Deadspeak (Jennifer Liston)

Posted on April 24, 2018 by in Heightened Talk

Deadspeak

Lycanthrope

It’s that time of the month again:
time to open the lowest drawer
of the dustiest dresser. Sit awhile.
Gaze at gauze enfolding precious.
Peel it back, fingers trembling.
There it waits.
                           My pelt of wolf.

I lift it out. The weight of it.
Grey and thick and fibrous fur,
smell of a thousand ancient forests,
odour of caribou’d Arctic tundra:
I faint in lupine overwhelm.

I step into the rear legs first
body quivers at the contact
boundaries that separate me from
Canis lupus liquefy.
Front legs, head, and lastly, shoulders;
metamorphosis complete.

That month-old scent of blood and flesh of deer.
I’m ravenous, salivating. Need to eat.
This is alien territory. Prowl
around the room, out and down the stairs.
Claws click-clacking on the parquet floor.
Scentual overpower. Big bad clock
hammers human moments. Caught the cat
just there last time. Kitty disappeared.
Rifle kitchen bin. Scanty leftovers.

Out back door. Head for easy picking
chickens. Minor uproar, fur and feathers
flying. Tasty morsel. Need me more
substantial prey. Hear the howls, dash
over fields to join my pack, my mate,
my pups.
                  Oh how they’ve grown.
                                                             How grown.
How want to stay.
                                  How this.
                                                     How home.
How like before.
                               How human mate won’t miss me.

____________________________________________________________


Jennifer Liston
is originally from Galway, Ireland, and now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has published three poetry collections and her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies such as Jacket2, The Canberra Times, The Found Poetry Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Transnational Literature and Best Australian Poems. She has a Bachelor of Electronic Engineering from the University of Limerick, Ireland and an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. You can read her work and about her rescued poetry at jenniferliston.com and rescuedpoetry.com.

VERITY LA POETRY PODCAST Episode 9: David Adès

Posted on April 20, 2018 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

podcast2 (1)

In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan chats with David Adès about US poet W. S. Merwin along with David’s time spent in the Pittsburgh poetry community, coming back to Sydney, the role of editors and his poem The Bridge I Must Walk Across.


Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!

____________________________________________________________

David Adès returned to Australia in 2016 after living for five years in Pittsburgh. He is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet and short story writer and the author of Mapping the World (Wakefield Press/Friendly Street Poets, 2008), the chapbook Only the Questions Are Eternal (Garron Publishing, 2015) and Afloat in Light (UWA Publishing, 2017).

David won the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Short Story Prize (2005). Mapping the World was commended for the Fellowship of Australian Writers Anne Elder Award 2008.

David has been a member of Friendly Street Poets since 1979. He is a former Convenor of Friendly Street Poets and co-edited the Friendly Street Poetry Reader 26. He was also one of a volunteer team of editors of the inaugural Australian Poetry Members Anthology Metabolism published in 2012. His poetry has been published in numerous journals in Australia and the U.S. with publications also in Israel, Romania and New Zealand.

David’s poems have been read on the Australian radio poetry program Poetica and have also featured on the U.S. radio poetry program Prosody. He is one of 9 poets featured on a CD titled Adelaide 9. In 2014 David won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. His poems were also Highly Commended in the 2016 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize and a finalist in the Dora and Alexander Raynes Poetry Prize 2016.

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.

These Things I Know
(K W George)

Posted on April 17, 2018 by in Lies To Live By

I know things about this man. I first met him seventeen years ago when he removed a BCC from the right side of my forehead. That time I had staples in my head, a row of them under my hair glinting in the light. Then I met him again five years later when he excised a skin cancer spot from under one of my eyes. Two years ago, he cut another from the bottom of my cheek. Today these scars are hardly noticeable. My plastic surgeon is very good at what he does, which is why I keep going back to him.

I ask him how he’s been and he tells me he’s just returned from two weeks’ holiday on Stradbroke Island. I know he has school-going children, and starts work at 6:30AM so that he can leave early and see them at the end of the day. Tick, right there.

Did you put moisturiser on this morning? he asks.

I nod.

Got to take that off, he says. I can’t draw on you otherwise. I like going to Straddie, he tells me as he wipes my forehead with a cold swab. It is overseas, you know. Look in the mirror, he instructs, passing me one.

It’s oval with a powder blue handle, like something from my mother’s dressing table. Now he holds a marker pen above my forehead. and I watch him sketch a circle around the small red area near my hairline.

Hmm, he says. This is bigger than I thought.

I think about escaping. Overseas. Straddie’s not far enough. Rising from the bed and declaring I’m not doing this. It is my forehead. My face. And it’s been with me for a number of years and I am rather fond of it. It is the only one I have. Clichés, all of them. But I can’t think creatively right now. I am preoccupied.

He pinches the skin on my forehead together with two fingers. Then he squeezes it vertically, while I squint. And all the time he holds the pen delicately like an artist’s brush. He has beautiful hands. Is slightly-built. Has a kind and gentle voice. I can’t imagine him ever getting angry.

This isn’t going to work, he says. I’m going to have to make a different cut. A different cut to the one I suggested the other day. Raise your eyebrows, he instructs.

I do and my wide-eyed face stares back at me. This isn’t happening floats above my head in a cartoon bubble. He draws. A horizontal line on the left side of my forehead, touching the circle at its top, another line on the right, meeting the circle at its bottom.

I’m going to do this—he squeezes and pushes my skin around—and this. See?  Because you don’t have enough skin.

I don’t have enough skin. Why didn’t my mother make sure I had enough skin? She always made sure I had a handkerchief. And she always made me wear sun screen and a hat, and kept me off the beach at midday. All to no avail, it seems.

I text my daughter while I am waiting for the local anaesthetic to kick in. What’s a BCC? she messaged before I left for the surgery. A Benign something something? A Basal Cell Carcinoma, I write. Skin cancer. I’m going to have a scar like Harry Potter, I joke. It seems important to appear brave.

On the trolley under the bright white lights, my forehead is sleeping to avoid the trauma. I am covered with a warm blanket, neck to toe. Over my face is a blue sheet. It’s light and airy, letting me breathe. And talk. What would happen, I ask, if we didn’t…? You’d die eventually, he says. It would grow bigger and start to eat away your face, burrow down into your brain. Nibble on your nerves. It isn’t called a rodent ulcer for nothing.

Too much information, I think, but it does dispel any doubts I have left. The skin on my forehead feels weird. I know something’s happening up there. Is it being pummelled into submission, or is a troupe of ants wearing gumboots tap-dancing on my frown lines?

At home in the mirror I see my forehead bears two horizontal strips of flesh-coloured plaster. I touch my skin and it’s numb, tight and bulging. White from the anaesthetic. Blood weeps from under one of the plasters, and I dab it with a tissue. I’m to rest. Use ice-packs on the swelling. Keep my upper body elevated. I tilt my head and my face stares back at me. Familiar—I still have green eyes—and yet strangely different. I think of the hundreds of women whose skin is stretched and tightened. Cut into. Lifted. For vanity. And I notice that in the bathroom mirror one of my eyebrows is raised way above the other in a state of permanent surprise.

____________________________________________________________


K W George
is a Brisbane-based writer who, as a fair-haired child, spent all her summers on the beach. She has won the Hal Porter Short Story Award, been short-listed for a number of competitions, and been published in Meanjin, Tincture, Going Down Swinging, Field of Words, and Award Winning Australian Writing.

The Dilemma of Job, or Hope into the Wilderness (henry 7 reneau, jr)

Posted on April 13, 2018 by in Discoursing Diaspora, Heightened Talk

A close up of an African man wearing a hat

A close up of an African man wearing a hatThe Great Migration is the parable of dispossession pursuing a Northern star. Leaving rock-salted sorrow to come to terms with dignity deferred. Leaving hate, too long in place, that had tread over Jim Crow crippled bodies, that had taken without asking, & mayhem-ed. Leaving, with no pot to piss in.

They filed from rural patches of sharecrop-spent dirt & Parchman work farms, from cotton-field holla’ to electrified Chicago blues, from segregation to ‘I Am A Man’ & Detroit assembly-line dreams of reinvention. From minstrels to uptown cabarets to Broadway. From jump the broom to rent parties: a citified brand of jook joint in up-north ghetto gatherings. From So. Baptist shake, rattle & roll to ‘Thank God almighty, I’m free at last,’ fantasizing a ‘formula’ to the Mountaintop.

They brought catfish, greens & cornbread, blood-bucket daddy Blues & mama Gospel.

They carried battered hope in bundled cardboard boxes & rope-tied satchels, in dreams that convinced them to hallelujah-amen! the risen Son, even as the legitimacy of their pain struggled helplessly at the seams of the Veil. Darkness seeking light living darkness, every kind of sorrow in every voice they heard, & rarely judged by what their hands could do, but rather, by how they looked or spoke.

They came, with stories that spoke the generational hum of persistence, the endeavor to persevere, despite the ‘outside gaze’ that measured beauty in increments of silk or sackcloth. They came, a threadbare, black reflection of white entitlement: the upturned, razor-blade nose & racist cop.

They came, in Pullman carriage, in hope-and-a-shoestring beat-up cars, in get-there-soon, North Star-true—one foot, then the other, like runaway slaves: the O.G. triathletes on the Underground Railroad.

They came, like wandering Jews, drawn to the discriminating flame that seduced by combustion, that warmed desire & distilled a ghost of a chance from the segregated liquor of trial & tribulation—flashes of silvered hope, darting through & around a gale force wind, howling back into the heart of the question: are we there yet?

____________________________________________________________

A photo of Henry Reneau

Photo by Mercedes Herrera


henry 7. reneau, jr.
writes words in conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, free verse that breaks a rule every day, illuminated by his affinity for disobedience: a phoenix-flux of red & gold immolation that blazes from his heart, like a chambered bullet exploded through change, come to implement the fire. He is the author of the poetry collection, freedomland blues (Transcendent Zero Press) and the e-chapbook, physiography of the fittest (Kind of a Hurricane Press), now available from their respective publishers. Additionally, he has self-published a chapbook entitled 13hirteen Levels of Resistance, and his work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Portrait of a Departed Lady
(Amanda Anastasi)

Posted on April 10, 2018 by in Heightened Talk


Funeral plans: a wall crypt underneath
her mother’s; pink roses on the pew ends.

A house-size increase upon the exodus
of children, husband, friends, dissention.

Her disdain for the coverings of foreigners,
unusual hairstyles, childless women.

The mismatched furniture, each piece
never appearing to belong in the room.

The cupboards filled to the flimsy doors
with unused containers and forgotten dolls.

Her terror of the freeway; ringed fingers
clutching the steering wheel, a precipice.

Today, my auntie’s sixtieth. She fidgets
and mumbles en route, wishing to be home.

I suggest revolt and a turning of the car.
She looks at me wide, an uncertain child.

Turning her head to avoid my repugnant
eye, she squeezes the wheel and continues.

Her lipstick: two red lines, ever-increasingly
not matching the shape of her mouth.

Her attendance at the funerals and parties
of strangers because they are family.

____________________________________________________________


Amanda Anastasi
has been published as locally as Windsor’s Artists’ Lane walls to The Massachusetts Review in the US. Her debut poetry collection was 2012 and other poems and she recently co-authored The Silences with Robbie Coburn (Eaglemont Press, 2016). Amanda is the recipient of the 2017 Words in Winter Trentham Contemporary Poetry Prize, and a two-time winner of the Williamstown Literary Festival’s Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize.

Dissociative Mythology
(Eleanor Rector)

Posted on April 6, 2018 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

lie to me

tell me you always / knew my karst / topography, my limestone bones / tell me you seduced from me / the cyphers to my unbecoming / the combination to unlock my / sternum into a sinkhole / to turn my shudders / into seismic heaves / you always knew / the prosody of / my dissolution / how the
rhythms / of your reasons / create their own / morphology /

I burn sulfuric / bright rhymes and / and off-beat promises / I am the swift-smolder into sudden darkness / lend me your candlelight / my corrosion / a liability, but I / swear, the rubble / of my catacombs / is steady /

lie to me / tell me of convalescence / of awakening into prayers / into the forging / of new tongues / into the litany & supplications / into the subtle traces / of ritual & invocations / scarring my skin / I am begging for auscultation / for someone to listen to the hush-flow of my blood / to find my off-beat circadian rhythm / in time with their own /

tell me that this / fecund breath of mine / inspires seedlings / along my spine / tell me that these / exhalations can / sustain my limbs / through abscission / swear to the madness / of the moons that you know / how to rephrase inconsistencies as truth / how to twist insults into sustenance / how for someone to love me / every fervent inch / they too must bask in madness /

I am not evergreen / blame my deciduous / skin, shedding itself / to reveal stranger & stranger / blame my sacrifice / to imaginary gods / blame the first snowfall / with its silent crystalline / deceptions / blame the flamed rampage through my skeleton / the burning of my skin /

tell me I didn’t brave the winter / just to dig my own grave / tell me that / my spine is a mountain / range, that my forests / will keep me safe / lie to me / whisper that the weight is not mine to bear / blame the city / and the skyscrapers / beaten pavement and bloody streets / blame everything / but me, just teach me to grow evergreen /

tell me that my foliage is / only camouflage / and that this forest / fire was coincidence / I am not evergreen / I am lace-cloaked / liability, I am / cover-collapse into darkness / I am cavernous limestone cenotes / built from calcic calibrations / the remnants of a century / undersea / leftover bones eventually fusing / I am / begging for you / to lie to me / tell me that I can / become evergreen //

 

gestation

I was not born red-blood wild,
or maybe I was, thrust
from Zeus’ furious skies
the cast-off shocked demigod
spurned from stray thunderbolts,
his overwrought fingertips trembling
in the humid summer winds

maybe I was born fire
and cosmic clashes
maybe it was Dionysus
who started the slow-trickle
of red wine through my veins
maybe I am sewn from
May’s fickle rains
and angry clouds

maybe I was born red-blood wild,
fire galvanized in silence and
thunderstorms fed by the sea
maybe by now, Zeus has
forgiven me for transforming
flames into a quiet smolder
for tempering the echoes
by smothering them
in the cavern between
my thighs, for trying
to quiet his skies
when he gifted me
with his violent storms

 

accidental suicide note

I pray for rain – I pray for the
slow  trickle down, how salt-
water dilutes to brine, the
inevitable coalescence of sea
and sweat and silence

I pray for the  irrevocable baptism
of the skies, palms upturned, open
wide, waiting for manna from
heaven, or  Zeus’ thunderbolts or
for Baal to finally ignite his pyre,
waiting for the fire escape to
unhinge to guide my ascension
into the smog-filled heavens,
cement and breezeblock rooftops
fading into the skyline

I pray for the deluge and
desaturated early morning light,
how the weeping skies leave an
outline of my shivering skin,
fetal-curled and sighs stretching
over building edges stumbling
feet and numb fingers faltering
over buttons & zippers
shedding the burden of cotton
against flesh

I pray for transfiguration of being
shaken
in my marrow by the hollow bass &
bone vibrations drums echoing
thunder I pray for lungs not
asthmatic, able to breathe once
submerged I pray for the last surge
of electricity

I pray for rain – the sweet
sputter turning downpour  toes
curling over rooftop’s down-
drops
ten stories to my tower of
Babel I pray for rain and
heaving skies I pray for the
pirouette; the plunge  from
rooftops I pray for pavement
to break my fall
I pray, I pray

 

home is

I collected jawbones
wandered upon in thick
forests, teeth spilling over
and I prayed myself
Samson, strong enough
to tear down columns,
or at least not
abandon home
for the protection
of rivers and trees

I no longer stumble
upon skulls; I search
for their dirtied veneer,
like stained glass whispering
stories of paths travelled,
formina their own cartography
leading me to a
home I’ve never known

I still wake in the
middle of the night
aching to return and
surrender, to find myself
tethered to the red-brick
nightmare, to the floodwaters
and rising tides

home is red-faced stagnation,
it is the slow-dim dusk of
eternal summer
home is slammed doors like
fractured bones, like crumbling
walls, like tectonic plates
creating a mountain of
rubble where once
there had just been gardenias,
home is flat-lining for
two minutes and twenty seven
seconds just to be
electrocuted into resurrection

but then the electrocution
becomes bright-light fireworks
(like you, they are formed from
discarded books)
and then the scythe of
her tongue is an embrace
(besides, you make it so
difficult to be reaped)
and didn’t the sharp blade
of home feel like
love anyway?

I collected jawbones
fresh-cleaned of carrion,
placed them one
by one and searched
their topography
for any fissures
to lead me

directionless,
I’ll follow any line
that promises
a home

____________________________________________________________


Eleanor Claire
is a Chicago transplant from South Florida, still trying to get used to the seasons. You can see her other published works in Mad Hat Literary Journal, Black Heart Magazine, Courtship of Winds, The Cape Rock, and others.

Lifeguard (Grace Finlayson)

Posted on April 3, 2018 by in Lies To Live By

On Tuesday afternoon, two weeks into the summer holidays, I watched the old women swim laps of the 50-metre pool. Up and down the lanes they went, swimming freestyle and breaststroke and something that seemed like butterfly. Sometimes, when they reached the brick wall at the end of the lane, they clung to the edge of the pool and caught their breath. The air was warm and the sky was big and open. Mum never came to the pool, but I swam ten laps every day because she asked me to. Mum wanted me to be someone special, like Susie O’Neill, one of the Olympians who visited our school. ‘You’ve always been a water baby,’ Mum said.

*

On Wednesday morning, on the way to the pool, Mum and I were arguing.

‘I don’t want to go,’ I said. I smacked my hand against the window.

Mum gripped the gear stick. ‘Grow up,’ she said.

We slowed down behind a row of cars at the traffic lights. The indicator ticked. I breathed in and out. Mum checked the time on her watch, then pushed her sunglasses up onto her head. The lights changed and I slumped down in my seat.

‘We’ve talked about this already.’ Mum said. ‘The pool’s the best place for you this summer.’

‘But you can’t make me go.’

‘Well I’m not going to leave you out on the street.’

‘I’ll run away after you drop me off.’

‘No you will not,’ she said. ‘I’m getting sick of your smart-assed attitude.’

I sighed.

That summer, Monday to Friday, Mum dropped me off at 9am and picked me up after work. I was too old for the school holiday programme and Mum said I couldn’t be trusted at home on my own. As we pulled into the car park, I kicked Mum’s handbag that was sitting in the space under the seat.

‘You have to go now,’ she said.

‘You can’t make me,’ I said.

‘For god sake, it’s already after 9.’

‘So?’

‘Get out,’ she said.

I got out and slammed the door.

‘Fuck you,’ I said.

Mum wound down the car window.

‘Don’t you dare use that language with me!’ she yelled.

‘I’m just being myself,’ I said.

Mum revved the engine, lowered her glasses, and shook her head at me.

I walked up to the booth at the entrance and paid $3.75. I knew everything about the pool, like the secret place where older kids went to smoke and the storeroom that was never actually locked because Terry, the manager, lost the key. One day, when I was meant to be practicing my diving, I memorised the graffiti under all of the picnic tables. Almost everyone who worked at the pool was a teenager who went to the high school behind my house. Every day, the same boy with dyed blonde hair wrapped a yellow paper band around my wrist to show that I was allowed to be there. If you were under 16, your wristband was yellow. If you were older, it was red. I pushed through the turnstile and headed to the shady spot of grass that sloped down towards the diving boards.

Mum had been working as a decorator for almost a year. She spent a lot of time in empty houses, trying to make different rooms look more comfortable than they really were. She left sticky notes around the house with curtain measurements and the names of different carpet companies. Every year, on my birthday, she sat on the end of my bed and talked to me about making plans. She always said I had too much unmanaged energy.

At the pool that day, I was worried that Mum thought I really was going to run away. I thought she might call the pool office and describe me to the lifeguards and ask if they could see me swimming laps in the slow lane. Mum could be a bitch like that. She never let me do exactly what I wanted. At home, it sometimes felt like Mum was spying on me. She always came into my room when the door was closed and she’d go through my school bag when I wasn’t looking.

I stepped up onto the starting blocks and rolled my shoulders back. My bikini bottoms were too tight and my tank top was too big. The lifeguards were changing over. A tall teenage girl in red shorts climbed up onto the seat. Her name was Olivia.

I could swim, but I was still afraid of drowning. The lifeguards were always talking to their friends or drinking whole bottles of Gatorade in one go. Sometimes, while I was swimming, I messed up the rhythm of my breathing and swallowed so much water that I had to stop for air. The lifeguards never noticed. I always swam in an outside lane so that I could reach the edge of the pool if I needed.

I knew Olivia, the lifeguard, because our mums used to be friends. Once, a few years ago, we went to their house for dinner. Our mums drank wine and we all watched a concert on TV that was being filmed live in Sydney. Olivia never said anything about that night so I thought she didn’t remember me. Last week, Olivia looked after me when I hurt my knee. I’d swum my laps and I was playing in the medium-sized pool that was for little kids. I jumped in and scraped my legs against the bottom of the pool because the water was too shallow. Olivia cleaned my scrape with iodine on a piece of cotton wool. She stuck two band-aids over the cut and told me to look after myself. At home that night I took the band-aids off and saw I had a bunch of tiny scabs, clustered together like a group of stars.

I swam three laps of freestyle. I’d trained myself to open my eyes underwater, even though it stung and it felt like all of the water was trying to rush inside me. The tiles around the pool were dark blue and everything underwater was hazy and endless. After nine laps I stopped and clung to the edge of the pool. I saw Bevan, a boy from school, over by the picnic tables. He was with his mum and his little brother, Darren.

Bevan married my friend Lauren only a few weeks earlier. We held the ceremony at lunchtime at the back of the soccer field. We stole confetti from the art room cupboard, and Bevan’s friend Sam brought a bottle of vanilla coke, which he shook and sprayed into the air like they do at the end of a Formula One race. Lauren didn’t ask me to be one of her bridesmaids. She said seven girls were already too many. I was in charge of the flower bouquet instead. I picked a bunch of daisies from the flowerbeds outside the staff room and I stuck them down with sticky tape to the top of a 30-centimetre ruler. When the bell rang at the end of lunch, Lauren threw the flowers into the air. Bevan moved towards her and stuck his tongue in her mouth. Lauren pulled away and made a face, but Bevan put his arms around her and kissed her again. Sam cheered and some of the bridesmaids laughed. Bevan once said I was frigid because I wouldn’t show him the colour of my undies on the bus to school camp. I was glad I wasn’t married to him.

At the pool, I watched Bevan, Darren, and their mum lay their towels on the grass. I pulled myself up out of the water and sat on the edge of the pool. I waved to Bevan when he looked in my direction, but he didn’t notice me. I slipped down into the deep end and swam my final lap, kicking off hard from the wall and staying under as long as I could. I didn’t like school, but I was counting down the weeks until I could go back and get out of this routine. For the rest of the day I lay on the grass and twisted my hair into tiny plaits.

When the lap pool closed at quarter to five, the lifeguards blew their whistles and came down off their seats. They wound up the lane ropes and pushed them into the store cupboard. I waited for Mum in the carpark. As I watched the traffic lights change, and a bird hop across the asphalt, Olivia came out of the turnstile. She was swinging a bunch of keys in her hand and chewing on the end of a lollipop. She leaned against the wall beside me and squinted her eyes towards the sun.

‘Do I know you?’ she said.

I stopped and looked up at her. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘You gave me those band-aids.’

‘Oh yeah,’ she said. ‘What’re you doing here?’

‘I’m waiting for my mum,’ I said.

Olivia twirled the lollipop in her mouth.

‘What about you?’ I asked.

‘My boyfriend is picking me up.’

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Cool.’

‘I’m hanging around to take some photos,’ Olivia said. ‘For my art portfolio.’

‘I thought you were a lifeguard.’

She laughed. ‘Only to save money,’ she said. ‘Next year I’m going to photography school. I’m going to make something of it. My granddad used to be a photographer for The Age.’

Mum’s car was coming around the corner. ‘What do you take photos of?’ I asked. Mum pulled up in front of us but I looked away, pretending I hadn’t seen her. I wanted to keep talking to Olivia.

Mum honked the horn. ‘I’ve got to go,’ I said.

I opened the passenger seat door. Mum was wearing bright red lipstick. As we drove home my towel made a damp patch on the car seat. For dinner, Mum made microwaved chicken and sweet potato. She stood in silence by the microwave, watching the container twirl. I wondered if Olivia was at home with her mum, or if her boyfriend took her out for dinner, or maybe they were alone together at his house.

*

The next day, the boy at the pool made my yellow band a bit too tight.

‘That hurts,’ I said. ‘Can you make it looser?’

‘Nope,’ he said.

I tried to swim my ten laps without any breaks. I didn’t want to see anyone from school. I was bored and exhausted, and the muscles in my thighs kept twitching randomly. In the afternoon, I waited in line at the canteen while two girls in front of me kept flicking water from their hair into my face without realising. They were whispering in each other’s ear. The Frosty Fruits always sold out on Fridays so you had to wait longer while people decided what they were going to buy instead.

I saw Olivia leave the office around the other side of the building and walk across the grass towards the exit. She had her wallet in her hand so she was probably going to buy her lunch from the shops across the road. I decided I wasn’t hungry anymore. I stepped out from the canteen line and watched Olivia walk further away. I went up to the door that said Staff Only. I turned the doorknob and went inside. The office was dark and messy. There was a desk and three walls of shelves and one small window. There were cardboard boxes of plastic cups, and stacks of coloured paper signs left over from the winter that said pool closed for the season. I saw the same orange box that Olivia had brought with her when she gave me the band-aids.

I got down on the floor and sat under the desk and closed my eyes. I just wanted to be inside for a little while. I could feel my heart beating fast and I breathed in and out to try to slow it down. When I opened my eyes, I saw a red PhotoReady packet poking over the edge of the desk above. Outside, the canteen lady was yelling.

‘You didn’t pay for that!’

‘He took my money, miss!’ a boy yelled back.

I pulled the photo packet down to me. I decided that if Olivia came back I’d tell her I was looking for band-aids again. Maybe I could cut my finger with some scissors to make it more believable, I thought. I took out the photos, one by one. I felt like a fortune teller with a deck of tarot cards. I lay the pictures down in rows on the carpet. Every photo was taken last week. I knew that because all of the pictures were of me. There was my face, turned to the side, looking into the water. There I was on the starting block, hugging my arms to my chest, deciding whether to jump. There I was climbing out of the lap pool, looking weak and tired. My hair was slick and my fingers were wrinkled. I felt like I was being pushed underwater.

I crawled under the desk again and pulled open Olivia’s sportsbag. I threw her towel over the chair and stuck my hand inside the bag. I found a tube of sunscreen leaking inside a zip-lock packet, a box of cough medicine, and two pairs of pink underwear. Then I found her camera, disposable, like the kind I took with me to camp. I looked through the little square viewfinder and everything felt far away.

I heard the sound of feet on the pavement outside the door and caught my breath. Olivia opened the door and saw me holding the camera in my hand.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ she said.

I shrugged.

‘Come with me.’

I followed her out the door, still holding onto her camera. She slammed the door behind us. I squinted my eyes because of the sun. It was hot and I was starting to sweat. The day was turning inside out.

‘Where are you taking me?’ I said.

Olivia led me around behind the building. There was a small ally way, between the brick wall and a barbwire fence. There were four garbage bins and an old hose. The smell of the rubbish was thick in the air and there were flies hanging around. We stopped walking and I leaned against the wall. I noticed Olivia had small sweat stains underneath each of her armpits. She crouched down in front of me so our faces were on the same level. Her skin was oily and her freckles were dark brown from spending so much time in the sun. Olivia opened her mouth and stared at me.

‘I don’t want you to tell anyone you saw those photos.’

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘Promise me,’ she said.

I leaned in closer to her.

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image: a photo of Grace Finlayson
Grace Finlayson
is a writer from Canberra living in Toronto. Her short fiction has been published in Meanjin, Seizure, Scum Mag and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @gracefinlayson.

The Journey Back
(Gayle Kennedy)

Posted on March 30, 2018 by in Being Sure, Disrupt

One of my earliest memories (and one verified by mother and various relatives) is of me standing on a table surrounded by smiling people as I sang the old country song ‘I Want a Pardon for Daddy’. The faces are beaming, encouraging. The faces are black. My next memory is being trapped inside an iron lung that segues into a leafy garden and a little boy called Brian. Both of us are victims of polio. Neither of us can walk. We call each other Mummy and Daddy. We have created our own little world. We swim each day in a hydrotherapy pool filled with soothing emollients for the benefit of another little girl who has been burnt from head to toe. The little girl is allowed into our domain during those sessions. We are three little children who have no idea there are others in the world that are strong and able, with smooth skin undamaged by savage flames and limbs that obey the commands of their brains. We are spoilt and cosseted by the nurses, the orderlies, and the cook, Linda. The rehab hospital is our castle and we the rulers and already acquiring the mind skills we will need if we are to survive all that life has in store for the different, the damaged. We pay no heed to how others see us. All that matters is how we see us.

I see no other black faces over the 3 years I am in the rehab hospital. Everyone around me is white. There are no mirrors.  I am reflected solely in the faces of those around me. I never take the time to observe the colour of my skin. It is of no consequence in my world. I am for all intents and purposes the same colour as everyone else around me.

I sleep very little. My overactive imagination turns the shadows into monsters and the breathing of the children around me in the ward seems loud and threatening. I always end up whimpering and am soon gathered into the arms of a nurse who dries my tears and carries me to the nurses’ stations. I am fed buttered arrowroot biscuits and cold milk and entertain them with childish stories and remembered songs. I feel loved and safe.

After countless hours of physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and sheer bullying, Brian and I gradually learn to walk and are fitted with our callipers together. Little do we realise that this will mean that we will soon be separated, never to see each other again.

The day my life changed is deeply ingrained in my memory. I was up early as usual, breakfast, and then bath. But there was something different today. There seemed to be tears in the eyes of the nurses as they collected me for my bath. Today I was dressed in special new clothes. A little fawn coloured pinafore, pretty little blue jumper, new socks, my callipers polished, a ribbon for my hair. I was excited at the new clothes but also suspicious. Why the new clothes? Why the tears?  Why was Linda the cook fussing over me at this hour? I usually didn’t see her until later in the day. She grabbed me and held me as tight as she could. Her tears wet my face. I began to become alarmed. The head sister then told me that I was to meet my mummy and daddy today. Mummy & Daddy? What did they mean by that? Brian and I were Mummy and Daddy and I told them so in no uncertain terms. But they insisted that I was to meet my real mummy and daddy and they were taking me on a long journey. I was going home, they said.

‘But I’m already home,’ I said.

‘This is a hospital. You came here when you got sick. Your mummy and daddy are taking you back to your real home, the home you came from before you got sick,’ she said.

Eventually, confused and scared, I was taken into a room where there stood two people who seemed to be from another planet. They were introduced to me as my mummy and my daddy. I remember recoiling in horror as they handed me to the strange dark lady.

‘This is your real mummy,’ the nurse said in her most soothing voice. But I would have none of it.

I screamed, ‘She’s not my mummy! He’s not my daddy! They’re black!’

I remember tears streaming down their faces. How they must have hurt. I know now that it wasn’t their fault they couldn’t visit me. They were two people with no money, living in a society where if you were Aboriginal, you had to have permits to work and to travel. There was no independence for Aboriginal people back then. You had to have permission from the powers to be to do anything at all really. The circumstances back then meant there were no gentle introductions, no orientation days. There was no time for us to get to know each other. I was thrust into the arms of strangers with no warning and they in turn had no idea what to do with this screaming child who looked at them as though they were monsters. I was allowed to say goodbye to Brian who wept and screamed as much as I did when they finally managed to prise us apart. I still to this day think about Brian, Linda the Cook, and the little girl with the badly burnt body and wonder what became of them.

The strange couple carried me, still screaming, into a bustling, noisy, crowded Central Railway Station, desperately trying to ignore the suspicious stares of the strangers around them. All their soothing and stroking was to no avail. I continued to weep as we boarded the train. Eventually, with a shudder, it pulled out. We were passing through suburbs of poky backyards with thin, waving children and grey washing flapping on clotheslines that stood like drab sentinels in the yards that backed onto the train tracks in a late 1950’s Sydney.

Then we were in the countryside and my childish interest was piqued. Cows, sheep and horses grazed in green paddocks. I had only seen them in books before. I stopped crying long enough to ask if they were real. The two strange people grasped the chance to connect with me at last. Each animal was pointed out, given names. I calmed down and started to relax into the warmth of the dark-skinned lady who, now that I was not struggling and screaming, seemed so soft. Her eyes were big and brown and filled with tears. She stroked my hair and whispered, ‘we’re going home now baby girl’.

‘Back to the ward?’ I asked.

‘No baby girl, home to your real home. You have a baby brother and sister. They’re called Buddy and Lulla. You have a grandma and grandpa and cousins. There are horses and dogs. You’ll see. We’ll take good care of you.’

The journey seemed to take forever but the kind gentle lady held me. I became sleepy and nestled my head into her breast. Her blouse was damp from our intermingled tears. I finally slept.

The next morning the train pulled up at a small railway station in the middle of nowhere. There were a few ramshackle houses and what seemed to be vast expanses of red dirt. There were no trees, just scrub. I remember Connie Francis singing ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’, blaring out from the stationmaster’s radio. We walked away from the station and into an eerie silence. I began to think that these people really were aliens. They had taken me to some far-off planet and I whimpered in fear. Dad could see my distress and took me from Mum’s arms and hoisted me onto his shoulders. We continued across the red earth with its strange little trees. An emu darted past us and lying in the shade of the saltbush was a goanna. It was so hot and we seemed to walk for miles. Then all of a sudden, the sound of laughter and children’s voices seemed to float across on the wind. I could hear someone playing a guitar and singing ‘Mona Lisa’ as we walked into a clearing where stood huts made from scrap, tents and a caravan. Dogs and kids were running about, and all of those children and the adults were the same colour as the people who had brought me here: and, I soon realised, the same colour as me.

These people soon surrounded me. An old man with silver hair, a dark face and twinkling blue eyes took me from Mother’s arms and held me tight as he whispered, ‘My little Topsy is home at last’.

I was passed to Grandmother Edie, then uncles, aunts, cousins and finally introduced to little people who were my brother Buddy and sister Lulla.

My new home was a far cry from the huge, sterile, quiet hospital I was used to. A new caravan had been bought especially for my homecoming, and Dad had built me my own little toilet that he’d painted blue and pasted pink cabbage roses he’d cut from a magazine on the side. Somewhere between the hospital and my new home, something had shifted in my mind. I lapped up the love that was showered on me and soon forgot about the hospital. I came to love my family and later we moved to a bigger town with a river and paved streets. Dad bought a block of land and worked for the Department of Main Roads. I settled into my new life, but little did I realise that this was not the end of my treatment. This was not the end of tumult and upheaval. In a way it had only just begun.

For the next ten years, twice a year I was taken kicking and screaming from my mother’s arms for the seventeen-hour train journey to Sydney to a place called the Far West Children’s Home, for further treatment. The Far West Home in those days was a cold and forbidding place. The playground was all green concrete with high fences. No trees, no flowers, no grass, just a solitary hurdy gurdy. What was particularly sad was that it was directly across the road from Manly Beach.  You could smell the sea, the fairy floss, the toffee apples. You could watch the people laughing and having fun on their big day out. We soon learnt that if you pressed your nose against the wire people would sometimes take pity and slip bags of lollies to you. It wasn’t all dreadful. There were outings and visiting stars of the day to break up the monotony, but mostly we were all subjected to the same dreary routine every day. I think that’s why I have such a hatred of routine and why I’ve never really fitted into a conventional workforce with all its rules and its nine to five mentality. It was so different from home, with all the chaos of a big family. At home there was noise, animals, a river, grass, trees and when it rained the unbelievably beautiful smell of water on dry earth. At home I was black and went barefoot except for school and outings.  At the Far West I was unsure of just what colour I was and I wore those blasted callipers from six in the morning until seven at night.

My family still didn’t have the money to come and see me, and in a way I was grateful for that, because while I was there, I was able to adjust to my life as it was without the distraction and upheaval seeing them would have brought. I developed a rich and wonderful gift. I learnt how to block out pain with my mind and to adjust to my new circumstances. I developed the ability to be in the moment: where I was, was where I was. I became a chameleon. I developed a deeply rich inner life. I learnt to treasure solitude because alone I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be anywhere I wanted to be. My legs may have been encased in callipers but in my mind they were strong and muscular. On my feet I wore delicate, silken, butter soft slippers and danced like the ballerinas I had seen in films and on the stage. Or I was barefoot and ran like the wind across vast expanses of beach and desert. I wasn’t tethered to the earth. Oh no! I flew like a bird and rode on magic carpets and looked with pity at the people below as they scurried across the earth, harried and worried and unable to see me smiling down on them. I leapt on strong stallions and rode bareback beside princes and warriors. I never saw myself as disabled. I was unaware of the pronounced limp. I was always so surprised when a child or a cruel adult pointed it out. I always looked around to see whom they were talking about. I may have been momentarily hurt, but never for long. There were too many adventures, romance and magic to conjure.

I remember lying on the ground cloud watching, seeing the vapour trails the jets left as they streaked across the deep blue sky. I would imagine the people in those planes, wonder at the places they’d been or where they were going. I wondered if I would ever be in one of those planes. I could not countenance a life where this was not possible. There were others who did not share my confidence. I remember my mother taking me to see the local doctor for my dreadful migraines. I was twelve. He said to my mother that they should start looking at getting me on a pension before I finished school. My mother said I went into a fury and shouted, ‘I don’t need a pension. I have a brain!’ She knew I would be all right from then on. Her and Dad did everything they could to see that I had the best possible education for they knew that would help me achieve any dreams I had. A scholarship to a prestigious girls’ school in Sydney gave me an entrée to a society with people who understood me. I made lifelong friends there and on leaving, found work easily.

It came as a wonderful surprise when I was a young adult that I too could have boyfriends and know the loving touch and embrace of men; that I could give and receive sexual pleasure. Men loved me, it didn’t seem to matter to them that I limped and they always seemed so surprised when I mentioned it and often looked puzzled at the very idea of me bringing it up. They saw the inner me. I lived a gloriously happy life for many years full of music, laughter, food and a myriad of friends, but a decision to go home to the country to live would change me. It was wonderful to be with my family and back in my country, where I met a man whom I thought was wonderful and got married. But I had married an allusion, for no sooner had the ring been slipped on my finger than he turned into a drunken, violent monster that stole my joy. I eventually gathered my resources and returned to Sydney but I was flat, emotionally denuded. People said I’d lost my glow. I kept up a front for a while, but the deep hurt and anger I felt about my dreadful marriage was suppressed as I dealt with Post-Polio Syndrome and the loss of mobility that finally put me in a wheelchair.

I stopped wearing lipstick and started going out in trackie daks and t-shirts. I gave up my beloved Chanel No 5, lost interest in flirting and couldn’t pick up on the signals from interested men anymore. Eventually I took to sleeping incredibly long hours and sometimes felt so weighed down by life that the simple act of rolling over in bed became such a chore, I would lay there with my ear hurting but lacking the will to simply turn onto my other side. My mind with its infinite capacity for imagination and pleasure was failing me and became clouded in a miasmic fog that I couldn’t imagine my way out of. For the first time I could remember, I was tethered to the earth and became merely physical. It was a scary place to be. I sought help but could not relate to white psychology. The drugs I was prescribed didn’t help and drinking only exacerbated the intensely blue feelings I had. I knew I had to find my way back. The alternative was too devastating to contemplate. I needed to look deep inside and reclaim the once wild and free mind with its infinite capacity to find joy. I needed my emotional flying carpet again. I needed my silken, butter soft dancing shoes. They were still there: I was sure of that. I just had to dig through the wreckage to find them.

I started by dredging up all the anger and hatred I felt towards my husband. Although they were dark and murderous and filled with rage, I actually revelled in these intense feelings because they made me feel alive again. I then started to let them go, one by one. Each day I became lighter as I discarded the emotional detritus. Those feelings turned to pity and soon he became a feather-light, desiccated husk that I simply sent away upon the lightest of breezes. He could no longer hurt me.

I also had to deal with my feelings about the loss of my mobility, and come to terms with using a wheelchair. I could no longer sustain a full-time job, with the constant toil. I had to find new ways of making a living and of living in general. I decided to become a writer and stated my intentions out loud to my friends. I would not be able to hide. I entered competitions, pitting myself against other would-be writers and to my utter amazement I started winning. I submitted articles to various newspapers and journals, and they published them. I wrote a book and it was published and this took me all over Australia. I have since written five children’s books as well as many articles and short stories. I speak at conferences, I give writing workshops, and I teach children. My life is organised to suit my needs now and not the needs of others. I have a five-second commute from bed to my desk. I can wear my nightie to work if I so choose and my natural nocturnal ways rule. My friends say I keep rockstar hours and know never to call before noon.

I have my magic carpet and dancing shoes back. I can go anywhere I want. I am no longer anchored to earth by the past. I have my lipstick, Chanel No 5 and pretty dresses back. I have my blokes back. I have my life back.

The journey back to myself was complete when I flew to Europe and visited all the places I’d dreamed of as a child. Flying home after a wild and wonderful trip, mid-morning and a mere hour away from Sydney, the plane tracked over my hometown. I looked out the window and smiled. I was finally in the plane leaving vapour trails in the sky. I was the one returning from faraway lands. As I looked down at the rapidly disappearing speck of my childhood home, I wondered if there was another little girl looking up and dreaming of one day travelling on a plane that briefly left their ethereal signatures in the sky. I hoped there was.

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Gayle Kennedy is a member of the Wongaiibon clan of South West NSW. She was Indigenous Issues Editor/Writer for Streetwize Comics from 1995-1998. In 2005 her book of poetry Koori Girl Goes Shoppin was shortlisted for the David Unaipon Award. Gayle went on to win the award in 2006 with her book Me, Antman & Fleabag, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and Deadly Award, and was also commended in the Kate Challis RAKA Award. Her children’s books for the Yarning Strong series were nominated for 2011 Deadly Award for Achievement in Literature. Gayle has presented at various writers festivals and NAIDOC events as well as speaking both nationally and internationally on her experience with polio and disability.

Oh Lucky Me (Jill Jones)

Posted on March 27, 2018 by in Heightened Talk

Inside me is stuff I’m not sure anyone can explain.
Each day another statistic dances
as a testament to clickbait and big Pharma.
So what are all my chemicals doing
my karma cancer, my noodling nodules,
my sex dreams and gigantic spools of lymphatic anguish?
Who has ever measured anguish?
Who has another theory of black bile?
Is my static any flashier than yours when I brush against
the steel knobs of machines or portals?
Will there be anything left
for vampires after work or zombie picnics?
Or lice, nits, jitters, even thoughts?
Are thoughts worth a candle?
If you put a candle to my ear, would you see the other side of me?
If you left me out in the rain would I melt? Maybe.
And here, where the world picks at itself
continually trips up or dribbles
because it’s inside and out from hang-nail to otolith.
Oh lucky me, I’m alive everywhere I look
as I spit myself along ground and wheeze up air
almost as if I belonged, in another system, another explanation
something that curves as it drops
and laughs as it rises.

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Photo by Annette Willis

Jill Jones’ most recent book is Brink (Five Islands Press, 2017). Her two previous books are The Beautiful Anxiety (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014) which won the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry in 2015, and Breaking the Days (Whitmore Press, 2015) which won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize 2014 and was shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. A new book, Viva the Real, is due from UQP in 2018. Her work is represented in a number of major anthologies including the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, Contemporary Australian Poetry and The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry. In 2014 she was poet-in-residence at Stockholm University.

In the Palm of Her Hand
(Katie Monteleone)

Posted on March 20, 2018 by in Lies To Live By

Image: a child's, woman's and man's hand on top of one another

Megan is small. Megan is born six weeks early and Megan is small enough to rest in the palm of her mother’s hand. Megan is small enough to ride on her dog Powder’s back like a clinging beetle. Megan is small enough to slide behind the refrigerator to retrieve her lost ring-pop. Megan is small enough to sleep in her parents’ bed, especially when Dad decides to sleep at his office. She’s small enough to order off the ten-and-under menu even though she is eleven now.

Megan watches. Megan watches Dad hide a glass of beer on the pantry shelf next to the dog biscuits. Megan watches the school bus ramble to a stop and she thinks of a future of pink clouds when she’ll drive her own car. Megan watches Mrs. Pierce roll her eyes at Bobby Anderson when he shouts “pussy” at two boys down the hallway. She watches the rain like splashes of thin paint outside of her window and she tries on a sparkly blue dress for prom. She watches her inbox pop with another college rejection email. She watches the world float in a haze; she can’t remember what she drank last night, but it made her throat warm and her mind free.

Megan is free. Megan is free as she rides with the windows down even though it’s five degrees outside. Megan is free as she grills chicken in her tiny apartment and picks out a show on Netflix. Megan is free to go to dinner with Henry from the gym. Henry is tall. Henry has big eyes that linger. Henry has a mole on his right butt-cheek. Megan is free when she sneaks out at 3am on a Wednesday to listen to the crackle of the cars on the street. Megan is free when Henry falls asleep watching TV on the couch; she can finally read in the bedroom alone. Megan is free when Henry asks her to marry him and Megan says no.

Megan is tired. Megan is tired when she lugs little Ben’s soccer duffle bag to the car. Megan is tired when she sits in the lamp lit night writing down her thoughts. Megan is tired when she crawls into bed and Robert’s eyes flutter open. He wraps an arm around her waist and says finally; Megan tells him she is too tired. Megan is tired when there is no more deli meat for little Ben’s lunch. She is tired as she waits in the checkout line at Walmart at a quarter to midnight. She is tired when little Ben points out the way the skin sags on her arms.

Megan is small. Megan is small as she stands in a grassy tent to see Ben walking down the aisle in a dark blue tux. She is small as she lies in her room with the lights turned low at 8pm and she can almost smell the scent of Robert’s cigarettes still lingering somewhere. Megan is small as she packs away the coloring books that she planned to keep for the grandchildren she’ll never have. Ben won’t have kids with Martha, he tells her. Just a dog, maybe. Megan is small as she pulls the shades in the living room and waits for Thanksgiving to pass. She is too small to reach the shelf where the Christmas decorations are stored. Robert used to reach them. Megan is small as she stands in the middle of the snowy yard and breathes in air that feels full of ghosts. Megan is as small as a ghost. Megan is small enough to rest in the palm of her mother’s hand.

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image: a portrait of Katie Monteleone
Katie Monteleone
is a fiction writer, playwright, lyricist and director from Lenox, Massachusetts. She attended Colby College in Waterville, ME, where she double majored in English/Creative Writing and Theatre & Dance. Katie is passionate about all types of creative writing with a particular focus on writing musical theatre. Past works include Lemonade Stand (music and lyrics), Lost With You (book and lyrics), and Waiting for Words (lyrics). Katie is currently writing and directing a new audience-immersive play called How to Start Over that will premiere at Colby College in April 2018. Instagram: @katie_monteleone