How to Knit a Human
(Anna Jacobson)

Posted on May 23, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

Cravings

I don’t wear a watch in hospital. I count time by meals.
A nurse hands me a Milky Way bar after ECT.
I hold it in my lap; look at the wrapper with its stars
and swirls. My wheelchair zooms down corridors
back to the ward. ‘I can walk’ I say.
‘This way will be quicker’ says the nurse.

Crinkle cut chips and Caramello koalas
are the foods I crave most when mad.
Instead nurses come with tiny paper cups, stand
over me as I swallow the wafer, the tablet, the liquid,
whichever one it is that night. I don’t know what to do
with the wafer. I stick it in my mouth and before I know it,
it dissolves on my tongue like fairy floss.

 

Torchlight

A nurse shines
a torch into my face to see
if I am sleeping.

I’m not.

The light disappears and with it—
the nurse’s torch glow grin.
Has my illness made up
the expression on his face?

My ward-memories
are few. My memories
have no soundtrack.
I do not hear
his footsteps retreating,
or the other patients sleeping.
I only see a demonic grin
in a dark ward.

 

How to Knit a Human

Loose threads replace my body.
Frays appear unseen over time.
Threads unravel— gripped and pulled
by hundreds of invisible pincers.

Now I knit myself back into a human.
It’s hard work relearning the steps.
I get into a rhythm. The pattern is complex—
I drop a few stitches.
The holes form the gaps in my memory.

 

____________________________________________________________

Anna Jacobson is a Brisbane based poet, writer, and artist. Her poetry has been published in literary journals including CorditeRabbit, Australian Poetry Journal, Tincture and Foam:e. She is one of The Red Room Company’s commissioned poets for ‘Poetry Object 2017’. In 2016 she was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Young Writers and Publishers Award, the Scribe Nonfiction Prize and the University of Canberra Health Poetry Prize. She was shortlisted for the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) from QUT and is currently undertaking her Master of Philosophy (Creative Practice), specialising in poetry at QUT. Read more from Anna at website.

OUTSIDERS, INSIDE OUT
(Amanda Hickey)

Posted on May 19, 2017 by in Book Extracts, TWT (Travel Write Translation)

 (Edited by Kathryn Hummel)

Your own eyes are king.
—Estonian Proverb              

Sydney, 1991

I looked for her first in the garden where she would often be working—planting, weeding or watering. This time I found her in her little sewing room. It was a sun-trap with windows on three sides flooded with light. Perfect for finding the thinnest lost thread or a fine needle that dropped to the floor.

We soon got talking about current events and the sudden changes in Europe. She was nervous about what the Russians would do.

‘They’ll never let Latvia go. Never. I just can’t see it. But I’ve made up my mind. If it comes down to a fight, I will go back and help out.’

‘What? You’ll go back and join the independence movement? Don’t be silly…’

‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I may be in my seventies but I’m in good health and I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to in life…if I got killed now, what difference would it make?’

‘So you’re going become a guerilla fighter now?’

My mother, Vera, bent over the sewing machine and pushed her foot down on the pedal. The whirr of the machine underscored her set mouth. At that moment, with that determined steely look, it no longer seemed so preposterous and I could see her dressed in khaki clothes driving a vehicle down a distant road.

I dismissed her talk as ‘survivor guilt’. Among my second-generation Baltic friends, we talked about this a lot. Our parents partied hard; they had known real loss and sorrow so were determined to live life to the full. But there was guilt too for enjoying the kind of freedoms their Iron Curtain relatives could not. Some of my friends had gone back to their parents’ homelands and it was often a frustrating, soul-destroying experience. It was at a time when the Soviet bureaucracy insisted on travel permits between towns or cities. One girlfriend managed to get a visa to visit the capital city, but was denied permission to go any farther so was unable to visit the small town where her relatives lived.

Glasnost and perestroika, the political movements that democratized the Communist Party, changed everything. I had always wanted to visit Latvia, but was also intimidated by the prospect. Firstly, I couldn’t speak the language, and secondly, I had always dreamt about making that trip with Vera.

Her excuse was that she would never return whilst Latvia was occupied by the Soviets. It was a point of principle. And unlike other Latvians who returned to visit relatives, she was an orphan so there was no real reason to go back there.

Then on August 23 we watched the Baltic Way, one of the most extraordinary acts of nonviolent protest the world has ever seen. More than a million citizens of three small nations, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, came together and took each others’ hands, forming a human chain that traversed the three nations. It was a plea for national sovereignty and independence. A few months later in November, in the edit rooms of SBS TV where I worked, I watched the Berlin Wall come down.

When Latvia got its independence, I urged Vera, ‘What about now? Why wait?’

She would say, ‘What’s the point? They are all gone now. There is no-one left.’

My idea to travel there was resuscitated by Olev, an Estonian-Australian musician who was planning to tour Estonia with his techno-folk group, Kiri-uu. Estonian audiences wanted to hear how this contemporary Australian ensemble interpreted their ancient folk songs. ‘Why don’t you come with us?’ he asked me. And so a four-week trip to the Baltic States was quickly planned.

In turn, I proposed to Vera. ‘We could meet up at Riga. You know what they all say. It hasn’t lost its beauty.’

I thought a trip to her homeland would be good for her: it would bury a few of those ghosts from her past. No matter what angle I took, she found a new excuse not to go.

‘I would have to see all those ugly buildings that the Soviets have built in my beautiful Riga.’

‘And you don’t think that if someone had left Sydney forty years ago, they wouldn’t be horrified by all the ugly buildings that have now appeared on our skyline?’

I gave up trying to persuade her to come but in the lead up to my departure, my questions about her family and her past escalated. This irritated her.

For one, I desperately wanted to know where she had lived. I wanted to walk down that street and look up at her building. ‘Surely you must remember the name of the street?’ It seemed inconceivable that someone could forget the place where they lived as a child. By contrast I had grown up in half a dozen houses in six different streets and I remembered them all.

She shook her head, no. Yet it was a question with which I persisted. Then, just days before I was due to leave, she called me.

‘I remember now, it was Stabu Iela. Our apartment in Riga was on Stabu Iela.’

How many weeks and how many questions had it taken me to get this nugget? At last I had a street name…but what about a number? Again, she said, ‘No’—she could no longer remember the number.

Estonia, 1991

I entered Estonia from Finland. It was only short twenty-minute flight from Helsinki to Tallinn, the capital.  Then I was out in the baggage area, waiting for my luggage. The first suitcase appeared on the conveyer belt and a few more followed, but then it spluttered and died. Eventually it started up again, coughed up a few more boxes and bags before grinding to another halt. It started, hiccupped again and then died for a long, long while. Each time it got going, many travellers (I am sure they were Americans) started clapping. Yet even their enthusiastic cheering could not thwart the deathly stop-start rhythm of the luggage belt as it spat out suitcases three or four at a time. On the other side of the gate, Olev was waiting for me. He handed me a bunch of flowers—the usual greeting for friends and relatives arriving from abroad.

I am staying with Olev’s cousins—Peter and Tiiu—in their small house in the suburbs. They have given me Grandma’s room. I don’t see her because she has been temporarily relocated to stay with another sibling. I feel a bit guilty about this until I realise how much Peter and Tiiu enjoy having these overseas visitors boarding with them. Perhaps Peter also enjoys having a break from his mother-in-law.

I can’t understand any Estonian, but Olev is happy to translate the conversation swirling around us. Thousands of curious expatriate Balts have come back to their homeland or that of their parents’ and their reasons vary. Some are highly opportunistic, looking to get bargain property at rock-bottom prices. Others are looking to find lost relatives, to heal the wounds of the past or revive lost language skills, whilst for an idealistic few, it’s a way to make a small contribution to these newborn democracies. Breathing in the air of a newly independent democracy, full of expectation and promise, there are countless reasons to be here.

Culture binds them all together, but history will always divide. We see some expats buying up amber necklaces at ridiculously cheap prices and then sauntering back to stay at the most expensive hotel in town. It barely meets with their Western standards of hotel service. They can’t complain too loudly as the rates are so low.

Olev calls the visiting expats “Outsiders—Inside-Out.”

‘What do you mean?’ I ask.

‘They look Estonian on the outside, but are outsiders on the inside.’

My hosts, Peter and Tiiu, laugh and agree with that description. These newfound blood brothers from the West with their patronising ways can be infuriating.

We sit in the faded lounge room and, over cups of hot coffee, chat about the new Estonia. Tiiu brings in a freshly baked cake and a bowl of linden berries. I eat them by the handful and think, ‘Berry season. The perfect time to be here.’ I am in heaven.

She returns to the kitchen and continues working—pickling home-grown gherkins and preserving the rest of the linden berries. Battling decades of shortages, everyone is careful with money and possessions. A lot of foodstuffs are expensive, so as much as they can, they supplement their diet with home-grown produce.

The following day, Olev and his musical partner, Coralie are to give a concert. We are ready to go, but have to wait a little while for Tiiu. She is bringing in the washing from the clothesline, sighing she cannot afford to lose any more clothes. Thieving is common and even clothes on the washing line cannot be left unattended.

There are two versions of the truth here. One is the state version and the second you hear whispered by people who are old enough to remember what it used to be like. So fifty years on, the people here are convinced there are still two versions of the truth. At Kiri-uu’s first concert, I meet a young man who has this profound sense of disbelief. Did I know, for example, that Freddy Mercury still lives? I tell him, no, he died of AIDS. He smiles knowingly—‘This death, you see, is another conspiracy. He still lives.’ We could not dislodge him from that belief.

One day we take a trip up to north-eastern Estonia to see not the beauty of its coastline, but the environmental degradation in Kunda caused by the Soviet-era cement factory. The vegetation in the surrounding countryside is all gray and even the few workers walking around the town’s lonely streets look ghostly, covered as they are in concrete dust.

But there is warmth from the locals who are grateful that tourists from the West are finally coming to explore this region.  My two weeks in Estonia prepares me a little for the last leg of my trip and what I can expect to find in Latvia. As we travel down through Estonia, Olev promises me that I will see the landscape change before my eyes.

‘Estonia is much more Scandinavian—it has a bit of tundra about it. But Latvian forests are denser with their tangled fir and birch, they are the places for fairies and trolls.’

The band’s roadie is behind the wheel, his foot on the accelerator. When we arrive I try to offer him some money for the petrol but he shrugs it off and says it isn’t necessary—he filled up at work. They may be free of the Communist yoke, but they are still following “in for a penny, in for a pound” principle. And who could blame them? They are all underpaid and have long lived with so many restrictions, gnawing away at a system that ties their hands behind their backs is an act of rebellion.

Riga, Latvia, 1991

‘You don’t speak Russian. That’s a worry. But never mind, we’ll find you a good cheap hotel,’ says Olev. He tracks down the Hotel Viktorija and coincidentally it’s on Stabu Iela.

‘My mother’s street!’ I gasp. Divine providence must be behind this trip. Riga is often dubbed the ‘Paris of the North’ but Stabu Iela lacks the grandeur of some of the city’s well-planned boulevards. The buildings here are late nineteenth or early 20th century and all are dingy, dirty, dark grey-brown in desperate need of a wash. But it’s well located and from here I can walk to the streets that hold some of the most stunning Art Nouveau architecture in Europe (there are already Germans grouped together on walking tours just for this purpose). There is one beautiful Art Nouveau building on Stabu Iela which is not on the tourist map for it has a dark past that many want to forget. It was the base of the Soviet secret police and during the Soviet occupation hundreds of Latvian nationalists were tortured and killed there. The building is now empty and the city is reluctant to do anything with it. Turning it into a museum will only offend Latvia’s Russian citizens (who now make up half the population) and even some Latvians wonder if it’s worth turning one of their country’s more traumatic places into a memorial.

It’s week three of my trip. I look around at my shabby room with its worn, grubby furniture and ugly, checked-patterned wallpaper and I am already planning my escape. I wander outside, stopping at a kiosk to buy a can of lemonade. Before long, I get the distinct feeling I am being followed. I am. They are only a couple of adolescents, but it rattles me. I wonder if I am imagining it, but suddenly they make a move towards me. Will they produce a knife? I expect the worst, but in halting English they make their demand.

‘Can we have your can?’

‘What, the lemonade?’ I query.

‘Yes.’

‘But it’s finished,’ I counter.

‘We know,’ they reply, ‘we just want the can’. They seem thrilled to bits when I hand them my empty vessel. Junk food is still rare and exotic. The upside is that everyone here—well, those under 30—is slim. Young Australians once looked like that too, I sigh to myself.

For dinner at a restaurant I plan to tuck into the local fare of schnitzel, potato salad, coffee and torte. It’s the kind of meal that Vera often used to cook: my default comfort food. The waiter is tall, blonde and lanky. Taking my order, he stands a little too close to me. He keeps looking over his shoulder nervously, so much so, it’s making me anxious. Am I being followed again, I wonder? Then he leans toward me and whispers conspiratorially, ‘Russian Caviar? Only fifty American dollars for you’. He’s hiding a giant tin underneath his oversized napkin. Has he pilfered it? I shake my head, not because I am afraid to break some Latvian law, but I hate the thought of caviar—how the eggs are ripped out of pregnant sturgeon. Perhaps disappointed that I am not as gluttonous as he’d hoped, he wanders off and before I have finished my main course, he’s back with another offer. It’s a book about Riga’s architecture. Maybe he’s pegged me as a dilettante. I buy it. It will be useful as a guidebook.

As evening comes down, I return to my hotel. The room is only on the third floor but the lift chugs slowly up, as if climbing one decrepit step at a time. I make a mental note to use the stairs next time before the clanking lift jogs my memory bank.

Poland, 1974

Hel. Some years before, my mother, father and I had taken a driving holiday through Poland. The purpose was obscure. My father announced one day he wanted to go to ‘Hell and back’ (partly because my mother was always telling him to go there), so that he could tell his friends where he’d been. The village of Hell, or should I correctly say ‘Hel’, is just a handful of dwellings, situated on a long spit of land that sticks out in the Baltic Sea. The long finger of land eventually leads to the border of Kaliningrad, a small Russian province which during the Soviet era was heavily militarised. On the borders of Hel, I sat on the sea strand and found a piece of amber washed up on the shore. The area is famous for the quantity of amber found here yet that small piece seemed magical to me.

Jokes aside, the main reason for the trip was just to see what life was really like in a communist country.

Warsaw. A Soviet-built lift. There five of us: the Polish lift operator, two beribboned Soviet apparatchiks, Vera and me. One of the Soviet officers orders the lift operator to take them to a particular floor. The Pole shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head, making it clear that he can’t understand Russian.

‘How can you not speak Russian?’ the Soviet official barks. ‘This is pathetic! Poland is a satellite of the Soviet state and, look at you, not even making an effort to learn basic Russian! What backward people you Poles are!’ The Soviet goes on in this vein, making the poor man shrink into his uniform.

The lift operator blinks nervously, feeling the anger of his words, if not the content.

‘Excuse me,’ says Vera in perfect Russian. She has heard every word. ‘What floor did you want?’

‘Ah, number five, thank you.’

She turns to the lift operator, smiles reassuringly, switches tongues and says in fluent Polish, ‘Number five for these clowns’.

Now that the lift is moving, the apparatchik smiles warmly at Vera, grateful she had solved the impasse. But his smile only fires her up and she starts to dress him down.

‘What gives you the right to expect your language to be spoken by everyone in Poland?’ she challenges. ‘Moscow may hold the balance of power and control the policies made by the Polish government, but you must remember—you are a guest in this country. And if anyone should make an effort it is you! Why aren’t you speaking Polish? And when you are a visitor, you should mind your manners! Does being a member of the party also give you the right to be rude to every worker? That poor man is only doing his job and you abuse him for it! So much for looking after the workers!’

I only grasp a word or two of this exchange, but what I do see is the shock on the Soviet’s face, as if he had had his face slapped. The Polish lift operator also pales in discomfort.

I think: ‘This could get ugly’.

But right on cue the lift comes to a stop and Vera sweeps out, stage left, to our rooms down the corridor.

‘The nerve of those goons,’ she says. ‘Treating that poor Pole as if he was some slave.’

Vera is still telling my father what had happened in the lift when there is a knock on the door. We open it and there are three Polish members of the hotel staff. The one on the right has a bottle of French champagne, the one on the left has a large bouquet of flowers and the middle one says in English, ‘Here is a token of our appreciation for standing up to our other houseguests who are not our favourite customers’.

Latvia, 1991

Riga. There was a happy ending back then and now I longed for another. But back in my room at the Hotel Viktorija, I try to lock my door and the lock is broken. Anyone can walk in at anytime. Then my first truly paranoid thought: is this deliberate? I heave an armchair against the door.

I had been warned by fellow travellers about untrustworthy characters in Riga that loitered anywhere tourists could be found: sharks and opportunists, con men and carpetbaggers. Eastern Europe was the new frontier. ‘Be careful of mafia men—they’ll be wearing tracksuits and Adidas shoes, and hanging around hotel foyers,’ I had been told. With that thought firmly planted in my head, I saw mafia men everywhere, all of whom I thought were determined to fleece me of my hard-earned Australian dollars.

I climb into bed and try to sleep. The walls are paper-thin—a Russian couple is talking heatedly next-door and the thoughts in my own brain are also becoming rattled, distorted and frenzied. Who knows I am here? Is Latvia really free? Perhaps KGB agents will burst through that door and arrest me. What’s to stop them? What would I do? I drift off to sleep.

About two in the morning, I wake with a start. Someone is in my room. The chair is being moved. Rigid with terror, I try to collect my thoughts. I look at the shadows around the room, searching for movement. I hear furniture scraping along the floors and raised voices again, but it’s all happening next door. Tensions have escalated. The Russians are yelling at each other now. They are physical too. So close, as if my bed is wedged between them.

I used to laugh with my friends about our refugee parents with their petty Cold War paranoia—why couldn’t they just get over it? But here, on this first trip, my very first night in Latvia, there are beads of sweat on my forehead and my heart is racing. Decades have passed, regimes have changed but I am convinced I will be arrested. What kind of emotional memories are trapped inside my DNA?

She’s not with me, but I turn to my mother for comfort. What would she say right now? I can hear her quoting the Latvian philosopher Janis Kulins: ‘If you are unhappy about something, just wait four weeks and by that time, you will have become used to it’.

Roll on week four.

 

____________________________________________________________

Amanda Hickey has worked with words all her adult life across many mediums – documentaries, journalism, blogging, short films and creative writing. She is also a teacher and gives Storytelling workshops to Not-for-Profits. Her first documentary (Writer & Director) on heart surgeon Victor Chang, won an award for SBS TV. Her latest documentary (Producer, second unit Director) – We Are Many – was long listed for an Academy Award and is currently available on I-Tunes.

Amanda writes for her own blog, reviews for Verity La, and is currently finishing a nonfiction book on a WW2 Australian soldier that will be published later this year.  She is also working on a memoir, from which ‘Outsiders, Inside Out’ is excerpted.

Amanda is conducting an Intuitive Writing Workshop this coming Saturday 20 May. Details and bookings here.

The Lumen Seed (Judith Crispin)

Posted on May 16, 2017 by in Book Extracts

The Lumen Seed opens onto an apocalyptic scene. A hardwood mulga tree, reaching for the sky, holds a placard: “The Lord’s Return is Near”. In Coober Pedy, a curved handmade house rendered in warm mid-tones is edged with the sign “Welcome to Nowhere”. Dusty desert roadscapes unfold into the giant sacred stones of Karlu Karlu. An emu wanders nonchalantly into a gas station. We’re in Emu Dreaming Country now, meeting Crispin’s traveling friends. — Juno Gemes, Foreword: Five Minutes to Midnight, The Lumen Seed

Photo: Judith Crispin. Eemie at the UFO Roadhouse (Wycliffe Well NT, Dec 2015)

Yeah, it make me real sad and cry for my country. Because God bin Judith Crispin put me there, God put my people there. Why someone could move us, because of his power, because of his idea? Cutting off God’s power, God’s idea here, God’s word, God’s light. . .and that is the true. Cut off like this electric wire, if you cut him off, like that. — Jerry Jangala, Warlpiri Elder, The Lumen Seed

Photo: Judith Crispin. Jerry Jangala (Emu Waterhole, Tanami Desert NT, Dec 2015)

It was in Lajamanu that I encountered stories of the giant invisible snakes we share the country with. Tales of rainbow snakes, the Warnayarra, underpin all Australian Aboriginal cultures. These early extraterrestrials emerged from meteors at impact sites like Wolfe Creek Crater. They live in the waterways, in rivers and creeks, and the ridges and mountain ranges are records of where they have passed. According to Warlpiri culture, the Warnayarra gave people their language, and they can rise up to protect the country in times of dire need. In the 1950s, when the UK dropped eighteen nuclear and thermonuclear weapons on Maralinga in South Australia, it is said to have been Warnayarra snakes who propelled the atomic cloud back to the military base at Woomera, killing all the children under five. The sentience of landscape is the heart of these Jukurrpa (Dreaming) stories about Warnayarra snakes. My journey began in the center of Australia’s Anglophile government, Canberra, and ended at Wolfe Creek Crater, birthplace of the serpent. Judith Crispin, Introduction, The Lumen Seed

Photo: Judith Crispin. Wolfe Creek Crater (Tanami Track WA, June 2015)

 

Five Threnodies for Maralinga

    The mushroom cloud dispersed rapidly. For a few seconds it took
 the intriguing shape of an aboriginal face silhouetted over Australia,
then it eddied 1500ft high, and was blown away to the north-east . . .
           (Douglas Wilkie, the Courier-Mail, Brisbane, October 16, 1953)

I
Es atmet mich, it breathes me,
this cremated  field,
whose pulmonary veins were fused
by atomic blasts.
It is breathing slowly
like a heart, or an animal dying
and in the periodicity of its own blood
is become sternklang,
the language of stars.

In the 1950s, Robert Menzies
surrendered this desert to men who look down
from  flag-draped podiums
and parliamentary stairs.
They built bombing ranges that
from outer space resemble
occult sigils.
Es atmet uns, it is not in the nature of demons
to refuse such invitations.

Low on the horizon
a greasy cloud makes whispering noises
as it advances
erasing the mulgas.

Sun glints from its surface
like something solid.

And its interior is the muscle
of a snake, coiling recoiling—
it dislocates its jaw
and spews blackened birds
into the desert,
                                  Wedgetailed eagles
                                  with their eyes burned out.

Soldiers club them from air
with axe handles—
some of them are crying.

Do you remember?
These rivers, these mallee and paper daisies.
We took it all away.

II
A summer of aeroplanes,
of air excited
by radios: public, private, and military.

Ten year old Yami Lester played on Emu Field,
that day when all birds vanished,
when nothing in that grassland breathed.
And turning,

by instinct, stopping
he pressed knuckles into his eyes
a split second before the flash and double boom
roared toward him like a crashing road-train.

And traveling in that sound,
                                    a blue-white diamond,
                                    a second sun
passing through the bones of his hands,

left x-ray impressions
of blood and skin,
the intricate network of nerves,
and his eyes
                                    burned.

It was black when the pressure wave hit
a feeling of being underwater,
and then the air sucked back,
billowing out his body like sheets on a line.

He didn’t see the rain
that smelled of chemicals and fell
in dense heavy drops
but he heard its tattoo

and distantly, from the direction of houses,
his mother screaming.

III
When they came to Juldil Kapi,
called Juldi, called Ooldea Soak,
the United Aborigines Mission,
in Jeeps and covered trucks
they looked like moon men.

Soldiers everywhere,
the older ladies recalled.
Guns. We all cry, cry, cryin’.

Time enough to pack a dilly bag
of clothes, a framed photograph,
a child’s favorite toy,
before the trucks rolled out,
leaving mission buildings to heat
and swallowing dunes.

And she, between soldiers,
on those hard troopie seats,
secretly fingers a stone
held deep in the pockets of her skirt—
nulu stone, she thinks, last fragment
of the meteor.
Its dust colors her skin.

A hundred kilometers to the south
departing helicopters drop leaflets
written in English
warning Aboriginal people
to not walk north.

But here on the savannah,
groups of figures separate in spinifex.

And later, when sky pressed toward them
like a wall, they laid their bodies
over their children
and rose again coated in tar.

Soldiers found them sleeping
in the Marcoo bomb crater.
They gave them showers
and scrubbed their fingernails.
But in the months that followed

their women gave birth
                   to dead babies, to babies
                   without lungs, babies without
                   eyes,

and their men speared kangaroos
they couldn’t cook
because they were yellow inside.

IV
A marquee stood on Emu Field
among fruit trees, with chairs and tables
for politicians and members of the press.
They served lemonade
and plates of sandwiches.
Songbirds
flitted in the eaves of a grandstand,
purpose-built for compelling views
of the mushroom cloud.

And after the last bus,
when the marquee was packed away
and only uniformed men flashed binoculars
on the grandstand,
they ordered their soldiers
to crawl
on all fours through atomic  elds.

Their bodies drag the dust.

On a clear day, you could see their backs lifting
though layers of mist
like elephants bathing in the Ganges.

And those who flew Lincolns into fallout
came back without throats—
coincidence, the English courts explained,
we all smoked back then . . .

But I want to know what happened to my grandfather—
dead before fifty from multiple cancers.
                 They gave peerages to nuclear scientists
                 and to soldiers, melanomas
                 and the chance to buy an unofficial medallion
                 for thirty dollars.

And I want to know what happened to my uncle—
dead before sixty from heart attack and stroke.
                 Cells transform into other cells,
                 like the songbirds of Emu field
                 whose calls were the silver
                 of shaken metal fragments.

I want to know if I’m going to live—
You’re young, the surgeon said, for this kind of cancer.
But he couldn’t tell me
                 how people become dust,
                 how sand becomes glass,
                 or how Menzies could send soldiers into atomic mist,
                 and still hold the word God in his mouth.

V
At Woomera,
seventy-five identical graves
remember babies lost to the predation
of atomic clouds.

Their epitaphs are brief—
                  Michael Clarke Jones
                  died 24 August 1952,
                  aged eight and a half hours.

No one has been here for a long time.

Weeds struggle.
A military vehicle passes,
heading east toward the rocket range.

In the west, Woomera township
is a grid of air force housing.
Land Cruisers fill neat driveways,
lawns are trimmed,
blinds closed.

And no one ever steps out for milk,
no one walks a dog.

I photograph each headstone,
stooping sometimes to straighten a plastic posy,
a tilted ceramic bear.

Wind presses a faded greeting card
to the metal fence.
A matchbox car beside a small boy’s grave
is blue.

There are nineteen stones without toys or flowers,
for stillborns named only “baby”—
                  Baby Spencer,
                  Baby Dowling,
                  Baby Stone.

Don’t look at me
                  Baby Gower
                  Baby Roads
from a soldier’s gunny bag
with your eyes too white, too open
like the eyes of poisoned fish
tumbling
in the Pilbara’s poisoned surf.

Was it night when they came?
those soldiers who emptied the graves?

A secret harvest
of twenty-two thousand children
whose bones were crushed
for Strontium-90 tests in the UK.
Their parents were never told.

The ground here is hard.
Centuries of heat-fueled wind
have baked clay to shale.
To open a grave you’d need
                                                  sledgehammers,
                                                  pickaxes,
                                                  crowbars.
It would not be gentle.

I see them starlit,
Shadow-striped by the wire fence,
they draw a baby boy from earth—
pale as a frog
mud-marked
and he wears my grandson’s face.

I don’t want to tell him
our bombs unleashed a serpent
older than names,
that hung over the neonatal ward,
above the cots of Woomera,
and the gaze of its lidless eye
returned them all to namelessness.

My grandson,
I don’t know what world will be left to you.

Photo: Judith Crispin. Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali (Tanami Desert NT, November 2014)


_
___________________________________________________________


Judith Crispin
returned to Australia in 2011 after living and working in Germany for several years. Since that time she has driven the 8000 km round trip from her home in Canberra to the remote community of Lajamanu many times and established a close relationship with the Warlpiri community there. Crispin has a background in music composition, poetry and photography. She is currently working with Warlpiri elders to create Kurdiji 1.0, a community based app which aims to reduce the high rates of suicide among young Indigenous Australians by using technology to help reconnect them with stories, ceremonies and law.

Kurdiji is currently crowdfunding. Please donate if you can and help spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. The Lumen Seed can be purchased from Daylight Press.

 

CATCHING UP WITH A COMMUNICATIVE UNIVERSE: Michelle Cahill’s Letter to Pessoa (Angela Serrano)

Posted on May 9, 2017 by in Verity La Reviews

Letter to Pessoa is Michelle Cahill’s debut collection of short fiction. The stories are told from a single, often first-person perspective, with many written in an epistolary format. The narrators are from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations, often educated, articulate, sensual souls who think about books and theory and sex and love. They don’t have racism at the forefront of their consciousness; however, by presenting the world through the eyes of diverse narrators, these stories do nevertheless subvert the dominant, monocultural view.

In addition to advocating for greater acceptance of avant-garde work by writers of colour, Cahill has had a long and successful career as an award-winning published poet, and it shows in her prose. For instance, here is an excerpt from the title story:

‘Church bells gag. Beyond the rooftops the sky crushes me with its vivid blue. The old man at reception nods sympathetically. He guesses I have my suicidal hours. Aren’t we ever restless? Rebellious clerks for whom the streets are never desolate, littered with cigarette butts and last night’s pardon … Speechlessly, the city has its way with me.’

It is a remarkably lyrical description of the mundane act of leaving one’s hotel room and exploring the urban landscape. Observe the attribution of intent to strangers and the features of the landscape. There is a sense of self-aware self-absorption here. Everything seems to literally speak to the narrator; in this and all the other stories, the universe is communicative. German-American poet Lisel Mueller in her poem ‘Monet Refuses the Operation’ wrote ‘I do not wish to return to a universe of objects that do not know each other’. [1] Mueller’s poem has the Impressionist painter Monet refusing to treat his cataracts because blurry vision allowed him to see the way colours and objects blended and bled into each other, always interacting, never strictly isolated from each other as common perceptions of boundaries and distance would have it. In Cahill’s fiction, objects are actors. ‘Dust blinds’, ‘light burns holes’, ‘orchids stretch their strong, sweet tentacles’. Each glance and gesture is meaningful, and the narrators are confident of their ability to decode the implicit. This is not a detached and unfeeling universe; it is a universe that gets up close and personal.

The universe speaks not just through the living but through the dead. ‘Letter to Derrida’ had me imagining the handsome French-Algerian philosopher as being as intimately near to the letter-writer as a heart is to a heartbeat:

‘By sheer coincidence we passed between dusty shelves of the Archives Husserl at the École Normale Supérieure. Only to find we were star-crossed and you not quite mid-sentence, paraphrasing Heidegger … whilst citing Hegel in the service of Aristotle, so far inside the performance of translation that wherever we found ourselves that day was a place curbed and vanishing, a fact we relished though it would remain forever unresolved … You once told me there are traces of us in everything.’

It is difficult to recognise traces of ourselves in stories about revolting situations. ‘Chasing Nabokov’ is about an Economics student who tumbles into an affair with a Russian writer forty years her senior. The story appears to be about the young woman’s reckless pursuit of, and passionate devotion to, an unattractive, married, significantly older man dismissed from his previous university teaching job because of alleged paedophilia:

‘I knocked on his door and waited, feeling disconsolate and submissive. He opened the door and grabbed my hand … We hardly spoke, our mouths wet with hunger. Like a beautiful piece of prose being read with renewed inspiration, we made love in a room with worn carpets … I had forgotten the urgency of our delirious lies.’

However, not unlike the narrator in Yoko Ogawa’s masterful and similarly themed novel Hotel Iris, this Lolita figure is always reflexive, never unaware of the capriciousness of contingency and the fleeting character of even the most torrid romances. Her perspective, her opportunity to have a voice in this literary space, matters. Just as importantly, she has much to say about silly longings, and how love makes callow youths of us all.

Some of Cahill’s stories feature more politically charged situations. Even in these, the material is handled with similar grace and nuance – less shout, while still being full of substance. ‘The Sadhu’, for instance, is about a Nepalese-Australian woman and Irish man’s visit to a charismatic sadhu who has impregnated an Italian enlightenment seeker. ‘Sleep Has No Home’ is about a Muslim girl experiencing the first-hand effects of the failure of governance and diplomacy on her family and on her body. The narrator in ‘Biscuit’ is a west Nairobi-born cat who also happens to be a cancer survivor, exploring a society collapsing from within.

In these stories, and others in the collection, race and global inequality could very well take starring roles. Instead, Cahill’s psychological portraits treat the characters’ suffering as a universal injury. The reader doesn’t have to be of a particular ethnic background to ‘get it’. At the same time, there is no glib attempt to be ‘colour-blind’. ‘Ethnic’ names and settings abound in this work. It is a different way of working with the reality of racialisation and racism in English-language literature.

Michelle Cahill

This, to me, reads as a way of saying that not unlike ancient Greek myths and European fairy tales, stories by non-white writers about non-white characters can speak across cultures and generations. As a young Australian woman of colour, I daresay this is a good thing, in an Australia where people of colour are often regarded as having nothing important to say about anything that isn’t directly race and racism-related (and sometimes not even then). Literary nonfiction, poetry and fiction about racism’s harmful and enduring impact on the lives of people of colour contribute compelling reasons for readers to work towards immediate changes in behaviour and policy, not to mention enhancing the potential of literary language for describing subaltern experiences. However, limiting the range of Australian POC writing to racialised experiences, and to those alone, benefits no one. Good, anti-racist writing about living in Australia whilst non-white can, should, but doesn’t always have to be about experiences of persecution by white Australians. It doesn’t have to give the white Australian elephant in the POC living room the power of being the standard against which every little joy or worry is weighed. If we are to accept and live by a commitment to intersectional understandings of social inequality, we are also committing to a recognition that even racialised peoples know that their lives do not solely revolve around what white people can do to them. The following passage from Ghassan Hage’s (2014) review of Michael Mohammed Ahmed’s novel The Tribe expresses this thinking beautifully:

‘Anti-racists need to strike a balance between acknowledging the power of racism to negatively affect peoples’ lives and, at the same time, not giving too much power to racism in a way that boosts the racists’ exaggerated sense of self-importance… The racialised can, sometimes heroically, carve for themselves what I have called ‘resilient’ spaces. That is, spaces where people live their lives with a sense of normality without being constantly haunted by the representations produced by the dominant culture about them… [not adopting] the usual defensive position of the ‘constantly worrying about what the dominant culture is going to say about this’ posture. This is in itself a very important form of anti-racism.’ (Italics mine)

This fiction collection showcases far more than Cahill’s ability to inhabit the viewpoints of a diverse range of characters, or craft beautiful narrative paragraphs. Letter to Pessoa contains moving stories about the intersections of not just multiple layers of identity, but of thought and sense, the sublime and the profane, grand universals and intimate particulars. Without any didactic statements, Letter to Pessoa contributes to the anti-racist advocacy a compelling demonstration of an Australian woman’s ambitious, sweeping literary and intellectual vision beyond firefighting, gesturing towards more inclusive ideas of canon-worthy, standard-setting greatness. It is a remarkable first fiction collection; I hope it won’t be the last.

 

Letter to Pessoa
Michelle Cahill
Giramondo Publishing, 2016
216 pages, $24.95

References
Hage, G. (2014). ‘Writing Arab-Australian Universes’Overland Literary Journal. Viewed April 9, 2017
Mueller, L. (1996). ‘Monet Refuses the Operation’, from Second Language, Louisiana State University Press. Viewed April 9, 2017
Ogawa, Y. (2010). Hotel Iris, trans. S Snyder, Picador, New York

Notes
[1]  Mueller, L. (1996). ‘Monet Refuses the Operation’, from Second Language, Louisiana State University Press. Viewed April 9, 2017

____________________________________________________________


Angela Serrano
is a 2017 Hot Desk Fellow at the Wheeler Centre. Her work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Overland, Archer, Peril, Pencilled In, and elsewhere. She is a millennial Filipino-Australian Melbourne writer, a hot-blooded yogi, and a soprano in training. Find her on Twitter @angelita_serra and on her website.

Transcarpathia
(Nathanael O’Reilly)

Posted on May 2, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

I.

We spent a summer late
last century in the former
USSR at the confluence

of the Tiza and Rika rivers
living in a Transcarpathian
valley with the mafia

the unemployed and the future
our students guided us
around town, to the castle

ruins, Gorodskoy park
the outdoor markets
and the plains of blood

accompanied us to neighbouring
villages, towns and cities
Rokosovo, Velyatyn, and Uzhgorod

we shot vodka with our principal
students’ parents, government officials
and gangsters, afraid to offend

our students competed for turns
to sweep the classroom floor
clean the blackboard, read aloud

take us swimming after classes
have coffee with us in cafes
serve us dinner in their homes

II.

we arrived by train at the Hungarian-
Ukrainian border in the darkness
met our driver on the platform

loaded our luggage into his ancient
van and took our seats beside
curtain-covered windows

for the drive from Chop to Khust
through the unknown over potholes
to a pumping techno soundtrack

disoriented and alien, we arrived
in town near midnight, met hosts
who insisted on measuring us

before unloading, eating and drinking
declared our unusual Western height
qualified us for double rations

III.

reading a novel in Gorodskoy
park I was approached
by local gangsters who took

up positions in front and behind
pistols tucked conspicuously
into tracksuit pants waistbands

demanded to know my business
and nationality before deciding
I was harmless, the leader

making homophobic jokes
in English about his comrade
my faggot buddy doesn’t understand

before inviting me to their bar
where we played pool in the basement
drank pivo with the local boss

IV.

local gang members climbed
our dark stairwell, pounded
on our steel door, demanded

in urgent fragmented English
that we come outside
hand over our passports

inside we stood silently
still against cracked walls
waiting for danger to fade

V.

every weekday morning we walked
to school, past government offices
empty storefronts, crumbling

Soviet-built apartment blocks
past Romanian gypsies siting
in the dirt begging for kopeks

across the Mlynovytsya river
past groups of kids yelling
Hey, fuck you buddy! 

Hey, suck my dick, buddy!
mimicking Hollywood
bad-guy rhetoric

collecting our students
in ones and twos as we walked
we arrived at school in a gang

VI.

on scorching hot afternoons
our students took us to the Tisa
served us packed picnic lunches

cooked pig fat on sticks over fires
lit in the sand, ganged up
and threw us in the river

jumped with us off the abandoned
railway bridge into dangerous water
vying for our admiration

the teenage girls wore tiny bikinis
the teenage boys wore speedos
called us gypsies for wearing shorts

exhausted after swimming
we sat cross-legged on the sand
in a circle while Sasha played

Nirvana covers on his battered
acoustic guitar and the girls
sang mournful folk songs

VII.

on the road to Lviv
miles from the nearest village
we passed a Babushka

head covered in traditional
fashion, sitting on the ground
beside an upturned bucket

a lone cabbage perched atop
patiently waiting in the heat
to make the day’s final sale

VIII.

we walked unpaved dusty streets
occasionally passed by a vehicle
a local riding in an engineless

Lada or Volga towed by a donkey
or a tracksuit-clad mafia man
driving a late-model BMW

IX.

the majority of the town’s men
unemployed filled their days
drinking vodka outside cafes

until they passed out with heads
and arms on tables or fell sideways
from plastic chairs onto concrete

the town’s women went to market
haggled over the price of bread
cabbage and potatoes, desperate

to save precious gryvnya
and kopeks, unable to afford
luxuries like meat or fruit

X.

late at night we wandered home
from cafes and friends’ apartments
down narrow brick-paved streets

past abandoned Soviet army trucks
across the Khustet’s river
through the square where Father

Lenin’s statue stood, past the war
memorial, onion-domed
icon-filled Orthodox churches

concrete-block houses under construction
grassless front yards full of precious
cabbages, potatoes and onions

XI.

students’ parents took us in
to their homes, told us tales
of their lives under Soviet rule

showed us family albums of holidays
to Odessa and Chornomosk
kids frolicking on Black Sea sand

taught us their post-independence
mantra: under communism, we had jobs,
we had money, but there was nothing

to buy – now we have no jobs
we have no money
and there’s still nothing to buy!

XII.

on the train to Solotvyno we followed
the Ukrainian-Romanian border
southeast, barbed wire always

within view outside the right-hand
train windows, soldiers gripping machine
guns in guard towers watching over

the border, ready to kill if necessary
identically-dressed peasants working
the fields either side of the border

XIII.

at Solotvyno we walked from the station
through unpaved village streets
browsed stores selling icons

purchased wooden jewellery, crosses
necklaces, bracelets and blouses
before arriving at the salt lakes

we floated on our backs in dark water
slathered each other in black mud
erased each other’s identities

XIV.

on Voloshyna, Lvivska and Ivana Franka
students, friends and acquaintances
crossed the street to shake hands

men and boys kissed us
on the cheeks declaring affection
signalling their importance

as buddies of the Australianski
and Canadianski, local television
reporters stopped us on Karpatskoyi

to conduct interviews
Who are you? Why are you here?
Do you like our country?

XV.

on my twenty-fourth birthday
my students decorated
our classroom with banners

before my arrival, sang
Happy Birthday in English,
presented me with a gift

they purchased collectively:
a plastic mantel-piece-sized
Swiss clock replica

upon my departure
the clock was confiscated
at the Hungarian border

along with landscape paintings
gifts from students and parents
all declared National Treasures

by Ukrainian customs officials
too precious for export, worth
a few gryvnya on the black market

XVI.

on the road to Lviv we passed
an abandoned nuclear power plant
ten times the size of any American mall

a VISA billboard between the road
and a wheat field proclaimed
IT’S EVERYWHERE YOU WANT TO BE

defying reality and our experience
an advance party advocate for capitalism
convenience and Westernization

 

____________________________________________________________

Nathanael O’Reilly was born and raised in Australia. He has travelled on five continents and spent extended periods in England, Ireland, Germany, Ukraine and the United States, where he currently resides. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in nine countries, including Antipodes, Australian Love Poems, Cordite, FourW, LiNQ, Mascara, Postcolonial Text, Prosopisia, Red River Review, Snorkel, Social Alternatives, Tincture, Transnational Literature and Verity La. O’Reilly is the recipient of an Emerging Writers Grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. He is the author of Preparations for Departure (UWAP Poetry, 2017), Distance (Picaro Press, 2014; Ginninderra Press, 2015) and the chapbooks Cult (Ginninderra Press, 2016), Suburban Exile (Picaro Press, 2011) and Symptoms of Homesickness (Picaro Press, 2010).


‘Transcarpathia’ appears in Nathanael’s new book, Preparations for Departure, which has just been released by UWA Publishing. The book will be launched on May 23rd in Wagga by Lachlan Brown. Nat will also be reading in Griffith on May 25th and running the Booranga Workshop on May 20th as part of his duties as Writer-in-Residence at Booranga Writers’ Centre, where he’ll be in residence for the second half of May.

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the Adventure
(Les Wicks)

Posted on April 24, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

or maybe just the thrushes, their pecks. Paris, 1940.
Les Boches have lined up our Gauloises & shot them.
Plus the internet hasn’t even been invented.

Klaus thinks Feminism is all about the Jews.
Who said monstrosity can’t be flexible –
those Aufseherinnen –
given a real job by clueless men but
Women in Uniforms, they get ideas.

As America undergoes a talking-to
intrepid British spies bugger each other
like tertiary educations.

Kristallnacht is a brand of champagne – everything makes sense
if you forget hard enough.
Pétain has been reading about Panama he
has niggles about the mosquito problem, the heat,
that way  pianos so easily warp into jazz
when accosted by humidity.
There is a war, sacrifice is the fuel
so he gives up worrying.

Paris must be preserved!
Think of all the movies to come
Hepburn, Marlon, Woody, Kate Hudson.

The last lies are progress,
77 years later
arthritis has spread to the Arc de Triomphe
& Europe can no longer promise home to
those across ex-colonies as they
flee grand plans imposed on them.
Such ingratitude, thank god it sticks in their throats.

 

_______________________________________________________

Photo credit: Susan Adams


Les Wicks
has toured widely and seen publication in over 350 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 28 countries in 13 languages. His 13th book of poetry is Getting By    Not Fitting In (Island, 2016). Find more from Les here.

The Suit (Gabrielle Everall)

Posted on April 18, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

(Clozapine Clinic: edited by Tim Heffernan & Alise Blayney) 

When she sees people working, she feels like an asshole. She thinks of the construction workers and how hard their job is, but she doesn’t like it when they make sexist remarks from high above, extra-terrestrial in their towers. She is worse than Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich. She doesn’t even copy things. She is a serf, an underclass. She finds it hard to move from place to place.

Even though she doesn’t have enough money for tram fare she still catches the tram. She has done this in the past when she stopped taking her medication. But then she had listened to an old-school Walkman with ‘Never Mind the Bollocks by The Sex Pistols blaring out. She had sung, I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist. Don’t know what I want but I know where to get it. I want to destroy the passer-by. She had bleach-blonde hair shaved to number one. And she wore a thick, black-studded dog collar bought at a sex shop.

But that was the past.

Now guards get on the tram to check Mykis. She panics and runs to get off. But the guards follow and ask to see her Myki.

‘Did you forget?’

‘Yes I forgot.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m going to a job club at Disability Employment Services.’

‘OK. I don’t usually do this but I’ll let you off this time.’

She is so relieved. She walks the rest of the way to Disability Employment Services. It is an unremarkable office. Once she gets there, Glenda, one of the workers from the service, informs her that she has to come to the job club dressed in job interview clothes.

‘I don’t have the credit card to take you shopping.’

‘It’s ok, my advance payment comes in tomorrow. I can buy some clothes.’

‘We can reimburse you if you keep the receipt.’

The next day she follows a hot trail down Burke St to Myers. ‘Your clothes don’t hide your shape,’ her psychiatrist once said. She knows she has a double chin. When she puts on liquid eyeliner one eye is always smudged at the bottom lid. This gives her the appearance of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. She finds a black suit and wonders if she can still afford to pay the rent if she buys the suit. When she is getting changed, she looks into the dressing room mirror and sees a naked Donald Trump. She imagines being exposed on street corners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland or New York.

The following night, Glenda rings her about an information session for call centre work at Serco. She goes dressed in her suit.

‘Don’t you look lovely,’ says Glenda. ‘You know you can’t apply for this job if you have a criminal record.’  She doesn’t have a criminal record but she feels like a criminal.

The job is in Box Hill — sounds like Pox Hell. She thinks of Garth Daniels, an involuntary mental patient at Box Hill Hospital. He had been given shock treatment ninety-seven times, sometimes without a general anaesthetic or muscle relaxant. She thinks that instead of going to the happy land of Serco she will be transported to the Box Hill Hospital and given shock treatment.

‘You cannot apply for this position if you are not available to do full time job training for six weeks.’

‘What if you are studying part time?’

‘Then you can’t apply for the job.’

University saves me from shock treatment, she thinks.

She walks the grounds of the University singing The Sex Pistols —

Cheap holiday in other people’s misery. I don’t wanna holiday in the sun. I wanna go to the new Belsen. I wanna see some of history. Cause now I got a reasonable economy. Now I got a reason. Now I got a reason. . .

She lights cigarettes outside. It is a non-smoking university. Security guards loiter around her.

When she gets home to her flat she finds an eviction notice under the door. The neighbours have complained about the singing and she has to move out on her birthday. With only two weeks to find somewhere to live, she throws all her belongings into a bin, including her dirty dishes, and emails student housing.

They have a flat she can shift into. It has white brick walls and is across the road from the University, so she can study in the library. One day she takes off her shoes, mutters to herself and laughs out loud. A librarian approaches.

‘This is serious. This is a noise free level of the library. You have to stop talking to yourself. You won’t like what they will do to you.’

But she loses her shoes and the next day panhandles shoeless outside the University café. A University mental health worker notes on his laptop, ‘Overweight woman in forties asking for money without shoes’.  He approaches her and asks her to come with him.

She runs.

When she gets back to her flat she realises all she has to eat is a can of pea and ham soup left over from the Salvo, so she decides to go to student services for a food voucher. The mental health worker is summoned. He leads her into a darkened room.

‘I can get a psychiatrist for you.’

‘This is very 1984.’

She knows he is going to take her to a mental hospital, so she runs to the shopping centre and tries to call her mum on a pay phone. A police officer approaches her. She runs again. The police officer chases her and she gives up. She gets into the police car and two officers sit on either side of her. On arrival she sits quietly outside the nurses’ station determined not to be any trouble. Patients crowd outside the window of the station like baby birds waiting for their mother.

‘I’m feeling stressed,’ she says to a mother nurse.

In the green relaxation room people watch her from behind computer screens. A toothless patient smiles at her.

‘Look what Risperidone has done to me.’

‘Will they put me on medication?’

‘Yes. They will definitely do that.’

While ripping the metal spine from her lecture pad and confiscating her bra, Mother Nurse asks, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be here while you are doing your PhD?’

‘I don’t feel ashamed.’

Outside, a group of Aboriginal patients are singing and dancing to the radio. ‘Go!’ one woman says to her. And she starts to dance.

Finally discharged on Risperdal injections, she visits the mental health clinic. The community nurse says, ‘The other nurse told me that when you got your last injection you weren’t wearing any underwear’.

‘I ran out of clean underwear.’

‘We were worried about you, we thought it was a sign you were becoming unwell.’

‘No. I just ran out of clean underwear.’

She tells the nurse it is her last injection before moving on to oral medication.

‘Then I better give you something to remember me by.’ The clumsy needle prick hurts a lot.

At her next appointment with Disability Employment Services Glenda is wearing the same purple jumper she always wears. Her arm is in a sling.

‘So, how are you? Are you ok?’

‘I’m good.’

‘How are you feeling inside yourself?’

‘Good.’

‘Did you get reimbursed for your suit?’

‘No’

‘Then I’ll have to inquire at a higher level. Have you seen any job vacancies?’

‘No, sorry. I haven’t.’

‘Then I’ll look on the internet for you. What about part-time admin work?’

‘Ok.’

‘Here’s one working in a primary school.’

She thinks of the cries of children playing and how much that would disturb her. ‘No. I don’t feel comfortable working at a primary school.’

‘That’s ok, of course. There is that other issue of how you need your free time to study.’

‘Yes, that’s right, we have to do reading and write lecture notes.’

‘In that case, you should exit the system.’

She leaves the system.

 

_______________________________________________________

Gabrielle Everall completed her PhD in creative writing at The University of Western Australia. While doing the PhD she wrote her second book of poetry, Les Belles Lettres. Her first book of poetry is called Dona Juanita and the love of boys.  She has been published in numerous anthologies including The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry, The Turnrow Anthology of Contemporary PoetryPerformance Poets and The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry edited by John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan. She has performed her poetry at the BDO, Overload, NYWF, Emerging Writer’s Festival and Putting on an Act. She has also performed at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She currently studies at Melbourne University.

 

 

 

Unburied (Lauren Butterworth)

Posted on April 10, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

The Unburied climbs from her grave and all the little pieces of her fit like unshattering glass. The femurs groan into the sockets of the hip, the ribs crack into the sternum. She picks at the dirt gritted into the dents of her finger bones and looks down at all the holes of herself. She sighs. It hadn’t been an easy climb, prodding at the dirt from so far below. It had fallen relentlessly onto on her tongue when she’d had one. Filled up the deflated cavity of her lungs. He’d done a good job of it, she had to give him that. It had taken years to claw her way out.

As she shakes loose decayed cloth from ankle bones, the tibiae and fibula, she looks down at the disturbed ground. No headstone marks her place, nor is there any other indication of a loving and unhurried burial. Not even a name. She cracks into place the vertebrae, so troublesome in skin but now easily rearranged, and casts her hollow eyes around her. The ground is sunken, bordered by lumps of dirt and clay like ant hills. Beetles scurry over capillary veins of old roots and sodden leaves. Otherwise the garden is much the same. She’d planted the wisteria herself, and the nasturtiums that the chickens loved so much, though not the birds. They preferred the fruit trees, mulberry and persimmon. In summer she’d hear their rustling from the kitchen window and entice them with seed. The cat, as she’d tried to explain to him, was much too obvious. Stalking in the undergrowth was all very well in the wild but it wouldn’t do in the suburbs. Here you had to be alluring, entice with sweets and smiles. The Unburied grits her crumbling teeth. She knew too much about that.

She limps to the tomato vine and rests her fleshless fingers—the phalanges, she remembers—amongst the wilted green. Stakes stand in graveyard uniformity, but the produce is long gone. What a shame. Her romas won ribbons once. They were always the sweetest, the boldest, and she’d pluck them from the vine and eat them right there in the garden, or, best of all, peppered on toast with avocado and cream cheese. She’d allowed herself little pleasures now and then. Not that it had mattered in the end. Imagine, she thinks, running her fingers along the curve of a rib, all the cream cheese she’d have eaten if she’d known she’d come to look like this. Even though she lived alone, she’d creep into the kitchen to lick the Philadelphia foil at 3am. It was silly, but, as she told herself every time she caught her reflection in the wide kitchen window, life was just too short. She stopped though, when Angus started staying over.

Angus was a skinny man with a flat brow and thin, wiry glasses. He wore checked shirts buttoned to the top and taught middle-grade maths but she couldn’t begrudge him that. He approached her at the farmer’s market and offered to trade a punnet of romas for a bag of zucchinis, ripened in his own backyard three doors down. He told her she looked beautiful, as though they’d known one another for years. When she puzzled at him he blushed, told her they were neighbours. Hadn’t she seen him around? She wasn’t used to being called beautiful and she laughed awkwardly at him and stumbled. She had always been too tall with flat wide feet and felt ungainly in her skin. She would squeeze into too narrow shoes so that her little toe blistered red, perpetually disfigured. She borrowed Angus’ gumboots that afternoon when he showed her his veggie patch, and pretended her ankle was swollen from tripping on a step. Must be why they didn’t fit properly, she’d said. She used to imagine shaving the sides of her feet away as though from marble. Metatarsal, the arch is called, that joins the toes to the foot. Angus told her that. She crouches. She wonders if, in death, her hobbit feet, shed of skin and tendon, had narrowed to delicate points. She measures the distance from side to side. She sighs. It was bone all along.

And where is Angus now? The house is empty, or seems to be. The garden is overrun, and paint peels from wooden slats on the porch. Dislodged shingles collide in the gutter and on the ground by the fence. She’d wanted to do the repairs herself, and one of the benefits of such an Amazonian form was the strength it afforded her. But Angus had insisted, and she didn’t like to argue. He’d never officially moved in, but his things began appearing in the house in tiny increments: a toothbrush, differently-branded milk and spare trousers, then books, a guitar, lawnmower and car keys that hung perpetually on the spare hook. It bothered her that he’d taken for granted that she wanted the same things as he, but she never could quite tell him that. It was easier to let things take their course. It was the same when he’d started buying Philadelphia light and frowning at her when she’d add a teaspoon of sugar—raw, she’d rebut—to her coffee. But what could she say? He knew what she wanted to become and he was only being encouraging.

She grips the twin bumps of her hips. She used to run her hands along the skin because it was one of the few spots where she could feel the bone underneath. Angus liked them too. She pulls her thin legs through ankle length weeds. Pushes against the back door. She is almost surprised when, softly, it opens.

‘Hello?’ she calls, or tries to. She has no larynx or diaphragm to project the sound. She knocks her fists against the wall so it echoes. There are juvenile tags on the floral wallpaper and though she has no nostrils or any olfactory glands to speak of she is certain it stinks of rat shit. She can see the evidence in the gaps of the floorboards and digs the shaft of her toe into the crack to clear it away. She stumbles along the hallway stupefied by the stillness, the strangeness of it all.

She’d lived alone for many years because she preferred it that way: space to potter, to paint and garden and besides, she had the cat, what else did she need? Her heel bones click on the wood like the stilettos she never wore. She feels as though she’s breaking and entering. One of those abandoned semi-transportables by the railyard, graffitied, with sunken floors and piles of empty beer cans. She stoops to brush away the leaf litter by the front door. Turns into the front room. The layers of dust would choke her if she had lungs, but otherwise everything is just as she left it: a stack of unread books against packed shelves, a comb on the mantle with hair in the teeth, a photograph of Angus and her askew on the wall. As she takes in the remnants of her life like debris it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore that which niggles her. The question she can’t ask herself. She picks up an envelope from a stack on the coffee table. It is addressed to a name she is only beginning to remember, and dated a year she can’t fathom. She slumps into a chair and feels the heart that isn’t there sink into the chest that once held it.

Why has nobody come?

She tells herself she can’t have a panic attack because she no longer has a nervous system to ignite muscle spasms or adrenal glands to make her hands sweat, but her bones tremble just the same. She runs her hands down the femurs to her knee joints. She notices a thin, hairline crack at the top of the tibia. She can’t recall, at first, what the injury could have been, but the effort is enough to stop her trembling. Then it comes to her, a fury of a girl charging through her into second base. She’d fallen, one foot stuck between the girl and the plate. The bone snapped when she landed. Her mum warned her about softball. She was too clumsy, she said, too awkward. But that field was a space where she needn’t pretend to be graceful or prim, where her size was a barrier to petite things that would try to sneak runs. The softball girls exuded a strange kind of femininity, confident and earthy, so different to those at school who seemed to know something she didn’t. She wished she could take that power off the field. For there she became what she was again, tall and chubby, without any idea how to shape her appearance to express the woman she was becoming inside.

The Unburied stretches her legs and twists her ankles. Tilts her head and looks at her toes. They aren’t particularly feminine. She’s already established that. But what makes toes identifiably male or female? She knows that the male ring finger is longer than the index, with the reverse the case for women. Angus told her that. He told her lots of things he thought she should know. All the fleshy indicators of her body, the ample mounds of breasts and thigh, lips that guarded inward passages, are gone to dust. Would the investigative stumblers who finally come to find her—if they come to find her—be able to tell of her softball injuries and clumsiness in stilettos? Would her bones lie to them of the person that she was? For what is there, she suddenly wonders, to indicate she?

She looks down. There’s an absence in her pelvis where her womb used to be. She rises and walks to the mantelpiece, marvelling at the emptiness. There’s a mug with mouldy dregs of tea, a thriving succulent. Strange. She would have liked to cultivate life, she thinks, picking up the little brown pot. Once she thought she had. A little seedling failed to bloom and was washed away in a stream of red. But she was twenty-three then and he was a backpacker in the laundry room of a London hostel, and if she still had the cheeks or the blood vessels to dilate she’d blush with the memory of the relief she had felt. She had begun to want though, near the end. Not with Angus though. She realised that the second time she was late.

She hadn’t planned not to tell him, but, like everything, it was easier. To add the weight of her decision to terminate to the anxious list of reasons she couldn’t love him proved far too difficult. Was it cowardly, she wonders, looking at down at her empty pelvis, or simply self-preservation? She remembers the way her stomach churned in the weeks it took to gather her strength. How she’d cringe when he made reference to the types of toys he’d allow their children, or how he’d like to extend into the back patio to allow for more northerly light, something they’d appreciate when they were retired. In the last year she’d taken to yoga and developed a new ease with her body. The bulges at her hips and thighs became striking in their curvature. It wasn’t because she’d changed measurably, though her muscles were defined, lifted and pert. It was her eyes that were different. The girl who had tumbled on the softball field and not shed a tear was still buried in there somewhere. She couldn’t be that girl with Angus. Crouching to poke her fingers back into that dent she realises, suddenly, that he knew it too.

But her fleshy impulse to swell with child was lost when the beetles and mites devoured it away. She couldn’t feel guilt anymore for what she had done. She wouldn’t. So she turns to the mirror above the mantlepiece. Runs her fingers along the bumps and hollows, the impressions of tendons and muscle insertions. The holes are soft. So are the joints in her shoulders. She traces thin fingers along the scapula. There is a dent. It is not a impression of tendon, it is not a muscle insertion. She remembers that heavy thunk and all her yellow bones rattle.

She turns. Sees the dent in the wall. The heart that isn’t there thumps hard. Her legs quiver, then break out to escape the room where the memories are erupting like vines from the dirt. They grasp. She runs. Back down the hall past the rat shit and graffiti, into the garden with the shingles that Angus didn’t fix. She collapses into the dirt by her unmarked grave. She rakes her fingers, tilling clumps of clay and worm warrens. She pulls them into her chest. Tries to fill her empty spaces with dirt.

The sky rumbles and rain turns the earth to mud. And so she begins to mould herself from sludge. She packs it onto the neck and clavicle, the spine, fills out the breastbone with pert little mounds. She rounds her hips and ass, big and womanly, just as they’d been in life. She can’t make them whatever she wants, she thinks, so fuck it. Let them be as they always were.

As she works, black birds gather. They peck at the ground between her feet, pulling worms like spaghetti. She ploughs her fingers and gathers the slithering bugs, presses them into the mud that fills the empty cavity of her womb. She had, after all, nurtured them there under the earth, along with all the other creatures that from her flesh made life. The house flies and blow flies, and the larvae that they laid. The flesh flies—Sarcophogidae—that birthed maggots with hooked mouths that scooped her oozing fluids. Moths that foraged through her once long hair. The birds, devoid of dinner, rustle their wings and fly away.

There’s a sound from the house. Footsteps that echo above rain on the tin roof. Rustling growing closer. She finishes rounding out her tummy, alive and squirming. She rises, striking now in her height. She’s never felt so like herself.

The backdoor creaks and Angus emerges. The Unburied turns her skull and widens her brittle teeth to smile. There is a gap where an incisor would have been. If she had a tongue she’d run it along the fissure as she had in that brief moment before the final blow.

Angus is white like a ghost. Like chalk. Like bone.

The Unburied and her squirming belly of strange fruit creep toward him. He is so still with shock it couldn’t be easier. She takes him by the hand, warm and wet with nervous sweat, and pulls him toward her. His grip melts her mud-hands to claws. She leads him to the disturbed and sunken ground. He struggles, but she is stronger. She always had been. And so she pulls him under. Puts all the pieces of herself back into the earth, fills in all her gaps with mud. Angus hardly makes a sound. Softly, softly, she packs them into the ground.

 

_______________________________________________________

Lauren Butterworth is an emerging writer with fiction and essays in Wet Ink, Libertine, Indaily and forthcoming in Crush: Stories About Love. She is co-host of the podcast, Deviant Women, and co-director of The Hearth, a creative readings event in Adelaide. She is also an academic advisor at Flinders University, where she completed her PhD in creative writing. You can find more of her writing at laurenbutterworth.com.

manifest (Melinda Smith)

Posted on April 4, 2017 by in Heightened Talk

If you must make me,
draw me forth through that
needle’s eye

have a care for this raw skin
what abrades it, how
it may be sliced and sutured

I was pure electricity, pure simian ululation
If you must cage me
box and bottle me

franken-birth me
in a clumsy bucket
you will learn the sorrow of mangle and botch

of the warp and the scorch mark

You will see it is no sorrow

With luck I may multiply

I may layer, matrix, palimpsest
I may go choral, become geology
Take your hand from me

set me among a swarm of eyes
As they move over me
they will mark me, too

 

* The poem ‘manifest’ won category 3 of the 2016 ANCA (Australian National Capital Artists) Art Writing and Criticism Awards for a creative response to Material Poetics.

____________________________________________________________


ACT poet Melinda Smith
won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary award for her fourth book of poems, Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call. Her poems have been anthologised widely in Australia and overseas, and translated into multiple languages.

Melinda’s next collection, Goodbye, Cruel, will be launched on Saturday 8 April at the 2017 Newcastle Writers Festival, where she will also be making a number of other appearances. A Canberra launch of Goodbye, Cruel will take place on Thursday 20 April, with appearances at Muse Canberra & Manning Clark House on the 23rd & 27th.

Melinda is currently poetry editor of the Canberra Times.

 

Irradiate Me (Bruce Saunders)

Posted on March 28, 2017 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

(Clozapine Clinic: edited by Tim Heffernan & Alise Blayney)

20:20

My world is controlled
By numbers
I see them everywhere
Like some numerologist
Or lost mathematician
Descartes with his planar thought
I’m on the z-axis
But I have no scene for to play
A part
Just an axiom of rhetorical
Penchant’s doing
I’m mooing
And you are doing
Fine
But I could
Be a better 1
If you could 2, only 3 is the number
I plead 4 less 5 is the 6-note and the 7
For heaven
Isn’t 8 it’s 9
Clouds above.

 

Sell the Kids for Food

Order the next anti-psychotic
I’m not a danger to myself
I’m not a danger to you
But you better put me away
Cos my knife is to your throat

You cut me with your DSM
My veins are blue
But my hands are read-
Y for your kiss of death.

Take this pill and you will feel more yourself
More than who you really are
More than who you know
More than you can believe is right.
Get ready for a fight

Get ready for some control
As they steady your ass
For the jab
The short upper-cut

Stare at the walls
Stripped of your emperor’s
Structural colours
De-robed, dismissed, dis-armed.

 

Irradiate Me

Nominate me for life
Open the door for laughter
Close it again, when finished with me
Do not know it
But do it too when I see you here
Looking at my words like they are poetry
But really they are new to me
As they all are.
I want to be a poet
But I cannot
So I will be then and there
The free writing agent of the passable
Use of words.

 

____________________________________________________________

Bruce Saunders is a funky dove in a hip-swinger kind of thing called the rejuvenated part of South Africa in England where he lives with Madiba in his house called the Bat.  It is not for you to see but for you to hear as he goes from one to another trying different things in order to get attention for his plight in the Mental Health Industry here where he is empowered by his desire to do the harm he can to the psychiatry that wounded his try at the politics of the day, and he would be grateful if you can read his work and see if you go to the home of the woods without seeing it all as he does. Called the Big B by some, he is the first to know it is found not in the Heart but in the Wrist Action. To read more of Bruce’s work, visit his blog,  Too Lonely To Make Sense.