Congratulations!

$50 awarded to Helen Minter ‘Four-walled Reality’
$50 awarded to Chris Williams ‘Three Shillings for a Life’
$50 awarded to Maggie Ball ‘Classified’
$50 awarded to Diana Pearce ‘Sand’

The pieces below are best read on a tablet or desktop

Past contests: read the wonderful submissions 
May 2021, February 2021 and
2020MayJuneSeptember and November 

Four-walled Reality
Helena Minter

I hadn’t been outside in six years. Why would I? Most of the shops in Newcastle were destroyed and those that weren’t, their stock was non-existent due to constant looting. I wish it were an option to move, but that was not going to happen any time soon. New South Wales had been in lockdown for nearly a decade and most of the community was so apathetic they no longer cared how far or to whom they were spreading COVID-19. In the first couple of years, most people tried to do the right thing but those days are long past. My city that I once loved had been overrun with selfish people who cared more about their creature comforts than keeping the community safe.
          Life would never be the same again. If only those self-centred dicknuggets had done the right thing for a little while longer instead of protesting because they weren’t allowed to go for a latte or a spray tan – yeah, you were totally oppressed, human rights completely violated . . . short-sighted science-denying YouTube conspiracy arsewipes. Thank God for online delivery and working from home. People still needed to get paid, and I was a part of that.
            I was used to the four walls by now. This was my world. I looked out my window to the clumps of people jostling together, picturing the virus encrusted on every surface, every doorway, every railing, every inch of pavement. In moments of weakness, I thought how easy it would be to give in, to join the masses but I still believed in doing my part. I had to believe in something. Everything else had been stripped away.

Three Shillings for a Life
Chris Williams

After: I Seek a Kind Person

A murderous word
Vernichtungslager
Only takes one word to mark a life
Jew.
Clutching the pass with the red-raw J stamp
Trembling fingers in a tweed coat
White knuckles around the Samsonite suitcase freeze as
she watches the white snow flurries dance
with death on the rail tracks.
She looks to the west, where a future waits
Very fond of children it reads, good sewing.
Three shillings for a life
Just one of sixty saved
The brownshirts running whistles barking dogs snarling
From the east where her parents will be swallowed
Where a fateful future is already forecast
with the sound of the smashing glass.

 Classified
Maggie Ball

After: I Seek a Kind Person

A philanthropist, a good house, and a second chance. These are the elements of a story
not told at bedtime to a young girl, who knew how to keep clean, could be quiet
when needed, would disappear without being asked when guests arrive.

There was a sound at the door but it was wind, trees in motion
branches making shadows on her bedroom window. 

She picked up the clipping from a newspaper in the library archive.
The microfiche was proof, who she was, how close the call
her immaculate English, fingers grazing piano keys.

The luxuries of childhood paid for from her parents’ missed meals.
she didn’t know what they were giving up, going to give.
She was a good girl, but what girl isn’t? What boy? How do you choose? 

She squinted, trying to mentally recreate her mother’s face 
at the point of goodbye, a story in newspaper ink, finger stained, faded. 

The words contained a prayer embedded in the fragile text
read out on the radio in another lifetime
when the gossamer thread of her life hung in the balance. 

She heard the sound clear as if her mother were in the library with her
a voice that carried over the clicking keys of a dozen laptops 
in the halls of isolation.  The prayer said, let me go
my body is already recycled matter and wood pulp. Save her.

Sand
Diana Pearce

After: David Diehm Worimi Conservation Lands

In the cold time
neither sleeping nor waking
I hold the sands of our words
mould them shape them
but they slip through my fingers
shift on the wind
to other dunes.

In the darkness
I will write them
on your eyelids
and you will read them
as you sleep.

The Days are Getting Longer
Dina Gravanis

It’s getting kinda lonely 
The days are getting long
The nights are getting darker
But I know I must stay strong

The streets are getting quiet
The parks are almost bare
The country’s now in turmoil
And none of this feels fair

The schoolyards all are empty
The children stay at home
The parents don’t know what to say
As children play alone

The people are divided 
They turn against their own
The news is still one sided
We fear to leave our home

The questions have no answer
Not one than we can trust
The time for intuition 
We need to find, we must

Where Patience is a virtue 
It’s a testing of our might
Now Kindness is essential 
To unite and not to fight

Let’s hold each other closely
And see each other through
The hardest time we ever lived
Until we all pull through 

Covid-19 News
Anne Franks

Alarmed but not surprised, turning the TV on this morning, to yet more doom and gloom. The numbers rising, more deaths, stats, charts, graphs and predictions splashed across our screens, piecing our souls, along with politicians’ spin on what a great job they are doing. Yeh, yeh, yeh.
          But they aren’t. Nor are we. We aren’t.
         
Well, I never imagined that the lucky country my father bought us to was soon to be the not so very lucky. As the smallest continent on Earth, surrounded by vast seas from other neighbouring and distant lands, we haven’t been able to fortify ourselves from the dreaded evil that has landed on our doorsteps and entered into our homes uninvited. A land of wealth, not just monetary, but wealth of very intelligent, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, truly caring and loving people that seemed to glue us into this lucky bountiful country. And where are these people now? Who is listening to them in our most time of need?
         
Their ideas, goals, challenges, hard work and despair overridden and shunned by politicians who seem to only care about their political stance, their poll, their ego. Pretending to put our safety first; broadcasting that their rules and regulations are for our benefit. Well, I’m not buying that anymore.
         
As I stare at the TV every morning, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of hope, I can see behind your face, I can hear the lies, I can read the spin. The blame game too quick to take hold, actions too slow, help too little, if any at all.
         
I feel sick listening to your voices. I feel sick hearing about how many are in ICU, on ventilators, and even worse, dead. I feel sick that there are morons and idiots that intentionally have little regard for other humans. I feel sick that I can’t hold my children. I feel sick.
         
I’m not saying it’s an easy task, but for heaven’s sake, do something. Get on with it. We are all at your mercy. Forget the politics. Forget the polls. Swallow your ego. Swallow your ego. Swallow your ego. You may get a good night’s sleep. I certainly am not.

A Covid Parable
Rob Stewart

The Breagha were a beautiful ground dwelling bird. They seemingly had no natural predators, living as overlords of their rolling valley of bubbling creeks, low-lying bush and long, lush grass. However, a not far distant mountain range of bare ragged peaks struck a jarring note to their idyll. A primal sense of unease would creep upon the birds if they fixed their gaze for too long on this stark horizon. Unsurprisingly, they chose not to linger upon such unpleasantness, instead averting their heads and focusing on the comfortable distractions of their own little world.   
          The Breagha lived as an ordered avian society, governed by a group of older birds called the Urram who were respected for their knowledge and as upholders of tradition. Obligations were few, but some birds had begun to question the accepted way of things. A particular point of contention had arisen around a ceremony marking the transition to adulthood. It was ritually held just as the sun descended behind the mountain peaks. The very moment the peaks were outlined in their full, brutal glory the young bird’s large, fanning tail feather was plucked out by a member of the Urrum.

The Breagha boasted glossy green and black feathers suited to blending with the shifting light of the lush grass. Red and white feathers cascaded from the crown of their heads, melding with the colour of flowers sprouting now from the bushes. The departed tail feather deprived them of the effect of a flowing scarf, dramatising the bird’s exit from any scene.
         
‘It’s the way it’s always happened, and you know, it makes me feel safer’ said a young female bird to her male companion. He looked at her out the corner of his eye, a cricket fruitlessly clawing for freedom in his beak. ‘It’s bullshit’ he eventually said, the cricket despatched, ‘what’s the point of those old, sombre pricks? Mum told them to piss off when they came for my tail. She says they just like to keep us scared of that mountain. It makes them feel important so the rest of us keep bringing them crickets and hunting for fleas on their fat arses.’ ‘They know stuff’ she said ‘like where to find those tasty fat grubs. You really don’t think bad shit comes from that mountain? I’ve heard…’
         
They sensed a shift in the air. They heard the murmur of the grass, a sudden hiss in the wind, then the shadow was upon them. A Bàs was not a bird of fine plumage. It was a razor clawed, fell beaked killer, gliding low and intently from its aerie in the mountains. It couldn’t see the two Breagha camouflaged in the grass. It didn’t need to. The birds panicked and startled into the air, the girl not rising above the grass, the male’s powerful tail feather though propelling him high and into the path of the Bàs.

The shadow passed, the girl cowered, watching the large, elegantly fanning tail feather float serenely to the ground.

LIMBO
Diana Pearce

          a.k.a. (i) Lockdown a.k.a (ii) Delta ‘21

This is a found poem, words/phrases taken from 11a.m. TV covid updates 23rd-27th Aug, Macquarie Dictionary, S.M.H. 27th Aug

Please know
today we look through a lockdown lens
chop and change in a confused state
another layer of complexity

students deserve clarity
not a 70% B-grade effort
fake freedom

can I just say
come forward be tested
get vaccinated

please know
limbo is a situation characterised
by uncertainty
waiting for a decision to be made

I can’t stress enough
it is not
a dance under a horizontal bar
which is gradually lowered

please stay home
Unless…unless…unless…

“And don’t kid yourself; when you don’t decide, that’s a decision.”

Anh Do, The Happiest Refugee
Very colourful painting by Hilma af Klint, Group X, Altarpiece, No. 1 (1915)

Hilma af Klint, Group X, Altarpiece, No. 1 (1915)

Apricot satin chemise
Gillian Telford

After: Do

It had slithered down to the bottom of a drawer, hidden
beneath sensible white cotton briefs, piles of breathable hemp.

Each rediscovery is like welcoming a sixties Hollywood Star
into a health centre. Seduced by sheen— the touch

on your skin, you lift it out, place your fingers under shoe-
string straps, gently swing it to and fro— watch it come alive.

You imagine what piece of frippery might be worn over it—
where it might take you— which companion? You muse

on its skin-blush colour, faux lace edging, matching
panties— then detour with reluctance towards your age

and lifestyle. You mull over the last time, in fact the many
times you’ve been through this exercise and conclude

that, well, you don’t really know if there might be another
moment to lift out and slip on your apricot satin chemise—

so you fold it with care, and return it to a different drawer.

As an Altarpiece told
Bea Hart

After: Hilma af Klint, Group X, Altarpiece, No. 1 (1915)

How will You come to know
how wonderful You are?

I shall tell You
again and again

And in endowment
against tides
around walls
between wounds
above pains
behind gales
You will know.

As an Altarpiece
joins body
to spirit
and the real
to divine
and the heard
to the felt

what You are told
will heal You to live.

Freedom is a Beautiful Dream
Dina Gravanis

Don’t send me angry peoples post
Or so called Drs latest boast

Don’t send me strangers rant and rage
I want more than an angry page

Stop sharing me a world divide
It causes so much angst inside

For that’s what I see every day
The social pages post this way

So share me truth that eyes can see
My instinct can confirm to me

More happy , funny post we need
To lift our souls we crave to feed

I’ll always fight for better days
We must unite , these sovereign ways

It’s getting harder every morn
As though our wings are being torn

So send some loving on the vine
Must stick together so in time

We find our wings
Prepare for flight
We count the days
Await the night

Freedom is a beautiful dream

The Throw of the Dice
Brenda Proudfoot

Remember when we were kids, and it was the weekend or a day during the school holidays when it was too wet to play outside? How did your family pass the time? Did you play cards or board games?         
         If, like me, you played Monopoly in the mid-twentieth century, the outcome was always the same. One player not only snapped up all the prime properties like Bond Street and Mayfair but built enough houses and hotels to become a Trump-like tycoon. During round after round, Mum or Dad or any less fortunate siblings had to pay exorbitant rent, which stripped their assets, while enduring the glee of the gloating winner.
         
Chance played a role in the game too. Throw the wrong number and you’d be sent straight to jail. Landing on ‘Chance’ or ‘Community Chest’ ensured that while you might receive the odd windfall, the bills kept coming in.
         
Well, it turns out that we’re now playing Monopoly again. COVID case numbers too high? Stay home, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
         
Get vaccinated and you might be dealt a ‘Get out of Jail’ card allowing you to enter restaurants and bars. And who knows — you might be able to get your hair cut as well.
          
But be in the wrong place at the wrong time and you’re a close contact. Get tested, spend the next fourteen days confined to your home. (This would be almost as boring as our summer holiday at Lake Rotoiti in 1960, when it rained for three weeks in a row.)
       
It’s interesting to note that Monopoly was invented by an American, Elizabeth Magie. In 1904, she patented the game as an economics teaching tool to demonstrate the negative effect monopolies have on society.
         
Today the pandemic is also highlighting the differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ in Australian society. Some large companies like Coles, Woolworths, Harvey Norman and Bunnings are thriving, while individuals who work in the Arts or depend on the gig economy are on skid row.
         
The 21st century version of Monopoly comes with an electronic banking device and a credit card for each player. Each card comes with a different perk such as a bonus when you buy a property or free flights around the board. There are no houses or hotels and the game ends as soon as all the properties are purchased.
       
But the best feature of this latest edition of the game is the forced transfer of properties. Land on the handshake symbol and you can make that Big Brother tycoon swap his Park Lane for your Old Kent Road. One minute he’s worth a mozza, the next, he’s got a brass razoo.
           
This new fairy-tale version of Monopoly makes the game short and unpredictable and is much more fun to play. It’s the ideal distraction from the economic and social realities of living through a pandemic.

giant spider sculpture titled Maman by Louise Bourgeois, , 1990

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1990

JR, 2008 Museum of Street Art, Paris,France

Photographer: JR, 2008 Museum of Street Art, Paris, France

Remembering Maman
D.M. Dorahy

After: Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1990

Mummy’s tummy is a graceful coiling knot of forms
a womb enclosing marble eggs
suspended on arachnid legs
spindly looming, elegant and long
once molten steel
now a calm cold cage poised and strong
posing as a ring of spaces
encircling and opening: metaphoric static movement
sumptuously speaks of weaving and spinning
while ringing round memories of the Maman
who died too soon.

“Spiders are friendly presences that eat disease carrying mosquitoes”
explains the high and wide heroic, stoic, sculpted odes.

Left bereft the daughter leapt into the rivière Bièvre
fished out
she is forever remembering Maman.

Haiku in response to Photographer: JR, 2008 Museum of Street Art, Paris, France
Gail Hennessy

After: JR, 2008

with eyes wide open
a home that is not a home
between war and peace

with eyes wide open
we are deaf to the iceberg
silently calving

the wall between
Israel and Palestine, etched
with face and faces

now so much depends
on what your eyes are saying
smiles hidden by masks

the infant searches
for the smile of connection
tries to read our eyes

Limits
Julia Brougham

“There’s a new limit you know, starts today”.
      “Waddaya mean, limit?”
      “You’re not supposed go more than five kilometres from home if you cross a council border.”
      “How would I know where a council border is Fathead, and who’d know if I did cross it?”
      “The police are going to stop people and you can look it up.”
      “Like I can be doing that every time I want to go somewhere.”
      “What about today, It’s a fair way from here?”
      “Go to a shop that’s closer.”
      “Can’t. We’re not going to a shop remember, it’s someone’s house.”
      “Get it sent then.”
      “Can’t, I have to collect it and pay cash.”
      “Bloody hell woman it’s just a sewing machine.”
      “It’s a good machine for half the price in the shops, and she hasn’t used it much so it’s in good condition.”
      “So you’d believe that. Can’t it wait. There’ll be other machines.”
      “I want this one.”
    “So you cut big bits of material up into smaller bits and sew them all together again – other places do it better than you and cheaper.”
      “I want this machine”.
      “OK then but I can’t see the sense of it.”
      On the road, looking out for police cars, she watched the traffic, the shapes and colours of other cars, and commented on them.
     “That white car looks like an Empire Warrior. The front of it looks like their helmet”. “I’m driving, I don’t have time for looking at the cars, long as they keep away from mine.”
      “Don’t have to be so grumpy.”
      “It’s just a car.”
      Halfway there, signs leaning against the posts. Thick white letters shambling across black painted boards. Pines Strawbs Trays Mangos. Cherries Oranges. Passions Left Next Lights.
      “That’s a good idea. Leave your passions. Could get rid of a lot of stuff’”
      Silence. She let loose a thought bubble and gave it a poke.
      “The footy collector stuff in the spare bedroom, you never look at it.”
      He turned and stared at her briefly.
      “Don’t even think about it, that’s my stuff and some of its going to be worth more in a few years’”
      “You think so.”
      The machine inspected, paid for and loaded into the car, she smiled to herself.
      Back on the road home she spotted a police car, but it was going the other way so she relaxed.
      The signs again. But he wouldn’t stop to buy mangoes.
    Two weeks later the letter came. $124 fine for being over the speed limit by less than 10 Kms in an 80 Kilometre zone.

Do you have a passion?
Phil Williams

The looming job interview during lockdown did not really suit Roger. His previous successful interviews were person-to-person, where he could present his whole self, not just his visage on a screen. Zoom, Roger thought, would not allow him to display his full ‘magnetismo.’
      Roger Milsom was old-school. Despite his trepidation with the new technology, he presented himself dressed as he would for a ‘proper’ interview, in front of a panel – crisp white shirt, striped blue tie, smart jacket, creased slacks and polished black shoes.
         He knew that his face would be the only feature showing so he took considerable care to shave cleanly and closely, clip errant nostril hairs and not over-use the pomade. He cleaned his glasses so that the tortoise-shell rims gleaned and there were no smudge marks or finger imprints on the lenses.
       Throughout life, Roger had wholeheartedly adopted one of his mother’s adages: ‘Honesty is the best policy.’ He could not abide people being ‘flexible with the truth.’ If he suspected anyone being dishonest he would challenge them. Consequently, he had few friends because he’d often offend people with his assertive manner. He was far from aggressive but sometimes he lacked diplomacy.
        Roger kept himself occupied outside of work hours with his passion – toy trains. In his parents’ double garage Roger had established an impressive track network running two freight and one passenger train sets simultaneously along 150 metres of interlocking track. He’d spend weekends there manoeuvring the trains and adjusting stations, signals and overpasses.
      After logging in to the Zoom link, Roger could see the three interviewers’ faces and the shock of his own. He quickly moved back from the screen and adjusted his glasses. Predictable questions came forward. ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? Why do you think you’re the right person for this job?’
    Roger felt that he’d answered all the questions competently, as he’d prepared diligently for different scenarios. The interview panel members nodded and smiled at him, as if he was doing well. But he was not prepared for the final question, asked by the Head of HR.
        ‘Do you have a passion Roger?’ It was so unexpected that it threw him momentarily, he lost concentration and began to bumble.
      Roger was embarrassed to reply ‘toy trains,’ yet he wanted to be honest. By admitting his passion he may be perceived as a fuddy-duddy and not suitable for this role. On the other hand, he was proud of his hobby and did not want to disavow an important pillar of his life. He leant toward the screen and pulled the lapel of his jacket toward the camera. The interviewers saw the badge – a British Green Steam Loco.
      ‘I’m a toy train nerd,’ Roger uttered. His cheeky grin revealed his boyish enthusiasm.
           Roger Milsom was offered the job.

Flat White, No Battery.
Chris Williams

I’m scraping around in the dim pantry on day five of the lockdown with dull ache growing behind my temples. It looks like the bare supermarket shelves yesterday where two women fought like sumo wrestlers over the last packet of toilet paper.  
    “Hey hon, have you seen the coffee?” I yell through the shower door.
     “Look in the pantry. About eye level.”
  “There’s only one hungry looking cockroach. I think he’s looking too.”
   
“Oh. Sorry, we must have ran out yesterday.”
   
“Hell, I was at the supermarket. You could have told me?”
     “Sorry.”
     I try to think through the hammering throb as a loud duff-duff bangs through my son Jason’s walls. I pound on his door while doing circles around the house trying to think.
     “Hon, I’m going to the supermarket. Have you seen my mask?”
     “In the pantry, next to the coffee.”
    It’s not there either. I grab an old Canteen bandana and stuff a ten dollar note in my pocket.
    At the carpark there are five souls doing figure of eights clutching their heads. One man is crying.
      I yell “coffee?” and get the slightest headshake. Like last Saturday at ALDI Specials Day when I missed the premium battery charger I’d been waiting for all year.
    Ignoring the trolleys, I move purposefully, head fixed, eyes riveted on aisle 3. Strawberry Nesquick, Dandelion tea and Natures’ Cuppa tins mock me as I pass before empty shelves where the instant should be. In the next section there are two bags of beans left, I reach up to grab one with the smiling girl on the packet for $9.50 and clutch it to my chest. Another hand reaches for the last bag. I turn around and see a familiar face. She’s wearing white feather-tipped wings and a ring of flowers around her head. I catch a faint odour of a musty jumper.
     “I know you. You work at the Coffee Garden?”
     “No, I’m the coffee fairy.”
   “Well then, can your magic wand fill the coffee shelf with espresso?”
    At the checkout, the sign says Card Only. Sweat oozes down my back. In the line, I’m stalled behind a man trying to scan three packets of toilet paper. The coffee fairy tut-tuts.
      “Some people are just so inconsiderate,” she sighs.
      The checkout girl scans the coffee. I leave the $10 on the till.
      “Keep the change. Cancer research.”
       In the car I fumble for the keys and press ‘Start.’
     Two whirring sounds, a clicking then nothing. Shit. Flat battery. I run over to a fortyish looking man unlocking a Prado.
       “Mate can I use your phone? It’s urgent. Flat battery.”
      “Hey, no problem pal, just so happens I have a new battery charger in the boot. Bought it last Saturday at ALDI. Last one.”
       He stares at the coffee, steely eyes narrow, tongue licking his lips.
       “Care to swap that for the charger?”
       “Can’t. Wife’s birthday present.”

Georges de La Tour The Fortune Teller, 1630

Georges de La Tour The Fortune Teller, 1630

Still
Maree Chapman

After: de La Tour, 1630

It’s still life and does not change
It still holds the dark and strange
The haves still reach out for more
Poverty still snaps shut its steely jaw
Eyes with hearts for stealth
See fortune in the shape of wealth
Men are still beguiled by mystery
It’s been the same all through history
There’s still a heavy price to pay
Trickery still has its final say
Still her fingers slick and deft
Still no honour or respect, her ears are deaf
To shrill echoes heard of human need
As the protagonist enters dressed as greed
Still, he naive awaits the message from her tongue
And she, still no mercy for the very young

The Fortune Teller
Eve Gray

After: de La Tour, 1630

She has bad news for two, perhaps more
The young mistress gives one maid a glance
somewhat askance but a second has cast her eyes down

Her maids have spent their pittance
in the hope of marriage or romance

The old crone scans their hands, heads, faces
This she explains is palmistry, chiromancy

But the young master is apprehensive
he does not trust this spaewife, scryer
She is far too eager for their silver

She is she boasts skilled in Alectryomancy
Geomancy and Extispicy which she has cast
unasked on behalf of the young master

Aghast he learns his prized rooster was sacrificed
by the old hag and does not believe the ruin
she foretold from the way the bird pecked at grain

or marks it left in the soil especially the shape
the entrails made when she slashed it open!
Oh No! But he must thrust silver in her hands

and make her quickly quit his house.

Man
Alison J Barton

desirous to recover                                               parts of a hidden body 
by fleshy folds, softness in a thigh                    a gaze, earthy unity 
speaks language of enlightenment.                  formless origin
unessential love too trivial                                 thought, unfurnished in the mind
multiplied on the hearth                                     of a God

a mother is material

matter
the earth’s availing embrace
never ceased           perpetually late
fast in its fate           void not a void

 



is nothing
is nothing

Althusserian strangle         the swerve
encounter               until your eyes are
seen                                      you are not
your smile above                    the mask
hides your contempt

a philosopher comes to fill no meaning

Julia Brougham

After: Amani Haydar, ‘Insert headline here’

Mute gazes cry
you killed us yet we still live
cradled in memoir
of hidden torments laid bare
our light faded your darkness

The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Amani Haydar mixed media titled Insert headline here. photo of Amani holding a picture of her mother who, in the picture, is holding a photo of her mother

Amani Haydar, ‘Insert headline here’

Turner Contemporary, Margate
Alison J Barton

I remember visiting the sea with you in an ashen summer. The gallery dipped beside the sand in brutalist shards; washed pebbles bridged the steps. Dirt air brushed people hunched along the seagreyed facade. Guiltless, my feet sloped down the entrance meandering on floorboards. There was no time but light and dark. The ceiling beams reflected grains and framed pages full of scrawled oddities on blue-washed white walls. The edges of my body were scapula-scented; fractured notes breathed into your lungs. A draught billowed about the ground, binding my heart with your excitement. Still now you are here when you’re not, on the fine edge of flannel, the letters of your name in floral print. I am tethered to where you left me.

Fear
Jeanette Campbell

After: I Seek a Kind Person

The Nazis are marching –
fear rises.
How can we hide our children away?
But don’t you see?
We will leave you in peace
if you live by the tenets of the Nazis –
if you are of the Aryan race.

The Taliban are marching –
fear rises.
How can we hide our children away?
But don’t you see?
We will leave you in peace
if you live by the tenets of the Taliban –
if you succumb to Sharia law.

Rob Stewart

After: Lucashenko

Waking creeps upon me. Bleary awareness slowly emerging from the night’s slumber. That’s the groove for those of us rising in the predawn. There’s no light intruding through the edge of the curtain to nudge me awake. There is only blackness. The bedside clock could be showing 1:30 or 4:30. The only gauge being my fucking internal chronometer. I’m a creature of habit and this is my first daily submission.
     My dogs are a reason I rise early. They’ve trained me well, being noisy pains in the ass if I’m not up by daylight. I don’t want to wake anyone. This is my time. My alone time. A time of reflection and of building strength of body and of mind. I need strength, I need wisdom, I need calmness. These are not just meaningless aspirations; this is real life. My son having mental health issues that would swamp a mere mortal. My wife having advanced cancer. They bear their crosses with quiet determination and dignity. Both with the simple aim of getting on with life. Reality writ large. I need to do my part.
     
I start the day with coffee, dogs at my feet, lamp light over my shoulder, flicking through the news. Afghanistan, Covid…I seek the salvation of sport instead. Today’s headline though is the recurring trope of a footballer accused of assaulting a woman. He’s of course pleading the mental health defence and is taking time away from the game to seek treatment for being an entitled danger to society.
     
As I walk, I meditate on my surrounds, enjoying the rough-and-ready enthusiasm of my dogs, the sun starting to rise, framing the far end of the creek. My reverie though is suddenly shattered as a four-wheel drive doesn’t give way at the crossing. The driver stares down at us as he drives past. Clearly a man who believes driving a big car means normal rules don’t apply. Prick.
     
I think about the footballer as I continue to walk. At least fools in big cars are overt about it. It’s there for all of us to see. They own it. Life is full of small-minded selfish acts like this; mask wearing refuseniks, aggressive dog owners, people yelling at me over the counter. We see them for what they are. Minor irritants. First world annoyances.
     
The footballer crying mental illness though is owning nothing, unless a court makes him. He’s escaping responsibility for growing up. His actions though are not a mere minor irritant, least to the poor woman. His brand of selfishness trivialises the real struggles of those suffering mental illness. It makes them seem weak where they are in fact the strongest among us. It’s not something that makes you do bad things. People bear it with quiet despair, quiet dignity but they bear it ‘till they can no longer. It’s a real issue. Too often a life and death issue.
     
Shame on you.

From My Window
Dee Taylor

After: I Seek a Kind Person

The world from my window looks vacant. Empty. Covid keeping us prisoners held to ransom by this invisible enemy until it strikes us down. Walking gives small mental and physical respite from my limited world. The warmth of the sun, the breeze dancing across my body as I stride around the streets.         
         Fully Covid immunised so my NSW Health record shows. I walk the neighbourhood with a quiet sense of ease, and a sore arm which will fade as the days in lockdown stretch in front of me. The occasional meeting of neighbours on a likewise quest is a highlight of my day. We stand apart each of us dressed like a masked bandit from some movie cartoon. Multiple patterns hiding our faces displayed as a stubborn effort to embrace the new normal.
         
As I travel around my limited area, it is brought home to me just how tiny my travel plans can be. Trips to the Doctor beyond the five kilometres now an adventure mixed with slight trepidation at having put myself ‘out there’ in the community of transmission.
       
Food has taken an undeserved place of importance in my day. Recipes are tried the results consumed but after a trip on the bathroom scales regretted by nightfall, only to be repeated the next day and for most days of Covid. Makeup is a distant memory. What is the point if only eyes behind fogged glasses look out on the world of the supermarket?
         
I ache for my children and grandchildren. Some small measure of pleasure gained through video telephone calls with expressions of love. My arms are empty of little beings giving hugs and sloppy chocolate kisses delighted to see their Nanna. Yet, I know we must pass through this test for us all to come out into the world stronger, more united and Covid free. For now.
         
This awful thing, this Covid, waits for us in an unsuspecting moment. Grasping the lives of the less fortunate who pass alone and before their time. This awful thing that mutates and smiles from the darkness. This awful thing that keeps me from my loved ones.
       
On my desk is an old pre-war newspaper. A madman was on the rise. Advertisements of despair unfamiliar and shocking. Their world on the brink of calamity screams to us from the past. How terrible to separate forever from those that are loved beyond the world that they lived. The unrelenting hatred and persecution of those deemed to be different. Adjudged to be lesser people solely on their religion, found guilty without recourse to any justice because there was none in their world.
       
What did they see from their window? Their world and all they had known falling apart before their eyes. The humiliation. The murder. The knowledge that nothing would be the same. Their lives like leaves blown away on the wind.
           
I stand at my window and think of them. How lucky we are.

Maree Chapman

After: I Seek a Kind Person

Dear …………….

I find myself an orphan as mum and dad are somewhere lost. They were the ones I loved the most. But I know that somewhere in the world is a place that I could call my own. So I’m wondering if you could open up your home. If you could learn to love me and take me as I am. My clothes are nothing special my shoes are hand me downs. I have a happy disposition though my body has some wounds. The war was not my doing and it puzzles me today, as to why it had to happen anyway. Not sure if you’ll be interested or even able to assist, but I’d be very grateful if a home with you exists. If this letter troubles you, for that I am so sorry. But I need someone and I need them in a hurry. The lady in the orphanage has kindly said that she would post the letter. So I’m praying that the answer will come and make my life a little better. I’ll wait for your answer and I’ll pray, that’s what I’ll do, for I really feel inside of me that I’d be the child for you.

Sam

Sand Dunes
Jan Dean

After: David Diehm Worimi Conservation Lands

If blue or green the dunes could be an ocean. Now
consisting of choppy waves; later settling smooth
for undisturbed journeys. Seen from afar, you want to swish
mounds apart with your fingers, finding satisfaction
in swift figure-eights that wipe sands aside, so you’re infused
with a sense of superiority. Superhuman, you’re in charge,
but it doesn’t last. Like all false idols you’re made of clay
way out of place. Closer, peer hard enough for scenes
similar to cloud pictures, changing constantly. Here a woman
lies asleep, voluptuous. There, a man reaches for the sky,
momentarily in prayer. Beside him his dog stretches. The dog
dreams of bones, piled into mountains, an endless supply
of succulence. Somewhere, there are sticks for chasing
utter proof of loyalty, since the dog retrieves and returns over
and over. It’s all done with light and shade. Sunlight
and shadow are the stuff from which daydreams are made.
Occasionally, freak winds lift sand in twists. Privileged
viewers swear they see ninjas rise. Grit in the eyes causes
collar-climb and lower hat brims. Legend says young lovers
who spend a night on dunes under the stars unite for life.