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Pen-demic Submissions

By March 23, 2020Uncategorized
Fear’s Arrival
By Grant Palmer

“I know what you’re fearful of
It’s being alone”
Her words to me

Even as I am
Despite all I have been through
A danger to no one

But in my house
As if I am the deadly one
The death is invisible outside

The world visible through a screen door
A delivery on the steps
One tin of this, one packet of that

My love is distant
No touch of flesh
Or warmth of her smile

Healthy and alone
Teary and anxious
My fear has arrived

 

Canary
by Diana Pearce

Miners carry small songbirds
into the darkness,

as the sunshine fades
death is a wisp of gas.

Who makes music
in dark places?

Who sings
the last notes?
Tanka*
by Jan Dean

sunlight trumps shadow
yet depend on each other ---
free now, she feels warmth
basks for awhile, questions
long buildings against blue sky

 

*Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. tanka consists of 31 syllables and translates as “short song” and is known in its five-line, 5/7/5/7/7, syllable count form

 

Anno Domini
by Ned Stephenson

Fra’ Gilbert wiped sweat from his brow then rested his palms on the oaken table. Below him was the body of Fra’ Gautier lying face upon a linen sheet soaked in beeswax and rosemary. Many of the red welts on the man’s torso were black in the centre and the lumps in his armpits and groin had ruptured to release rivulets of foul-smelling pus. The stink clawed at the air overpowering the normally fragrant apothecary.
       Across from Fra’ Gilbert his apprentice waited for instructions, the boy’s pock-marked face making him look older than his years. Fra’ Gilbert had found the lad a year ago climbing the cliff on the sea-ward side of the abbey. He suspected we was a runaway servant, but he was safe inthe abbey and was proving to be a clever herbalist.
       Fra’ Gilbert let out a breath.
       ‘Ad gloriam dei.’
       ‘Ad gloriam dei!’ Repeated the apprentice.
       ‘Wrap him now, Raymond, it’s time for his soul to be judged by God. Begin with his legs and leave his face to the last.’
       Raymond did as he was told and Fra’ Gilbert took up the bowl they hadused to wash the Abbott.
       ‘Master?’
       ‘Yes Raymond?’
       ‘Do you see how the fleas have treated the Abbott? His ankles are covered in their marks, and all up his legs. He has been plagued by them. Could it be that God’s vengeance is being delivered by his smallest of creations?’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       The apprentice pointed. ‘All the brothers we have buried have been marked heavily by fleas. You have told me before how they bitesome of us more than others. They seem to not like me, and you have said before that they do not bother you at all. Yet the brothers who die are favoured. Like the Abbott here, he has dozens of bites.’
       The apothecarist wiped at his forehead again, the stone room was unusually warm today.
       ‘And what of it?’
       ‘With your permission I would like to put Pennyroyal in our rooms.’
       ‘That is a dangerous herb Raymond! Do you know what it’s used for?’
       ‘Yes Master,’ Raymond blushed, ‘by shameless women who do not wish to carry child. But Master...fleas will not enter a room when Pennyroyal is used as a rush mat.’
       Fra’ Gilbert looked again at the ashen face of the dead man, willing God to speak to him. They would now be voting for a new Abbott. Fra’ Theodore was the obvious choice, but he too had just caught the plague. Fra’ Gilbert himself was not without a chance, at 53 he was one of the oldest monks still alive. Would God speak through him and end this scourge? He would strive to be a wise leader, he thought to himself.
       ‘No Raymond,I see no reason bringing that wicked plant into our abbey. Now finish Fra’ Gautier’s shroud, for we must hurry to make an arsenic tincture to help our Fra’ Theodore recover.’
The Swimmer
by Colin Mountford
“Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you in two weeks, where’ve you been?” 
      “Sydney, Gus, my brother Joe had a stroke and didn’t make it. I had to go and tidy up his affairs and see to his funeral.” 
      “Henry, I’m sorry to hear that. If there is anything I can do, just let me know, ok?” 
      “Sure Gus, I appreciate that.” 
      “Anyway, I’m here for a few laps; how’s Maggie?” 
      “Fine Henry, Look, I must get going, Maggie wants to go shopping. I’ll see you tomorrow.”  
      Joe wiped himself down with an old towel that hadn’t been washed in a decade. He got dressed and left. 
      Henry stripped down to his swimmers and moved toward the ocean baths. He dipped his big toe to test the temp. ‘not too cold, I’ll adjust,’. Testing the water was like kicking the tyres on a car, it must be done. Grabbing hold of the pool ladder and climbed down. Henry only did the breaststroke; it hasn’t always been that way.  
      Henry had been going to the ocean baths for 43 years, hardly missing a day. He had been a great swimmer in his prime and won many carnival events, mostly ocean comps. Today, he swam to forget his problems and let his mind drift away. After his wife Mary died, all his problems were solved at the bottom of a bottle. 
      He didn’t have much else. The kids lived quite a way, and he rarely saw them. They have their lives to live. His arms stretched out and he started kicking the water. Pushing his old tired body as best he could. ‘I can’t do any more than 10 laps now; the body can’t take it; at least the water is nice this time of year.’ 
      Pushing through the water and the pain, he finally finished his laps and rested at the number 3 diving block. He was breathing heavier than usual. “Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you here lately; Where’ve you been?” he looked to see Jim Merrick. 
      “In Sydney Jim, Funeral of my brother Gus, you know how it is.” Henry climbed out of the water and rested on a seat. He grabbed a towel and wiped the water off his aged and wrinkled skin. ‘I must ring up about that sunspot soon.’ Henry stood and started to get dressed. He sat down quickly as he felt dizzy. “Hey Henry, are you alright?” asked Jim.  
      This is the third time he felt dizzy after a swim. “It’s nothing, I may have pushed myself too hard.” 
      “Alright mate, just take it easy.” Jim looked at Henry and thought He shouldn’t be swimming so many laps these days. He sat on the seat longer than he normally did. He reflected on his life; staring out to sea; a large coal ship sat in the distance waiting for the next available dock to fill up and head back to China.  
      "Maybe an island cruise, the guys always tell me it’s good… 
Tales from the Time of the Coronavirus : The fourth horseman of the apocalypse 
By Dr John Tierney AM 

It made my Irish blood run cold. Standing in the fresh food people’s vegetable aisle, I couldn't believe my eyes. The shelf was empty. This made the great toilet paper heist of March 2020, fade into insignificance. A real crisis was upon Australia. No spuds! The need for potatoes, springs from deep in my Celtic DNA. Immediately, graphic images filled my mind of my great-great-grandparents flight from Ireland, when the potato crops failed in the 1850s. If Australia cannot even produce enough potatoes to feed itself in 2020, I suddenly realized we were done for! 
       At the time, I was on a 'sensible restocking' run (which is good). This is not to be confused with panic buying (which is bad). The latter behaviour could even bring on another tongue lashing from Sco-mo. ‘Just stop it,’ he intoned on one-morning news bulletin, 'it is un-Australian.’ Whatever that is. We kept our excursions out into Coronavirus land a secret from our six children, who were becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of their ‘ageing’ parents during the pandemic. 
       I had only been home for five minutes when there was a knock on our door. It was Amanda who lived in the apartment across the corridor. She often dropped in, usually to wait for the locksmith to yet again let her in. The conversation this time started on a positive note. She asked if we needed anything from the shops (code for toilet paper). ‘No, we are fine’ I said gratefully.  
       Then the conversation took a more sinister turn. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise, as she announced the pending arrival of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse on his pale horse, to potentially unleash pestilence on our floor. Living high up in an apartment tower, I smugly assured myself that we were safe.  However, in our mid-seventies, we were in the most vulnerable pandemic group.  
       Then Amanda dropped her bombshell. ‘I am moving back with my parents' for two weeks because I want to put as much physical distance as possible between Bradley and me. Tomorrow he returns from Europe. With rising alarm in my voice, I enquired where his travels had taken him, hoping it might be, Iceland, the Outer Hebrides or Lapland.  
       ‘Well, Bradley has been overseas for the last three weeks, having a lovely holiday with his parents in Italy, Spain and Britain,’ she said without a hint of irony. ‘Now the government is insisting that he self-isolate for two weeks. Although he’s across the hall from you, he promises not to come out,’ Amanda said, in an unsuccessful attempt to reassure me.  
       During the next two weeks, my greatest fear was that Bradley would develop cabin fever in the tiny one-bedroom apartment, go stir crazy and run screaming at me in our common hallway, before dashing to the elevator to escape. When Amanda left, Pam and I looked at each other in fear, and said in unison, ‘don’t tell the kids.’ 
Tales from the Time of the Coronavirus : Connecting family in the time of Corona
by Dr John Tierney AM 
Remote social media connection within families and with friends will become all the go in the autumn of 2020, as the virus continues to restrict our freedom to associate. We are fortunate that technology has reached such a sophisticated level during the Coronavirus crisis. When this new virus struck, our very extensive family were already exceptionally well connected. This was mainly through text messaging, with photo and video images and hilarious Gify graphics doing the rounds of our devices, recording various family events.  
       Messages in our large family text circle, usually occurred several times a day, depending on the current family issues and news. This all started to evolve rapidly after the arrival of Edward, our eighth grandchild in December 2018. His every cute move and development milestone was recorded and sent via social media, by Michael and Chloe, his doting new parents from their distant home in Melbourne. With the arrival of the Coronavirus, there was a shift, to using this internet technology from a fun thing to be helping the family pull through this crisis together. Suddenly the family along with the rest of Australia and the world were in peril.  
       During the lockdown, our daily connections by text on fleeting topics weren't enough for our increasingly isolated offspring. Better communication between family members became imperativeIn early April, the family made a technological quantum leap when our children set up zoom video conferencing. The launch of this new way of connecting was set for 4:00 pm on Sunday 5th April 2020. The problem was that three of our overeager descendants, independently set up on their devices, different family conferences and codes for the same time.  
       Chaos ensured as fifteen of our family members joined one of the unconnected three meetings. Eventually, an agreement was reached over the phone, on one conference and one access code. Finally, we were all on the same page or in this case, screen.  As more joined into the agreed site, the situation became increasingly chaotic. Eventually, fifteen participants joined, but Zoom, only provides the vision of eight screens at the one time, with the main one activated by whoever speaks. With so many speaking at once, the result was far from ideal. Only two family members were regular zoom users. So, what followed was a series of rapidly improvised tutorials on the zoom tools, by the family ‘experts.’ 
       The 'agenda' was for people to describe their day, starting with the youngest. As the grandparents, that meant Pam, and I was last in the queue. We didn’t get a look in as the meeting veered off onto other topics of family interest. This first family zoom meeting got mixed reviews. Still, after several weeks of increasing isolation, we all agreed it was great to see and hear each other in the virtual world However, no one wanted to repeat this zoom experience. Perhaps 15 noisy participants were too many? 
*A TIME OF POLIO
a trilogy for Joan
by Diana Pearce

1

I know the bleakness
of late autumn skies

I get off the school-bus
collapse
my legs don’t work

there is great pain

I am alone in an ambulance
through its windows

starless skies

my mother rings every morning
I survive each night

limbs bandaged
full-splinted body

there is great pain

slowly my winter passes
spring becomes
my seaside rehabilitation


2

One girl fell ill
at my school
dormitories emptied
contacts sent home;
prescribed a daily walk
in the open air.

My father and I
strode our farm’s boundaries
for two weeks,

checking the fences,
treading single file along meanders
of well-marked sheep tracks,
inspecting dam levels and rock salt,
setting and re-setting rabbit traps
outside burrow entrances,
penning calves for
overnight separation.

Unspoken words
hid my father’s anxiety,
an intimacy never repeated.

3

She bounds across the playground
iron-clad leg swinging,
a beaming smile
stops in front of me.

Tell me about your friend
who had a leg
like mine.

My friend
studied at university
holds a senior
personnel position
raises her family
walks without an iron.

She listens
smiles contentedly
swings towards tomorrow.

*the inspiration for this poem came from Joan’s own account of her polio experience I’ve used her words in part 1

Untitled
by Jan Dean
Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. Limited syllables promote compact form surrounded by space.


mood corona
daily pandemic alerts
hygiene and distance ---
will capitalism crash?
what follows hibernation?

warnings insist
spacing and cleansing
both physical, when
our life has gone virtual
impact is mainly mental

"She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together."
— J. D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew


there she stands, static ---
he thinks she leans as sloth
but her mind dances
cavorting gloriously
mending the world’s woes

“Nice people don't necessarily fall in love with nice people.”
― Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

does he realise
turmoil creates wisdom
and visions lie?
while he belittles, she flees
first inward and then, away

Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952)

sunlight trumps shadow
yet depend on each other ---
free now, she feels warmth
basks for awhile, questions
long buildings against blue sky
crown shy
by Claire Albrecht

I want my family the way oceans want shores
tidal forces advancing and repelling

the way that tree crowns edge away from one another
making maps in the canopy

nations nestle just so, some breathing room
in generational diplomacy

and when the wind blows it's camera shake
the line blur, boarders breaks

leaves like hands reach out
and touch their second skin

their kinfolk, their ocean grasses
before collecting themsleves

retreating, shy and tired
to take their places

in a portrait pulled apart
an unmade jigsaw on the coffee table

we take a photo and tell each other we'll remember
to try again next year
beams
by Claire Albrecht

holding in the air that clambers over ridges
your firm balled fist forms a knuckled landscape
rest you lips on those towns, those pulsing peaks
and feel a solace from the tension

it's a hard call, sharing your comfort, when this light
could be easily all your own. but don't forget that
we are mirrors, bouncing beams off of each other
as fast as we can fathom. and when it comes back
to you, when the shadows fill and the warmth hits

won't it just be blinding
Listen
by Gillian Swain
I am sinking

old air shackles shadow across shoulders

weight hangs

I am light in a mangle of 

all we are meant to be

rising 

heat pushes

out of question and rush

hear the hum of 

movement

warmth

heartbeat like 

wingspan

I am 

rhythmic 

day is long

and open.
Pluviosity
by Phil Williams

A mysterious sound on midnight tin;
A possum? gum nut? prickly skin!
Hush now listen and conceivably
it may be the promised pluviosity.

There it is again; again and again;
widespread, resounding, arousing my brain.
After a minute the roof is a-thrumming
the deluge creating a melodious drumming.

Plunks to a bucket perfectly placed;
thuds on the canvas like a good bass.
A susurrus of wind the humming fulminates
all over the suburb roofs orchestrate.

Torrents streaming into guttering;
down pipes gargling with noisy stuttering.
Guzzling and gurgling they thirstily drink
decanting to the tank in bubbling sync.

Subterranean stirrings with the souse;
plants activating after the dowse.
Xylem cells syphon, seeds tumesce
rainbows and sweetness - we are blessed.

Ridges gowned in morning mizzle;
petrichor rising with the damp drizzle.
Trees aquivering in anticipation
leaves erect in moist expectation.

Cold drops, warm skin, such delectation;
summer rain brings exhilaration.
after infernos drought and insanity
soak us Pluvius for our humanity.
Day Four 
by Grant Palmer 

So isolated and alone
Distance from my daughter
Living at opposite ends
Isolated in our own home
Her possible exposure
A threat to my life

My lover and I
Destroyed by isolation and distance
Tepid at best It feels like it is over
Dreams of a future
Feeling shattered, alone

No hope in my heart
Breathless and anxious
How do I cope?
Drugs that addict?
Try sleeping for ever I just don’t know
Yes
by Chris Russell


Dawn scatters diamonds
sparkling free on sunlit paths
and there we linger

oh those lilting sounds
touch them tumbling sparkling clear
just as summer’s rain

clutch them trembling close
let them slip across your lips
fresh as morning dew

hear them whisper yes
touch them if you dare embrace
and breathe so deeply

let the planet slow
let it linger here to make
this moment longer
This Blood Stained Shore
by Chris Russell



I watched the dip and flash of oars -
those muskets black and scarlet coats.
I wondered should blood stain these shores
but there I stood and saw no cause
aboard those pointed urgent boats.

I watched the dip and flash of oars
and fast they swept - two rows of fours
as rowlocks warned in groaning notes.
I wondered should blood stain these shores
but still I stood by human laws.

A wave crests now. My fear it floats.
I watched the dip and flash of oars.
But then I called to stop - to pause!
A puff of smoke, from musket’s throat.
I wondered should blood stain these shores.

And on they came across that mote
true to the laws and lies they wrote.
I watched the dip and flash of oars.
I wondered ‘Should blood stain these shores?’
Holiday
by Grant Palmer

So you need a holiday
People just died from a holiday cruise 
And I cannot leave my house to go buy some bread 

No one comes close to me 
My body might struggle to resist 
But once I endured war You can afford your holiday 
Think of those who now can’t 
Who deal with sclerotic bureaucracy I’m bitter and paranoid 
On drugs to keep me calm 
So tell me why you need a holiday
Universe of Soup
by Grant Palmer

Universe of soup 
Ingredients galore 
Random chance 
No recipe 
Or grand design at all
Untitled #2
by Grant Palmer

Relationship travelling over distance and time, 
That we love is no surprise, 
Imperfect and full of self doubt, 
Providing strength to each other. 

Not knowing our future, 
That commitment is hard 
Things that I say, 
But you feel you can’t. 
Feeling imperfect 
You are not a bad person 
We live our own standards 
Not the standards of others 

Learning and discovering, taking charge, 
After all it’s your life 
Fulfilling a dream is what life’s about 
Not constrained by the judgment of others 
One life to live 
Nothing after death
But the uncertainty of our future 
Means taking that chance
Untitled #3
by Grant Palmer
My brain cleaved by dissonance 
A man I revile with the deadly virus 
But I don’t want him dead 
Yet take glee at his suffering and potential fate 
Does that make me bad 
Not the first I have wanted dead 
Nor the first death I have pondered 
Staff officers write orders, my pen led to death 
Those orders I would do all over again 
I have no regrets 
But this feeling of guilty horror
Overwhelms me tonight my mind’s Nuremberg 
Sleep brings no relief 
Drugs only cover the cracks 
The next day will be the same 
“Make it go away with death” says my dissonant brain 

A solution in death 
No pain, no  joy, no comfort 
Nothing at all 
A void just like before we were born 
Jaw clenched up tight 
Drugs starting to work 
Sleep slowly comes along 
Unsettled till dawn’s promised light

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