On … please’ (2:34).

Robyn Rowland has 14 books, 11 of poetry, most recently Under This Saffron Sun – Safran Güneşin Altında, Turkish translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel (Knocknarone Press, Ireland, 2019); Mosaics from the Map, (Doire Press, Ireland 2018) and This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915, Turkish translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel, (FIP, Australia; Bilge Kultur Sanat 2015; Spinifex Press 2018). Her poetry appears in national and international journals, in over forty anthologies, and in eight editions of Best Australian Poems. Her work can be viewed on film at the National Irish Poetry Reading Archive, James Joyce Library, UCD, (available on YouTube).

© text and audio 2020

A Daughter Returns

The station is a garden of hanging baskets.
Aberdour, where my mother was born
and tended to for three years.
Where I was steeped, where I’ve never been.
I’m homesick for Aberdour.

A discreet village on the Forth’s north shore,
untroubled by maps, where the café is dotted
with stopped clocks, and an apology
is made for a slice of cake so tall
with cream and lemon curd it might fall over;

where strangers say hello to me
as if they know I’m a daughter, as if I bloomed
at this little school whose pupils
have painted giant daisies on high walls;

where the church is a miniature cathedral
and eyes were once healed by water
from its well, where ‘-dour’ means the burn,
gurgling at intervals, an undercurrent.

Rocky houses with turrets climb
hillside lanes. A labyrinth of steps stagger
skyward, disappearing. Those who are gone

blossom here too: the sea-damp terrace
where they nested in the eaves with their rickle
of belongings, sergeant and escaped maid.

My grandmother in a soft jersey-knit dress
and a string of pearls, leaning over her daughter
who rests on a pillow. Any moment

she’ll unclasp the baby’s hands. Aberdour,
where my mother is still just Helen, and warm.

Anne Ryland

 

Anne Ryland’s collections are Autumnologist (Arrowhead Press 2006), shortlisted for The Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and The Unmothering Class (Arrowhead Press 2011). Her poems are published in anthologies such as Land of Three Rivers (Bloodaxe 2017), and in journals including Poetry Review, Magma, Long Poem Magazine and Oxford Poetry.

anneryland.co.uk

© 2020

Waiting

Inside the hush of the old room, our bodies flatten, spread over familiar furniture. Belonging has settled in. Nothing has changed. We sink with the last of the winter sun. Wonder if remembering the past will move us on. Familiar objects claim their place in this time before light blurs all recognition. Everyone turns to the empty grate. The mirror above offers a momentary distraction. Everything has settled into place as we start the new game. Look for new alliances, for past manoeuvrers to begin, old anxieties to set in. A glance slides sideways. Envy sits at the edge of a smile. Strange how death can draw a family together, change the momentum. Threaten the way forward. Thoughts drift to dues, entitlements. Formality and patience necessary partners in a space breathless with expectation.

Brenda Saunders

 

Brenda Saunders is a writer and artist of Wiradjuri and British descent. Her third collection Inland Sea is due for publication in 2021. Her work appears in anthologies and journals including Australian Poetry, Quadrant, Southerly, Overland, Westerly and Plumwood Mountain. Brenda won the 2018 Joanne Burns Award for her prose poem ‘Birding’ (Shuffle Anthology, Spineless Wonders).

© 2020

20/20

Sixteen years ago, your mother swept past
me in the store, her eyes not dropping

to my belly. That Christmas,
we were not invited, but by the next

— granted entry after birthing their grandson —
I gifted my new parents-in-law

a free standing double picture frame:
my daughter on one side

of the divide, her baby brother on the other.
Next visit, one of my children

buried beneath a cousin. Why didn’t
I decry it then, or earlier when, the room

overblown with foreigners now called family,
your father passed his swaddled heir

around and unbound him to admire
the new jewel in his crown. Instead I chose

to push my power with all my power down.
And when the nurse asked if I was alright, love?

I should not have acquiesced —
because the stigma, steeped in silence, has festered ever since.

And when I saw your mother in the supermarket today,
It was I who pretended not to see.

Michele Seminara

 

Michele Seminara is a poet and Co-Managing Editor of online creative arts journal Verity La. She has published Engraft (Island Press 2016) and two chapbooks: Scar to Scar (with Robbie Coburn, PressPress 2016) and HUSH (Blank Rune Press, 2017). Her second full-length collection, Suburban Fantasy, is forthcoming from UWA Publishing in 2020.

© 2020

Bird’s Song

For Bhabhi
Maa says,
“the roses die in hotter weather,”
where the bridge arches
from the stirring overture
of a summered creek.

In June, the dewed bulbs bloom,
unabashed, widening their glorious hips,
upturning their chaniya,
where you can enter
the fluffed oblivion
under cotton pleating,

where grandmother calls my Maa’s name,
“Rasila,”

and the names
of all mothers,
all daughters
that have come before,

like a nostalgia,
hidden and freed, birthing wild youth,
dissipating honeyed gulab
in the flourished steam of earthen petrichor.

Here, you can caress the fragile silk
matted over a crest of cheekbone.
Here, you can feel the tenderness of a laugh,
as a night wind rattles a skeleton of thorns.

Somehow, without eyes,
you can still make out a face,
how the petals wrinkle into
the soft edges of old age.

We know it is time,
when the first music
under a bridge, is the mellow
stream carousing
the withered remains of a flower.

Maa says,
“pray for the soul,” as we listen
to the last thali of a stavan
percuss the heart of stones, mend broken branches,
follow the water down until
the final metered drone disappears
into the raag of a bird’s song,
modulating a cool complexion
along a breeze.

Preeti Shah

Listen to Preeti reading ‘“Bird’s Song”’ (2:11).

 

Preeti Shah is a Queens-based Indian American healthcare worker and meditation teacher who has poetry upcoming in Rigorous and Sharkpack Shorts, and art upcoming in Penn Review. You can find her on her IG handle: @babyprema. “Bird’s Song” was written to honor the life of Shrimati Vasumati Kirtilal Chokshi.

© text and audio 2020

JUMP

The jetty stands knee-deep in sand
and forgotten spades
enjoyed for its shade and the sensation

of being suspended

freckled youth come here to play.

 

A rise and curve of skin bumps around a summer
my local beach, a blister of heat and hormones.

I tie my sarong tight.

Black and purple flowers
cling between thighs towards a knot at the back.

 

The jump is a test of bravery

against those who won’t,

a decoy of nay-sayers and doubts
dangle over like fishing lines.
I shimmy through a rail,

 

hold my breath then let go.

The fall takes me past clumsiness,
past blemished skin,
past embarrassing haircuts and their taunts.

Pure saturation silences. Buoyancy bound

 

to the kick.
Over scabs of a sea-bed, I become
something else, opened in the arms of a held breath
my smile rises like bubbles

beyond a surface, beneath the splash.

 

Ellen Shelley

Listen to Ellen reading ‘JUMP’ (1:30).

 

Ellen Shelley is from Newcastle, NSW. She is a poet who likes to write in response to real life events and emotions. Published in Eureka, Backstory, Other Terrain, Not very Quiet, Eucalypt, The Canberra Times, Highly Commended for the Philip Bacon Ekphrastic, It’s Raining Poetry in Adelaide, Cordite, Dámour, Australian Poetry Collaboration and The Blue Nib.

© text and audio 2020

Playing scrabble with my mother

She makes sense of words
through the filter of sounds
that are not the same to me

So the words are not
as I usually understand them
I say, Which i do you mean?

Is it i with a dot or ai for apple?
It all sounds the same to her
like versions of blue in Russia

Or my yanny to your laurel
or how in Hungary, my friend said
they describe the sky as azure-green

The afternoon turns Prussian blue
and she says, I have strange dreams
where I am my father’s daughter

I say, But that’s you––you know
and she says, But you’re there too
then she clarifies

It’s like, I am the daughter and you
are the mother, in words I hear
but can no longer parse

Ann Shenfield

Listen to Ann reading ‘Playing scrabble with my mother’ (0:56).

 

Ann Shenfield has worked as an animation filmmaker, illustrator and writer. Her animated films have received numerous prizes, including selection to the Official Competition at the Berlin Film Festival. Her poetry has also received various prizes, including the Judith Wright Poetry Award for her collection You Can Get Only So Close on Google Earth.

© text and audio 2020

To Grow

Gardenias crowd the cellar door,
barely brushing the gristled wood
The flowers must be tended closely

full sun,
light shade,
peat moss.

She had been the flower once,
with the white silk petal-hair
strangers would stroke
without warning.

They say watch out for whiteflies,
scales, and spider mites. Don’t
touch the honeydew,
sticky and sweet.

But that little girl always fell
for pretty faces, sweet voices.

Insects leave their marks
on the soft white petals
black and inky flecks
after sucking sap
over time, so slowly
the soft tissue rots.

Brittany Smart

Listen to Brittany reading ‘To Grow’ (0:49)

 

Brittany Smart is a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Louisville where she is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. Her poetry has appeared in magazines such as Kansas City Voices, Levee, and Gravitas. Some of her favorite poets include John Keats, Muriel Rukeyser, Rainer Maria Rilke, and H.D. In her free time, she enjoys snuggling with her chihuahua, Cosmo.

© text and audio 2020

How to Be a Good Girl

I liked to lie beside you while you slept. The feathering
of the chenille cover, the afternoon sun easing
through the blinds. This was our secret.

As the hands creep to four, my role
is to peer through the venetians, spying the bus nosing
over the hill. ‘The bus is coming the bus is coming!’

You rouse. Shake. Splash water on your face.
Be at the kitchen sink when the others come
busting through the back door.

This was your safe trick: cleaning late at night
till everyone was asleep. (I was the straw that
broke the back.)

And I loved those afternoon naps. Waiting till your
breathing changed, your body unpicks. Watching
how your little finger lifts, like on a puppet string.

The tiny skin tags under your arm. The texture
of the space above the neck of your frock that drinks
the sun then falls all apart into wrinkles. The whip

of salt in the pepper of your curls. The soft bird of a
sigh. The lift of that little finger. The way your feet
sometimes shake for a moment.

Abandon. You were my desire.
And I worked very hard
not to need anything.

Beth Spencer

Listen to Beth reading ‘How to Be a Good Girl’ (1:39).

 

Beth Spencer’s books include Vagabondage (UWAP 2014) and How to Conceive of a Girl (Random House 1996). She has won a number of awards, including the 2018 Carmel Bird Digital Award for The Age of Fibs, and lives and writes on Darkinjung land on the NSW Central Coast. www.bethspencer.com

© text and audio 2020

Fair Warning

¡Advertencia! El material que está a punto de encontrar es muy inestable. Manejar con extremo cuidado. Se recomienda la supervisión de un adulto. Mantener alejado del calor directo. Venta por: 01/01/25. ¡Peligro! ¡Alto voltaje cuando está energizado! Use la mercancía según las indicaciones. ¡Nunca coloque objetos afilados al alcance del producto! Este producto químico es autorreactivo. Precaución. Contenido bajo presión.

Avertissement! Le matériel que vous êtes sur le point de rencontrer est très instable. Manipulez avec un soin extrême. La surveillance d’un adulte est recommandée. Tenir à l’écart de la chaleur directe. Vente avant le: 01/01/25. Danger! Haute tension sous tension! Utilisez la marchandise comme indiqué. Ne placez jamais d’objets pointus à portée du produit! Ce produit chimique est auto-réactif. Mise en garde. Contenu sous pression.

Warning! The woman material you are about to encounter is very unstable. Handle with extreme care. Adult supervision is recommended. Keep out of direct heat. Sell by: 01/01/25. Danger! High voltage when energized! Use woman merchandise as directed. Never place sharp objects within reach of woman product! This woman chemical is self-reactive. Caution. Contents under pressure.

Abigail Stuart

 

Abigail Stuart’s work has appeared in The City Quill, The Tower, and EveryDay Fiction. She graduated from Stony Brook University with a BA in English, and currently lives in the Bronx. She is usually spotted with a book or two in hand, and frequently seeks editing advice from her cat.

© 2020

Spirit Mother

The dingo who visits
our yard with her pup, trotting
the narrow path through the eucalypt forest,
sniffing the swamp mahogany—

She looks in with disdain, set apart
from human cares, distanced
but on alert for food—

That mother dingo,
she is my spirit mother, checking in
to see how her daughter, her grandchildren, fare
in these wild, strange days.

I will tell this wild dog
my problems, I resolve to confide in her
as I would have detailed each little domestic trial
to my mother over morning coffee. Too late.

The yellow pelt
has disappeared with her shadow
into the dense bracken fern.

Julie Thorndyke

 

Julie Thorndyke has published widely in journals in Australia and overseas. Her picture books Waiting for the Night(2018) and Watching through the Day (2020) are available from IP Kidz and her novel Mrs Rickaby’s Lullaby (2019) from Ginninderra Press. She is current editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal. juliethorndyke.com/

© 2020

60 Degrees North

Mousa Sound, Shetland

Once I slept in a box bed
(too small for comfort)
lay by Helsinki, Petersburg, Ottawa,
snug under knitted squares,
watched peats glow through wooden doors
cut with crescent moons.

Baskets of yarn in island dyes –
lichen, bedstraw, woad and weld –
drew shadow patterns in the flickering light.
My pillow smelled of smoke.

After supper, I watched storm petrels –
dark wishbones in the dusk –
skim home across the Sound
the distant broch louring
black with secrets.

Next day,

I woke to sun,
six seals on the stony beach
oatmeal porridge made with salt,
box bed doors an open book
to someone else’s story.

Lynda Turbet

 

After decades teaching in Scotland and the north of England, Lynda Turbet now lives in rural Norfolk. Her work has been published in online and print journals, and anthologies.

© 2020

An olive rolls under the fridge

For Marika

I’ve been thinking about intergenerational inheritance of
guilt in the families
 of perpetrators,
M. weighs in a voice message to me, her Jewish friend.
For example, after the Holocaust

(We are always talking about the Holocaust because of the anti-racism and genocide education program where we met, digging through history in Germany and Poland until we were coated in dirt and spent years writing letters to each other – she in Germany, I in Canada, then both of us in England – toiling to clean the dirt out from our insides.)

but she interrupts
her reflection on the way descendants
of perpetrators may lug guilt
like an albatross
necked about their ancestral pasts, how shame
as other agony can be inherited, to remark
that an olive
has rolled
under the fridge. I imagine
her balancing
the olive jar
the cell phone
the memories now over five years old
and still clawing through
alongside her empathy
unfurling across the line and
this olive
compelling enough
to recess the heart’s intimate gatherings
as it rolls recklessly
indifferently
out of
grasp.

Anna Veprinska

Listen to Anna reading ‘An olive rolls under the fridge’ (1:23).

 

Anna Veprinska is a poet and scholar. She has published the books Empathy in Contemporary Poetry after Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan 2020) and Sew with Butterflies: poems (Steel Bananas 2014). She has had poems published in 8 Poems, Echolocation, Labour of Love, and Cherwell, among others. She holds an award-winning PhD in English from York University.

© text and audio 2020

Cognates for a Floodplain

I do not know the word for “pilgrim” in my grandfather’s language,
yet I stand on the riverbank a pilgrim.

On this riverbank, the fishermen call out prices like the ringing of church bells.
Their fish are the size of infants on the verge of speech.
Only—the air, which the fishermen hurl out from their wide-open throats,
has silenced them.

From this riverbank, the boats take flight over the sediment as it laps
against the bank—the same bank which has risen and receded a hundred times
and shifted its weight across half a country.
Each repetition laid down a blanket of silt which, even in the heart of the desert,
never dries.

Beneath this riverbank lie the testimonies of men who marched
nine thousand kilometers over loess and floodwater and starved,
with only blood from their own lips to quench their thirst.
Here, they buried their fear, and the river knows better than to wash away
the footprints they left to mark the grave.

Along this riverbank floated the bodies of poets, their faces as placid
as the clouds, and the boats sent out with sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves
to lure the fish away from those bodies—the fish who, amid the sand
and the salt, forgot the difference between flesh
and seed, man and river-grass.

Beside this riverbank float the shells of turtles, not trailed by torn skin
or unlain eggs but bearing the same water, tinted like the dusk,
in etchings of a language still undefined.

Some villager upstream set these shells in the sand to dry
or hoped they would wash away in the tide which, even now, reaches farther inland
than I, the pilgrim, will ever go.
Some villager set these shells in the sand and called out the divinations
as clear as the prices of fish.

Maggie Wang

 

Maggie Wang is an undergraduate at the University of Oxford. Her writing has appeared or will appear in K’in, Ruminate, Shards, The Literary Nest, and Rigorous, among others. She has also won awards from the Poetry Society and the Folger Shakespeare Library. When not writing, she enjoys playing the piano and exploring nature.

© 2020

Just Before Covid-19 Hits I Sell my Gold

Three universes collide at the corner of Money and Monger streets in the centre of Perth. The moment we swing our feet from the car, the layers swirl for a moment like liquid amber leaves, then rustle to the ground: White Settlement over Whadjak Noongar Boodja with a South-East-Asian Chinese influence. The narrow streets and shophouses remind me of Malaysian Chinatowns.

We walk towards the Cash and Gold Exchange. Sam Wagan Watson, my ghosts do not rise from the bitumen like O-rings of smoke, mine step out of Jimmy Tsui’s kung-fu school on Monger St in Seven Star Praying Mantis fighting style. They are old, they are Chinese, and they are female, down to the last woman. They have dyed black permed hair, gold earrings and jade bangles, and they wear polyester pants with floral blouses. They line the sidewalk, holding their kung-fu poses. The only thing that moves is their reproachful eyes.

The world has changed, I hiss. My life won’t be like yours. We push open the brown glass door. I lay them on the bench: the 24 carat Credit Suisse gold bar pendant, the star and heart charms link bracelet, the snake pattern bracelet. Wedding and engagement presents all. The Chinese businessman looks at me. He knows what they are. It’s been twenty-four years, and I never wear them, I say. I’m taking my youngest child to California and I want some spending money. He nods as I sell my survival gold for tickets to Universal Studios.

wind curls down the street,

rustling leaves as it goes,

the stop sign – ignored.

 

Miriam Wei Wei Lo

Listen to Miriam reading ‘Just Before Covid-19 Hits I Sell my Gold’ (2:38).

 

Miriam Wei Wei Lo writes to explore beauty and to probe the gap between what is and what should be. Her poems have been included in many anthologies and in the 2019 HSC syllabus for NSW. She lives in Western Australia with her family and teaches creative writing at Sheridan College.

Note: Sam Wagan Watson, ‘tigerland’, Smoke Encrypted Whispers (UQP 2004).

© text and audio 2020

Memoir (advanced reader’s copy)

On my headstone, write:
FORCE OF NATURE
afraid of bugs

Write:
Anything but a list of nouns
Of relations to people
They do not define me
They need not feel obligated to
Allegedly belove

Write:
Sister, daughter, friend

Write:
Someone who tried to change things
To change the world
Because that’s the plan, at least

Write, big:
Born October 18, 1999
Because I am one of those people who makes the entire birthday month a part of the birthday which is extremely selfish but also much more fun
And the people must know
When they come to the grave in October
That this is Birthday Month
And if the people don’t come
(why would they)
Still the dandelions will know
And they’ll fire their hoar grey manes away like confetti

And write my name:
Bold and all capital
So a ten year old girl can make a good crayon rubbing
The way her dad showed her
And learn not to be afraid of it all

But do not bury me beneath the headstone
Or else the bugs might eat me

Natalie Welber

 

Natalie Welber is a poet and student at Northwestern University, where she studies theatre and religion. Her writing has appeared in CoronaStoryteller, and magnetted to the refrigerator door for her family’s quarantine poetry competition. She is also a playwright, and you can follow her work in development on instagram: @annaamaliaplay

© 2020