When we opened this issue, we decided on a ‘No Theme’ provocation so that you could let your imaginations run wild to herald the new decade. And you did, through the submission period, producing poems on a wide range of issues and topics.
Now in Australia, as we have worked towards publication, we have been overtaken by drought, fire and smoke, flood and rain and hail, pestilence (locusts) and, with the rest of the world, plague. The Full Monty, so to speak.
Read the poetry in Issue 6 as a reflection of the world before. And then sit down and write about the world we have now, the world after.
Four of our editors have contributed a poem each about the January/February bushfires in Australia where we lost so much of our wildlife and habitat, and which changed huge areas of our environment forever.
We have also added a new feature – the NVQ virtual mic – since we were unable to have our launch event due to the virus lockdown. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our call out and make recordings!
We wish you all the best for the coming months in 2020. It will be a time where countries draw in on themselves, throw up physical borders and, hopefully, reflect on and understand themselves better. We are grateful that NVQ has an international contribution and readership base. We hope we can continue to reach you all, and we hope you enjoy this collection.
When I write 2020
I think of the vision
I no longer have.
My world is blurring.
He lied. No,only liberals lie.
He didn’t let doctors
tend to the children. I never heard that. You’re lying.
Last century, the newspapers
children threw at our doors
kept us on the same pages.
But in school we pledged allegiance.
Under God, underdog,
The children type quickly
but cannot climb trees.
Sara Backer has a new book of poetry, Such Luck (Flowstone Press 2019), and two poetry chapbooks: Scavenger Hunt (dancing girl press 2018) and Bicycle Lotus (Left Fork 2015). She earned an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. sarabacker.com
I want you to know what it feels like
To be walking home alone along bike paths as the fog sets in
Pretending the headlights of cyclists are forest spirits
Weaving through trees
Illuminating fleeting glimpses of faces as death masks
Every crumpled, drying leaf a meditation on life and death
And a decomposing possum more profound than any Gandhi quote.
Alone, saying Kaddish for what was, and never will be
Alone, in the sterile rooms waiting for your name to be called
For your turn with the nurse, then the doctor
Then you’ll pay your money, make nervous jokes with an anaesthetist you’ll never see again
Talking about dead souls by Gogol, how Chekhov died from tuberculosis
And Sartre had some interesting views on socialism
But, he still wrote about forcing a woman to get an abortion
You count back from ten
Still thinking about dead souls.
It‘s always difficult to ungrow what has grown
I want you to know what it feels like; swollen breasts and fever dreams
The apple blossoms in spring withering away to brown and garish mush
Stuck to the bottom of your shoe
You keep moving forward, don’t stop for a second, walk to work
But, the blood runs down to knees after three blocks
You’re thinking about the rottweiler attacking your mum’s leg
Down the cul-de-sac when you were a kid.
I ask how you are, yet block out the response
And, alone, the emergency room nurse says you should have known better
That’s what you get for sinning
You’re alone, with the drip of morphine
Alone, dealing with the consequences
Alone, thinking about apples being eaten by birds as soon as they’re sweet enough
That’s what you get for sinning.
I want you to know what that feels like.
Emily is a poet based in Canberra, writing about life and nature.
Come, I will buy you a house in Boise
and spend my days chasing the pulse
behind your sternum. At times, mellow
like a record spinning its vinyl, then
needle skips, retracing the lost song.
In this place, past and future will not exist,
words to be spoken only in singsong,
and fate will unweave in figments of memory.
I’ve never given you a baby but this house
will stem from us both, square inches
of built-in love to drape the missteps.
I’ll clad you in poems that feed any hunger
and wine will pour into the wild nights,
the moon’s gaze bisecting our light bodies.
When drunk on ink and too many dawns,
we’ll spiral into ourselves. The house will
stand still, a chrysalis hanging from a twig.
We’ll talk myths and I’ll make lavish appetizers
and place kisses right above the tattoo on your
left wrist where my questions scraped the skin.
The house will open onto a patch of green
where I’ll watch you dance through thin lathers
of rain until my eyeballs sting and body aches,
and no, this is not about lust, my atoms
will swim Prometheus’ fire and grind Sisyphus’
boulder before this world shifts into nothingness
and you forget I once bought you a house in Boise.
Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. Recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations appeared in Ambit, Waxwing, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. Her collection, The Flavor of The Other, is scheduled for publication in 2020 with Dos Madres Press. She is the Translation/International Poetry Editor of The Blue Nib.
We are the marginalia of history,
biting at the big heels
of heroes and presidents, popes
Not so much pitbulls
as their annoying fleas.
That’s the woman who made tea
for the Big Three at Yalta.
She’s chatting to another
who serves food to firefighters.
of massed man-made dragons
must sit for a moment,
must drink and eat.)
Jackaroos of all hues talk horses,
motorbikes, choppers and utes
far from the pastoralists
who raked it all in.
There in the corner?
That’s the woman who fed sheep
in another corner
when the usual manger
contained a slim, quiet baby
visited by lesser dignitaries than he.
And hear that coughing?
That’s all of us in the chorus
losing our lungs to the smoke,
as our own Neros fiddle
and Australia burns up.
Note: The title comes from Wikipedia’s definition of marginalia.
Listen to PS reading ‘scribbles …’ (1:34)
PS Cottier will have two poetry collections published in 2020. Monstrous is about Frankenstein’s monster, evil fairies, gnomes, and other horrors, and Utterly, which is about climate change, the environment and more personal concerns.
I wonder how and why and when
the government invented men
obsessed with coming up to speed
who give no thought to public need.
From empty head to well-shod toes
they hide themselves in turgid prose
emitting graph-stacked page on page
while colleagues fret in silent rage.
They squawk and rave and ramble on
hold secret meetings in the john –
within and without the workplace zone
they grow no business but their own.
Their cup of grievance overflows
when ruled by female CEOs.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Body Politic, an ecopoetry collection, is her sixth book and will be published by The Cuba Press (Wellington) in 2020. See her profile on Read NZ website.
this is how to stand so that you look thinner / how to open a sanitary pad without making a sound / how to laugh so that you don’t sound raucous / how to shut up / when to shut up / why to shut up / why to memorise the face of every man who walks past you / every car registration plate / this is where to sit on public transport / in taxis / how to sit / how to keep loving your grandfather / your male friends / this is exactly how to hold your keys inside your pocket when you are walking home / why to change your route and schedule / why to always be in company / why to walk around the trees instead of through them / this is why to stay at least two meters away from cars that ask you for directions / why to play no music through your earphones / why to avoid wearing them at all / this is why to tie your hair in a ponytail before you leave / actually no why to leave it down / why to cross the road even if you don’t live on that side / why to stick to well-lit streets full of people who might scare you more than darkness / this is why to go the long way even if it’ll make you late / why to keep your chin up / how to reject him without making him angry / this is how to pick locks with kirby grips / how to clench up so it hurts less / how to cover up a love bite / how to share your location with your dad’s iPhone / this is how to recover in the place that made you sick /
aischa daughtery is a scottish, lesbian poet and essayist based in glasgow. her work explores womanhood, sexuality, politics and adolescence through a dirty lens smeared in red lipstick. she wants to transport you back to your teenage bedroom with her words – think of boxes of love notes, bloody sheets and missing socks – and encourage you to re-feel all of the magic and terror that comes with growing up a girl.
when the artist grips your arm and says I think I love you
before disappearing again
into that other life
don’t consider yet all the things
that will come between you
so that years from now
whenever you get the closed-in feeling
you can pull out the photo from the boardwalk
that rainy day at the beach
see the wedding ring on his finger
study the stricken look on his face
as if he knows something precious
is slipping through his hands
Diana Donovan is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Northern California. A graduate of Brown University, she was recently featured in Quiet Lightning, a reading series in San Francisco.
i was born the same identical day _ as two other poets _ under the same star _ as Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath _ both rather unhappy patron saints _ it must be said _ when i examine _ with forensic stillness _ their photographic likenesses _ watch Dylan’s mad eyes _ plump face _ uneasy figure _ curling hair _ watch Sylvia’s proud mouth _ tall form _ darkened eyes _ whitened cheeks _ listen to their performances _ captured _ sizzle of air _ for all time _ his tensed voice _ guttering and resonant _ less welsh than i imagined _ her sprung voice _ chill and commanding _ less american than i imagined _ as i listen i feel _ a distant kinship _ un-arrogant _ to these two masters of the trade _ lucky to have been born _ under their star _ heat blackened scorpion _ deep water sign _ one male _ one female _ unhappy relationships for both _ for him _ with Caitlin _ three children _ for her _ with Ted _ two children _ but i _ with my usual intensity _ have resolved to abstain from love _ just look at the trouble it causes _ both dead by their own hand _ Dylan _ careening _ from alcohol in her land _ Sylvia _ frozen _ from her own intention in his _ both tragic _ both troubled _ both emotionally volatile _ we three burn away the peripheral _ i listen to the interviews _ research their lives _ read their words _ imbibe their influence _ imagine their inner worlds _ and then turn the table my way _ my time to shape new words _ for october twenty-seventh
Ellie Fisher is a 19-year-old poet, writer, and student of English and History at the University of Western Australia in Albany. Her first published piece is the prose poem ‘Eldest of Things’, anthologized in Once: a Selection of Short Short Stories (Night Parrot Press 2020).
Ominous clatter from the shed door
threads pockets of silence, dry as sticks
gathered from the dead plum. It’s primal, how more
of this bang – pause – bang slowly constricts
feeling. Reduced to a trunk with no limbs,
just heart, I can sense the wind dive and lift.
I long to join it, tear the door from its hinge
and keen like a coyote — loose and adrift
in the night air. But that won’t do. Instead
of this wild dream I’ll recheck each latch,
tidy the kitchen once again and catch
myself holding a book I’ve already read.
How can this wind leave us so unchanged?
In here nothing but ourselves, outside the rain.
Dagne Forrest lives and works in a small town just west of Canada’s capital. Spacetime, nature, and the smallest details in life provide her with jumping off points and inspiration. As a poet, she’s particularly intrigued by playing with form. Her work has been published in K’in Literary Journal and Prime Number Magazine.
Hers was a wash with water
of a certain shade, telling
after the fact
mine is now a bloodless scene
a wash with no colour at all
signifying the lack.
If I hold my breath
it could be a ghost story
on the murky ripples.
It is the silence
the feet out of water
that chills in those movies
the slow creep
of water circling.
The director knows
the power of stark white tiles
negative spaces, outlines, shadows
the terror of the unspoken shade
nothing to see here, now
no telling Daliesque reenactments
just the same foreboding drain
Listen to Anna reading ‘Self-portrait in the Bathtub’ (0:58)
Anna Forsyth is a poet and editor originally from New Zealand now living in New South Wales. She is the founder of feminist poetry organisation Girls on Key Poetry, where she is the editor of the small press. Her work has appeared in print and online, including in FourW, Not Very Quiet, Poetry NZ, Headland and Landfall. Her latest poetry collection is entitled Beatific Toast.
like the agapanthus
that didn’t flower
a removalist van
coinciding with dark
of silence, the twin
trees redder in
drought than ever
before as if
making a plea for
the decade to come –
the best yet?
are clocks’ hands
exploding pink at
dawn, never still
until the leaves fall
Listen to Jane reading ‘Stay or go?’ (0.33)
Jane Frank’s poems have appeared most recently in Hecate, StylusLit, Meniscus, Cicerone Journal, The Poet’s Republic, Grieve vol. 7 (Hunter Writers Centre 2019) and the Heroines anthology vol. 2 (Neo Perennial Press 2019). She was joint winner of the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award in 2019 and teaches writing and literary studies at Griffith University.
She breathes the air of her forebears
and walks the muddied path to the ruins
of the Cleared Coast, the hills lit by ling
heather. She hears of crofters once turfed out,
of their evictors wasting basins of milk,
yes, milk to douse the fire in the hearths
of homes in Boreraig. And of the wailing
and wandering by the waters of Loch Eishort.
But now in the southern spring sky of her
homeland, walls of flame lap at the edge
of old rainforest—the heritage house ablaze
and tumbling—and all the burning sears her
here as streams channel down by granite, and
gleam by bog myrtle, blaeberry and Scots pine.
Listen to Kathryn reading ‘Going Home’ (0:56)
Since moving to Belmont New South Wales, Kathryn Fry has had poems published in various anthologies and journals, including Antipodes (2016, 2019), Westerly (2019) and Not Very Quiet (2017, 2018, 2019). Her first collection is Green Point Bearings (Ginninderra Press 2018).
At the end of our first was, of course, a second and, yes,
a third glass of wine.
And some time into the second was a badly built joint,
made from my paper, your cardboard, my tobacco, your bud,
my spit, all passed from your free hand to mine.
We had to go around to the bins. You were wrapped
in tinsel, I had antlers, the joint sitting between my teeth. My
lighter, your fingers, my breath, your breath. We left the lighter
on the park bench, forgot about the wine, carried home only
And I thought,
Even if this is not the end of history, even if you are to move or I am to cheat or we are never to be anything of note— In years coming, I will still have this piece of tinsel in my collarbone, this wine in my belly, this piece of rolling paper stuck on my bottom lip.
Sophie Furlong Tighe
Sophie Furlong Tighe is a Drama and Theatre Studies student at Trinity College Dublin. She was once a slam poet, a twice winner of Dublin’s Slam Sunday. Now she writes things on pages, and has published in Not Where I Belong and Dodging The Rain.
Sixteen-year-old girl who rode nearly 40 miles down unfamiliar roads in order to rouse sleeping militiamen at the beginning of the American Revolution.
history let it happen / forty billion invisible hands /
the swift bend of a silversmith / wet fingers on a glass rim /
will always hear the whistle / they are looking for /
a non-circling / vulture still sniffs at the air /
say you were a girl just sixteen / say you volunteered /
say you rode ten miles by the time your father called out /
blue-coated & red-faced / there is no bell tower /
no plinking rhythm / to settle in to /
George Washington wrote you / congratulated & praised you /
licked your stamp / clean / because he liked the taste /
now even the Daughters have abandoned /
you / a wild horse / no one chooses to believe in
Listen to Taylor reading ‘Ode to Sybil Ludington’ (0:59)
Taylor Garrison is an undergraduate at Muhlenberg College. She is pursuing a degree in History with an emphasis on Women’s History. Her work has appeared in Catfish Creek and Outrageous Fortune.
Outside I heard the slapping of skin
as I was revising yet another essay
and I heard a cry
I wondered if it was yet another woman out of gas
Then I heard a man groaning
and I finally lifted my blinds and saw something
what one songwriter wrote a woman just ain’t supposed to see,
I looked away, thinking Oh.My.God.
Why are they doing it outside?
It’s late January, it’s cold.
I mean, not New England cold but still cold.
There are two motels down the street
can’t they go there?
I thought about knocking on the window,
saying hey, I know you’re busy, but may I ask why here?
I mean, out of the random streets in Fresno,
Why pick mine? Should I be honored?
And how old are you?
Do your parents know where you are?
Should I call the police?
What do I say?
Well, this isn’t an emergency, but I have two people
going at it like rabbits outside and it is a school night.
It became quiet. I looked again.
The man was zipping up his jeans
the woman’s bottom was round and supple
Another car drove by.
They sped away before I could put on Herb Alpert singing I need your love, I want your love say you’re in love, in love with this guy if not I will just die.
Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons has been published in Salon, Stereo Embers, New Southern Fugitives, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. She lives in Central California and is working on a memoir.
Lyric reference: ‘This Guy’s in Love with You’, The Beat of the Brass, Herb Alpert (1968)
This season I’m more aware of the fallout.
It’s the lacuna that grief brings.
Dust, ash and blood. Something more.
In your house I find letters marked out on dusty shelves,
names and places, little messages from the past,
codes for love and hatred, like hearts and arrows scarred into trees.
I sort through what remains of your old treasures,
remembering the shapes of all the things that you once held.
The hatbox, with its felt and feathers.
The shoebox full of money no-one can ever spend.
And here, two tiny circles,
the gold wedding ring you gave to me in the hospital before you died,
the hoop with its diamond. Brilliant, you once said.
Together, we belonged to the old world,
where what mattered was here and now.
You said all of us had to care for each other and I guess we forgot.
It’s only now, in the midst of fire smoke,
when the trees are ghosts and the air is a grey film of aftermath,
that I can see the green flames of the living world.
So now I’m sweeping the dust into piles and remembering,
even though it’s hard to breathe. I’m remembering still.
Stephanie Green writes short fiction, poetry, and travel essays published in various journals and a variety of anthologies and collections. Her most recent book is a collection of prose poems, Breathing in Stormy Seasons (Recent Work Press 2019). She also co-edited ‘Re-mapping Travel Writing’, Special Issue 56, Text Journal (October 2019), with Nigel Krauth and Stefan Jatschka.
Marked Special on the Supermarket shelves
suggests to me these apples will be sweet.
I fly off to the checkout with my prize,
an orchard in each tantalizing bite.
Crimson-rich with appetising scent,
sure, they’re not of export quality;
graffiti art engraved into the flesh
to certify approval by a bird.
I know those lesions. Wear my peck marks too
like songs: the whistles of a little finch,
pipe of corella, fluting of a thrush.
Pecks that made me different from the rest.
Defiant blemishes. They’re mine alone.
Click this button.
Hazel Hall is a Canberra poet and musicologist. Her haiku, tanka and free verse has been published widely. Recent collections include Step By Step: Tai Chi Meditations with Angie Egan (Picaro Poets 2018), Moonlight over the Siding (Interactive Press 2019) and Severed Web with artist Deborah Faeyrglenn (Picaro Poets 2019).
Dominique Hecq grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She now lives in Melbourne. Her works include a novel, three collections of short stories and eight books of poetry. After Cage (Girls on Key 2019) is her most recent collection. She is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize, IPTRC.
The wind lit bonfires
in East Gippsland
inviting more guests
than it knew how to handle
eight days later
the hem of the surf
on the Mallacoota Beach
wears bright colours
The Age Report, 7 January 2020:
among the ash and hard to see at first
is the familiar bright plumage
of some of our most iconic birds
vivid blues, yellows, reds and greens of
rainbow lorikeets of crimson rosellas of
yellow tailed black cockatoos
whipbirds, honey eaters and robins
we walk carefully, not wanting to step
on the carcasses of dead birds
the closer we look the more
we begin to comprehend the extent
of the carnage
it is overwhelming
and deeply sad
Gail Hennessy has been published in national newspapers, poetry magazines and anthologies. She has won national and local prizes. She is the author of three books of poetry, Witnessing (self published in 2010), Written on Water (Flying Island Books 2017) and The M Word (Girls on Key 2019).
without accent marks –
dark blotches carve countries
on an absent snipe’s eggs
I would like to dedicate this tanka to the memory of the late poet Miklós Radnótti who died in the Holocaust in 1944.
Judit Katalin Hollos
Listen to Judit reading ‘writing home’ (0:10)
Judit Katalin Hollos is a teacher, poet, playwright, translator and journalist. She graduated in playwriting and screenplay writing at the Theatre and Film Institute in Budapest. Her short stories, poems, translations and articles have appeared in English, Swedish and Hungarian in a number of literary magazines and anthologies.
Gossiping at the fence as a scrap of paper floats by
Each old object now strange
When my tongue breaks
When reality lapses like a favour
When waking seems risky as sleep
A trance state between season and accident
Being unable to speak
The five ways night slows down
Even when asleep (especially then)
Everything is tinged violet, every hollow
Zero as possibility . . . . an arrival
Jill Jones’ most recent books are A History Of What I’ll Become (UWAP 2020), and Viva the Real (UQP 2018), shortlisted for both the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry and the 2020 Adelaide Festival Awards. With Scots-Australian poet, Alison Flett, she publishes chapbooks through Little Windows Press.
inside, the old fridge grunts like electric frogs fucking. outside, the moon hangs in the balance. the tide pauses, which way to turn? today the waves had too much water in them. the fish you caught for dinner we cooked in an oil bath. the children are fraying. no iron in my nerves, only cracked pots. illness comes close and goes and comes. electric frogs. wasps. humans with too much and not enough to bear. no turning left in us. kerosene in our eyes. on the one hand i have smallpox in my fingerprints. on the other, i’m holding steel wool.
Michaela Keeble is an Australian writer living in Aotearoa with her partner and three kids. She mainly writes press releases about climate change, but her poetry and fiction are also published online and in print, including in Capital, Westerly, Plumwood Mountain, Not Very Quiet, Cicerone, Mimicry and at CommunityLore.
Every instant, I just miss. The one who left the sachet twist at my café table and whose body heat remains in my seat. The one who stood, just here, smoking a still-vivid cigarette. The one who palped this pomegranate with five fingertips but replaced it in the ruddy pile, or left trace Chanel in this lift, like a clue, or last returned this library book, read or unread.
My mother frets at names mislaid: second cousins, book-club titles, the Minister for This or That. She is brightened when I remind that we are evolved for hearth-groups, not the metropolis—for acquaintances numbering fewer than a hundred, even fewer of them dear, a handful of books, to be read and re-read. Yet in my heart I am enraptured by the never met, the name never-shaped in my mouth, the heat in the seat, the book maybe read, and here on the ground, deposited an instant ago, a fragile cylinder of ash the size of a stranger’s drawn breath.
Penelope Layland is a Canberra poet. Her most recent book, Things I’ve thought to tell you since I saw you last (Recent Work Press 2018) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and the ACT Book of the Year and was a winner in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.
I will never forget the redheaded Scot
leaning over me at midnight with a torch
checking for my breath.
Nor the Fijian nurse, her surgical cap
stamped with bright red hibiscus.
A disembodied voice pleading
from behind a curtain: Let me go home.
A woman with a trolley shoots me a glare
and I almost thank her for her impatience,
her ridiculously normal rage.
In the middle of the aisle, as if struck by a moon
too near the earth, I stare upwards — here, there,
at colour that seems to sing.
Nothing is the same for at least a couple of days.
Wes Lee lives in New Zealand. She has won a number of awards for her writing. Most recently she was selected as a finalist for the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize 2018, and awarded the Poetry New Zealand Prize 2019 (Massey University Press). Her latest poetry collection is By the Lapels (Steele Roberts Aotearoa 2019).
They were saying words, I think
Though I couldn’t be sure
I forgot what words meant, forgot how to speak
Couldn’t say anything except for
One question. Why me?
Two words. Why me
Three letters. Y M E
No other words because there are no words
float . . . . g
Just . . . . . . . . . llett
t . . h e n crashintoeachotherunexpectedlyand
X . . . letters strewn everywhere
E . . . . . . . all around me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . O
chaotic abandon . . . . DE
I picked up the ones I recognised
. . E
I kept them close
I soon learnt that if you rearrange them they spell
devastation desolation isolation
There’s not much else you can do with them, Y M E
In time, I realised my letters must be broken
for they only knew how to spell broken words
I threw them away and started again
Listen to Steph reading ‘In the doctor’s rooms’ (1:13)
Steph Lum is an emerging poet and intersex human rights advocate. Steph recently founded and edited YOUth&I, an anthology of poetry, writings and artwork by young intersex people.
Jacqui Malins is a stunt poet and artist based in Canberra. She has performed at events including Poetry on the Move (Canberra, 2019) and the Woodford Festival (QLD, 2018–19) and released her first collection Cavorting with Time (Recent Work Press) in 2018. She is the co-founder and organiser of Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry events in Canberra.
blue seas, green islands–
the governance manipulator’s dream of
paradise, the high ride on the wave
from grass to greenback on the tropic
cancer of poverty–
and in Australia the downers
(put them down and keep them down,
extract the juices from the ripened flesh
of the socially engineered to be exploited
and make them pay for the privilege)
spout fancy rhetoric
to the gullible about the betrayal
of democracy, about sanctions for sins
as if God alone, through the agency of his
corporate deputies, has given holy unction
to their own dis-graces;
and in Fiji
and Samoa and Tonga and the Solomons
the rich blue/green carpet of the Pacific
laid out under the throne of governance
where the coloniser sits, is wearing thin–
its patience threadbare; and once the strong
rough fibre of its weave is exposed it becomes
abrasive to walk on
with soft, white feet clad only
in the paper-thin currency
Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello
Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello is an award winning visual artist, poet and writer of Aboriginal (Arrernte), Chinese and Anglo-Celtic descent. Her poetry, prose and essays have been published in journals and anthologies nationally and internationally including in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature.
If I lived one hundred years ago,
I would be an old maid.
Today, I serve lattes at a bistro.
I polish silverware in the empty shop
and try to read the forgotten newspaper.
There are outbreaks of Covid 19 each week.
Then, two pages after a spread on carbon emissions,
contributors meditate on Ok Boomer
and a few people make a lot of noise about it.
[[Mostly people who like to make noise.
Old. Young. You know the ones.]]
Outside, the smog sets a natural filter.
The bistro throws away too many recyclables.
The bistro does not compost.
“Let us not forget politics!” says a gentleman to his friend.
Debate night is a fight prep
and who’s elected next matters
to general cleanliness, life and social policy.
[[But it doesn’t show up on my breakfast plate,
if you know what I mean.]]
For now, we creep like measly snow bees
awkward and ill equipped for the climate’s change.
We are not bees.
Our hive minds fragment.
But even so,
the little moments grow up in the sidewalk cracks.
The resurrection of hope occurs in the clink of glasses.
Christina McDermott is a writer and linguist who enjoys exploring the connection between speech sounds and verse. Her work has appeared in Levee Magazine and October Hill Press.
this is why I don’t parade
naked in front of you, how I lie
under sheets as far from you
as sleep, why I write –
to screen myself with
prettier than indignity, spicier than
Something that might
Victoria McGrath is a poet from regional New South Wales and has been widely published in journals and anthologies in Australia and the US, including Cordite and Best Australian Poems. She was nominated for the US Best of The Net Award and shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize.
I look out the window and watch clouds act as lens filters while everyone else attends to bigger problems. Rain-dancers have their beliefs suspended as every hill wears a different robe of brown and cumulonimbus are all talk and no action. Trees stand majestic in once-lagoon ovals, and follow the curves of glitterless water. Smoke is rising from the coast where wet can still be dry enough to burn even after a thousand years of rainforest. On the hill farthest from the front lines, generals bicker about optimal denial. The man beside me reads Tolkien. I want to tell him the good guys win in the end, but I can’t remember.
Listen to Amanda reading ‘Distance Blurs’ (1:03)
Amanda McLeod is a Canberra-based creative with fiction and poetry published in many places, both in print and online. She is the Managing Editor of Animal Heart Press, a small poetry press. A fan of quiet places, she’s often outdoors with her dog, looking for the perfect spot.
I still call Australia home
but where the bloody hell am I?
A place of slip slop
slap in our safe, safe schools
A country where the larrikins play
but the rest play by the rules
A country eager to stop boats
but not leaks
A parliament where women are knocked out, knocked up
or still knocking at the door
A country more preoccupied by onions
than by unions
A land that isn’t mine,
yet is mined
Where the bloody hell is my country
I may be a woman, but I am not a bird
None of us can simply fly home
Rosalind Moran has written for anthologies, websites, and journals including Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, BroadAgenda, and The Australian Multilingual Writing Project, among others. She received a Highly Commended in the 2019 June Shenfield Poetry Award and is a co-founder of Cicerone Journal. @RosalindCMoran
Sign on the freeway: silver alert.
Another elder said fuck it,
got into a red 2004 Ford
threw IDs out the window
and jammed the accelerator.
She took 1-90 east and
headed for the opposite coast,
laughing as she fiddled with the radio.
Relatives twisted napkins in knots
and punched numbers onto cell phones:
all of them beside themselves,
screaming at law enforcement for help.
Mom should be there for the grandchildren.
Dad needed to stay, so others
could feel superior to him.
Instead, flagrant disregard.
Mom and Dad have fled the scene
like teenagers, but in separate cars.
Dad split six months ago,
and no one ever found him.
He’s an adult and entitled to leave,
even if that does make him
a self-centered bastard.
After a while, we gave up looking.
When Mom left on New Year’s Eve,
the last day of the decade.
she swore she’d head straight into 2020,
and as far as I know,
she hasn’t stopped driving.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer. Her most recent volumes, “Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices”, “Death and Heartbreak”, and “Cocktails at Denny’s” were released in 2019. Leah’s work appears in Blunderbuss (2016), The Spectacle (2018), Outlook Springs (2017), Atticus Review (2016), Your Impossible Voice (2017), and elsewhere.
An amber striped curve with shrieking back legs is blown
on to my windscreen and there are so few of you Another
bee buzzes around a window Flyspray too conveniently
at hand I squirt Mistaken identity the blowflies awakened
with the warmth I have often wondered if flies hibernate
Not so Undergo diapause Like the more permanent state
of insect parliamentarians
Listen to Lizz reading ‘Diapause’ (0:48)
Lizz Murphy writes between Binalong NSW and Canberra ACT in a variety of styles. She also loves art & text. She has published thirteen books. Her eight poetry titles include Shebird (PressPress), Walk the Wildly (Picaro/Ginninderra) and Two Lips Went Shopping (Spinifex). She is a former Canberra Times Poetry Editor.
Our generation imitated what we saw
at matinees on Saturdays. In backyards
we dressed up like cowboys, Indians,
pretended to be every hero John Wayne
played, donned feather headdresses to star
as Crazy Horse or Pokohontas in battles
fought at Little Bighorn. We smoked
peace pipes, used groundsheets to make
tepees, built forts, conflated histories.
We knew of tribes called Cherokee,
Comanche, Sioux, and Navajo. Ignorant
of Australia’s recent past, we had never
heard of Koori or Wiradjiri, but Abo,
had currency in our schoolyard.
In country towns in New South Wales
the Greeks ran cafes, the Poles made shoes,
the Germans rose to be more successful
than the landed gentry. Their children
went to school with us ‘real Australians’.
A dark-skinned kid called Chocko said
he came from Pakistan. The Blackman
sisters reckoned they descended from
Kings and Queens in Tonga. Together
we learnt English history, paired up
and danced in Empire Halls. Puberty,
the ’67 referendum, land rights demon-
strations, saw Chocko and the Blackman
girls remake history, build an Embassy.
K A Nelson
K A Nelson is a Canberra poet who divides her time between work in the Northern Territory and study at the University of Canberra. Her poems have won prizes, been included in anthologies, and published widely. She has one collection, Inlandia (Recent Work Press 2018).
Trump orders withdrawal of American troops that are a buffer
between Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan protecting the Kurds
Hevrin Khalef a senior feminist Kurdish politician
Secretary-General of the Future Syria Party
that believes in pluralism and equal rights for women
in a democratic home to millions of Kurds
betrayed by Trump who left them to the wolves / a war crime
soon forgotten / six years work undone in six days
a barrage of bullets / head riddled with gunshot wounds
some close range / shots to the back / face fractures
hit repeatedly with the butt of a rifle / both legs broken
dragged by the hair until it parted with her scalp
executed at a checkpoint in Syria by Jihadists mercenaries
former ISIS prisoners who believe women inferior to men
shouting film me film me as they shoot already dead bodies
Turkey claims the vehicle struck by the Syrian Air Force
sensationalist Italians’ report raped and stoned to death
fake news to further debase a clever and gentle woman
the Turks broadcast Khalef neutralized! a success!
Listen to jenni reading ‘collateral damage’ (1:31)
jenni nixon is a sydney writer − readings at diverse venues include Sydney Town Hall, writers festivals, pubs and bookshops – ‘swimming underground’ published (Ginninderra Press 2015) – recently in Southerly, Cordite, 6 poems Rochford Street Press.
it’s the eve of The Eve.
Redhead knocking on the door.
The sun a pink blister.
Dirty dishwater sea
in a sandwich of sand.
Black feathers pirouette
stall before landfall—
Black leather leaves.
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 Australian Catholic University poetry prize in 2018 and 2019. Her poems have been published in The Canberra Times, Not Very Quiet online journal and The Blue Nib.
Porcelain sink and a bottle of Black Opium.
Hairs from my head I slid between each tooth,
taking more time flossing the molars. A good
habit to keep.
Azazel’s other daughters are birds of prey.
I’ve seen them on my way to work.
Beautiful girls like me.
But they appear as gashes in the sky. Infected wounds.
All of them.
Not a lick of sense
shared between them. They could have long
hair and smoke cigars if they wanted,
they could ride in the flat of my truck,
sun streaming onto their open laps.
But they are already consumed by fire.
I never keep the hair. It makes a nest
in my trash, though, they won’t mistake it for home.
Morgan Leigh Plessner
Morgan Plessner is a poet with her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. She has been published in Ink & Voices, Foliate Oak, Underwood Black Works, Red Flag Poetry, Reality Break Press and Allegory Ridge. Her first book, Body of the Moon, is on pre-sale at Allegory Ridge.
At the playground there’s a see-saw bolted to the ground on both sides, so perhaps I should say a former see-saw. Two teenagers are sitting on it and nothing is happening. Instead of a teeter-totter it is now a teeter-teeter or a teeter-notter or, really, the most accurate way to describe it would be two unmovable chairs, facing each other.
Listen to Jessy reading ‘The Former See-Saw’ (0.33)
Jessy Randall’s poems and other things have appeared in McSweeney’s, Poetry, and The Best American Experimental Writing. Her most recent book is How to Tell If You Are Human (Pleaides 2018). She is a librarian at Colorado College and her website is http://bit.ly/JessyRandall.
A couple kiss over an arcade
game, their image
fixed from gelatinous print—
silver halide draws light
Sky lanterns cast
ascend, drifting though
mountain cloud pass
they firelight your phone.
The bedside table’s forgotten
photo—its faded Kodak
and the tooth there, small
yellowed, covered in dust.
A stretch of coastline—
mornings flood bone
the northerly billows
curtains and with it,
blisters of sea.
You dress. Pulling work
over your head—tying
yourself into sailor’s knots,
no longer able to pause or delay.
Listen to K A reading ‘Pause’ (0:49)
KA Rees writes poetry and short fiction. Her poems and short stories have been published by Australian Poetry, Cordite Poetry Review, Margaret River Press, Not Very Quiet, Overland, Review of Australian Fiction and Yalobusha Review, among others. Kate live in Sydney.
Such a berry fragrant and kind of vibrant shadow
Morose and tired, growing green copper mold
Veins like fanned out rainbows above candles
Burning fires and fires and fires and I’m still so tired
Anchored and then light
One from inside and the other from out
I’m thinking about iguanas falling from trees
Thinking about the way they thaw
If not butchered before
Turned to skinned, battered meat
I’m thinking about an elephant’s nose and then a giraffe’s neck
I’m thinking about them, the lengths
The thick visual stench of it all
Existing with these freaks
Somehow smaller and feeling much more
I’d like to climb that trunk
To hop up a neck and fall like an iguana
Sit for a bit
Sit until it hits
Oh, I can feel that impact
I’m not frozen like I’m cold blooded
Because I’m quite warm blooded
In a simple way
My innate human temps keeping me pumping
I’ve tried to quench that need for going on and yet
My non-lizard heart
Inserted by a true thief
Taken from another
Put into me
Keeps a beat
Against a will
I’m back up a nose and then, spotted neck
Hanging with those sad, cold lizards
Invasive and overlooking
Thinking, maybe I’ll stay up here a bit longer
Learn something more about not being so warm
Before, again, I let go
With a lack of many kinds of things inside of me
Except a heavy weight
It all might be the same
Sarah Bex Rice
Sarah Bex Rice is a media archivist, also dabbling in experimental filmmaking, writing, music and pretty much all things that go well with a good beer. She tries to achieve everyday living that promotes the resurgence of analog enjoyment as well as the importance of exploring and remixing our own memories.
The moon rises benevolent.
It has been dark for an hour
now and he sleeps after all
that has been said and not
done. Accusations hurled
like an axe across the room.
How she raged, jabbing
her grievances home
one by one until he let fall,
unwittingly, into the still
centre of their storm,
the truth of how he saw
himself and them.
The sun is up, the teapot
is warm and as she pours
his tea she fancies there is
a gleam of malice in his eyes.
But is it for what she said
or what she heard?
Listen to Debbie reading ‘The Moon and the Teapot’ (0:48)
Debbie Robson has been writing poetry since the 1990s. She has performed some of her poems on radio, at Sydney poetry events, in the Blue Mountains and more recently as part of the Women of Words project in Newcastle. She has also been privileged to have one of her long poems performed by an actor as part of the Southern Highlands Art Festival.
A storm brews
The way a curse grows in the back of the throat
Of the little old bruja on the corner
If it takes you by surprise
You weren’t paying attention
All the signs were there
The slight ache in your right hip
The vibrant green of moss on a tree’s north-facing bark
The milk curdling a day early
The finger of chill running up your spine
As the hair on your neck stands up
Everything in its place
And a place for everything
And when it culminates, the story shifts
The hero doesn’t make it through this time
There is no miraculous recovery
The apparent downfall
Is all that it appears
The curse finds its mark
Like an arrow, straight and true
That’s the way a storm brews
Ann Schlotzhauer is a Kansas City native and graduate of the University of Tulsa. She currently resides in Florida with a small, gray cat. Her poetry, fiction, and photography can be found in East Jasmine Review, Foliate Oak, Alluvian, Sheila-Na-Gig, Junto, The Wire’s Dream, Cardinal Sins, and more.
The kind that gets down the neck of your coat if you are not,
that clings and melts against your skin.
The kind that is lovely in December and truly awful in March,
The kind that makes the car slide out from under you, towards that tree,
or that ditch or worse yet
that person, just standing there, waiting for the bus.
Listen to Heidi reading ‘The Bus’ (0:31)
Heidi Slettedahl is an academic and a US–UK dual national who goes by a slightly different name professionally. She has been published sporadically in small literary journals, including Picaroon Poetry, Vita Brevis, Dream Noir and I Want You to See This Before I Leave.
You can tell the photograph is posed —
the way you look back over your shoulder
while both hands reach up to the lemon
as if to pluck it from bountiful branch,
touch it to your lips, breathe in its sharp scent.
Full of the zest of youth, you radiate.
Stripy summer dress, cap-sleeved, out of season
at home but perfect here, allows the sun
to caress your outstretched arms.
Your smile says you know who is on the other
side of the camera; comfortable enough
in his company you keep your glasses on.
What neither of you can see is his dark
shadow intruding on the picture.
Madelaine Smith has had poems published in various journals and anthologies including ‘The Shirt’ in The Darker Side of Love (Paper Swans 2013), ‘Bated’ in Awakening the House (JAHM 2016)‘, ‘The Brickmakers Wife’ (Northampton Poetry Review 2019). In a drawer she has three unpublished novels.
‘put on a diaphanous Ossie Clark dress and throw myself off Beachy Head’ — Pattie Boyd on her marriage’s difficulties
Marriage never held any appeal,
a momentary overwhelming of beauty,
into the silken fall of unknown.
I chose to remain firm-footed,
a jeans and booted plain Jane
tramping that same landscape,
coupled but truer to myself.
Separation doesn’t come any easier
without the gold band,
wanting or deserving nothing.
Alone, the dress feels hard-won,
soft wings to hold me aloft,
and the white cliffs less of a sheer drop.
Listen to Gerry reading ‘The Wedding Suit’ (1:03)
Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press, UK. Hedgehog Poetry Press will publish her collection ‘Totems’ in 2020. Her writing blog can be found at http://thistlewren.blogspot.fi/ and @grimalkingerry on Twitter.
The click-click needles knit apart my wrong
as Daddy’s gavel echoes in the thread,
as soft as spiders’ silk but twice as strong.
I felt my sins announced with clang of gong,
scrub, scrubbed potatoes – teenaged fingers bled.
The click-click needles knit apart my wrong.
While knit one, purl one, knit one sings its song,
“Adopt!” the nuns’ mad mantra haunts my head,
as soft as spiders’ silk but twice as strong.
I flagellate myself with memory’s thong,
its welts a plea she’s happy, safe, well-fed.
The click-click needles knit apart my wrong.
Oh guilt that ever-sharpens flashback’s prong!
The smell of steaming spuds still triggers dread,
as soft as spiders’ silk but twice as strong.
As tokens of maternal love grow long,
her absence tastes of bile and tears of red.
The click-click needles knit apart my wrong,
as soft as spiders’ silk but twice as strong.
Listen to Robyn reading ‘Click-click needles’ (1:52)
Robyn Sykes is published in journals and anthologies nationally, internationally and online. Her work draws on her fascination with nature, human behaviour and the idiosyncratic. The entertainer and science graduate has studied crocodiles, peered down electron microscopes and lived in Japan. Robyn lives and works on a farm in south-west New South Wales.
It’s too late to travel them now
so cover me up with Persian rugs
and draw a canopy of silk around my bed.
Slide the bangle of lapis onto my left wrist
and the gold onto the right.
Let no-one forget I drove a Datsun from London to Amritsar
and saw Delphi, the mosque, the pass.
Where the traders have been – I have too.
In with the blood of Europe
there must be that of nomads.
So, bring me a horse.
Let it tattoo the floor with its impatient heels
and dance before me.
As well as your prayers
recite the Diamond Sutra, the Mahabharata
and shout thus spake Zarathustra.
Let me breathe my last
with a small statue of Siddhartha in this palm
Sarasvati in that.
Another rug now …
I am unafraid.
Lesley Synge lives in Brisbane. She has three poetry collections, Organic Sister (Post Pressed, 2005), Mountains Belong to the People Who Love Them (Post Pressed, 2011) and Signora Bella’s Grand Tour (self-published Zing Stories, 2019) and is collected in The Sky Falls Down (Ginninderra, 2019). She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland and is an award-winning writer in many genres.
If you asked me what I recall of the Minotaur’s labyrinth,
and the faded frescoes of rock-star bull-leapers, I would say:
it was my daughter’s blue and white checked dress,
which she pulled up all day, to inspect the band-aid on her knee;
and the fierce sun that we squinted past in every single photograph;
and the ginger stubble of the Ancient History teacher I ran away with
in the year after high school. But mostly I remember the stink
of cabbage from the neighbouring fields (sharp enough to kill Ulysses
and his legends, sufficient to repel Arthur Evans from his digs);
a miasma of stench, ripe as the stains on my canvas-bound Bury’s – A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great.
Helen Thurloe is a Sydney writer. Her poems have won national awards, and appear in several anthologies. Her first novel, Promising Azra, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2016.
“After I go to the bathroom, I leave my hands wet as proof I washed them.” – Jarod Kintz
I can feel them.
Covering my skin
in a clumpy,
— I am dirty.
Get them off.
My skin is covered in
growing globs of
dirt and rust.
His car is gone,
finally left for work.
— I am dirty.
I fill the tub,
about three inches
from the top,
and call my
The middle ones go first.
like damp plywood
under the floorboards.
— I am dirty.
Years Three and Two
went second and third.
A blur of washing,
the used bath water
depriving them of time.
a clump of dirt
stuck to me.
I cleanse myself.
the easiest clump
to rid myself of.
I wonder if the bath
reminds her of the womb,
she left six months ago.
— I am dirty.
Noah, he ran.
A stain seeping into
my pores for the last
Not surprising that
it took some skin with it
when I washed it away.
— I am still dirty.
The only proof of
my cleansing attempt
is the bath water
that drips from
I call the other mud maker—
“you better come home.”
Hlavaty, Craig. “13 Years Later, the Andrea Yates Drownings Still Haunt,” Craig Hlavaty, The Houston Chronicle, 20 June 2014.
Kintz, Jarod. This Book Title Is Invisible, (Orafoura, translator) Amazon Kindle, 2012.
Tina Vorreyer, graduate of Lawrence University (Appleton, WI), has been published in four anthologies by Z Publishing (2017–2019), Black Works Issue #2 (July 2019), Not Very Quiet Issue #4 (March 2019), Riza Press’s “Project Healthy Love” online showcase (January 2019), and is Poet’s Choice’s September Poetic Musings Contest Winner.
The fires blew in ahead of schedule and were gone, and next came the dust and then the storms and then the hail. We unplugged the downpipes we had plugged, scooped dead insects from the pond. Each afternoon you dug out the jews harp I gave you the year we turned twelve and had it hum and buzz that Nick Cave song about loyalty, the one we danced to, off our tits, the year we turned eighteen. Holding the music in your mouth, breathing out the song. They phone to tell us the funnel webs are on the move, and we laugh it off, say everyone is on the move. Still, the world is growing bigger. I am building a sleeping platform between the shivered trunks of trees while you craft a halcyon garden using only pebbles and ash. They phone to tell us the fires have turned and are heading back our way, and we laugh it off, say that’s not very likely now is it.
Listen to Jen reading ‘Refusing disaster (a survival plan)’ (1:30)
Jen Webb is Dean of Graduate Research at the University of Canberra, and co-editor of the scholarly journal Axon: Creative Explorations and the literary journal Meniscus. She researches creativity and culture, and her most recent poetry collections are Sentences from the Archive, and Moving Targets (Recent Work Press, 2016, 2018).
Monks douse saffron robes
with accelerant, exchange prayer beads for a lit match,
and offer themselves as human candles.
Our daughters carve into their skins
like wax engravers, loosing blood
to the river until tender veins rust.
River gums tilt on root axes,
let through flint-sharp slants of sun
so oil-infused leaves buckle and smoulder.
My limping, praying mother resists evacuation
asking, where else there is to go
other than here, other than now.
Trees surrender their arms en masse to a molten sky,
release bark-wombs to ash, and propagate inferno
from sacrificial funeral pyres.
The greed mongers scrabbling for coal would
sever the non-complacent tongue,
lobotomise even the dawn chorus—
And the universe, gagged and bound, must now transmit
in panic code;
Flames flicker and curl, flicker and curl, poised for plan B.
Listen to Sophia reading ‘Flicker’ (1:35)
Sophia Wilson is an Australian New Zealander. Her poetry/short fiction recently appeared in StylusLit, Ars Medica, Poems in the Waiting Room, Hektoen International, Corpus and elsewhere. In 2019, the manuscript for her first children’s novel, The Guardian of Whale Mountain, was selected in the top ten for Green Stories (UK). She was shortlisted for the 24 Hour National Poetry Competition (NZ) and the Takahē Monica Taylor Prize and was a finalist in the Robert Burns Poetry Competition.
I believe in beautiful birds which fly out from the most bitter books.
Tassos Leivaditis: ‘Credo’
Observe the noonday thirst of pigeons, sipping water
dripping from a copper pipe to irrigate a desiccated
marble gutter, in this city parched and bleached to nuances
of Attic white, where modern life rubs shoulders with antiquity;
absorb the amethyst of evening that enfolds these hills,
a lullaby before deep violet nocturnes animate their dreams,
and columns of the temple incandesce with waxen light ~
Contemplate the limpid quality of Cretan wine,
this glass at dusk, this solitary chair; the vista
from a balcony projecting into air; awaken to
the throaty call of urban birds at dawn, opening
their larynxes upon the ledge outside your room;
celebrate the pealing bells that echo in your neighbourhood,
ringing in the holy day, banishing night’s visitants;
adore the shady mulberry tree that emanates sweet reveries,
pulsing with cicada threnody in August somnolence ~
My spirit greets the street musicians, lingering into the fall
when seasonal sun-seeking visitors have fled abroad:
the solitary violin, the cymbalon, the haunting songs
on nights of frost and wind without an audience to offer coins:
grant them a warm place to sleep; a winter roof that doesn’t leak;
an overcoat, a scarf, a hat; a glass of wine, enough to eat ~
Jena Woodhouse is the author/translator/compiler of nine book publications in various genres, the most recent being The Book of Lost Addresses: A retrospective (Picaro Poets series 2020). She lived and worked for ten years in Athens, Greece.
When the fly landed
on the crumb of me,
he deposited his halves
and drank my raw dew.
I put my love away
the morning I prayed for her death:
the winds—futile; the moon—charted;
my tongue—on the frost your flesh becomes.
Remind me: I cannot fit to the frame.
I cannot breathe like midnight.
I am no longer everything
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, who teaches at Bridgewater College and serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, and many other online and print journals.
Every freedom song
is chanted by a traitor
who attacks her own tribe
is slave to
only chains her
to outsiders’ grace
is an old castle
torn between stones
stops the world
but cannot stop men
Her sewn-up vagina—
is the blood
Freedom from god
enslaves woman to man
Freedom from man
enslaves woman to woman
Every woman is
the child of enemy-oppressor
Every woman is
the child of enemy-oppressor
those who claim suffering
Every freedom song
is chanted by a dictator
who replaces another
is freedom in disguise—
a terror song
Listen to Bänoo Zan reading ‘Burqa’ (2:42)
Bänoo Zan is a poet, librettist, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with 200 published poems and poetry-related pieces as well as three books. Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath, was reprinted in Iran in 2010. Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016 in Canada by Guernica Editions. It was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award by the League of Canadian Poets in 2017. Letters to My Father, her second poetry book, was published in 2017 by Piquant Press in Canada. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series (since 2012). It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices and visions.
not our first
conflagration, but still,
the biggest yet. The timbered hills
in drought conditions, heat waves and winds
that turn, and turn: fireballs, incineration, flammagenitus—
a cloud—volcanic properties, mind of its own,
its temper rising, turbulent
play a role and so
can rain—it’s not well
on particles of ash and if it rains,
can put its fire out! I confess, the role
of lightning, jet stream, water vapour is
tinder in my brain, waiting
for a spark.
a politician in power anywhere,
willing to address this summer’s mass
cremation? As citizens cry out
for climate action, they
What we get
is spin &
All this lost summer, I check
my phone for ‘Fires Near Me’:
Namadgi, Currowan, Badja
on repeat in my head
like a hollow prayer.
I monitor road closures,
watch footage of fires tear
across the screen and listen
to journos, dressed as yellow
firies, deliver the latest toll.
Pungent, acrid, eye-watering
smoke invades my city;
the sun flames red over the lake.
I have cash in my wallet, a car filled
with petrol, water, and bag packed
ready—waiting for the message
to leave, but who can tell when?
I walk around my empty suburb
wearing my P2 mask feeling
like an extra in ‘The End of the World.’
Neighbours put out water in buckets
for our mob of refugee ‘roos.
One with a joey in her pouch—
head popped out; front legs
folded at right angles above pricked
ears—waiting for the message
to leave, but who can tell when?
In this stolen summer of cinder and
smoulder and blaze and ash …
I watch a woman pull a fish from the
ocean—foil flashing flutter against
the evening sky—a shiny fish flag
unlatched quickly and flicked
into rush of sea on sand …
I see the silver of it disappear gratefully
beneath the cool swell …
Fish and sea and sky and woman
and my smoke heavy heart salved
(for a moment) in this stolen summer …
Fire tracks us for days along the city’s edge, like a wild camel on the dune-top, shadowing our movements, waiting for the moment to maraud and rampage in amongst our domestic smallness.
Our bush capital, a recent discordant note in historical time, settlers unsettled in the territory of fire, trespassing in a place claimed by flame. Burning takes its own time, plays its own game forever, makes its own weather.
Emissaries of smoke are sent on each wind change, it glows malevolent on satellite maps, taunts, turns burning fingers towards us, then pulls away, back to the wilderness where we cannot follow,
leaves us breathless, waiting, for the next turn, the next heat spike. It plays, we tense, it threatens, we watch, it runs and storms, we retreat. Days pass … still it tracks along the western hills, looks down on our intruder city.
Smoke covers streets and houses, enters every breathing body, camps out in hair and carpets, hangs between us and the sun. My fire is out there it says, stringing out our dread, playing us, a game of nerves.