Trafalgar Place ruts in the road painted along the gutter All Drains Lead To Troy Gully and on Wirraway Close a dented No Through Road sign An old house was torn down leaving nothing but a jade plant like the stark withered tree outside Dan Murphy’s the corner of Windsor Parade There is manual labour and there is drinking and words within words Are you okay?
I woke to hear the murmurings of a new language: brainstem compromise, cerebromedullary disconnection, de-efferented state My brain was inundated and turned to slosh like plains after the flood’s passed through speech swept away by torrent vocal cords divorced from breath expression marooned and I am now a silent island devoid of movement and of gesture no matter how I muster will to signal ‘stop’ or raise a lip-corner of smile Monotony weighs in, a daily groan Nurses flit. Fluids enter and exit via tubes Medical students loom dangling stethoscopes like rattles I’m locked in, looking out tracking the movements of others who are teaching me to employ eyelid-flutter as speech I haven’t achieved competence with the new Morse – lid movements are effort-laden my code, indecipherable so I can’t tell them I’m leaving that I’ll employ the words crowding my head, aim their acuity at the rot, dissect and redefine it I’ll fly out through the key-hole if I have to They think I’m wallowing in my own garbage but I am gathering strength to soar ( In memory of Vivian Wilson, honorary Māori chief and All Black, 1899–1978 )
Wrecked farm equipment with webbings of dead grass in the open fields of Lazy River Estate … the overhanging foliage … more than twenty kilometres out of town on the old Dubbo Road was the pistol club. I had only been a few times. Luke told me I could get a One Month Membership. They all said I showed potential. There were three ranges: a couple for the .22 calibre and one for the smaller air pistol. It was fun shooting targets every Sunday. 5 bullets. 4 rounds. Timed. One day some random guy walked in … paid his membership and went outside. He loaded the gun … put the barrel in his mouth and blasted out the back of his skull. But that was not the reason I never went back. I just lost interest. I never saw Luke much afterwards either.
Boys getting stoned and jumping off the cliff into the deepest part of the river; no one knows for sure how deep. See you in Cobar! we shouted, as we drifted away downstream.x Flocks of cockatoos screeched as they flew over the slopes, the dirt road and metal posts, fallen logs and blue-green algae, dead ryegrass undulating. I nearly drowned fighting the current as I tried to cross back, tussled in the willows, vines and throwing up. Blistered and scarred for seven days. Devil means Bunyip and Evil Spirit Dreaming. The elders frightened the children with ghost stories to save them from drowning near the bend in the river. It’s a strange bed up north, said Gazza. Jason and Craig saw a kingfisher on the fence, You can tell them by their pointed beaks. I spotted a pelican on the water’s surface, It must be lost.
there were these poems
they come at night
flap vain above my whore-bright hair
penless I fight sleep
reach fruitless just that
inch too short
and out of ink
fleeting bastards get the pen before you sleep
Spring unrolled skies like runners of pink muslin, breezes
steeped in honeycomb. Set out flowers in pastry
blues and glacé reds; summer simmered at the season’s
edge, began to smoke. That’s when I found their shells
everywhere — like pods of blown sugar, trimmed
to the trunks of bloodwoods, blue gums.
Yolk light streaked tower windows. Down Dixon Street,
the grills hissed, spitting oil. Plane trees offered their leaves
to the pavement in helpings of ginger and oxblood. I watched
strangers champ down fists of minced squid, or tighten
the nooses of their scarves, as lanterns swung
like pomelos from the eaves of tea rooms, and the dusk
slung up its meathook moon. This was Chinatown
on a Friday night — the markets packed. The scent of burning sugar
lured me from my mother to a stall where toffee
oozed in an iron pot. A woman was rolling
a knot of it to a worm. She jutted one end in her mouth
and blew; and as the sugar ballooned, she began
pinching and pulling it, shaping wings, a square
jaw, a long torso coiling round itself — all the while
filling it with her breath as if creation were a kind of
mouth to mouth — then she took the end from her lips
and tweaked it shut. Deft as a doctor’s
stitch she embedded a skewer, tilted the dragon
towards light so it shimmered, copper-bronze.
I watched as she made a horse, a rat — my tongue watering,
even though I knew they were not for eating.
Now rummaging at weeds on my knees
in the veggie beds, my fingers scrape the crisp
toffee abdomens of cicada shells. I press aside
drooping leaves of eggplants — the fat fruits,
black as hearses, nodding, glinting offhandedly.
I pull oxalis, dandelion from their roots. Throw
the first in a pile for the worms, heap
the latter by my knee for later:
Stir eggs and dill, diced shallots, grated feta and kefalograviera
until combined. Add a dash of olive oil, salt. Fold-in diced
chard and the wild greens you pulled from the hedgerow, the side
of the road — like the peasant grandmother who lived through famine
and three wars, raised twenty children, and knew that everywhere
the earth makes offerings of nourishment. Line your cooking tin
with pastry thin and pale as a cotton shroud. Anoint with olive oil. Now
spoon the mixture evenly across your tray and cover with more pastry.
Puncture the top with a fork or skewer — so steam — like the soul
through the mouth at death — can escape. Cook till golden.
For weeks, the air throbbed with their love songs, their
jackhammer dirges, as they bred and died, became banquet
for lizard and bird. I’ve imagined that moment of revelation:
seventeen years tucked in the dirt, sucking root sap, then —
the sudden insistent urge to burrow up and out… Exposed
to light and the swiftness of air for the first time, the old self
ruptures, peeling back — wings unfurl, silent
gossamer. Sometimes I find one, the shell
not entirely sloughed, the crisp, veined wings only
partly unfolded. My eyes track the conveyor belts
of ants: they till the corpse, ferry
morsels to the nest.
I ready the ground for sowing. Swing the mattock round again,
tear up another sod. A butcherbird probes the edges of opened
earth and plucks up worms purple-red as sopressa. Skinks
tongue crickets by the irrigation runnels. A kookaburra drops
from the shed then wings north — a marsh snake thrashing
in its beak. Above rotted orange peels, celery tufts, the skins
of pumpkins heaped on the compost — fruit flies hover like tossed
confetti. Westering now, the sun spills her brandy down
the hills; mosquitoes bore for my veins’ hard liquor.
If you were looking for a sign or excuse
to stay where you are
ray of light, a twitch at the small
of your back, the downward slant
darkening eyes in the mirror
warm sun pretending to be gentle
half blooming crocuses
swing chair creaking
dead bees floating on the cold
pool, death against life.
My body has grown heavier
weighted by memory
an accumulation of cells
an accretion of blows
all people and all things
swallowed down and carried
small densities, big plans
Inertia taking me further towards
the centre point.
You cannot separate the words
from the culture
the motion of the mouth
how it shapes the features
changing thought, perception
you cannot unlearn
only hide, pretend
that you have always been
will always be safe.
My ancestors would have
happily buried that history
into the sweet earth
along with their bones
picked clean of anything valuable:
jewellery, gold fillings, hair, nutrients
but we can’t help touching
tongue against missing tooth.
The gap draws us down, down.
Somewhere there; here
is an answer
transmitted into sound
a humming that might be wind
second life, second soul
the lullaby you can almost sing
by heart, though you’ve never
heard it before
In this lifetime
mother, are you in that breeze
how to let go?