Tom’s Lagoon (Louis Armand)

Posted on August 18, 2017 by in Heightened Talk


1.
Teeth in a jar, corks screwed to
arthritic fists. A ten-mile stretch
of frozen sky reflected in it.
They stoop there, anchored,
boy & old man pocketing scrap
from the condemned lot.
It’s not what was promised, but there’s a pattern in it:
an interior surface
                                  gazetting the solemn
                                  high reverence
                                  of the late lamented.
Putting on the glad rags,
the wowsers fluff their wings on the power lines,
eyes out for a chance at a dog’s dinner.
The beseeched world
extends a charitable view –
things construed as y’d construe a missing link,
a tribe of unhinged dressing table mirrors.
                                  They’re standing now
                                  at the lopsided front door.
                                                                       One breath
                                                                       & the whole
                                                                       thing’ll collapse.

2.
Well they set up shop there ’cause all around was swamp-
infested, making a campfire of their one lifeboat
& kept watch from under the charred gunwale. Y’d’ve
mistook ’em all for Rabbis. And this was the grand
beacon-on-the-hill that squirt Austrayan with the turd
in his buttonhole was busy praising to the portside of Blighty.
(They knew a good thing when they could sell it cheap.)
It was time, all hands agreed, to found a new master race,
so one of them gold-panning yanks stuck a Wiradjuri girl
up a stag tree & they sat around downing turps while the march
of the black cockatoos dressed them in feathers & buckshot
& gold raiment & made right royal bastards of the lot.

3.
Who knows, how long it lasts –
bringing in the salt harvest,
the dying species under a wire-frame moon,
life after the fact?

You lie there, a withered bathtub demagogue
dreaming a swansong’s bought encore.
Television. The cosmic dark horse
hanged with a two-dollar belt.

One last unbearable meal –
the man in the Houdini mindtrap,
the matchstick tower, the smear on the
sidewalk. Let these be warnings

to children weaving fairyfloss from your dead hair.
Spectral teeth grind-out 4 a.m. soliloquies.
The Indian Summer that year
stalked them more abjectly than ever.

4.
In the dead of night – creeping up to the bar
at the Australia Hotel

like a Burma Railroad demolition crew.
Another April fool

on a three-week binge, hoisting
the Southern Cross

& digging-in for a saga of recaps long as the Mekong,
taxing to a nation

with a five-minute attention span.
The night they burnt

the place down, tabloid photo-fit intaglios
of Australopithecus

with a lip stiffened by a piece of four-by-two:
Such is life, they said,

sensing the moment was historical. The closing-time
referendum declared

an anti-republic six generations antique
bred from Bex powders

& fluked sheep. The fire brigade rang the anthem
through the streets,

the Unknown Soldier wept. Hearing a parade
was in the offing,

the whole town lined up for miles around,
just for the chance to piss on it.

____________________________________________________________

Louis Armand is the author of eight novels, including The Combinations (2016), Cairo (2014), and Breakfast at Midnight (2012). In addition, he has published ten collections of poetry – most recently, East Broadway Rundown (2015) & The Rube Goldberg Variations (2015) – & is the author of Videology (2015) & The Organ-Grinder’s Monkey: Culture after the Avantgarde (2013). He lives in Prague.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal (Gayelene Carbis)

Posted on August 11, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

Lessons On Life From My Sister In First Year

I just want to enjoy things I don’t want to think about them. don’t you do anything for fun you can’t help yourself you have to deconstruct everything. you have to talk about the ultimate meaning of everything you can’t just watch something and enjoy it. ok yes there’s The Sound of Music I’ll grant you that yes you love it and you enjoy it but I’ll bet. see there you go you don’t love it just for the music and the story here you are. you have to analyse it and deconstruct it through some particular perspective and now it’s feminism of course. I just want to enjoy the fucking movie I don’t care if Maria’s some feminist heroine (or hero) refusing and resisting oppression and how she has her own autonomy that won’t be squashed by man or nun or even God Herself. why do you do that. can’t you just take anything on face value? what do you do sit there in the theatre tearing it apart ripping it to shreds every little bit every tiny part till there’s nothing left. can’t you just. shit. it’s not that. I’m not against thinking. I just don’t want to do it all the time. I don’t want to think or talk about the meaning of everything. I don’t see why you have to deconstruct everything and not just take it more lightly or something. you take it all so seriously. if you think about what it all means you’re going to end up being critical. you’re going to end up liking nothing. you’re not going to enjoy anything. that’s what happens if you try to work out things and the meaning in everything. and it will get in the way of having a good time. you’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about what it all means and everyone else. otherwise you’re just going to make yourself unhappy. all of us. love you. hey, you know helping me with my essays I couldn’t have done it without you. yeah well meaning really mattered then. but that’s what you have to do at uni. it doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time and everywhere with everything. dad says you think too much. mum thinks you’re full of shit. sometimes. I just think people who don’t think too much are happier. that’s what life’s about, right? I mean thinking like that. you’d be happier if you didn’t think so much, don’t you think? does it make you happy? yeah well, what was that thing you told me about? some title or book or something? oh yeah – why be happy when you could be normal? exactly. I mean like – really. you’d just be happier if you could be more normal. don’t you think?

 

____________________________________________________________

Gayelene Carbis is an award-winning writer of poetry, prose and plays. She was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, Fish Poetry Prize (Ireland), work & tumble Chapbook Prize and recently, the Adrien Abbott, Martha Richardson and MPU Prizes. Gayelene was awarded a poetry scholarship to Banff in Canada and read poetry in Canada and New York. Her new one-woman show won Best Premiere Production in the US this year and will premiere in Melbourne in 2018. Gayelene has taught creative writing, Australian Indigenous studies and script writing at Melbourne University, Deakin University and RMIT. Gayelene’s first book of poetry, Anecdotal Evidence, was published by Five Islands Press in June 2017.

I text you a photo of my knitting
(Tricia Dearborn)

Posted on August 4, 2017 by in Heightened Talk


the knitting lies curved
along its cable
it rests on the pattern

which covers my journal
in which is secreted
my dream of two nights ago

the one where I called our father
a cunt, a complete cunt
then walked out of the house

past the bedroom we shared
from the day they brought you home
in a bassinette

will you feel it
can my dream, through layers
of paper and card, through wool

and plastic and steel
through the ether, via satellite
find you, transmit to you

what you’ve forbidden me to speak of

 

____________________________________________________________

Tricia Dearborn’s poetry has been widely published in literary journals including Meanjin, Southerly, Island Magazine and Westerly, and in anthologies including Contemporary Australian Poetry, Australian Poetry since 1788, Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets and The Best Australian Poems 2012 and 2010. She is on the editorial board of Plumwood Mountain, an online journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics, and was guest poetry editor for the February 2016 issue. She has been awarded several grants by the Australia Council, and a 2017 Residential Fellowship at Varuna, the Writers’ House, to work on her manuscript in progress. Her latest collection is The Ringing World (Puncher & Wattmann, 2012).

VERITY LA POETRY PODCAST
Episode 7: David Stavanger

Posted on July 28, 2017 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

podcast2 (1)

In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan and Tim Heffernan talk with with David Stavanger about the launch of the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival along with his poem The Electric Journal, published as part of our Clozapine Clinic project.

Ahead of the Clozapine Clinic’s presence at QPF this year, we also talk about the question of writing as therapy and whether such writing has, or needs to have, ‘merit’ (and who gets to decide what that means).


Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!

____________________________________________________________

David Stavanger is a poet, performer and cultural producer. In 2013 he won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, resulting in the release of The Special (UQP), his first full-length collection of poetry which was also awarded the 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. David is the Co-Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His recent prose-poem ‘The Electric Journal’ was a finalist of the 2016 Newcastle Poetry prize. At the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards he received a Queensland Writing Fellowship. He is also sometimes known as pioneering Green Room-nominated ‘spoken weird’ artist Ghostboy, winning the 2005 Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup and establishing poetry slam in QLD via his work with the State Library and Woodford Folk Festival.

alice-allan

Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own regular podcast, Poetry Says.

White Noise (Beth Spencer)

Posted on July 21, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

those clouds I could
almost    touch

and the tickety-tick of
talk at ten-thousand

‘tea? tea? tea?’
the steward mows down the aisle

spoons clinking    paper on screens
a new coal mine    the boats pushed back

we tuck in our    elbows and knees
mind our business

hurtle on    in stillness
until the signs:

‘fasten seat belts’
and the earth    draws us back

‘more heat!’    the weather predicts
‘nothing to worry about!’    the captain calls

we shuffle
and fiddle

grab up our possessions
note    exits

prepare
for descent

____________________________________________________________


Beth Spencer
is the author of Vagabondage (UWAP), The Party of Life (Flying Islands), How to Conceive of a Girl (Random House) and Things in a Glass Box (FIP). A selection of her ABC-Radio National sound and text pieces – including a feature on Poetica – were collected on the double CD, Body of Words (dogmedia). Her awards include the Age Short Story Award, runner up for the Steele Rudd, the inaugural Dinny O’Hearn Fellowship, a Varuna Writers Fellowship, and several Literature Board fellowships from the Australia Council. She also has a PhD on ‘The Body as Fiction/Fiction as a Way of Thinking’ and a website at www.bethspencer.com.

SIX WEEKS – The Summer of 2006 (khulud khamis)

Posted on July 14, 2017 by in Book Extracts, Lies To Live By


Nairouz, a Palestinian woman from Haifa in her 40s, has to make room in her too-busy life, to care for her disabled mother for six weeks, when the Second Lebabon War breaks in July of 2006. The novel follows her life during six hectic weeks, as she negotiates between her two children, academic career, activism, and caring for a disabled mother.

Day 1 – 12 July 2006

Great. This is just great. Just what I needed to add to all the chaos in my life right now. I put down the phone and sink into the sofa. I hear Yasmeen’s hushed voice from her bedroom, but I can’t hear the words themselves. Secrets of the young on the phone. Razi storms in, his sneakers caked with mud, and before I can say something, he’s already banged the door to his bedroom shut. Not even a ‘Salam, mama.’ His life revolves around football, computer games, and his two best friends. I need coffee. Strong coffee. Then I can think straight and try to figure this out. Maybe by the time Emad gets home from work I’ll have figured out something and I can run it by him.

Everything was set up carefully. Neelam, the Nepalese woman living with my parents and taking care of my disabled mother leaves in two days for Nepal for six weeks. She’s been with us for the past two years without taking any days off. She has three small children back home, and she misses them achingly. I can’t imagine the strength it takes to leave your children for so long to ensure a better future for them. The sacrifice. Rafiq volunteered to go through the bureaucratic process with the agency and find a temporary replacement. I called the agency this morning to make sure the replacement will arrive as agreed, tomorrow, so Neelam can show her everything. The man on the other side of the line was courteous, apologizing that I had to wait on the line while he checked the file on the computer. ‘Can you spell the family name again, please?’ I did, and was asked to wait again. No. They didn’t have any such request on their files. ‘Can you check again? Maybe the file wasn’t updated yet?’ No. He’s quite sure that’s not the case, but he’ll check again. Can I leave him my phone number and he’ll get back to me?

He called an hour later, all apologies again. ‘I’m sorry, but I went through all the papers on my desk, and the computer files, but there really isn’t any such request filed. You’re saying tomorrow? That’s impossible. We need at least one month notice in advance. I’m really sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Yes, I’ll keep your request on my desk, and if anyone becomes available I’ll let you know. Although I doubt it.’

Breathe, Nairouz, breathe, I tell myself. You can deal with it. You’ve dealt with more difficult crises in your life. You’re raising two teenagers and doing a damn good job at it. You managed to get a fucking PhD while raising two kids and managing a household. I take my coffee, cigarettes and mobile out to the verandah and am hit by the thick, hot, humid air of July. There’s no point in calling Siwar for help. She’s so fragile and emotional. She’s always been the impractical one of the three of us. Quiet, sensitive Siwar. I’ll call her later this evening just to update her, after I straighten this out with Rafiq and we figure out what to do. I dial Rafiq’s number, even though I know he’s probably in one of his important meetings and he’ll be angry at me for disturbing him in the middle of his work day. ‘Rafiq? Hey, sorry about bothering you, but it’s urgent – about mama. No, she’s fine. It’s the replacement from the agency . . . there is no replacement.’ I feel my pulse rise again as Rafiq tries to calm me down, telling me it must be some mistake. Somebody must have misfiled the paperwork. He’ll sort it out and call them on his lunch break.

I walk back inside, into the cool air-conditioned apartment. Emad was in charge of the dishes last night, and so I’m not surprised to come to a sink full of dirty plates, cups, and two pots. If you could at least have soaked them! Just because I mostly work from home doesn’t mean I have endless free time, I talk to Imad in my head. I roll up my sleeves and start washing the dishes, when Razi comes bursting in, ‘Mama, I need some money. Just a hundred.’ I turn around to face my son, water dripping from my hands onto the floor. ‘Didn’t baba give you and your sister your weekly allowances only a couple of days ago?’ He stares at his feet, hands digging deep into his jeans pockets. ‘Where are you going?’ I ask in resignation. His eyes light up as he realizes he’s not going to have to beg for it this time. ‘Don’t know yet. Maybe see a movie and then head down to the beach.’ He follows me to the bedroom like a puppy. ‘It’s coming off your next week’s allowance,’ I tell him, but he’s already out the door. He’s like a tornado, this kid.

I sit down on the edge of the sofa, and my eye catches the pile of books on the coffe table. Screw the dishes. I pick up Vikran Seth’s A Suitable Boy and tuck my legs under me. I’ve been putting off this book for so long. I remember when it arrived in the mail, I was both horrified and delighted at the same time at the hugeness of it. I start reading, and am immediately transported to India, finding myself at a wedding. For a few hours, I leave my life behind: my own mother, Neelam, Razi and Yasmeen, even Rafiq. I enter a different dimension, a different time.

I jump when I hear the front door bang. Emad’s strong voice reaches me; he’s on the phone talking business. Immediately, I am flushed with inexplicable guilt. I put the book face down on the table, and rush to the bedroom. I stand in front of the mirror and look at my reflection. Shit, I look a mess. My hair is all tangled up, a pencil sticking out from the back, which I used to secure my hair with. I quickly let my hair down and run a brush through it before tying it neatly in the back with a pain hair band.

‘Habibi,’ I try not to sound hysterical when I come back out. I have to stand on tiptoe to reach his cheek and kiss him. He wraps his free arm around my waist, and walks with me toward the verandah, still talking into the phone. When he finally ends the call, we stand still, my small body enveloped by his strong arms, and just watch the sea for a while. It’s become our ritual, a few moments of togetherness, of calm, of just him and me, before going back to the chaos of our lives. ‘Mmmm, you smell like oranges,’ he inhales my hair. ‘And you smell sticky and sweaty,’ I reply. His laugh is husky. ‘Should we share a cigarette?’ It’s his way of asking what’s wrong. He can sense it from the slightest touch. ‘You’re so transparent, Nairouz,’ he’d always tell me.

‘Well, let’s wait to hear from Rafiq. If he doesn’t fix it, we’ll think together,’ he says after I tell him about the mess at the agency. ‘As I see it, there aren’t too many options. We won’t be able to find anyone on a day’s notice.’

I’m still hopeful, but another part of me knows what this means. But I’m not ready to think about it just yet, so I push the thought away and focus instead on cutting the vegetables for the salad while Emad prepares the pasta. ‘Oh, Razi isn’t having dinner with us,’ I remember when I see Emad taking down four plates. He raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything. He knows better than me that there’s no holding that hyperactive boy at home. And from the guilty look on my face, he guesses that I gave him some money. ‘Only a hundred, and I told him we’ll take it off from next week’s allowance.’ Emad laughs, ‘Yeah, right. He’s almost an adult and still thinks money grows on trees.’

At seventeen, Yasmeen is a quiet girl. Yes, sometimes I hear her laugh on the phone, a friend or two come over, but mostly she spends her days caved up in her room, with her sketchpads, charcoals, oils, and pastels. She is so much like Siwar. When I call her to dinner, she comes out as if from a different dimension of reality, her fingers smudged with shades of yellow and green. ‘Did you people hear the news today?’ she asks as she washes her hands in the kitchen sink. I quickly glance at Emad; he shrugs his shoulders. ‘No, but I’m sure you’re going to update us.’

‘Hizballah killed three IDF soldiers and kidnapped two.’ My hand, holding a salad bowl, stops in midair. I stare at Yasmeen across the table as I try to comprehend what she has just said, and what it might mean. Shit. Kidnapped soldiers can only mean disaster. Israel will definitely retaliate. As I slowly realize my situation, with three academic articles due by mid-October, the stacks of books I need to read before the academic year begins, the syllabuses I need to prepare for the two courses I’ll be teaching, and the three students whose MA theses I’m supervising, my mother, two confused teenagers on the brink of adulthood, and now this, I put the salad bowl down and sink into the chair, dazed. ‘I don’t think I can do this,’ I say to no one in particular. ‘Here, give me the bowl, mama, I’ll do that.’ Yasmeen takes the bowl and starts dishing out salad for us. Emad watches me and for once, there are no words of comfort that he can think of. We eat dinner in silence. When the phone rings, I rush at it, hoping against hope that somehow Rafiq managed to fix it. That it was some mistake, some misplacement of documents. The moment I hear Rafiq’s voice, I know. ‘I’m sorry, Nairouz.’

***

I try to focus on the book in my hands, and I find myself reading and rereading the same paragraphs, the same words, over and over. Their meaning eludes me. ‘Did you talk to your sister?’ Emad’s voice brings me back into the living room. ‘I forgot . . . but I can’t imagine Siwar taking care of mama. She can barely remember to eat sometimes. And anyway, I think she’s supposed to fly to Spain sometime soon, for some dance therapy workshop. She said she’ll be gone a few weeks. I think she mentioned staying with some friends in Andalusia.’ Siwar, my baby sister, still unsettled, still looking for herself in this world. She’s recently been taking some advanced dance therapy workshops somewhere in the desert. Last time she came to visit she seemed finally at ease in her own body. Like she’s finally found her thing, that very thing that makes her happy and content. I can’t dump this on her now. But I should call her in any case. I put down the book, it’s no good anyway, trying to read in this state. I grab a notebook and start jotting down things. Just the act of getting things down on paper gives me a feeling of control. I can do this. I can juggle around things and fit them around. Most of the things, luckily, are things I can do from anywhere, as long as I have my laptop, Internet connection, and my books. ‘I’ll make you a cup of chamomile tea to calm your nerves down, Nun.’ Emad, the one responsible for my mental health. I don’t protest, only give him a silent, thankful smile. What would I do without you, Emad?

***

Day 2 – 13 July

When I finally wake up, Emad is already gone to work. There’s a note on the kitchen table, scribbled in his untidy handwriting: Be kind to yourself today. Love you. He does this sometimes, reminding me of small beauties. I am taken aback by the simplicity of his words, or maybe just surprised how easily we forget to appreciate the simple things in life, taking them for granted.

Razi is already gone for the day too. I try to remember if he told us where he’ll be, but can’t. I send him a message, and he responds that he’s on his way to the beach and won’t be home till late in the evening. I find Yasmeen in her room, sitting on the carpet, still in her pyjamas, painting on a large canvas. I worry about her sometimes. Siwar says to just let her be. This is how artists are born. Emad agrees with her. I bend down and kiss the crown of her head. Before I leave, I tell her she can heat up some of last night’s pasta for lunch. She just nods and continues painting.

It’s just after eleven when I leave the house. I walk down from Hess street, then through the stairs that lead me first to Hillel, then Massada street. I need the walk to clear my head. It’s all downhill to Wadi Nisnas, and I can use the cardio when I go back up in the evening. Or I can take the bus or have Emad pick me up.

Neelam opens the door for me. She’s in her mid-thirties, a slight body. Long, thick, dark brown hair braided, resting on her left breast, reaching all the way to her hip. Today she’s wearing a lavender colour sari, with thin yellow swirls running through it. ‘Hello, Naroos, how are you?’ Her smile reaches her kind eyes. ‘Namaste, Neelam. I’m good, shukran.’ She trails behind me into the living room, where mama is sitting watching a movie. When she sees me, her eyes light up, ‘Na . . . Nanu . . .’ she laughs and shrugs her shoulders in apology for not getting my name out the way her brain willed it. I hug her, making sure not to put too much pressure on her right arm, and kiss her on both cheeks.

She makes a movement with her left arm, and when she realizes she won’t be able to mime what’s on her mind, she switches the TV to a news channel. ‘Boom boom, eh,’ she points to the television screen, then at the newspaper lying on the coffee table. I forgot all about it. I haven’t listened to the news this morning, so I don’t know what’s happening. I take the newspaper and read about the kidnapping of the two IDF soldiers. The Prime Minister is quoted that there will be massive reaction. Nobody, nobody, will threaten Israel’s security. ‘Don’t worry, mama. We’re safe. Anyway, they know in Lebanon that Haifa is a mixed city, right? They wouldn’t bomb us.’ I see her nose crinkling, then she clicks back to the movie.

Neelam brings tea and sits down opposite me. ‘Where is replacement? Coming today? Have to teach her. So many things.’ She says in broken Arabic. My eyes widen in surprise. We were so busy trying to figure out what to do that we forgot to update Neelam and mama. I scoot over to the edge of the sofa so I can reach mama’s hand. She looks at me and smiles. It’s a lopsided smile, the left side more alive than the right. I take a deep breath. This is it. There’s no going back now. ‘I’m the replacement.’ Mama looks at me, not really comprehending. ‘Mama,’ I say, ‘I’m going to take care of you while Neelam’s gone.’ I don’t explain any further, because that might make her sad, knowing that I’m doing it because it’s been forced on me. The laughter that comes the moment the words sink into mother’s brain surprises both me and Neelam. She slaps her left hand down on her knee, then, with an effort, gets up, supporting herself on her cane, and stands in front of me, waiting. I look at Neelam, and she shrugs. I get up, and mama’s fragile left arm is around my neck. She struggles to pull up her right arm from the shoulder; it lifts halfway, then falls back down. I take her right arm, and gently lift it up to my neck, so that she can properly hug me. ‘Su . . . sukraaam,’ the kiss she plants on my cheek is wet. I didn’t expect this gratitude.

For the next few hours, I follow Neelam around, taking down notes of all the chores she does. It’s overwhelming, and Neelam seems to be all over the place, doing five six tasks simultaneously. I didn’t realize there is so much to do. So much work. ‘No worry, Naroos. At five thirty, we have one free hour. Is when baba Jawad come home. They play chess together,’ she motions to the wooden chessboard on the side of the coffee table, which I only now become aware of. ‘We can sit in kitchen and write down, make order.’ Her words have instantaneous calming effect on me.

***

I sit at the kitchen table, notebook open to a new page. I’m ready to write down every detail, afraid to miss something small but important. ‘Eight thirty, mama get up, bathroom first. Dressing, and breakfast at nine,’ Neelam speaks slowly so I can write it down. She goes through the day, hour-by-hour, breaking down the day into small increments, each hour marked by a chore. ‘After breakfast, Tuesday and Saturday, B12 and folic acid pill.’ I write down the timetable of the pills on a separate sheet. When Neelam has gone through the whole day, she gets up to wash our cups. ‘Is easy, Naroos. After two days, you remember and no need for paper.’ I guess she’s right. Looking down and reading through, it all follows a certain logic, an organized frame, something to hang on to, some control. It probably eases mama’s anxieties as well, knowing what comes after what. It gives her an illusion of control over a life she’s lost control of. ‘I go now to finish packing. Then I give mama shower. You watch, is important. Last thing for today. Then bed.’

She leaves and I am left stranded, suddenly feeling the weight of it all. So much to care for one person. I thought once baba was home, he’d take over. A shower. The most basic action, the most intimate activity of the body. I’m not going to cry now. My mind drifts to the first days mama came home from the rehabilitation center. Two weeks of scrambling for a moment of sanity. Two weeks until Rebecca finally showed up and rescued us all from insanity. Two weeks of arguing, yelling, screaming. Two weeks of tears shed at night, in utter loneliness. None of us had an idea of what we were doing, and mama was freaking out. Until baba set his foot down and called the agency for migrant workers. ‘Obviously, we can’t do this on our own, and you girls have your own lives you need to get back to.’ Rebecca had been with us for six years, then it was time for her to go back to her own family in the Philippines. Rebecca . . . I should write her an email. I’m suddenly angry with myself for not keeping in touch with her, the woman who took care of my own mother, cooking, cleaning, washing. Showering. A woman who became family. I vaguely remember an email from her writing that she’d made it back home safely and the emotional reunion with her own family. I can’t remember now if I ever replied to her. I write down her name next to the medicine timetable for mama so I don’t forget to write her an email.

Showering mama turns out to be an hour-long ritual. I watch as Neelam washes her with the gentleness of a mother washing her own child. The thought crosses my mind suddenly: I’m not going to be able to wash her like Neelam does. Her hands move in complete sync with mama’s body movements. Her movements are at once efficient and graceful. I am entranced at their intimate, silent, slow-motion water-dance, and come out of my reverie only when I hear the absence of running water. ‘Give me that stool, Naroos,’ Neelam’s voice is efficient. ‘One towel for feet, one for body, yes? You can remember this?’ She helps mama lower herself on the stool and starts drying her wrinkled body.

It takes another twenty minutes before mama is tucked in bed. I kiss her on the cheek, and she beams at me. There is something childlike in her smile, the anticipation of something wonderful, like soft pink cotton candy.

I walk into the living room, where baba is explaining to Neelam that he’s taking the day off tomorrow to drive her to the airport. ‘But baba Jawad, train is OK. Is faster, you can take me to train station,’ but he’s not hearing any of it. ‘Nairouz, my favourite daughter,’ he winks at me. ‘You look a bit haggard. Take an advice from your old man, and don’t watch the news tonight. Nothing new, same old story all over again. Don’t worry too much, it will be fine.’ I nod and turn towards the television to try and glimpse some news, but he’s already flipped to a sports channel. ‘Neelam, please leave some room in your suitcase, I have something for your children. Some small gifts.’ She waves her hand in protest, and starts to say something, but I stop her with a hug. ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’ I walk out into the still hot evening, taking baba’s last words with me: it will be fine. Yes, it will. It has to.

I decide to walk back home. As I walk up Khoury street up to Hadar, I call Emad to see if he’s up to meeting me halfway. He stays on the phone with me until we meet in a hug. Ever since the stairs rapist roamed the stairs of Haifa a while ago, I avoid walking them at night. A piece of personal safety that was taken from me. I used to love jogging up and down the stairs in the cool evenings, alone with my thoughts. Not anymore. Now I have to nag either Emad or Razi to accompany me.

‘It doesn’t look good,’ he replies when I ask him about what’s going on with Hizballah, breathing heavily. ‘Sorry, habibti, can we talk at home? I’m not in shape for these stairs. Or tell me about your day, and I’ll be a good listener.’ I’m just beginning to tell him about all that’s waiting for me for the next six weeks, when we hear a sudden, loud crashing noise somewhere. I stop, horrified. ‘Nah, don’t worry, probably just some ship uploading cargo, you know how loud they can be,’ Emad is panting. ‘No, Emad, this was different. And it didn’t come from down below. It sounded like . . .’ what the hell did it sound like? Not a rocket, surely? I run the rest of the way home, any rapists lurking in the dark waiting for their potential victim the least of my concerns at this moment. I need to get to the news.

The kids are both in the living room for once, glued to the television. ‘There’s a war, yamma’ Razi greets me with excitement, ‘like a real war!’ Yasmeen is sitting cross-legged on the carpet, her sketchpad abandoned on the coffee table.

I watch in horror the replaying of the day’s events. While I was learning how to care for my mother, a woman has been killed in her home. An apartment building in Nahariya took a direct hit from a Hizballah rocket, killing her and injuring others. Monica, I test the name silently on my tongue. She was sitting on her balcony when the rocket hit her building. The news blurs in my mind – names of the two kidnapped soldiers are released, IDF attacking in Al-Dahyia, where Hizballah headquarters are situated. More rockets on Israel, Prime Minister threatening on the screen. Then the camera zooms in on a familiar spot. I see the view of Haifa from up above, I can see Bat Galim right below. Stella Maris. How did the news crews get there so fast? Two rockets. I unglue my eyes from the screen just enough to see Yasmeen rocking slowly back and forth, hugging her knees. She’s staring at the screen with wide eyes. I pull her towards me and envelop her body in mine. ‘We’re safe, habbuba, it will be fine,’ I parrot baba’s words and kiss the top of her head. ‘We’re going to be just fine, Yasmeenti.’ Rockets are falling on Haifa. How did this happen? Shit. Never before had the Hizballah fired any long-range rockets that reached Haifa.

Emad suddenly gets up and turns the television off; I can see Razi already half-way up in protest, but Emad shoots him a murderous look and he sinks back down on the sofa. ‘All right, kids. Listen up now. You too, Nairouz. Things are going to change around here for a while.’ His voice is even, but I can see a flicker of confusion in his eyes when he meets mine. ‘If until now you had the idea that your mother is a superwoman, forget it. She’s going to need our help in the next few weeks.’ He disappears into my study and comes back with a yellow legal pad and a pencil. ‘Alright, you people are going to start pitching in some more into this family.’ He draws two lines, splitting the page into three columns. At the top of each he writes Razi, Yasmeen, and Emad. ‘Razi, what house chores are you taking up?’ Razi gives him an incredulous look, ‘But Baba, it’s summer. I just came out from a marathon of finals. I need to rest.’ Emad ignores him and writes down “washing dishes every other day.” Then he looks at Yasmeen. ‘I can take the washing machine,’ she says with a slight tremble in her voice. They go on like this for close to an hour, while I retreat into my study with a bottle of white wine. I hear their voices rising and falling, arguing over who will do what. ‘This is ridiculous! There’s a war out there, and you’re worried about dishes and timetables!’ Then the slamming of Razi’s bedroom door.

Later in bed, I run my fingers up and down Emad’s back. ‘You handled that quite well, I’d say. Extraordinary. You. Are. Have I told you that lately?’ He slowly kisses my closed eyes, lingering on each one, before turning off the light.

***

Day 3 – 14 July

The alarm goes off at seven, waking me into a new reality. I feel like one of the characters in Murakami’s books, where the reality has slightly shifted, and is now off and out of sync. Actually, I think as I watch my reflection brushing her teeth, it’s close to the after effects of bad hashish. Afghani hasish, Emad would say, though I have no clue if that means it comes from Afghanistan or if it’s just a slang word for bad hashish. Bad hashish is the kind that stays in your body for a few days instead of only a few hours. It makes you see things from odd angles.

The kitchen smells of strong coffee. Emad is sitting at the kitchen table, a steaming pot and two cups in front of him. ‘Waiting for you, hayati,’ he smiles at me. The yellow legal pad is on the table, filled up with various chores divided between the three of them. ‘Umm, hub, do you think this is a good idea when there’s a . . . war, rockets falling on Haifa?’ I’m surprised, but also pleased, that he’s still home. Usually at this time he’s already at his downtown office. ‘Precisely because of the rockets, we need two things: one, order. Two, give the kids things to do inside, so they’re kept busy and safe.’ I see his logic. ‘Anyway, Nasrallah denied that it was him who launched the rockets at Haifa, so maybe it was just a one-off thing,’ he sighs. ‘Also, I did an inventory last night. Kids have food for the day. I’ll stop by the souk after work to pick up some fruits and vegetables. We’ll take it one day at a time, and we’ll be fine.’ Things are collapsing around me slowly, and everybody keeps telling me things will be fine. ‘Yalla, go get dressed. I’ll drop you off on my way to the office.’

***

Afternoon.

Mama has fallen asleep in her reclining chair. Neelam is already gone, and the house is eerily silent after the chaotic morning and last minute instructions from Neelam and baba, heating up lunch, and some miscommunication with mama about some towels that I had put on the wrong shelf. Neelam said that sometimes she dozes off after lunch. It’s the one time of day that isn’t completely predictable in mama’s schedule. Neelam said the nap usually lasts between one and two hours, so as soon as I hear the soft snoring, I grab my yellow notepad and start writing. I scribble down as fast as I can; there’s so much stuff to do, so many things filling up my life, so many deadlines. I start out neatly, breaking things down into categories and sub-categories, but soon the list becomes just a jumble – the jumble of my life. I reread it and am astonished. I need to duplicate myself and soon. How can a single person do all this . . . this . . . stuff – and remain sane?

From the corner of my eye I see the television screen, channel 22 now running only news. I keep it on silent. The news will be fragmentary and chaotic anyway, filled with military jargon and sowing even more fear among the public. They now need to keep a unified front. Everything else becomes unimportant in the face of threats on the security of Israel. It’s what they live on.

I step onto the verandah with a cigarette and a cup of coffee and call home to check on the kids. Yasmeen answers after the sixth ring. ‘I’m just listening to some music mama,’ she replies to my answer in a bored tone. ‘Razi . . . yeah . . . he was gone before I woke up. Nope, didn’t leave a note.’ I ask her not to leave the house, at least not today, not until we figure out what’s going on. ‘Can you call your brother habbuba and ask him not to be late? I should be home around eight. Kisses.’

‘Hada hon, hada hon,’ I’m startled by mama’s voice as I close the verandah door behind me. She’s pointing at the coffee table. ‘The TV remote control?’ I ask her. ‘La, la. Hada hon, hada hon,’ now she’s pointing at her mouth, her hand cupped. ‘Water! You want a cup of water, mama?’ I beam at her, ecstatic that I understood what she wanted almost immediately. ‘La, la,’ she gesticulates with her arm, moving it to the right and then pointing back at the glass. ‘Oh, sorry,’ I hurry to the kitchen. Of course she wants fresh water and not water that’s been sitting there for a couple of hours collecting dust on its surface. Details, Neelam said. Pay attention to details. I notice her chapped lips as I hand her the glass. ‘Your lips, mama. You need some lip balm,’ she gives me a questioning look. ‘They’re dry, your lips,’ I try again. This time, she smiles back at me and nods her head in approval. ‘I’ll buy some tomorrow.’

My yellow notepad with my chaotic life in it lies now forgotten on the coffee table. The next two hours are a mix of watching the news, prime minister calming down the public now but at the same time sending threats to Hizballah, then cameras zoom in on some sites where rockets fell, then back to the studio where ex-army men and political experts on the Middle East argue between them, each trying to come up with the smartest interpretation, and predictions for the near future. In between, mama tries to communicate to me unrelated things that I should be doing. It takes a lot of questions on my part to understand what it is she wants. Laundry. I go and fill up the washing machine and get it started. Stripping Neelam’s bed and putting clean sheets, for what, I have no idea. Writing a shopping list for baba takes almost twenty minutes, as I have to guess the items by showing mama pictures of different food items from her small notebook. It’s a notebook the speech therapist back at the rehabilitation center prepared for mama. It’s divided into sections and has photos of all family members glued in it, then clothing items, food, and activities. When we’re done with the shopping list, she points at the chessboard. ‘Baba should be home soon, so you can play with him,’ I say. ‘La la, ana, ana,’ she points at herself and then at me. ‘I’m terrible at chess, mama, you know that,’ I say. ‘Ana, ana . . . Na . . . Nana,’ I see her struggling to get the word out. ‘Nairouz. Say, Nai-rouz,’ I split the word into two, pronouncing each syllable slowly. ‘Na,’ she pauses, her brow furrowing in concentration, ‘Na . . . Na-rooz.’ If it weren’t so sad that my own mother can’t pronounce my name, it would be funny. Still, she laughs at it, and I join her. ‘OK, one game.’ It’s amazing how, when her mind shut down, she can still play board games and win almost every time. That part of her brain has only become sharper for some unfathomable reason, while her speech is still limited to some forty or fifty words. Baba arrives just in time to watch mama grin as she check-mates me.

Showering mother turns out to be quite the disaster. I get everything wrong; at first mama seems patient with my clumsiness, but within minutes she becomes agitated and starts yelling undecipherable words, swaying her good arm, pointing in different directions. I panic, try to calm her down and understand what she wants; she gets even more frustrated with my questions. Baba comes in a couple of times to see if he can somehow help, but we both scowl at him. Finally, she gives up on me and lets me wash her without any resistance, her head averted from me in a painful grimace. My clothes are soaked through when we finish, and I come out of the bathroom dripping wet and defeated. As mother sits on her bed naked while I massage body lotion into her back, arms and belly, she starts laughing. ‘What?’ I snap, miserable in my failure. She points at my wet clothes, her laugh becoming now uncontrollable, her eyes watering. I grit my teeth, my anger bubbling up, until I can no longer hold it and I burst out laughing too. I laugh at the absurdity of it, I laugh because mother is laughing, I laugh at my complete inadequacy at showering her. ‘I’m sorry, mama. It’s all new to me. I’ll try to learn faster.’ She pats me on the knee, and I see her mouth struggling to get the right word out. ‘Shuk-ran,’ she thanks me, for what I have no idea.

After mother is finally tucked in bed, with the television turned on a movie channel, I collapse on the sofa in front of a cup of tea that father has made me. ‘Difficult first day, ah?’ he asks. I nod and pick up the abandoned yellow notepad from the coffee table. Difficult is an understatement, I want to scream. ‘It will be fine, like you said, baba.’ Suddenly I remember that I have two kids. Shit, I haven’t checked on them for a while. What a horrible mother I am. I quickly dial Emad’s number, and when he hears my tired voice tells me to stay put; he’ll come and pick me up in twenty minutes. He hangs up before I can ask about the kids. Until he arrives, I watch the news with father; they’re showing sites where rockets fell today in the North. A number of injured people, two killed – a woman and her grandson. IDF continues to bomb Al Dahiya in south Beirut. I slip the yellow notepad into my bag, and as I see it disappearing, I feel my whole life is slipping away from me.

At home, I eat the salad that Yasmeen set in front of me. Emad must have talked to them, because after dinner, Razi brings a pile of clean clothes to the living room. Yasmeen folds them, stacking them into four piles, and Razi takes the folded stacks, one by one, into each bedroom. I don’t remember them doing anything together as sister and brother in years. In their teenage years, they’ve become almost strangers, avoiding each other most of the time. ‘Hey, don’t you have some important academic paper you need to be working on?’ Emad asks as he clears the kitchen table and stacks the dishes in the sink. ‘Oh, don’t even think about it! Washing dishes is my new specialty. Yalla, go and get some work done. I’ll bring you tea in a few minutes.’

In my study, I take out the yellow notepad from my bag, put it on the desk, and just stare at it. When Emad walks in with na’ana tea, he finds me crying. He puts the tea down and sits on the floor. I join him. ‘You want to talk about it?’ he asks. Do I want to talk about it? I don’t even know where to begin. ‘Things are falling apart around me, Emad.’ Until a few days ago, I had an organized life. I was in control. I had all my deadlines figured out with a detailed plan. ‘And you feel you can’t hold them together anymore,’ he completes my thoughts. How the hell do you hold things together when all of a sudden you have to free hours upon hours every day to take care of your disabled mother? Hours you didn’t have to begin with? And now this stupid war. How do you make room in your life for a war? Emad stands up and I see him studying the yellow notepad. ‘You’re in the right direction, Nun. Be gentle with yourself. Take a few days off your regular life, and just focus on your mother. Things will settle down in that brilliant brain of yours and you’ll know how to deal with all of this,’ he points at the page with all the work-related deadlines. ‘Come,’ he gives me a hand. ‘Let’s take this tea to the bedroom. Forget work for tonight.’

On my way from the study to the bedroom, I involuntarily stop in front of the television in the living room. Nasrallah is speaking, threatening to attack an Israeli ship. No, he’s saying that they did attack an Israeli ship. Then the screen goes back to the news studio for analysis. I don’t want to hear it, not right now. We won’t be getting any real time truths anyway. The Israeli media is an expert at releasing partial information, usually distorted. Pieces start trickling bit by bit, and we try to piece them together like a puzzle, but the pieces never really fit into each other perfectly. It is as if they were originally cut wrong. I turn the television off.

Before going to bed, I check on the kids. Yasmeen is sketching at her desk. When I take a close look, I can already see that it’s a bombed building. ‘We’ll be fine, habbuba,’ I try to make my voice soothing, but she isn’t fooled. ‘I’m scared, mama,’ she keeps her fingers moving across the paper, not looking up. ‘I know, Yasmeenti, I know,’ I stand behind her and start unbraiding her thick, black hair in slow movements. She doesn’t resist. I can’t remember when we stopped doing this. The moments when time would glide by silently and the world would stop, to allow mother and daughter precious moments of together, of sharing secrets and releasing laughter out the window. ‘You never do my hair anymore,’ she makes it sound like a casual comment, but it hits me hard in the stomach. I had no idea that she missed this. I pick up her comb and start combing her hair. ‘What do you say about visiting teeta tomorrow? We can have lunch together and after that, if we’re lucky, teeta will fall asleep and we can spend some time together.’ Yasmeen looks up. ‘And if we’re not lucky?’ she asks. ‘Then you’ll get stuck in a game of chess with teeta. And believe me, she’s one mean chess player.’

 

____________________________________________________________

khulud khamis is a Palestinian feminist writer, author of Haifa Fragments, published by Spinifex Press (Australia), New Internationalist (UK), and translated into Italian and Turkish. Born to a Slovak mother and a Palestinian father, khulud grew up in two countries and between two cultures, her identity composed of both, and her multicultural background is reflected in her writing. She writes fiction, poetry and nonfiction. In her fiction, poetry, as well as non-fiction, she deals with political and social issues as they relate to and affect women’s lives, striving to bring forth local marginalised and unheard voices. khulud is a member of the radical feminist collective Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Centre, where she has been an activist for many years, fighting for the rights of the most marginalised groups of women, and the co-founder of the Tuskuteesh grassroots project: a safe space for Arab women to share testimonies of sexual violence. She lives with her daughter in Haifa. Find khulud on her website, on Facebook and on Twitter @khulud_khamis.

The Inexplicable Hardness of Things (Ian Gibbins)

Posted on June 30, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

Our location indeterminate: disused Mechanics’ Institute,
unlocked shipping container, crushed metal path beside
the bus lane or upgraded City Bypass. “It doesn’t matter
[…static…] you decide.”

Fairy floss hair in knots and she shelters under the glow,
reflects crossed wires, badly silvered disappointment.
“He texted me again last night.” Unnecessary now
to change trains,

since the surf is flat, fly-by cheeseburgers have jammed
the emergency release, recycle bins overflow the back end
of her shift. “Bite into pleasure”, they tell the Crow Patrol,
the razor wire.

Will nobody admit that cabbage palms and lilly pilly
trees cannot read, plates do not always break, rain can fall
from a clear blue sky? “How many lives can you lead
at the same time?”

Between my feet, bandages, a travel bag. Sandfly wheals
itch, irritated to bleeding point. Someone replaced fluoros
with LEDs. “I just don’t care anymore.” My screen, hers,
locks up, twice.

 

The Inexplicable Hardness of Things from Ian Gibbins on Vimeo.

____________________________________________________________

Ian Gibbins is a poet, electronic musician and video artist, having been a neuroscientist for more than 30 years and professor of anatomy for 20 of them. His poetry covers diverse styles and media, including electronic music, video, performance, art exhibitions, and public installations, and has been widely published in print and online, including three books with accompanying electronic music: Urban Biology (2012); The Microscope Project: How Things Work (2014); and Floribunda (2015), the last two in collaboration with visual artists. For more info, see www.iangibbins.com.au.

Reading in an Undiscovered Library: Pulse – Prose Poems as Collaboration

Posted on June 23, 2017 by in Verity La Reviews

Review by Lucy Alexander
Edited by Robyn Cadwallader

The woman has borrowed arms and legs.
She walks on a tightrope in front of the
watching crowd. They stand back as in-
structed, and do not attempt to become a
bigger part of what is happening…

It is difficult to find an adequate definition of prose poetry. If we say that prose poems are ‘literary works which exhibit poetic quality using emotional effects and heightened imagery but are written in prose instead of verse…’[1] we come close to what is happening in this volume. But, the line breaks do seem consequential. In the above quotation, the very specific slicing of in-/structed, calls into question the idea of prose gently working its way across the line of sight and breaking only at the margins, while the poetic line is broken in a considered way. Was it editorial choice? Or is the wider margin here suggesting that the text forms the column structure that is expected from a poem?

Pulse – Prose Poems breaks many conventions. Immediately upon handling, the volume requires the reader to become resourceful in their reading. There are no author acknowledgements for each of the individual pieces. No page numbers. The narrow columns of words crouch low on the page as if ready to spring from the corners. The volume itself defies expectation, much as the writing in it does.

The cover image of textured curtains in the sunlight is by Colin Knowles. The title is the only text that appears on it. Not until the title page are we introduced to the editors (Shane Strange and Monica Carroll), or the concept of the ‘Prose Poetry Project’:

The Prose Poetry Project was created by the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) in November 2014, with the aim of collaboratively exploring the form and composition of prose poetry. The ongoing project aims to produce both creative and research outcomes stemming from the resurgence of interest in the prose poem.[2]

Pulse is the second anthology collected through the collaborative work of the Prose Poetry Project, a collection of some twenty poets – academics and PhD candidates and writers – brought together from the UK and Australia (with a taste of NZ and the US via the Netherlands and Tanzania). Pulse interrogates the way prose poetry is created, consumed and categorised. The text also questions the way we readers we imbibe our prose and poetry. The volume invites the reader to sample fragments of work – somewhat like a wine tasting. Rather than guzzling a glass we are challenged contemplate the depth and character of each page (the pieces are rarely longer than this, often shorter) and to focus and concentrate on the flavour and mystery.

Each of the poetic fragments is stripped of its context and its authorship. It insists on being read from its own translucent vial. In their introduction, the editors explain that they:

wanted to show that the collaborative vigour of the (Prose Poetry) Project didn’t arise from any individual or select group of voices, but from the broad mixture of contributions … to emphasise that these works might be read less as poetry and more as a series of fragments (from) some undiscovered library.

As the second volume from the Prose Poetry Project (and maybe the selection process is explained in their first volume) this assertion from the editors raises questions of inclusion and segregation; surely the Prose Poetry Project is a select group of voices, as any anthology must be by its very nature? Here, rather than a call for contributions, the published volume collects pieces from the ongoing collaborative project. The contributors are all working in the field of cultural and creative research and perhaps, while highly qualified to play with convention, do not necessarily represent a broadest mixture of contributors?

Contributors are, however, geographically varied. Fourteen of them are working in Australia and six in the UK. The subject matter of their work extends from discussion of the form itself, (the patient concluded that, like many addictions, poetry was a way of learning to die.) through the blues (thelonius monk brings his finger down/ and hooks a skin stretch moment out to the/ boundaries…) to butterflies (The difference between butterfly and spud/ is that butterfly is to cut almost entirely in/ half and spread the halves apart…); from duck’s conversations (‘Because’, Says Mother/Duck ‘I equate significant milestones in/ your life with the inevitable narrowing of/ opportunities in mine…’) to genocide, war, (During the Gombe War, chimpanzee killed chimpanzee: is that massacre?) and to the natural world’s events, small and large (Bright drops of blood on the pale green underside of the leaves he saw were ladybirds…). The poems take their lead from one another and build new, startling images from what went before. The Pulse of the title is the continuum of the gentle play between the contributors who riff and almost seem to improvise over one another’s analogies, themes and phrasing.

In the first of the two sequences in the volume the themes of music, water and farming play through the works. The pig is a recurring theme, as are famous men: Seamus Heaney, John Wayne and Bob Marley swim to the surface and dive out of sight again; the pig appears and reappears throughout this section, to trot along with his brothers, be farmed and consumed as bacon. While the individual pieces don’t call and answer one another, they do overlap and pick up words, concepts and phrases that are echoed and reverberated. In the second sequence the pieces often start with a bright colour — focusing the beginning of each work in a visual field. Occasionally there are blank pages in the book as if to suggest that a new ream of riffing, a new runnel of thought, is to be explored.

If the collection is there to represent the ‘vigour’ of the interactions of the authors within what must be a continuing series of artistic relationships, more information on the editorial choices, or on the way in which the pieces were informed in relation to one another, would create an interesting context for the curious reader. The editors say: ‘We wanted to concentrate on the way these pieces wove threads through each other into longer fabrics: resonating images, themes, narratives, motifs, ideas and connections’. Perhaps — when the works are stripped of their context — this is a lot to ask of a reader who is just glimpsing a page from the ‘undiscovered library’. However, it could also stimulate new ways of reading, allowing the reader to explore how the individual pieces are mixed together, and how they relate to one another in terms of their creation.

But it is also possible that in our conventional reading we are too interested in context, in wanting to know who the poet is and why they are writing what they are writing. When seen through this lens Pulse – Prose Poems is successful in that it creates space, both metaphoric and literal, for the prose poems to just be what they are — and to make no apology for that. As the introduction states: ‘these works might be read less as poetry and more as a series of fragments’.

Once the reader becomes comfortable with the Prose Poem form and the spare and often gritty nature of these works, the writing does leap off the page to ‘surprise and delight’, as the cover blurb describes. The pieces themselves are highly quotable and beautifully crafted. Lines that gleam out through the windows of the library asking to be remembered:

We found old starlight lying at an angle on the cellar’s clay floor…

I am content that every star should find its own declension…

He told me to wallow in the present like a hot bath…

Some pieces work as small parcels of definitions, asking the reader to pause and revel in the language (‘A miller’s thumb’). Others are memories, imaginings, what could almost be called micro-fictions — a complete story told in some tens of words.

There is this though: Pulse – Prose Poems offers a substantial problem for the reviewer. How to discuss individual works with no titles, no author and in the absence of page numbers? At the back of the book there is an index of first words that link the works with their author. So, while bucking certain rules, this text also offers something for those of us who want to know who wrote what – but requires us to do the work. It’s also hard for a reviewer to guide you to particular pieces or memorable lines without number and title conventions.

While it’s interesting for a collaborative project to be so collaborative that the individual is lost within the project itself, is this what the published volume of finalised work should reflect? At the end of the volume, just before the biographies of the contributors, there is a note that two of the poems included here have been published elsewhere – presumably with the author’s name firmly attached. This raises interesting questions about the nature of publication and how contributors might be paid and acknowledged for their work. As Paul Munden seems to bitingly remark in the closing poem of the collection: ‘The author would/ like to recall one of his recent prose/ poems. Sadly, he cannot identify which’.

It is clear that through their decisions to omit conventional markers from book form the editors did not want Pulse – Prose Poems to be read in the same way you would a poetry collection or a book of short stories. It is also clear that the authors are masters of their art — the journey with them through the library of their collective thoughts is certainly one worth taking.

 

[1] Literary Devices. Accessed 10th May 2017

[2] Axon Journal, ‘The Prose Poetry Project’. Accessed 10th May 2017

Pulse – Prose Poems
The Prose Poetry Project

Edited by Shane Strange and Monica Carroll
Recent Work Press, 2012
50pp (approx.)

____________________________________________________________

Lucy Alexander is a Canberra based poet and writer of fiction. She specialises in making piles of words and then sorting them out based on what they mean. Recently she’s been fashioning poems with the 365+1 project, marking up her fictions with edits and formulating a secret project that revolves around dogs. She’s often inspired to write about her family who are all expert time-thieves. She does much of her writing when everyone’s asleep.

family portrait (Dave Drayton)

Posted on June 16, 2017 by in Heightened Talk


 
at first we were individual laugh
at a cherub flashing gang signals
so young that an assistant had to fold
& knot those chubby thighs cross-legged
but once the count can or is stop/ped
                                    the tubes are tied        the sheets of Vagifem
                                                                            and Cenestin emptied
                                                                            into pillboxes
it’s time to assemble the ranks in uniform
matching shirts that proclaim: I’M A BIG BROTHER
and in a few years, cream cargo pants
and navy blue Hawaiian shirts
                                                                               islands are a lot of things,
                                                                               and a lot of things are islands.

I hardly brushed my teeth then,
but hardly flinched to bare them,
grin     now my teeth are children
we keep a cramped family home
the youngest and wisest killed
by me just a few months ago
now their heads count 33
some wear caps of silver, tan
but all are jaundiced by my diet
             you shouldn’t smoke indoors
             you shouldn’t smoke near children
wash your hands if you want to hold my baby
home smells like the two bedroom flat
of Brady’s mum in which we washed
her fags, one by one,
down the dunny
for fun andor for safety
it and everything backfires
with a black eye or worse
my parents rarely see their grandchildren

                                                                                           my teeth
                                                                                           who chip off limbs and
                                                                                           make true reunions rare
                                                                                           impossibilities
I’m a terrible parent, let my guard
                                                             -ian down
turn off the car, no AC, and all the windows
and lips tight, not even a crack

this is how I smile now in
portraits alongside my own generation
hiding my children
all in the eyes
raising the corners of their house
and my mouth
unsettling the furniture
wrinkling the rug
but not opening the blinds
ashamed of their ugliness
embarrassed to invite you in
beyond this doormat chin

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Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, Kanganoulipian, founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).

Sanctuary (Linda Godfrey)

Posted on June 9, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

Sticking out of the grey and white choppy water are four grey and white shapes. Not waves; they don’t break and roll to the shore. It has to be more than water. ‘What are they?’ I can’t work it out. They look like paddles.

Marcella shrugs.

We are sitting in the front room of my house above the dressing sheds, overlooking Austinmer Beach. We’re relaxing in armchairs, enjoying the warmth of the July sun through floor to ceiling plate-glass windows. Looking straight out to sea it’s as if you could see all the way past the horizon to Chile.

One or two people walk up the steps from the pool, towels over their shoulders, goggles dangling from their fingers, hair dripping, lips blue. There’s a breeze, the water is breaking onto the sand in small, messy waves. We’ve been talking about Marcella returning to Santiago for a holiday.

Some of her family is still there. Marcella’s husband was in the army, jailed because he knew a secret. Marcella petitioned hard to get him out. She didn’t elaborate on what she had to do in those interviews with his superiors. When he was released, they found sanctuary in Australia, with their two small children. He is permanently damaged by his experience.

Because she is a good friend, because Chile is on the other side of the Océano Pacifico, because Santiago is almost the same latitude as Sydney, I have this fantasy that the Pacific basin is one big cradle, rocking back and forth, lulling us with the movements and sounds of water. Both of us come from the rim of this basin (for this fantasy to work New Zealand has to sink or rock along with us in our cradle of water).

‘More tea?’

I come back with the tray of tea and biscuits topped with dulce de leche.

‘Dolphins?’ Marcella suggests.

I can’t make sense of the shapes, shades, colours, spots, size. ‘Sharks?’

Orcas? But those whales are not here, not at Austi.

‘It’s quite shallow there.’

The paddles are waving in the air. Waving’s exactly what they are doing, like when you have your hands above your head, dancing to a techno beat. The beat of these arms are more adagio.

They’re fins. Long, grey with scalloped edges, white and spotted.

Humpbacks. Humpback whales travelling north, heading to warmer water to breed and birth their babies. It wasn’t that long ago that they were killed for soaps, paints and their tough, flexible bones that predated plastic .They were almost extinct. Now they can frolic off the coast, looking forward to their summer holidays in Queensland, playing with their calves until they are ready for the long swim south.

I’ve lived here for a long time. I know this beach. The southern end has deep ripples of sand, rocky underfoot and treacherous. It’s where the rips develop; if they catch you they will drag you out past the saltwater pools.

We’ve been talking, drinking tea, eating caramel and watching the fins sloshing about in the waves for an hour.

I ask Marcella, ‘What are they doing?’

‘Where are my keys?’ She’s talking to herself.

‘They must be on their backs.’

‘Yes,’ she laughs, ‘scratching an itch.’

Rubbing their barnacles off on the ridged layers of sand, probably finding a rock near the surface to really get rid of those last stubborn ones.

The whales have found sanctuary.

Marcella breaks my reverie. ‘I need to get going,’ she says.

We are witness to whales resting off our beach but all I say is, ‘You good to get down the steep driveway?’ I stand and farewell my friend in broad morning light, after tea. The bulbuls sing in the oleanders, the waves lap the sand and the fins wave noiselessly in the air.

I come back from saying goodbye and the fins are gone. Itches scratched, the whales continue north in the big warm basin of the Pacific.

 

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Linda Godfrey
— Poet. Writer. Editor. Program Manager of the Wollongong Writers Festival. Curator of Rocket Readings, readings of poetry and an open mic, part of the Sydney Writers Festival and Wollongong Writers Festival. Series editor of microliterature anthologies, reader, manuscript assessor, teacher, judge. Fiction and poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies.