Unnerved (Jan Dean)

A Robert Dickerson Survey, Newcastle Art Gallery, 2019

Huge skies, rivers, oceans and lakes
are liquid sails of aqua and ultramarine
floating me past a type of humanity; tourists
who cast no shadows.

Wayward eucalypts seem out of place
where trees are placed in rat-a-tat formality. 
Horizons are sharp as if cut from cardboard

setting me uneasy in this offside world.
Chiselled figures with big eyes, glare
fixing time to figure-eight eternity.
See, they’re aloof or pleading; exuding

disgust, trust, joy, fear, anger, sadness
and surprise. Moods waft and wail, unsettling. 
Girl Dancing on the Beach, arms reaching

overhead, twists up a tsunami. Single figures
dominate, lonely in their settings
while couples, threes and a foursome, plot.
There’s a vampire, whose path

I should never cross at night, unless armed
with abundant garlic and wooden crosses.
Another is a facsimile of the skull Munch made

with hands forcing cheeks and temples
crushing its own brain to stifle a primal scream.
Here, where breath shallows, I make
adjustments, as aliens must.


Jan Dean’s latest poetry collection is Intermittent Angels (Girls on Key, 2020). Her With One Brush (IP, 2007) was shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Award and her pocketbook Paint Peels, Graffiti Sings (Flying Islands, Macau, 2014) is in Mandarin and English. She holds a distinguished service award from FAW, NSW and life membership of Poetry at the Pub, Newcastle where she was their first female president. In 2019 she won the Senior Lane Cove Literary Award (for poetry) sponsored by Baytree by Ardency, and was a finalist in the 2019 NWF/joanne burns Award published in Scars (Spineless Wonders) for which she won the Hunter Category the previous year.