Introduction to Issue 8

The theme ‘Mask’ derives variously from the mid 16th century French masque, from Italian mascheramascara, probably from medieval Latin masca, ‘witch, spectre’ but influenced by Arabic maskara, ‘buffoon’ (Wordflex app 1998–2008, using Oxford Dictionary data).

‘Mask’ is a word with widespread interpretation and meaning. It encapsulates the themes for all seven previous Not Very Quiet issues and still left scope for new ideas and explorations in Issue 8.

‘Mask’ has special resonance in gender discourses, and of course, has a special meaning in 2020 images of bushfire smoke and the pandemic.

We thought that this theme was amazingly apt for the times in which we find ourselves. The poems we received were varied in the matters they explored. There were bushfire poems, pandemic poems, historically themed poems. There were many poems documenting how the production of the feminine body and psyche is ‘mask-related’. Many poems were specifically personal, documenting struggles to both construct a mask for protection or propriety, and struggles for courage to abandon a mask when it was no longer useful.

We thank everyone who submitted, and of course, everyone who agreed to publication.

Sandra Renew and Moya Pacey (Founding Editors, Not Very Quiet)

© 2021

Puppet show

My shadow took my hands away.
It strung me along with strings and hooks
inside my flesh. An empty marionette
dangling limply on ribbons
and freshly harvested dermis
tied around my face as if a mask
glued on with double sided tape.
It barely held onto me, but I couldn’t seem
to shake it off and it didn’t seem
to want to peel away
in all its layers.
My shadow pulled a string to open
my square wooden lips
assembled by rusty hinges that squeaked
every time they moved. My mouth
was no longer a mouth
but a black hole, a useless portal.
With the movement of a finger, it clamped shut.

Ariella Tania Amanda

 

Ariella Tania Amanda is a twenty-years-old Creative Writing student at Bangor University. Her poems have been published in the very first issue of Cape Magazine. Despite being a non-native English speaker, she walks on the path of a writer, persevering as the passion of story-telling breathes within her.

© 2021

Uranus

The way we pronounce Uranus – Οὐρανός is an allegory for the risks of translation.  We fix edges around our vowels and punctuate the spaces between.  We say yir-ain-us and not ou-rahn-ous.  The latter lilts and spreads, soft as cream on a cake.  A lemon glaze with leaves of thyme.  The former is strained at every syllable.  We make the word masquerade in other sounds, desecrating a hum of wonder.  A hum of wonder.  Do they call that a hymn – ὕμνος?  Another word from the Greek glossa – γλῶσσα.  Uranus – Οὐρανός blankets and reveals the Earth.  Holds our stars, gathers clouds and dispels the sun.  Sometimes the colour of blue methane rising like the off-kilter planet that took his fame.  It feels better to say ou-rahn-ous and I don’t think that’s just because of body memory.  It’s musicality and the joy of deference.  A deference to nature that is a sore loss for our language.  What can it say about our capacity to care?

Athena Anasiou

 

Athena Anasiou is a lawyer living between unceded Gadigal and Jerrinja lands. Her writing has been published by Australian Poetry (2020) and the Bundanon Trust (2020).

© 2021

this autistic guise

may i stim before you, love? or
must i keep up with my masking? just

asking — should i solely seek to blend? conceal
my fingers’ fairy flits, my mouth’s capacious grin?

or will you see me wholly, love? in my most stimulated
form? uncamouflaged in rawness and wildly unadorned?

when i strip down to straightforward skin, could i cast
this guise aside? or would you rather i perform for

you? keep my tides in hide? play up that
faux allistic she i make-believe to be?

or would you see me unimpeded,
love? see me in my free.

Oakley Ayden

 

Oakley Ayden (she/her) is an autistic, queer writer and social justice activist with North Carolina roots. She currently lives and works in California’s San Bernardino National Forest with her two daughters.

© 2021

A thousand ships

If you take off your face on a regular basis,
I suppose you get used to it. Your reflection
Misbehaving in the mirror is worse,
Sly when you are feeling tender,
Adorable to the one left waiting in your bed.
You’re sure your hands are the truer
Representation of your kernel-self
Than your soulless corneas, peridot irises
The work of Seurat’s apprentice. Palms
Hold and knead, slapping the holy hell
Out of you and into the world. The death-mask
Of L’inconnue de la Seine is the most-kissed;
She’s Rescusi Annie now and we’ve all tried
Breathlessly to bring her back to life. Okay?

Daisy Bassen

 

Daisy Bassen is a poet and physician who graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s and [PANK] among other journals. She lives in Rhode Island with her family.

© 2021

Somebody, somebody is remembering me

1.

i am the only specimen of my kind
partly because i am half Indian

i have witnessed the whole Renaissance
falling at the feet of Ajanta
(the frescoes are 1300 years old!)

give me painters who refuse
to swallow Western and Indian tradition
with wide open mouths, who achieve
a vital, vibrant, unctuous texture

2.

i am against:
(a) retreat from the beautifully untidy
(b) cheap emotional appeal conjured from myth

yet a female Hercules can dazzle
composing the figure of her landscape
in pungent icecreamy unearthly
colour (veils slip away)—

burgundy passion and tiredness
fluorescent pink rage and hunger

3.

i have always painted—

face body upper portion skirt hair
sea baskets red verandah reflections
breasts bangles bare feet camels

Spanish girls Hungarian Gypsy girls
Marathi women green bottle and apples
the exaggerated downward slant of the shore
still lifes (i am homesick for India)

i have always painted—

ideas (i am always in love)
i plead guilty!

Fleur Lyamuya Beaupert

 

Fleur Lyamuya Beaupert (she/they) is a queer poet, writer and researcher living on unceded Gadigal land (Sydney, Australia), whose writing explores themes of dislocation, diaspora, belonging and intimacy. Fleur’s work has been published in Speculative City, Rigorous, Social Alternatives, 404 Ink Literary Magazine and Cordite Poetry Review, among others.

Note: This poem adapts words written by the painter Amrita Sher-Gil, collected in Vivan Sundaram (ed.), Amrita Sher-Gil: A self portrait in letters & writings (Tulika Books, 2010) vols 1 and 2. Born in Budapest in 1912, Ms Sher-Gil’s father was Indian and she had Hungarian Jewish, French and German ancestry on her mother’s side. Ms Sher-Gil died suddenly at the age of 28 in Lahore, having lived a rich artistic life in India, Hungary and France. Some phrases used in section 3 reflect titles of Ms Sher-Gil’s paintings. Her painting Child Wife (1936) has informed section 2. The title comes from an untitled poem sent to a friend in 1934.

© 2021

Cross country

I live in lightning-lit country
where the atmosphere attaches like cling wrap
When the virus comes
my long-haired son crosses a continent
better to be cling-wrapped in a house on stilts
than strangled by a student flat in a lost city

He folds himself into his childhood room
Months pass to the rhythm of the ceiling fan

He roams on his bike among termite mounds and
car bodies
while in his city, five million people vanish
apocalyptic ends of a
selfish/cooperative, irritable/sensible
hedonistic/rule-abiding country.

When it is safe in the south we pack a car
and drive for days through violent red desert
We clamber over spheres of orange rock
split by forces beyond our understanding
and float like a hovercraft across
land with no friends of influence
used for testing the annihilation method
that haunted my youth

In the traumatised city my son’s flatmate has fled
debris scattered in a crime scene
decipherable without forensic science

We cram bags and bins with junk
smashing things that don’t fit
and go to charity shops wearing masks –
bandits, demanding that property be taken from us

Rubbish gone, my son says: I can take it from here
His rubber gloves wet with sugar soap and freedom
I find that I don’t want to cry

He is cleaning the walls.

Liz Bennett

 

Liz Bennett works as a mediator. She was a finalist in the 2019 NT Literary Awards, a poetry place-getter in the 2012 Australian Cancer Council Arts Awards, and her poem ‘A Present from Samuel’ featured in the anthology Imagining the Real: Australian Writing in the Nuclear Age (ABC Enterprises, 1987). Though now based in Canberra her home remains a Darwinian house-on-stilts.

Listen to Liz reading Cross country (1:49)


© 2021 text and audio

Out in the open

I’ve seen a lion throw his head back and roar to ensure maximum amplification
The lionesses mainly concern themselves with the silent skill of hunting, to ensure the survival of all.
But in 1991, a black girl in a white tracksuit
stood in a sports arena
And didn’t pussyfoot around those high notes
that are hard to reach
It was like she was unleashing a torrent of energy,
like a bright fountain of song.
You could see the muscles in her out-thrust neck. There’s so much more power where that came from.

And again, just last week, a young girl with her hair braided in a coronet flecked with gold and a coat
colored like the sun itself
Poured cleansing words into the public space, to purify the contested place
Where small proud boys had created
A shambles: bringing shame down on themselves in front of their own ancestors and their own race.

 

It’s unmasked, now: what breeds about the heart, the ugly beliefs under the ‘be best’ slogans and the ordinary amities of the fearful disinherited. Those lovely ladies making home made jam; these corporate warriors, now retired; their husbands all deciding who was overrunning the land, and who should not be seen or heard, or take up a position which can legitimately be admired.

Poets discuss the young sun queen, whose words lit a pyre and also carried forward a torch. CNN released a transcript afflicted with errors , so it was difficult to decipher the true meaning from the words themselves.

There was an image of an upward climb, through hardship to a desired summit – and no need for rappelling, because the climb was in the mind and the upbuilding sequences of the words. Serrated, and serried, each part igniting flares to light the way for the next. Each word, briefly unmasked, was robed in its own vivid, solid colour, and gloved in an elegance befitting winter.

The colours were on the inside too; woven in with the content of their character. Such a solace, after so many years of hollow surface.

Burnished women, brazen with ambition,
embodiments of aspiration. But it is the work
done in the quiet of night, alone, sifting
through the not so good thoughts and words

thrown at them as children

that make these public spectacles more than
what meets the eye.

Devika Brendon

 

Devika Brendon is a writer, teacher, editor and reviewer of English Language and Literature. She is the Consultant Content Editor for the SEALA global network; and Senior Content Editor of the literary journal, New Ceylon Writing, established in 1970, and brought online in 2016. Devika’s short stories and poetry have been widely published in anthologies and journals, including Quadrant magazine, and her reviews have been published in Australia, India and Sri Lanka. Devika is a newspaper columnist in Sri Lanka, and her articles and opinion pieces are published in Ceylon Today, The Sunday Island, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Observer, and LMD Magazine.

© 2021

The art of costume

In the christening scene of Sleeping Beauty, the most joyful fairy wears bright pink. It’s a costume her mother has made with a satin bodice, four layers of tulle and matching bloomers. That’s how it really happens in 1961 at the Saint Brendan’s Parish school hall.

This particular fairy has never played such an important role. Her rag-rolled ringlets bounce when her jiffies skim across the wooden floor. Organza wings aflutter, she hovers for a moment in the air, before tiptoeing towards centre stage where the baby princess is sleeping in a golden crib.

Beaming towards her audience she calls ‘I GIVE HER JOY’, in her loudest voice, all the while flourishing her wand. When she twirls sparks of joy whizz from its silver tip and spill across the audience. In this moment she discovers the reason for her existence so she twirls, and twirls, and twirls, filling every corner of the room with joy, until another whimsical fairy shoos her away.

watching
her mother apply lipstick
without a mirror
she perfects by heart
the art of painting smiles

Michelle Brock

 

Michelle Brock is a Canberra poet and short story writer. She is a member of the Limestone Tanka Poets and her tanka, tanka prose and haiga appear regularly in Australian and overseas journals and anthologies. Her recent publications include Ebb and Flow (an anthology by Friday Writers 2018) and Dissolving (with Gerry Jacobson 2018).

© 2021

Talk to me

Talk to me about the crumbs you dropped along the way,
only to come back and find that a small bird had eaten them until her tummy swelled and burst.
Talk to me about that bus you never took. Who rode in your place?
Perhaps the usual folks: a single woman with a baby, dark hair pressed in sweaty ringlets against her forehead,
a young man in an oversized t-shirt, nodding off while he drafts a text to say he’s sorry, he’ll be late,
a monk with good manners,
a man who strokes his salt-and-pepper beard, who claims to be in a motorcycle gang,
who might’ve told you, people are just people,
whose stop would’ve arrived before you felt you’d asked him all you needed to ask.
Talk to me about the pills you never should’ve taken.
Talk to me about the heavy way they made you breathe, about falling out of bed
and biting your lip when you hit the floor.
Talk to me about the fat lip it gave you,
about the weeks it took to heal,
about the way you seemed to stutter when you smiled.
That stuttering smile, jerking and clanking like a train—
tell me, what did it achieve?
Is a smile incomplete if it does not receive a smile back?
Is a smile still a smile when it’s hidden behind a mask?
Talk to me about your mask and why you chose it.
Talk to me about the liability of your laughter,
about the jokes you made in poor taste,
about being told for years to loosen up, to lighten up, to let it go.
Talk to me about letting it go
and about the battering ram that’s been knocking ever after.
Talk to me about leaving and about having left: What did it achieve?
Do you still think about the room behind the door whose key you returned?
What have you done with the time you earned back?
Did the two faces of Gemini say goodbye in the same language?
What phase was the moon in your heart that day?

Elizabeth Burnam

 

Elizabeth Burnam lives in the shadow of snow-capped mountains with two Viking cats named after her favorite cheeses. She’s a professional writer and a poet at heart. Read her work in publications like The Raven Chronicles Journal, the Coffin Bell Journal, The Inquisitive Eater, Introvert Dear, and more.

© 2021

Wave your hand

If you want to kiss me, please stand at the required distance. You can send signals through the air, so long as it involves a hand movement that has no sweat. Please make sure your saliva is contained, the way you would if you were about to pass wind – keep it to yourself, don’t spread it anywhere outside of you. Saliva smells too – I don’t want a whiff of it anywhere near me. I don’t want to know what you’ve had for breakfast. Please keep your saliva inside your mouth. And please don’t spit. Are you aware of what you do with plosives? I saw globules fly through the air fast last time we met and I had to duck for cover. Do you know you often stand too close? I never used to mind but now please stop touching me. Those little pats on my arm are unnecessary and potentially deadly. I can’t let you in without a mask so don’t bother showing up on my doorstep without one. If you stand at the required distance, I am happy to see you. We are close enough! There is no need for more. It is ridiculous to even mention kissing when kissing is out. Why even mention desire or love? We must put these aside for the greater good. I want to stay alive, don’t you? I know you do, so don’t kiss me, don’t even think about it. I have no need to hug you. I can live without kissing. If you want to kiss me, you’ll have to hold off until this whole thing is over. The problem is no one knows when. Who can tell when we’ll be kissing again. So for now, please stand at the required distance, and – I don’t know – wave your hand around.

Gayelene Carbis

Listen to Gayelene reading ‘Wave your hand’ (2:42):

Gayelene Carbis is an award-winning writer of poetry, prose and plays. Her first book of poetry, Anecdotal Evidence (Five Islands Press) was awarded Finalist – International Book Awards 2019. Gayelene has recently been a Finalist in the Bruce Dawe and Woorilla Poetry Prizes. She was awarded First Prize – My Brother Jack Poetry Award 2020.

© 2021 text and audio

An ode to the most coveted machine in pandemic America

My dad’s been coping by standing in the
garage for long stretches of time and staring
blankly out at the blank street staring back
at him. I wonder who wins the staring
match, but he never tells and he never reacts.
The computer drones on,
the pale blue light illuminating my father’s face,
carrying hushed voices discussing oxygen and converting
ventilators, which they have no more of.
The breath of life machines;

Machines that push push push your lungs,
pushing to keep the pair awake.
Quiet, they whisper,
I want to sleep, just as you do. And sleep
they do. Eventually, they’re lulled back
to sleep, the push push push a cradle song.
Though, first came the panic, the terrible
drowning, the negative pressure, the burn,
but then the life line, the feverish last attempt, the tube…

slowly, gradually, wistfully, trusting
push, push, push.
They whisper, a sunshine song
of waking up and detaching yourself from that life machine,
and leaving that sterile
cold, cold place.

Eleanor Python Colligan

 

Eleanor is a university student studying engineering and creative writing. She loves writing, and has not seen Bridgerton yet.

© 2021

The hair salon

I enter the hall of mirrors: an illusion
of choice, amazed at the promise of spoils,
women crowned in tin foil. The air shrieks:
a solution of bleach, miscalculate measures
of colour for youth. Briny almanacs record
trials to preserve: a labyrinth of time lost
to the untenable. I scry my womanhood:
a divine silver lineage through cracked
glass, dead end and blackened. The stylist’s
shears fit to spay, fast lipped and metallic,
snip and erase, swept away by the inevitable
broom. I appear silvern, fade to brave when a
pretty girl slips into the pyre. Fate cackles:
takes my money but does not see me leave.

Lisa Collyer

 

Lisa Collyer is a poet and educator. Her poetry maps the body exploring how physical experiences shape their lives. She is a participant in the Westerly Writers Development and the Four Centres Emerging Writers Programs. Her work is published in Cordite Poetry Review, Poetry d’Amour, Letters to our Home and various online journals.

© 2021

Social distancing from ghosts

Disinfectant won’t work.
Hydroxychloroquine is hopeless.
Incantations are of dubious value, and
masks are naive, where spirits are concerned.
Closing your eyes just lets them swarm closer.
If ghosts want you, they will have you,
just as the sea picks sailors, pulling them down,
or smashing heads like piñatas on rocks.
Ghosts sidle too close all the time.
They have no regard for the sacred 1.5 metres,
urged by measured authorities.
Your arm-hairs will rise to shivered attention,
as if they were tiny watchdogs, smelling intruders.
Ghosts’ sighs are unrestrained, though full of angst,
rather than viruses. They will kill you,
but the mechanism is fear, fear moist as urine.
They enter into you; make you their society.
They distance you from yourself,
plant a crooked crown of otherness
on your distracted head.
They make you what they will.

PS Cottier

 

PS Cottier is a woman of letters, mostly ‘t’s.

© 2021

The next spike

Take a deep breath – grab tight to your mask –
the other shoe is ready to drop
We may have to take this again from the top
though we know damn well it’s a bit of an ask

The future is coming, can’t recycle the past
we don’t want to get caught again on the hop
Take a deep breath – grab tight to your mask –
the other shoe is ready to drop

We’ll nail our colours hard to the mast:
if we can we’ll take it again from the top
it’s all in aid of saving the shop –

We’ll hold on hard and hold on fast
so take a deep breath – grab tight to your mask –
the other shoe is ready to drop.

Mary Cresswell

 

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and has lived on NZ’s Kapiti Coast for many many years. Her most recent collection is Body Politic (nature poems for nature in crisis) (The Cuba Press 2020). See also: https://www.read-nz.org/writer/cresswell-mary/

© 2021

Our daily tread

a five kilometre loop of beaded observations
gate-path-road-park-wetlands-storm water drain

a rosary performed with feet
each inhalation guarded by a mask as seasons turn

now walking is our new religion
a warrant to the great out-through-the-doors

lockdown escape fuelled by $1 Servo coffee
at the first station of the cross

late summer shade falling to slip-hazard leaves
acorns, nuts and conkers booby-trapping the way

the spiky fruit of the towering plane trees
Covid-19 made manifest

as collectively we plough a new desire path
1.5 metres from the cement

thus we can pass on a held breath
exhale into cloth at the bridge to the other side

Jane Downing

 

Jane Downing has poems published around Australia including in Cordite, Poetrix, Rabbit, The Canberra Times, Eureka Street and Best Australian Poems (2004 & 2015). A collection, When Figs Fly, was published by Close-Up Books in 2019. She can be found at janedowning.wordpress.com

© 2021

experimental love poem

You’d like to think that there’s a method to desire
sliding blind hands under sleek thighs
demanding proof of everything

And yet the non-sense fascinates:
your lips—two sweet igneous rocks, produced
under intense heat—that soften shut a chasm

It was a pub with arms in it
on Queen’s Road, Peckham,
you tried to redefine
the word romantic for me
amidst a crowd of tactful men
trying their hand at shuffleboard

I traced the faint scar on your forehead
with my ring fingertip,
your eyes widening bright
like obsidian —

We fell into the unharmonious
ribs of your words and made
a smouldering pietà

How could I hope to carry
this slowly burning candle
across an empty bed of sea

You can love a woman,
you quote that famous Frenchman,
to admire her is hard. You are not
dealing with something
more important.

My mouth fills with cold wind

Ema Dumitriu

 

Ema Dumitriu holds MA degrees in English and Comparative Literature from University College London and King’s College London, and currently lives in Bucharest, Romania. Her work has previously appeared in Tint Journal, Masque & Spectacle, The Caterpillar Chronicles and [Inter]sections.

Listen to Ema reading Experimental love poem (1:25)


© 2021 text and audio

A feast of a wardrobe

I met a girl who was in the business of eating
clothes. She said she was tired of wearing them,

and the talk of other girls wearing them or not
wearing them. It sounded like a market bound to

succeed in our socioculturalenvironmentalpolitical
landscape and so I asked her, how do you do it. Oh,

it’s simple, she said. You rip this seam here. Just
pull the pieces apart like that. You can use kitchen

scissors if you like, anything at all. Loose threads
add texture, so don’t worry about removing them.

And then, she said, you just put it in your mouth,
and you chew.

I joined her for dinner that night. She worked her
way through two pairs of ripped jeans and a lacy

bra. I ate the pair of shorts I’d worn when I was
eleven and Joshua Gordan had grabbed me by

the ass. The denim stuck in my throat like it had
teeth of its own. Does this get easier, I asked her.

Oh no, she said, not at all. So why do you do it, I
said. Well, a girl’s got to process this shit somehow,

she told me. Besides, I take “you are what you eat”
very seriously—one day I’m sure whoiam will

match whattheysee. She smiled: there were bright
blue threads in her teeth. I shoved another length

of fabric into my mouth. And another. And another.
And another. It’s about bloody time they made a

banquet fit for a queen, I said, and brandished a
metal button in the air. Stuff this in the eye of the

beholder.

Natasha Dust

 

Natasha Dust is a student at the University of Sydney, where she is majoring in English and Physics. She has been writing poetry since she was nine years old, and hopes to publish a collection in the future.

© 2021

Table 4 – 2 there

Sitting idle, with much to say but little worth effect,
we came as something else, other and
indifferent to ourselves, but enamoured with our roles.

Façades in hiding, backs turned from Alice’s looking glass,
in grandiose teaspoon swirls, whetting crumbs in parts,
we masked ourselves as each other’s coffee orders.

Me in trying to be light and sweet, a lapse in the foam
of my spontaneity, perpetuating the whimsy
of coco powdered coffee art—that was my inverted self

in your cappuccino that day. While you, a vampiric shadow
out in daylight’s dwellings (wearing dark maroon),
less mysterious than the waitstaff, but alike in sarcasm,

pretended to be my order;
black, no sugar, a little bitter.
In reality we were neither of those things.

below the china clutter,
we feigned to be the flavour of the day.
A lie worn for a persona we dared share with strangers.

Amelia C. Eilertsen

 

Amelia C. Eilertsen is a queer, Zambian-Norwegian mixed-race writer with a BA in Creative and Professional Writing from Bangor University. Her life is a cosmic swirl of insomnia, travel, and the brief spaces between the making of a moment and watching it pass by. She has had poems published with Poets’ Choice, High Shelf Press and Passengers Journal. She can be reached @ameliaconny on Instagram.

© 2021

Spring Purples with Coast Tea Tree and Golden Wattle

with Paulownia tomentosa, Leptospermum laevigatum and Acacia pycananth

Its genus named for majesty, this backyard tree spills
lilac. Rainbows rush bright to tongue nectar in its

blossoming. Being is choral. A chrysalis of days is
contingent on code that bounces onscreen. The ABC

backdrop matches the news presenter’s tie. Magenta.
Wattle purpose is golden drift beside a creek, where

tea trees petal soft on path. A crush of coastal
befalling. Avoidantly, masks flower. Online we’ve

learnt—that this novel thing will thrive, will escape
our best intent, will break apart with              lather.

Anne Elvey

 

Anne Elvey lives on Boon Wurrung Country in Victoria. Her publications include, On arrivals of breath (Poetica Christi 2019), White on White (Cordite Books 2018), and Kin (FIP 2014). Obligations of Voice is forthcoming from Recent Work Press in 2021. Anne is editor of hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani.

Listen to Anne reading Spring Purples with Coast Tea Tree and Golden Wattle (1:13)


© 2021 text and audio

In half light

On Margaret Olley’s Dressing table (self portrait), 1982

 

The tilt of an old-fashioned
mirror-on-a-stand finds her.
On that carved platform

artefacts of contemplation,
the glass vessels of beauty,
become a luminous threshold

guarding her bereaved self.
Her dream gaze looks inward
and, at a sideways angle, outward.

The iris of her left eye
holds a catchlight
like a misshapen tear.

Set against the mirror,
a mask-image, lids steeply closed
in meditation, or death,

takes shape from arctic blue,
teal, and the chrome green
so loved by the artist.

Those same colours abide in
the wallpaper’s summer leaves
winding across backlit lapis –

sumptuous, yet end-of-day sombre:

the blue of mortality,
the blue of immortality.

Daylight fans in, leaving
half her face in shadow while
enfolding these chosen things,

precious or plain,
which speak the inspiration of
Chardin, of Morandi –

who laboured freely, exactly,
devotees of the numinous lure
of the inanimate.

Her musing self,
eye to eye with its double,
drinks, sip by sip,

a draught of truth
as the room, and the world,
fade, bloom.

Diane Fahey

Note: Dressing table (self portrait), 1982, painted after the death of Margaret Olley’s mother, can be found on the internet.

 

 

Diane Fahey is the author of thirteen poetry collections, November Journal (Whitmore Press 2017) the most recent. She has won major poetry awards, and has received literary grants from the Australia Council. Her poetry has been represented in over seventy anthologies. Diane holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UWS. dianefaheypoet.com

© 2021

hegemony

Open your day up

like a newspaper or a bodega

don’t cross your legs—varicose veins

that subjugation line, payment for payment of our

own castration, mitigation

tamping down our hurt to

sip from the teacup

of second class citizenry

she has short hair and heavy boots and I’d like her to kiss me into the

lines of a Joan Miro

I see her from across the library lobby and I am in love with her.

we are geometry, fit together

not always easily but in rectangle and purple

coral pyramids

did the coral reefs survive? I ask

Isabelle, sitting next to me, Isabelle checking her phone, I see Isabelle, these days

from beyond the mask of screen, and I fear the worst:

the coral reef is dead.

this is a bad year for the earth

a bad year for people who do not

look like me

i bake eggplant while everyone sleeps

and when they wake up, it has exploded

because I have been taught to meet and exceed expectation

what if i just feel in love, fell in heels over ears into bed with you and

i kicked off your heavy boots with my bare feet and we planted rosemary

in them to ground our bodies

back to earth?

When I turn to look for her, she’s gone.

You’re ok, says Isabelle

The reefs aren’t dead yet.

 

Molly Fessler

 

Molly Fessler grew up on a llama farm outside Detroit, and studied at Bryn Mawr College. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, serving in Belize from ’14-’16. She is currently a medical student at the University of Michigan. Co-founder of Auxocardia, an online journal for health professional students, she can be found at auxocardia.com or @molly_fessler on Twitter.

© 2021

masque

this. this mascara-blacked dark. it closes on you. blue-blank light refracts. split maniac. slit open in the shadows, sliding from your pale pall. half-light, half-life. apple flesh lies, going sweet sick. an affirmation of a heart, a piece of muscle writhing uneasily, instinctively. words come easily to you. they were put into your head by a kindly hand. stone golem. so you seem. so you will yourself to be. often, your talk is cheap as candles, waxen and senseless, leaving that burnt odour. when the wicks blacken, slacken, silence reels out. oil on water. your appearance a blur of conviviality, lightly bestowed. swiftly slipping through lives with half-answered questions, half-truths. this death mask that you wear in life is clean and cold. the damp liquidity of setting plaster of paris, cracking with movement. you are a plague doctor, black beaked. lunettes de soleil catching at the light. dark mirrors, no answers. untouchable, walls within walls. your carapace of privacy, holding the distance with the authority of a god. the soul lines are strict, the paper-cut words clean, precise, numb. yet often, your leonard cohen eyes, wrong colour, right gaze, unloose from your bell jar. blurring, slurring the bounds of your apparent intention, they trespass. magnetised, electrifyingly direct, your pupils betray. under your denial, the tarmac swallows bell-hollow, sun-laden, foot-heavy. lampposts watch disbelievingly down the street. skin statue-paled, slightly razor-burned, with that dostoyevsky glitter in your eyes, you close your bruised lids. inside, crystalline forms foam out of the dark. for a moment, something shifts. niveous bulbs mouth the oily air. chiaroscuro, the night is of your colour. the fine weave of the ashen winding sheet is drawn back, unmasking everything.

Ellie Fisher

 

Ellie Fisher studies at the University of Western Australia. Her poetry is regularly featured in Not Very Quiet and Pelican magazine. After appearing in Night Parrot Press’ inaugural 2020 flash fiction collection, her work will again feature in their forthcoming title, Twice Not Shy: One hundred short short stories.

© 2021

Day of the Dead

after Frida Kahlo’s Girl with Death Mask

Will the spirits of the dead
find you where you wait alone
el llano?

You hold marigolds, pumpkin
seeds to tempt in a clammy
fist

You are too young to know
there will be no graveside
vigil

rung in offerings for the mis-
carried, no altar of electric
purple

and blood orange, no candles
or papel picado streamers, no
faded pictures

to parade in La Alumbrada,
no butterfly boats across
the lake

to far tombs. You nibble on
the corner of your sugar skull,
wooden

tiger talisman aloof. The sky
hungry: your destiny decided
Sweetness

of meringue and paint the only
anaesthetics to mask your
pain

Jane Frank

 

Jane Frank’s latest chapbook is WIDE RIVER (Calanthe Press 2020). Most recently, her poems have been published in Other Terrain Journal, Antipodes, Takahe, Burrow, Grieve vol 8 (Hunters Writers Centre 2020), Meridian and The Bengalaru Review. Her unpublished manuscript Wolf Moon was shortlisted in the 2020 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize.

© 2021

Mr and Mrs and Ms

When my brother gets married, he will be a Ms! my daughter announces at dinner. I explain that he will always be a Mr, even if he marries.

You are a Miss until you marry, I tell her, and you either keep your surname and use Ms, or if you marry Mr John Smith, you become Mrs John Smith. Hello? May I please speak with Mrs John Smith? This is met with much hilarity.

Your brother will never be Mr Jane Smith. Can you imagine? Hello? Mr Jane Smith? Now they are all calling for Mr Jane Smith, and their father leaves the table.

Lara Frankena

 

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

© 2021

Hero (Boy Wonder)

Every morning, a different person greets me in the kitchen doorway.
Good morning, Spiderman.
Good morning, Batman.
Good morning, Captain America.

You announce yourself with a flourish of cape,
a flash of sword, a roundhouse kick,
and I ooh and ahh like I always do,
admiring your prowess, your strength,
and of course, your fashion sense.

Yes, I see you.

Iron Man wears a blanket for armor
and holds his hand over his face for a mask.
The Green Lantern wears Star Wars underpants
and a kids’ meal ring that glows green.
And the flash? Well…

After a hug and a cup of hot tea, the fight resumes.
You jump through doorways into rooms not yet touched by sunrise,
pummeling the air with all your might,
sound effects included.

Sometimes, you fight off the bad guys so wildly,
you hurt yourself
and return to your secret lair so I can nuzzle your cheek
and whisper I love yous into the side of your goose-egged head.

Thank you, child, for defending the universe
for delivering justice
for remembering when you cuddled on my lap during movies,
asking, “Is this the bad guy?”
“Is THIS the bad guy?”
that I answer, “There are no bad guys,
only regular guys who make bad choices.”

Thank you, child, for shining that green ring light
into shadowy parts of my brooding mind
and vanquishing the monsters there.

And I thank God with each persona you assume
that the enemies you battle have no faces and
no agendas, no national flags,
no political allegiances.
They don’t bear names like Regret, Envy, Fear, Want, or Despair.

I thank God that, for you, danger is easily overcome
with style and a foam sword,
that famine means twenty minutes until dinner
and your brother ate all the Cheez-its,
that the only bad choice the bad guys make
is fighting you.

I thank God that your eyes have not aged from all you’ve seen,
drawing premature lines like a chiseled epitaph
on your unworried brow,
that the night is lit by streetlights and stars
instead of bombs,
and in your dreams, you swing from webs and climb skyscrapers.

I thank God that, in our kitchen, war does not exist.

Yes, I see you.

I will defend our secret lair, child, as long as you can let me.
I will pick up my foam sword and swing it alongside you.
I will tell you nothing of the real bad guys,
the regular guys who make bad choices–
–not yet.

Yes, I see you.

As long as it is possible, the good guy will win.
And as long as you can, you will dream of flying,
and I will put on my mask and cape,
standing silent watch over you
as you sleep.

Jen George

 

Jen George lives and teaches on the coast of Maine. She writes in her car most of the time. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. Her writing has appeared in Muse, The Stonecoast Review, and The Ginger Collect, The Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination, and the Celebrities in Disgrace blog.

© 2021

Boquila Trifoliolata in Chilean Rainforest

It’s as if you see—
you’ve eyes—
the way you grow along
woodland floor
to climb to higher radiuses—
transform

how humans don’t understand,
they must

disclaim your intelligence
can’t explain how
it is your shape gone

your shift in size,
color, veins, orientation—mimicry

knowing exactly how much light
you need to stay alive

as in being “stealth vine”
that’s what they call you, as if

it’s wrong you fear enemies
who would feed off you,

turn your need into toxicity
out of look-alikes in your leaves
that may be

transference of genes from host,
DNA passed through mycorrhizal

into maybe it was airborne chemicals
you knew how to replicate, absorb,

merge into other plant possibilities
of what it is—is a miracle reminding
how we humans don’t know—
have yet the full intelligence for—

one after another
beautiful, reaching thing.

Lynne Goldsmith

 

Lynne’s first book, Secondary Cicatrices, won the 2018 Halcyon Poetry Prize, was a 2019 Finalist in the American Book Fest Awards, a 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Award Gold Winner, and a Finalist in the International Book Awards.

Listen to Lynne reading Boquila Trifoliolata in Chilean Rainforest (1:20)


© 2021 text and audio

i haven’t

1.

since the artichoke bloomed / since i was shocked

out of my foot bones / since it rained / since sun streamed

through the prisms again / since yesterday’s nap with

the maple / since trumpet guy played in my driveway &

a girl’s shoulder oozed from non-lethal munitions & i gave

away every cold la croix in the fridge to protester cheers

viva la revolución / not since the ash starting falling again

since the wind growled over the dinnerplate dahlia / since

i accidentally sprayed myself full-tilt with the hose / i haven’t

since the fire caught / not since that first hug in months

 

2.

when it’s been this long & a dam breaks / do you too

wonder is this pain or pleasure? / if i were trying

to make a friend feel better i would say you are good

despite this gnawing pressure to be supernatural / here

have a recipe to laugh or cry or feel or write / get semi-alone

& settle in the dark / exalted & also kneeling to yourself

usually it is enough to say one basic truth out loud / i am

a person sitting on a floor / in a body i work so hard

to know / in a space i have curated to call home

eventually / it all lets go

Ash Good

 

Ash Good is a queer poet, activist, designer, curator and editor. Her most recent book is We Are Not Ready for What We Are (First Matter Press 2019) Ash’s poems also appear in The Timberline Review and High Priestesses of Poetry anthologies. They live in Portland, Oregon.

Listen to Ash reading I haven’t (1:48)


© 2021 text and audio

Noh

After Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, masked like moons,
they walk the night in tabi shoes.
Across the bridge from the divine,
stories threaded in the pine
that stands for ever at the back
of centre stage as spotlights catch
men who kneel in neat culottes
and strike the music’s paradox.
Awakening the ghosts still deep
in ancient lands’ mysterious sleep;
released from history, gliding by,
visors hiding silver eyes,
assuming that we too have been
drifting down their silver stream.

Hazel Hall

Note: Noh is a stylised classical Japanese music-drama created by Zeami (1363–1443). It recreates ancient legends using elaborate costumes and masks and is believed to suspend actors and audience in a supernatural state.

 

Hazel Hall is a well published Canberra poet and musicologist. Recent collections are Step By Step: Tai Chi Meditations with tai chi master Angie Egan (Picaro Poets 2018), Moonlight over the Siding with artist Robert Tingey (Interactive Press 2019), and Severed Web with artist Deborah Faeyrglenn (Picaro Poets 2020).

Listen to Hazel reading Noh (0:54)


© 2021 text and audio

A haunting

Wading into fallen stars that stream towards the mouth of forgetting as surely as Heinrich von Kleist’s self-appointed gun I catch a glimpse of your mask, Orfeo. It is red like a child’s first blood. It smells of wattle, musk and frangipani. It sounds like mirrors smashing shadows though the moon is high and full of Dürer’s kinetic hues. As the curtain of the archive of the world of the living lifts, I see the heart from which I’ll die: it is surrounded by swans taking on the hour’s changing colours. I hear Dali’s aphasic metaphors and Kandinsky’s asphyxiated screams. Wait for your otherworldly cry. It is like crystal shattering one thousand and one nights from before the invention of rainbows and it does not end. D minor.

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 stories and ten volumes of poetry. Kaosmos and Tracks, both published in 2020 are her latest poetry collections. Songlines is forthcoming. Hecq is a recipient of the 2018 International Best Poets Prize administered by the International Poetry Translation and Research Centre in conjunction with the International Academy of Arts and Letters.

© 2021

hidden in the layers

After the Mona Lisa

under the surface of the other
before the varnish, before the signature
of color time discolored. Nothing like
the mouth sketched in the notebook. Nothing daring
like the red helicopter.

A portrait with a larger head and nose.
Heavy eyebrows as Vasari had described.
Bigger hands but smaller lips. The sitter
looking off, barely smiling.

Perhaps she had disgusted.
He’d erased the pearls, erased the knot that shoulders
goddess. They say that while he painted, buffoons
kept her amused. Musicians.

Kathleen Hellen

Note: Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote about Da Vinci in the Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors, which he published first in 1550.

 

Kathleen Hellen’s honors include the Thomas Merton poetry prize, prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review, and her prize-winning collection Umberto’s Night. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Hellen’s latest poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin.

Listen to Kathleen reading Hidden in the layers (1:03)


© 2021 text and audio

Siren

At the witching        hour when nocturnal beasts begin to       blink and stir
when stars find their brightness       and weary mothers rock shrieking babes
against their shoulders       from the water I rise       a flash of fin at my calf
a little battered       a little wiser       in my resurrection
I am drawn here by the music        by the boy who sings me home
waiting on the shore beneath       the rusty spears of bulrush
piercing turquoise sky
I will not tell his name       his name is not important
what is essential is that there is        a boy
who cherishes       me
who loves me for my wildness       not restraint
who sees me as       I am        not as he would have me be
he takes my hand        and leads me down the path
this boy        enamoured        of the etched vines on my arm
the mossy sheen       of my leaves
those leaves       no longer dressed in silk       and shame

 

Lie me down in a hollow        in the sand       on a bed of reeds
where the warmth of the sun is       still cradled
and we will curl       and tumble       in our nest
as the sun melts        as the crickets sing in the grasses
Cup the arch of my foot       in your hand
as the bulrushes dance       as the moon shines silver on our bodies
as our breath intermingles       under the spangled inky velvet of the sky

 

Yes       I will follow that dark-haired boy
down        through the flailing bunting of the bulrushes
with only the stars       as witness
as the sun turns away        to light another life       to be the beacon
for another      lost soul

Elizabeth Holland

 

Elizabeth Holland is an Australian writer and poet. She won the Sawmillers Poetry Prize and has been a finalist in a number of poetry and writing competitions. Her poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction have been published in anthologies and online journals. You can find her on Instagram at @emhollandwrites.

© 2021

Faking it

They say fake it till you make it in NA.  I’ve never been. Just been told by an NA faker. But it’s become mainstream. Not the NA faker, the saying. My audiologist says it. Even my husband. So I fake it. I fake it every waking minute. I clap-chant If you’re happy and you know it…, and sing-sway to Des’ree’s You Gotta Be. Still, I’m left with a reservoir of minutes for faking it. So every day I go to a café and order an oat milk magic, extra hot, and pull out my red Moleskine with wonder woman on the cover and write poetry. Or edit poetry. Or piss-fart around, faking I’m a poet. Then I’ll order a turmeric latte, so I’m worth the space. But that’s an expensive faking-it habit. So most days I finish up after the coffee, and call my mother. Or a friend. Or the NA faker. And when faking it feels like faking it, I mind-holiday in Schitt’s Creek. I’ve been faking it for months. And you’d think it’d get easier. But on some days, even when I’ve worn out all my faking-it tools, reality insists on showing up, and I fade into a ghost who wants to flee from a tomb through a chink under its heavy lid, but something in me keeps on faking it, because it knows one day I won’t need to fake anything.

Lesh Karan

Note: NA is Narcotics Anonymous.

 

Lesh Karan was born in Fiji, has Indian genes and lives in Melbourne. She is a former pharmacist turned poet. Lesh’s work has been published in American Writers Review, Australian Multilingual Writing Project, Australian Poetry Anthology 2020, Cordite and Unusual Work.

Listen to Lesh reading Fakin it (2:11)


© 2021 text and audio

After donating blood

I ignore the caution against strenuous exercise,
walk the mountain in afternoon heat.
This, then, is the face I will one wear one day,
I think, dismayed, casting about at my feet
for missing breath.

There comes a memory—fifteen years ago,
running up this mountain in the heat,
hauling in air easy as laughing,
faster than my dog, who had to stop
to speak to bushes, but who is now long dead,
of age, and waning interest.

Then a memory—twenty-five years, at least,
climbing this mountain in the heat,
bearing small children too tired to climb.
Yet you and I would talk in normal voices
about our days, about coming here always,
normal voices, our original faces, even in those steepest places,
where the steps climb—
as the children, fretful by now, would cry—
almost to the sky.

Penelope Layland

 

Penelope Layland’s most recent book is Nigh (Recent Work Press 2020). Her 2018 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 won an ACT Publishing and Writing Award.

© 2021

The crystal masks of Lynette and Donald

Lynette Wallworth stood up and spoke to the gathered elite in Davos.
Outside, the Swiss snow softened while at home ash rained
its sombre descent on the scorched earth (not yet official Government policy).
Lynette’s voice, lucid, leaden in gravitas and intent,
did not cut through to the flat-earthers but only those who relished the shocks.
She’s like crystal, thought Angela Merkel, so deliciously shattering.
Lynette, one of 100 leading global thinkers, wonders whether
the ephemera of thought will force the paradigm shift
the Prince of Wales implored with crystalline eloquence. Such a pity
royal decrees are fossilised
, she thinks, democracy is all well in theory
but to get anything done properly requires absolutism. Stop!
This thought cannot crystallise! Donald with life tenure?

Instead, she creates a virtual reality of the new angel of death:
We have seen the unfolding wings of climate change and we need
leaders for this moment
. She thinks of Greta (the girl was a natural),
and Uncle Nyarri who had never even heard a crystal radio
when the atomic blast was the spirit of his country that rose
up to speak while the water holes boiled and black mist
dotted the songlines through Maralinga, place of thunder.
Their voices will be heard now, thinks Lynette, they are the leaders
for the new reality of black swans, tipping points and feedback loops
.
Donald notices that Lynette has not mentioned him. At. All.
He tweets this Wallworth woman’s opinion is worthless:
she is a perennial prophet of the apocalypse like Greta
. Besides,
his fortune teller’s crystal ball has predicted that Ivanka
will succeed in 2024. I am committed, Donald tells the elite,
to conserving the majesty of God’s creation.

Kate Lumley

Note: Australian virtual reality filmmaker Lynette Wallworth received a Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2020. Crystal awards celebrate the achievements of artists whose leadership inspires inclusive and sustainable change.

 

Kate Lumley’s poetry and prose has been published in Studio, The Mozzie, Else Journal, and anthologies including Australian Love Poems 2013 (Inkerman & Blunt 2013); Prayers of a Secular World (Inkerman & Blunt 2016); To End All Wars (Puncher & Wattmann 2018); Avant la lettre (Mihaela Cristescu ed., 2020); From the Embers (Black Quill Press 2020); Australian Poetry Collection (Meuse Press 2020); Nine Thousand Miles (Mihaela Cristescu ed., 2021); and a chapbook, View from the Bridge (SMSA, 2018).

© 2021

Facial action coding at the supermarket

I turn to you [51] and tilt my head [56].
I raise my inner brow [1] (frontalis) and wait.
You can’t see if my [11] nasolabial deepener
(zygomaticus minor) or [12] lip corner puller
(zygomaticus major) are engaged – the difference
between good humour and disapproval
especially if my [15] lip corner depressor
(anguli oris) is in on the act, or god forbid
my [16] lower lip depressor (labii inferiori)
in which case I am actually pouting.
You hesitate while you try to read my face.
I get impatient at your lack of action
so I [23] tighten lip (orbicularis oris) – which
you can’t see either. Gee – I am offering
the spot in front of me in the checkout queue!
Where’s your gratitude? Correctly masked, we
lose 18 out of 28 possible combinatory cues
including [9] nose wrinkler, [14] the dimpler
[18] lip pucker, [21] neck tightener, a petulant [19]
show of the tongue and the drama of [26]
the jaw drop. Whether our faces are truly
vehicles of emotion or of communication
we need to get better at using our words.

Jacqui Malins

Note: The Facial Coding Action System (FACS) is a system of codes developed by Paul Ekman to describe nearly any anatomically possible facial expression by defining the movement of the individual facial muscles involved. FACS can be used by expert human coders, and is increasingly being incorporated into automated computer systems. The FACS Manual is over 500 pages in length.

 

Jacqui Malins is a performance poet and artist based in Canberra. She has featured at festivals and poetry events and created poetry shows “Words in Flight” and “Cavorting with Time” which resulted in the book of the same name (Recent Work Press 2018). She co-founded and organises Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry events in Canberra.

© 2021

The violin player

skinny little thing
leaning with her Akhenaton face

into the hurdy-gurdy reveries
of other faces, spaces

thrumming to the spinning
whirr of strings on brazen wood

fingers like birds,
she a note on air

or a flight of semi-quavers launched
from a taut string

with those fleet fingers
innocent and unpolished

would they have weighed
too red? like stones

turgid with their own solemnity?
slowed their staccato effervescence

on the strings? or somehow deflect
the composition the way the toenails’

rubied ponds catch the fall of notes
cascading from the bow, refracting sound

like raindrops glancing up
from an eternal grail

skinny little thing with her
Akhenaton face ecstatic with the passion

Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello

 

Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello is an award winning poet and visual artist of Arrernte, Chinese and Anglo-Celtic descent. An ACT Creative Arts Fellow, Jennifer is widely published, including the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. She has judged both New South Wales and Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and the David Unaipon Award 2006–2010.

© 2021

To write a march

“You may write me down in history… but still like air I’ll rise…” Maya Angelou (activist and poetess).

‘The pen is more powerful
than the blade.’
I challenge those who wrote
these twisted lies.
Yes, the pen has masked
genocides,
lamented tyranny or
written
‘oppressed’.
Alone, it does not rise.

The potential to power:
it cannot breathe–
but impels to rise. Yes, it
demonises
the demon, unmasks the
hidden blade,
releases a paper dragon.

But I can breathe.
I can have piercing
words in my eyes,
sharp pens with my pace
fire sparks in my speech,
and real blazing

dragons at my call.

And I can rise.

Maya, I will rise.

Laleh Marvasti

Laleh Marvasti a relatively new published poet, mother of two. She has had her poem, ‘And God Created Oxygen’, published in Journal of Post-Colonial Writing (2020). She has also had poetry published in The Edge, an anthology published in Melbourne, Australia. She is an active member of Williamstown writers group
who have given her much support through her poetic journey. She has lived in the UK, Middle East, USA and Australia, experiencing different cultures across the globe. She currently works as a healthcare provider.

© 2021

Mask

Congratulations! Your procedure
to conform to the divine *
proportion of beauty was successful.

Your transmuted visage entitles you to
validation,
praise,
acceptance.

Aftercare.

To maintain your perfect look:
take note of each incision, chart
the length,
the width of the slash,
ripples from each gash.

Inserting a cotton tipped applicator
in the wound at the deepest point,
explore
the depth of the transformation,
probe the periphery to understand
your new reality.
Relive each bladestroke in fragmented
flashback.

Close stray incisions with
clips,
staples,
sutures,
screams,
waking dreams.

Do the edges of the wounds
fit together snugly?
do they roll?
is there a palpable
thickness, the heat
of something budding?

Are you
ecchymosed
erythematous
indurated
edematous
hysterical
surrendered
doomed
damned,
is purulence seeping like tears?

Is there necrosis of your soul,
is it grey and softened,
sloughing into the void?
Reinforce your sanity
if it become
sanguinous or
saturated with despair.

Redundant folds of lax membrane
will sag hammock-like
if you seek redemption.
Tick here □ for (in)corporeal indemnity.

The covenant is invalidated by noncompliance.
Resist the mask and
infection will worsen.
Wounds will worsen.
Life will be –
worsened:
skin bursting like a rotten plum,
each cicatrix ripped to reveal

emptiness.

Use a clinically proven moisturiser
and don’t stint on the SPF50.

* side effects may include insecurity, jealousy, terror of the eternal vortex. In no event shall we be liable for any crawling sensation, mandibles chomping, decay, cracking or any other physical or metaphysical degradation of body or soul, be liable for any damage, loss, injury or any other claim arising from unapproved servicing, modification, or exorcism of the mask and/or indirect, incidental or consequential realisation of the undying madness awaiting those who embrace eternal youth.

Sadie Maskery

 

Sadie Maskery lives in Scotland by the sea with her family and too many cats. She is on Twitter as @saccharinequeen where she describes herself, optimistically, as “functioning adequately”.

© 2021

Costume party

Come as your inner child
I’d added, an afterthought
to the party’s invitation

but when the one
we might have said was steel
girders and the glare
of light on glass

came not as a howling
wolf pup, one-eyed
pirate, ninja thief

but golden-wigged,
a smiling, blue-eyed girl

we searched, uneasy,
for our misplaced faces,

embarrassed
by these store-bought
plastic masks.

Ann Minot

 

Ann Minot holds an MFA from Goddard College and has had work published in New Letters, Tupelo Quarterly, Zone 3, Dunes Review, and Kettle Blue Review, among other print and online publications.

© 2021

Gazelle

Wandering through the grasses of an urban savannah
Each one feels like the gazelle, fleet and fragile
The reserve borders on the city; we border on reserve

Deserve to shriek like gazelles if we wish, or so we affirm
As we speak low; measured, like stitches unpicking
Is this conversation or argument? Disagree – unconfirmed

The terms and conditions of stepping closer are laid out
Circling slowly, we two lions in gazelles’ clothing
Predator prey play a no-win game: fun gone, all doubt

One gazelle is haunted by leonine flickers amidst her herd
The other adds In the Dream House to her book list – twice
Both wake up clawed, bereaved; rasped by tongues and words

Are we gazelles or lions, defending ourselves from fear, fraying?
Must not believe it’s love, erotic, ripping into me again… Indeed –
Danger is to find oneself saying, “lions and gazelles are only playing.”

Rosalind Moran

 

Rosalind Moran is a Canberra-born writer whose work has appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, and Prospect Magazine, among others. She was a runner-up in the 2019 June Shenfield Poetry Award and is currently pursuing an MPhil at the University of Cambridge. @RosalindCMoran

© 2021

Marie Curie records in her notebook

They recoil
from grainy footage of me in my laboratory,
my slow somber dance
amongst the shallow watchglass dishes;
it is the set of my lips: a permanent grymas,
something bleak they see growing in themselves.
Forged amongst the test-tubes and uranium, I ignore
the dark-paneled rooms,
which burst with dark-panel-suited men.
My attempts at warding off their idiotyzm= isotropes
stashed in my pockets as charms;
a lesson here they should learn, only just now discovering
that lead is preferable to lollies.

They dream of the x-ray machines I made for inwards exploration,
think psychology is the answer.
Nie! What about the question?
Their angels are Jung’s apostles with talk of [1 psychic nuclei] swimming in [2 ambient oceans of unconscious].
Mine are Polonium [84 Po] and her unstable sisters
given to me by the Stara Baba,
compensation for
my husband’s crushed bones.

Consider matter and soul.
They hope to arrive at numinous truths about ‘quiet,’
haphazardly jotted down as ‘life.’ Never mind.
I would not rinse away any scribblings
emanating from their challeng{-ing/-ed} shadows.
Even with scant knowledge of them
every atom could be as elegant (as transmuting)
as alchemists’ translations of light.

Anita Mortlock

 

Anita Mortlock lives on the coast of Kāpiti, New Zealand, a place that often supports and informs her identity and writing. She has previously published in several academic and poetry journals.

© 2021

Dark space

The Travelling Insurance Man is home Shirt stain-striped
Interchangeable starched collar blindingly white in contrast His
adolescent daughter blinks awkwardly the unexpected visitor
shifting things causing her to notice he is wearing his week’s
menu He is relaxed and pleasant enough in his armchair enjoys
a new child audience for his opinions On another day his wife
will put her head in the gas oven The daughter will come home
in time to drag her out will be afraid to leave her alone ever
again These glimpses are dark space between the stars they
silence us We never mention this again

Lizz Murphy

 

Lizz Murphy writes between Binalong NSW and Canberra ACT. She has published thirteen books. Her eight poetry titles include: Shebird (PressPress 2016), Walk the Wildly (Picaro/Ginninderra 2009/2017), Two Lips Went Shopping (Spinifex Press 2000). Spinifex Press will publish her next poetry collection The Wear of My Face later this year.

© 2021

Indian mynas

your mum tells me you’re only 32
and that I, as your wife
need to be more patient with you
understand that you have some growing up to do
she asks – how old am I now? Almost 27?
I have to be a grownup now
talk more, be grateful for what I have, settle down with a family

at the dinner table
she says Indian mynas are pests introduced to this country
parasites brought in by people who didn’t know what they were doing
destroying the environment, a drain on the native species

I nod in silent agreement
I don’t say I already know this
I don’t say a kindly white customer
from my sister’s café
was the first to explain this to me
only she just called them mynas

I wish I could tell your mum to get fucked
but instead I say “this pâté is delicious.”

Laila Nawsheen

 

Laila is an award-winning Sydney-based writer with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Creative Writing) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons). Her poetry has been featured in Baby Teeth Journal, NWG Inc Pop Up Zine, ZineWest, Eureka Street and will appear in future editions of Quadrant and Going Down Swinging.

© 2021

Middle school youth group sex ed

Inspired by Wayne Thiebaud and containing the titles of 40 of his pieces.

you’ve heard the tired tale before: a girl is a rose,
best untouched, on display, and then dead,
but get a load of this one: girl is also cherries,
consumed and spat out like the crown tart she is
because she let untitled seated nude male eat all around the cake
like a cut melon for lunch. girl is both watermelon slice and knife,
six candied apples, six desserts in one, six italian desserts
girl is satan’s snack bar,
soul rattling around a dark gumball machine,
satan goes munch munch on girl’s malleable soul
and her two jolly cones, too.

lest we forget the thrust of it: girl is caged
pie, untitled pie slice, white and muted and divided
and with intact cherry for show.
caged pie girl in striped blouse is student,
would never open her fish window
for man sitting, man reading, man
in orange shirt, like other girls,
two kneeling figures, little suckers,
yes like that, like little red suckers,
seven suckers, big suckers, candy sticks in a pan.
satan’s girls were not born of man but erupted from a suckers tree.
the Lord does not know these girls,
untitled cows, dancing
clowns with clown memories, bumping clowns,
clown and beast and clown with playmate,
not like you, girl with pink hat,
you, clown and puppy, clown angel and dog,
you at this untitled intersection,
still
starving
portrait of a woman.


1. Rose (1979)
2. Cherries (1982)
3. Crown Tart (2015)
4. Untitled (Seated Nude Male) (1977)
5. Around the Cake (1962)
6. Cut Melon (1964)
7. Lunch (1967)
8. Watermelon Slice and Knife (1989)
9. Six Candied Apples (1989)
10. Six Desserts (1979)
11. Six Italian Desserts (1979)
12. Snack Bar (2017)
13. Dark Gumball Machine (2017)
14. Two Jolly Cones (2002)
15. Caged Pie (1962)
16. Untitled (Pie Slice) (1977)
17. Girl in Striped Blouse (1972-1975)
18. Student (1968)
19. Fish Window (1956)
20. Man Sitting – Back View (1964)
21. Man Reading (1963)
22. Man in Orange Shirt (1975)
23. Two Kneeling Figures (1966)
24. Little Suckers (1971/2014)
25. Little Red Suckers (1971/2014)
26. Seven Suckers (1970)
27. Big Suckers (1971)
28. Candy Sticks in a Pan (1980)
29. Suckers Tree (1962)
30. Untitled (Four Cows) (1991)
31. Dancing Clowns (2019)
32. Clown Memories (2017)
33. Bumping Clowns (2017)
34. Clown and Beast (2016)
35. Clown with Playmate (2019)
36. Girl with Pink Hat (1973)
37. Clown and Puppy (2015)
38. Clown Angel and Dog (2017)
39. Untitled (Intersection) (1977)
40. Portrait of a Woman (1955)

Riley O’Connell

 

Riley O’Connell has been awarded UC Berkeley’s Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize, featured at Poetry Center San José events throughout the South Bay, and published in the Santa Clara Review (Vol. 104 Issue 2), for which she later served as Editor in Chief. Twenty-three and living in the Bay Area, she writes primarily about loss, dogs, love, and womanhood.

Listen to Riley reading Middle school youth group sex ed (1:53)


© 2021 text and audio

A look that won’t catch on

Monday 10 May 1621, rue Mouffetard, Paris

Odette clutches my arm on the way back from the markets, shocking
me out of my fatigue. Here he comes, the chief physician to Louis
XIII, flapping along the high street like an outsized bird in hat and
overcoat, boots and gloves, while the crowd parts around him like so
many disturbed pigeons. Holding our baskets tight, we press ourselves
against the damp stone wall as he passes – the good doctor didn’t need
his cane to keep us at bay, not with those goggle eyes and beak of a
mask – though I can’t help noticing what looks like a crack on the left
side. I wrinkle my nose at the odour of spices and perfume from the
holes in his mask; it was alright for him, all sealed up while the likes
of us were exposed daily in the crowded squares and city streets to the
miasma, the very air we breathe, whence all disease comes. We
exchange a look behind his retreating shiny black leather back –
Levantine leather no less, rumour has it… If his patients don’t expire
from the pestilence, they surely will of fright when he comes to tend
them, or more likely scrounge coins out of their desperation. It seems
the more unpopular he becomes at court, the wilder his outfits,
modelled on the Devil himself. I cross myself quickly, checking the
plump fresh aubergines – Madame’s favourite – for bruises before
hurrying after Odette. Well, there’s a look that won’t catch on!

Note: Charles de Lorme (1584–1678), French physician to Louis XIII, is credited with inventing (c. 1619) the first ‘plague doctor’ costume worn by physicians during the second wave of the bubonic plague in Europe.

Denise O’Hagan

 

Denise was born in Rome and lives in Sydney. She has a background in commercial book publishing, and is Poetry Editor for Australia/New Zealand for Irish literary journal The Blue Nib. Her poetry is published widely and has received numerous awards. Her debut poetry collection is The Beating Heart (Ginninderra Press 2020).

Listen to Denise reading A look that won’t catch on (1:57)


© 2021 text and audio

This year’s photo

They smile at me
from last year’s photo—
their children nestled in the lap
of a large man in a red suit.
His snow-white hair spills
onto his matching beard.
They all sit tall in a gift-laden sleigh
amid a festive scene of plastic pines
frosted with spray-on snow.

In this year’s photo
they might be smiling at me.

They are all in disguise.

Rosa O’Kane

 

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

© 2021

the space within a touch

silent spring arrives
in winter wind

a virus
microns wide — flees

dying ecosystems, hitches
rides on human breath, thrives

inside the space

within a touch

masks impede its grasp, steal
the curve of lips, dull

the timbre of a voice
— glass screens receive

fingertips’ caress, replace
the warmth of skin

a virus
microns wide — re-contours life, rips

the veil — between
common wealth and self

Yvonne G. Patterson

 

Yvonne G. Patterson lives in Perth, Western Australia, is originally from New Zealand and is enjoying poetry after a career in human services policy and clinical psychology. She received a commendation in the 2018 National Tom Collins Poetry Prize and has poems published in anthologies and journals.

© 2021

Eclosion

Only masks still bandied
About numbers, and
Shrunk out dates and years
on littered streets.

We sat in prayers then, cooped up, all afternoon
We, who had crossed over to the other bank,

Since March last.

In the waters, floated away, grief,
Someone’s brothers, my sisters.

One of the neighbors has
Unfurled it on the flag post
by its long elastic ears.
Reasonable reminder — as it
Flutters in departing winter breeze.
I think it murmurs back, in
Eerie musical tone, how it’s hiding a
Spring butterfly in its
Rather pupal folds. Amen!

~~~

Mandira Pattnaik

 

Mandira Pattnaik is a writer based in India. Her most recent poetry is ‘The Day I Became Madonna’ (Prime Number Magazine, Press53, January 2021), ‘A Vacuum’s Tale of a Bird’ (West Trestle Review, January 2021), ‘7:39’ (Feral Poetry, December 2020) and ‘Outside A pocket, 1947’ (Not Very Quiet, September 2020).

© 2021

White fragility

I’m replaying our conversation in my head
and I’m kicking myself for not being
ready with a polished argument
witty comeback or snappy rejoinder.

I made the mistake of thinking
you’d understand because we share
many values and opinions
about refugees, education and the environment.

It’s ironic really because you’re the person
who just introduced me to the term
white fragility 
and then casually insisted

when I articulated why I don’t
usually write about race or identity
that it has shaped me and informs
everything about me.

I’m gagged — I can’t tell you
that you’re missing the point
because that’s the point —
I’m afraid this boat will capsize

and my want will drown you.
My truth will flood your gates
and my voice wash away
your kindness.

I’ve been trained to put
your feelings first
to be a good sport
and go along with the joke —

if you’re imitating my accent
belittling my knowledge
or singling out my colour
it means you like me.

Indrani Perera

 

Indrani Perera is a poet, publisher of the Pocketry Almanack (www.pocketry.com.au) and a maker of useful things. She is the author of Defenestration (Ginninderra Press 1997), Pas De Deux (Ginninderra Press 2019) and the hand-bound, limited edition chapbook, Wild Heart (2019). You can find her at http://www.indraniperera.com and on Instagram @indraniperera.

© 2021

watercolors

splitting green wides on the asphalt
woke fast before curfew &
mourning poured in
heavy
held the whole sky in my cup
drinking the smoke & caching the light
you used to sneak in thru the door
sliding
into the darkness— fresh from the cemetery
& opening the blinds
today
i asked the birds if your hair still grew
wrapping around your neck like
a tower

leaning & if you still swam thru watercolors

you were pink and gray always against the current
it’s true that time
moves
fast & slow but i wish i could go back to fix the parts that aren’t even there
anymore & Rapunzel will you answer if your brain is still
a staircase

S

P

I

R

A

L

ing???

could we meet where you are?
dancing
under dreidels
long before the Chinese lanterns dim
& more glass explodes
leaking tea & chocolate
in your graveyard kitchen where
i’ll be waiting
;
it’s been fourteen years
since the painting & i still wear blue
with my laughlines
by the earth,
covering my ears.

[Aug 2020]
For Rapunzel

A. Pikovsky

 

A. Pikovsky is a soviet-jewish poet living in Philadelphia.

© 2021

And forgets to be ashamed of making the wrong step

(Joy Harjo)

It happened so slowly, slower than the leaves falling
in the mountains. I offered up my truth, without
venom or need, and it was ordinary. Later,
you shared that space, a shame no longer yours.

Time gone cold I couldn’t bear to be near my skin.
I would hover to one side and shake my self in,
just to touch. Clothes so loose
my outline faded, an apology for space.

Humanness no longer filled with bees, as
the old story of what was done has been
left by the side of the road. I have stopped
looking for myself in the eyes of bears.

A pattern long since lost, hints
at my fingertips. To receive touch
in kindness, or meet a hand in mine.
Aliveness, like spring rain, is welcomed
without flinching.

Meredith Pitt

 

Meredith Pitt is a Blue Mountains based poet. She has honed her craft through attendance of numerous workshops and the occasional residential week-long course. Her work has been published in online and print journals.

© 2021

I am doing yoga in a graveyard

the grass is covered in dew and i am on my knees
and hands;
table top position

i am fingering
the earth with my unmanicured nails, each attached to long, pale
fingers like mom’s Newports snuggled
between her pink lips

i arch my back and tilt my pelvis
back and lift my gaze;
cow pose

my eyes wander
over to man
sitting atop of a stone that describes the way he lived his life as “good.”

i can feel his bulging
eyes track my flowing movements

only a fool would expect to come
to a cemetery for a moment of solitude

my hips go over my head
while my elbows rest on my forearms;
crow pose

my head begins to throb
my legs are quivering
i need to hold this position

i didn’t come
here to leave tight and
unstretched

but alas, before i leave the pose
i see my audience member
and lose my balance

the male gaze is enough to dry
the morning ground

and stillness overcomes me and i lie
with my arms by my side
and my legs closed shut;
corpse pose

Therese Pokorney

 

Therese is a poet and writer from Chicago, Illinois. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Wingless Dreamer’s Heartfelt Poetry Collection, Anti-Heroin Chic magazine, and the Chiron Review. She is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studied journalism and psychology.

© 2021

Le Stryge

Notre Dame de Paris, April 2020

The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked. (Sir Thomas More)

Mon dieu, I am dying of ennui.
For nearly two hundred years
I have leant my elbows onto
the cold stone of the north tower,
poked my tongue out at the world.
Neither medieval, nor a gargoyle
with a purpose, I’m an impotent
vampire, chimera, horned child-
poisoner, monkey-faced creation
of Viollet-le-Duc, doomed
to survey the streets of Paris
in the cold, the rain, the blazing sun.

I long for the bustle of the Second Empire
and La Belle Époque’s cars and carriages.
Later, bombs blazed in exhilarating explosions,
German tanks grinding their way into the city,
years of jackboot oppression, then liberation,
revolution and riot. This city is a place
where things happen. Even in peacetime
a blazing fire ravaged this very roof.

Now there is nothing,
rien, the city deserted.
La Seine, sluggish and impervious,
flows past empty streets and empty squares
in a living nightmare. I, Le Stryge,
have become an object of derision,
some idiot gilding me with a surgical mask.
Even in my heart of stone, I have feelings.

Would anyone notice if I stretched
my sculpted wings like the dirty clouds
of pigeons de ville and shook off this malaise,
launching myself into the breeze high above
the city, finally making my escape?

Vanessa Proctor

 

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, and has also been carved in stone, printed on teabag labels and set to music.

Listen to Vanessa reading Le Stryge – Notre Dame de Paris, April 2020 (2:50)


© 2021 text and audio

dystopia.

Self-care’s important when serotonin is shortened.
Shoot up a meme,
Whiff a heart react.
We self-sabotage to keep the ego intact.
Synthetic existences and substance.
& we ask why & hyper focus on justice.
Everything is lethal and everybody’s right.
Tolerant conversations devoid,
MIA intelligent life.
This mind state welcomes you,
& hopes you get the fuck out too

manda propaganda.

Abstract graffiti expressionist, mixed media artist, and poet, the artist is the copyright holder to the art performance of Spit Painting©. Artist is multidisciplinary and adept in fine arts, poetry, and merging of mediums.

© 2021

A mask of water

She wakes into a dream, her face a mask
of water. In the dream, a child is born,
cascade of birth waters, then music

and dancing. No barbed wire in the dream
and no broken glass, no threat of bombs
cripples the world’s rejoicing. In the dream,

there are no arms for war. Dictators
and presidents go home early to their suppers.
Streams and creeks and rivers run undammed.

Science closes the markets of disease.
From behind her mask of dream, she sees
that no life is slight enough to pass

unmourned. Men and women gather
wheat for bread and dream of plenty, pluck fruit
that bears no curse of knowledge.

Clouds abound in that dream, and sunlight
billows over drifts of sand and drifts
of snow where her children play with children

of neighbors and children of strangers.
In the dream, there are no strangers.
Her mask is of the purest water.

Bethany Reid

 

Bethany Reid is the author of Sparrow, which won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize. Her more recent books are Body My House (Goldfish Press 2018), and “The Thing with Feathers,” part of Triple No. 10 published by Ravenna Press (2020). She lives in Edmonds, Washington, and blogs at http://www.bethanyareid.com.

© 2021

Masked

I cup your face in my palm
and look you square in the eye
I am the curve of your smile
but you laugh behind my hand

I am your armour
Your camouflage
I leave you unrecognisable
You hide behind my back

During these uncertain times
When you can’t see what’s ahead
I am the one who’s holding
your breath

Sarah Rice

 

Sarah Rice’s poetry collection Fingertip of the Tongue (UWAP) won the Eyelands International Book Awards and was shortlisted in the ACT Publishing Awards. Sarah won the Ron Pretty and Bruce Dawe, and co-won the Writing Ventures, and Gwen Harwood poetry prizes, and has been shortlisted in numerous national and international writing awards. Her work has been published extensively.

© 2021

Noli me tangere

In endless childhood-idle hours I taught myself to
pierce the air with tongue, teeth and fingers
sound owl hoots from cupped hands
blow raspberries from a grass blade
throw a yoyo
tap dance
and
arch each brow at will and eloquently.

Now muffled under dense protective layers,
I draw on the old skills
with a dainty travel step,
or side-mount with my string bag.
And when patience wears,
the black flash of my best Bette Davis,
the warning whiplash
to all who dare
encroach on
my
two
metres.

Marka Rifat

 

Marka Rifat writes poems, stories, articles and plays. In 2020, she had work in 18 anthologies in the UK and US. She lives in Aberdeenshire in Scotland.

Listen to Marka reading Noli me tangere (0:59)


© 2021 text and audio

Unmasked and masked

I didn’t mean to hate
coffee, but as it happens that hate makes me happy.
I love tea, teapots, cups and cozies.
I didn’t anticipate my penchant for noncompliance,
didn’t plan to be a renegade.
But as each thing came up it seemed I swerved,
and then bore down, finding over and over the little pockets
of lesser population, until fixation on various defections
proved to rule me, make me iconoclastic.

Take the veil, for example—wearing one
that trailed behind a long white gown
as my hand was nestled in my father’s arm,
ready to be given away to someone who’d want much more of me . . .
absolutely not!
I eloped. In an orange dress.
If I would choose to have two children, never more,
I’d be damned sure my birth control was truly efficacious,
not dependent on the whims of law-creating, law-enforcing
(mostly Christian, and misogynistic) guys.
Had them tied, my tubes.

I didn’t mean to hate coffee, or anything, anyone—
so much I love! My books, my cat and daughters, friends, partner, solitude, a free-and-easy, just-comfortable-enough life.
Didn’t mean to hate, but I know when and whom
to hate, and that I do. Without a single act of violence.
The time is now. Who, what? Three can keep a secret
if two of them are dead, said Ben Franklin,
political philosopher, campaigner for colonial unity.

This poem unmasks, and secret-keeper like me, it masks.

Jacquelyn Shah

 

Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah A.B. & M.A. English; M.F.A., Ph.D. English literature/ creative writing–poetry. Publications include a chapbook: small fry (Finishing Line Press 2017); full-length book: What to Do with Red (Lit Fest Press 2018); individual poems in various journals; and winner of Literal Latté’s Food Verse Contest in 2018.

© 2021

Well past midnight

“The house was quiet and the world was calm.” Wallace Stephens

 

Her book topples from her hand,
lands on the floor, open.

Outside, centuries of stars, muted
by street lamps, a crescent moon.

Cicadas shrill, go still, then shrill.
Slap of waves pebble the shore.

Salt brine, jasmine. Sweat on her skin.
Heft of her pillowed head.

Conversations circle her fishbowl
mind. Her dead father’s smile.

Sleep is the perfection
she seeks and yet—she dangles,

sheathed in sheets, cocooned
in the yes — of her breath.

Her pulsing hands,
her restless feet.

Around her eyes, muscles twitch
as layer by layer, her masks slip.

Beneath her ribs,
a sanctum.

Tenderness
warms her veins

dissolves
the house, the world and she’s

swirled, phosphorescent
on the turning tide.

Laura Jan Shore

 

Laura Jan Shore teaches poetry in northern New South Wales. She won the Martha Richardson Poetry Prize (2012) and the FAW John Shaw Nielson Award (2009). Her poetry collections include Breathworks (Dangerously Poetic Press 2002), Water over Stone (Interactive Press 2011), Afterglow (Interactive Press 2020). Her work appears in literary journals across four continents.

© 2021

How to make your own face mask

Inside the sealed hive of her retirement home
my grandmother is sewing face masks.

From whatever cell she has ever occupied
has always streamed an issue of crafted panaceas.

My grandmother is part of the Silent Generation
and she is still generating silently.

She has sewn blankets for the homeless,
gowns for stillborn infants to be buried in.

My grandmother has always stitched the world together,
improvised some bandage for others’ wounded lives,
offered a cup of cold water to the least of these.

And now that she is the least of these, she still sews.
But these are not the first masks she has fashioned.

My grandmother sewed masks for both her marriages
in vintage midcentury fabrics. She sewed the masks
of teacher and mother to cover the exhaustion
of infinite needs all clamoring for her.
She sewed churchlady masks that matched
the color of the tablecloth at the potluck,
coordinated with the liturgical vestments,
shielded her from gossip and hypocrisy.

My grandmother has known all her life what the mask means,
what it says silently as it covers her mouth.

The mask says,
I am not letting anything in or out.
The mask says,
you can see my eyes but nothing else tells you who I am.
The mask says,
there may be a hidden weakness in all of us.
The mask says,
we may spread mayhem without meaning to.
The mask says,
I know the potential for how deeply we could hurt each other.
The mask says,
the closer we are, the more harm we could do.
The mask says,
I know closeness lends itself to death.

In this way, she could tell you, the mask is a form of love.
My grandmother knows how contagious love is.

Sara Jeanine Smith

 

Sara Jeanine Smith is an assistant professor of English at Pensacola State College and the mother of two daughters. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pigeonholes, Roanoke Review, The Stirling Spoon, Psaltery & Lyre, Hurricane Review, and Dying Dahlia Review. Her chapbook entitled Queen and Stranger was published by USPOCO Books in 2019.

© 2021

Transient error

A girl sells her unlaundered socks to a boy she will never meet.
The exchange takes place in some armpit of the Internet.
If a girl sells herself unlaundered, deduce the boy has spent too much.
Deduce the boy has expendable income for Internet armpits.
Deduce the girl’s father does, too.
The girl’s father feels very bad about this income.
The girl’s father never tells the girl or the mother or himself.
The father does not recognize the girl as his daughter.
A father never recognizes a girl as a daughter.
The girl’s father waits for the next available pair of the girl’s unlaundered socks.

R. Stempel

 

R. Stempel is a genderqueer Jewish poet. Winner of the 2020 Matt Clark Editors’ Choice Prize in fiction from New Delta Review, their work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Nasiona (2020), Penn Review (2021), and elsewhere. They live on Long Island with their rabbit, Marguerite.

© 2021

Waiting room – radiation oncology

She pauses at the threshold as if trapped
in a vacuum hand clasped to chest clutching
her last drop of oxygen.
She shuffles as though with her mother’s bound feet,
her interpreter checking her watch more than her charge.

Will she understand as they push her body this way that
until the triangulation of single-dot tattoos aligns?
Will she know to count the seconds –
one-hundred-and-eighty
one. by. one.

Will she wonder at the whiff of something not quite chemical,
feel the buzz that resonates behind her left temporal lobe?
She won’t feel the charged particles bombard her breast

not now

that will come later.

Imagine how she must feel.
If I were her, I would be too afraid to stay.

Carmel Summers

 

Carmel Summers’ first book of responsive tanka, The last day before snow (Malicorne Publications 2016), written with eight Australian poets, was awarded the ACT Publisher’s Award for Poetry in 2017. Her work appears in a number of collections and journals, in Australia and overseas. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University.

© 2021

What it means to be a woman in the south

Stiff dress, painted smile. Ladylike facade.

Silence is the mark of a lady, I bite my tongue so hard I taste copper.

Wolf whistles, guard up. Never walk alone.

Eye contact is a dangerous thing; I clutch my keys. They dig into my flesh.

Quiet voice, gentle ways. Meek disposition.

A difficult woman will never make a good wife. She makes herself so small she wonders that there is any of her left. A fragmented soul.

Head down, voice shaking. Broken drywall.

It is a woman’s place to obey her husband. The children hide under the dining room table. A game but no one is laughing.

Torn dress, shattered eyes. Spoiled goods.

No man will want a girl who couldn’t keep her legs closed. She can still feel his blood beneath her fingernails. She fought but that won’t matter, the judge stares with cold eyes.

This is what it means to be a woman in the South.

Taught to be wives before we could fathom anything else, there is nothing else for us to be. Good Southern woman.

Sent to cotillions before our first period, taught to make a home before we are taught to drive a car. Neat and tidy.

Debutante balls come before college degrees- an entrance to society. Dressed in virginal white and paraded like cattle. Sold to the highest bidder. The man who touched me at my uncle’s wake. “Beautiful girl,” he croons “pretty thing,”

Thing.

Abortion is a sin, though the men in the suits will never have a child forced on them. Murder.

Female pleasure is taboo, but male pleasure is taught in sex ed. An education system built to break you. Submission.

Maternal instincts are prized, and women who feel differently are unnatural. Anathema.

Expected to become wives and mothers at birth, her future is decided. Good girl.

Mouth closed, eyes wide, knees shut until marriage. Bible belt.

This is what it still means to be a woman in the South.

 

Anna Swearingen

 

Anna Swearingen is a young, aspiring writer. Though she primarily writes from her own experiences, she wishes to give a voice to the previously unheard. She is grateful to Not Very Quiet for this opportunity.

© 2021

My father’s mask

The stitches in my father’s mask grew mild
as Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Brahms wove warp and weft.
He waltzed on satin feet like music’s child
and warmed his blood on snow-chilled mountain heft.
To best the bile of poverty and stain
his essence, strong as peppermint, broke out
and spiced the air for others, took the strain
but screened his inner life from prying scout.

Disease decayed his mask, contorted time.
A question mark pervades the voided space.
An answer floats where nature’s breezes rhyme
where trunk bark, read as Braille, settles place.
The peace released with whispered final breath
unmasked the light and banished fear of death.

Robyn Sykes

 

Robyn Sykes is published in journals and anthologies nationally, internationally and online. Nature, human behaviour and a BSc (Hons) inform her work. Recently, her poem ‘Forest Tracks’ appeared in bushfire anthology Messages from the Embers (Black Quill Press 2020). Robyn coordinates A Brush with Poetry in Binalong, near Canberra.

Listen to Robyn reading My father’s mask (1:24)


© 2021 text and audio

No matter how much skin I lose I am always the same body

I was shedding, stripped and blue-veined. It happens every few years,
each time an earnest battle. I don’t like war metaphors. I was sick,
which led to the first backrub. I remember discussions of tin roofs,
no heat like Adelaide-heat and mimosas, flowers when a friend died.
I was reading a lot of grunge then, illness a new kind of sloughing,
an ecdysis. I bled. There were dogs, the park at midnight and when you
said you were falling in love with me I asked if I had to move out.
We kissed by the garden where carrots struggled under a dead
grapevine. There was acquiescence then, later wisteria, my skin
trailing behind us and you tripping over it. For a second I thought
we were in this together. You bathed me. There was ginger
in everything we ate. There was a couch that unfolded into a bed
which I lay on for aching hours while you went out into the world.
I wrote poems about sex and chilli peppers. When the winter rain
hit Adelaide we talked about tin roofs again. I’d grown new skin
that you liked to touch. It covered my body, which was mine.

Heather Taylor-Johnson

 

Heather Taylor-Johnson is the author of the novel Jean Harley was Here, recently optioned for a tv series, and the editor of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain. Her fifth book of poetry will be published by Wakefield Press in 2021, as well as an epistolary verse novel by Recent Work Press.

Listen to Heather reading No matter how much skin I lose I am always the same body (1:26)


© 2021 text and audio

Silence

Whatever happened to my grandmothers, their daughters?

Temperance and CharityPatience
and Ruth

Were they tested by their names, the wishes
of a Puritan parent, straightjacketed
into good behavior by the whiff of hellfire?

Waitstill and Obedience
rushing to light a candle, scrub a floor,
lower their eyes from the open door,
the passing feet of Ebenezer, Elijah.

Did their names foretell their
doom, as we’d call it, ten generations down?
What wings clipped and dreams deferred?

And by what stretch of
generosity or foolish gesture were they named
Freelove? Experience?
Saddled with such names
but no freedom, condemned to sin?
To doubt?

My heart clings tightest to
Silence, whose lips are sealed
by the centuries, by her stories
unheard. By the sibilance of her name
that cries out for a telling.

Julia Park Tracey

 

Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning poet, author, blogger and journalist. She was named Poet Laureate for the city of Alameda (CA) in 2014. Julia’s poetry has appeared most recently in Tiferet Journal, Daphne, Postcard Poems, and Yellow Chair Review. Her essays have appeared in Salon, Narratively, Redbook, and more. Her poetry Amaryllis: Collected Poems (2009, Scarlet Letter Press) is heading for a second edition. She is the author of six books. @juliaparktracey F|T|IG

© 2021

Huhu

Fat, white huhu larvae bore through wood rot:
a skin caster, most edible tātaka, who soon grows
wings, legs. Pepe emerges, flies, circles, lands
on our white weatherboards, then the black fence.

Huhu beetle now, te muimui: sometimes black,
yellow, brown, striped — eggs again white.
It’s nothing to huhu, this temporary skin —
this white, black, yellow, brown, striped.

Sophia Wilson

 

Sophia Wilson has recent writing in Blackmail Press, Flash Frontier, Intima, Mayhem, Landfall, Australian Poetry Anthology, Shot Glass Journal, The Poetry Archive, Best Microfiction 2021 and elsewhere.  She was runner-up in the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems and her poem ‘The Captive’s Song’ won the 2020 Robert Burns Poetry Competition.

Listen to Sophia reading Huhu (0:42)


© 2021 text and audio

Circe

I never had the power to transform,
but merely to reveal what lies within,
what lurks beneath the skin.

It wasn’t I who turned
the crew of Odysseus into swine:
the swine were there,
concealed in human flesh.
To say I liberated them
would be to overstate the case.
It’s not for me to judge
what’s foul or fair,
but to reflect the face
beneath the mask
as in a looking-glass.

To turn swine into pearls
would call for powers
I cannot profess.
I am the mirror in the cave,
awaiting the possessed –

Jena Woodhouse

 

Jena Woodhouse is the author/ translator/ co-compiler of eleven book and chapbook publications across several genres, six of them poetry titles, including On the Windswept Bridge (Pocket Poets, end of 2020) and News from the Village: Travels in Rural Greece (Picaro Poets 2021). Her poems have received awards and been shortlisted three times in the Montreal International Poetry Prize (2020, 2015, 2013).

Listen to Jena reading Circe (1:05)


© 2021 text and audio

Blog: [#i n t h e n a m e o f l i b e r t y]

I can’t put it on
I think I have covid but I just can’t put it on
it fogs up my glasses it is plastic it doesn’t ventilate
I have difficulty breathing wearing it I just can’t do it
anyway I think I have covid
I keep coughing
it started when I was in France
and then I passed the quarantine undetected
then I came back and it went away
my friends and family tell me I don’t have covid
they say if I have they would have already caught it
in any case the quarantine people would have detected it
but when I hear about covid clusters
I think about where I’ve been
no I won’t wear a mask because I am a free human being
with no responsibility to anyone or anything
I am a citizen of the world like Epicurus
and I preach bad things while doing good things
I buy organic fruit and veg from the local farmer’s market
but I hate doing recycling properly
and deep down being an Asian I enjoy
using plastic bags and sometimes
it seems impossible to not use plastic bags
who wants meat juice leaking everywhere in your car
and in your reusable shopping bags?
I think I have covid
I have been coughing since Friday night
I went to a night club Friday night and there were [no dancing]
posters everywhere and posters re social distancing rules
but everyone was dancing and there was no social distancing
and it didn’t matter to me
we had to shout at the top of our voices
like pigs getting skinned
and I have been coughing ever since
I think I have covid but I’m not sure
at Christmas I will be sitting next to an eighty-year-old
I think I will just politely cough into my arms
and tell them about my night out
yes so it brings me back to my point
I can’t wear masks because it physically makes me feel uncomfortable
and I don’t care if I spread diseases
because herd immunity you know?
I won’t complain if I get it
if I don’t make it it means I am not fit enough
to survive
my partner is a scientist
we are realistic about everything
life is strange
this virus will mutate and kill off most human beings
this is just nature curing itself of overpopulation of anything
if you believe otherwise
it doesn’t matter to me
don’t try and guilt trip me though
I won’t wear it
I won’t hear it
life’s tough
you either shape up
or ship out.

 

Janet Jiahui Wu

Disclaimer: this poem is fictional and in no way reflects where the poet stands regarding the need to wear a mask during a pandemic or cover up anything at any other time.

 

Janet Jiahui Wu is a Hong-Kongese-Chinese-Australian visual artist and writer of poetry and fiction. She has published in various Australian literary magazines such as Voiceworks, Cordite Poetry Review, Mascara Literary Review, Rabbit Poetry, Plumwood Mountain Poetry, foam:e, Tipton Poetry Journal, Yes!, Gone Lawn and so on. She currently resides in South Australia.

Listen to Janet reading Blog: [#I n t h e n a m e o f l I b e r t y] (2:25)


© 2021 text and audio

Encomium hymenopus coronatus

Show me your silken underbelly,
the pearly translucency
of your petal-wings,
wild rose
velvet folds,
moon-bright orbs
pricked with pink,
that small perfect
pout
binding me
to your mercurial
moods.

I know every
skin prickle,
lustrous lair
darkling tier,
a quiver
of hidden
sharp things—

hostage to
all your
thornier
edgings.

Anne Casey

 

(Hymenopus coronatus is the scientific name for the (walking) flower mantis or (pink) orchid mantis.)

© 2021

Postcard from Bondi, 3 January 2021

Apartment blocks around here are named Avoca,

St Albans, Cranbrook; businesses called Big John’s

Grill, Sasha’s Hair, and Kevin’s Barbershop do a slow

trade. Pasha’s Indian Restaurant is closed for good,

its windows curtained in last year’s tabloids.

In a nearby side street, a hoarder’s front yard attracts

flies, pigeons and feral cats. Ancient paths are masked

by concrete, sandstone steps, and guardrails; middens

cloaked in bitumen. The view from our holiday house

is superb. We can see the curved beach, storms coming

in from every direction.

 

K A Nelson

 

© 2021

Knitting for insomniacs

On nights when sleep eludes
women across the world
pick up needles—gather

dropped stitches of spite
and old hatreds,
untangle the skeins of war.

They knit soft bombs.
Cover a tank with pink wool,
hang a strawberry

tassel from its turret.
Swathe a submarine
yellow with acrylic and cotton

warm as a baby’s bootee.
Fat pom-poms conceal

the dark hull.

Moya Pacey

First published in The Canberra Times (August 2015) and subsequently in Black Tulips poetry collection (Recent Work Press 2020).

Listen to Moya reading Knitting for insomniacs (0:53)


© 2021 text and audio

Cocky’s joy

(for my mother)

Hidden under precious papers,
your citizenship certificate,
a pretty document (almost half a century old)
ornamented with sprigs of wattle and
our national fauna (kangaroo and emu)
bearing the coat of arms…
You loved wattle and kangaroos
but your heart cracked, just a little, on the day
that you received this award…
After the ceremony we ate damper spread
with golden syrup ‘Cocky’s Joy’ someone said –
words that held no meaning for a woman
who preferred rice to bread, but it was a party
(of sorts) so you smiled and watched your children
devour a stranger’s food— knowing that in the evening
you would nourish them properly…

Anita Patel

Listen to Anita reading Cocky’s joy (1:03)


© 2021 text and audio

No place is safe for queer people

When I leave the house I’m in my mask
to save me from your poison breath.
Keeping safe, it is my task.
When I leave the house I’m in my mask,
I know for you it’s a lot to ask,
for some of us it’s certain death.
When I leave the house I’m in my mask
to save me from your poison breath.

 

We’ve known this fear before, remember, in the 80s, when the Grim Reaper scared the hell out of Australia, putting AIDS on the list. And deviant lifestyles, person-to-person sharing of blood and semen, created political quagmire. God’s vengeance was brought into it, breath of fire and brimstone. Bowling alleys were never the same, and condoms were front and centre (so to speak) for protection, packed in purses just in case… just in case there was resistance to covering up.

No place is safe for queer people. A digressive vagrant, I already require masking for passing, coming out and going out, a cover up, carapace protection from  stings and barbs and judgements.

Fleeing a place that can kill me has an inevitable inexorability — for queer people being out is always an expected risking.

Sandra Renew

 

Note: In 1985, 4500 men in inner-suburban Sydney and Melbourne had tested HIV positive. This was person-to-person infections, through blood and semen and other bodily fluids. So far, in 2020, 33 million lives are gone.

Source: Marinella Padula, The AIDS Grim Reaper Campaign (A), The Australia and New Zealand School of Government Case program 2006-90.1, Australia and New Zealand School of Government, Version 24-11-2008, accessed 30 Jan 2021 http://www.anzsog.edu.au

© 2021