The pieces below are best read on a tablet or desktop
Congrats to December winners:
$50 – Jan Dean, ‘The Fountain’
$50 – Julia Brougham, ‘Bunbury Summer’
$25 – Ann Blackwell, ‘My Friend Masie’
$25 – Rosemary Bunker, ‘Memory’
$25 – Maggie Ball, ‘Low Chroma’
$25 – Alexander Seccombe, ‘Five Seconds’
Vera Zulumovski – The Fountain
After: Vera Zulumovski – The Fountain
Make no unfair judgement for we are millions of years more advanced than you, thinner than playing cards, with prominent eyes reflecting fine minds and the ability to take zoom flights without wings. Life is an idyll since we lack nothing while safeguarding the environment. Everything is endowed in elegant sufficiency. Speech is no longer necessary as transfer of thought is attuned to the maximum capacity. Our shelters combine the rounded arches of Romanesque style with ziggurats for storage of purity and wisdom. We drift over grasses, so lush it feels like slipping through stars. Our fountain sustains and refreshes, along with the fruit of palms answering every desire. Collecting precious refreshment in giant clam shells, we shower at the same time for efficiency. Clothes are redundant. We dance the day away purring and serenading at night which adjusts our sweet sense of perspicacity.
My Friend Masie
After: Vera Zulumovski – The Fountain
I lay on my stomach in the long grass hiding from my grandmother. I was hot all over. I could hear her tell Lena, her servant, to find me. My eleven-year-old heart beat against the damp earth, but I knew she would not find me. Lena stepped over me and walked on down the hill saying, ‘she is going to kill you when she finds you.’
I had picked at the wallpaper above my bed, until the pink March Lily had become a black hole. I wanted to be sent back home for the rest of my school holidays, but ‘the witch’ had already told me, ‘Your mother does not want you at home.’ The sadistic satisfaction on her face drove me to pick at the Lily above my bed.
Through the long grass I saw my African friend Masie walking down the hill with a little pot on her head. She was two years older than me but she was my best friend. I raced down the hill and asked if she could come and play. Masie lived in a mud hut at the bottom of my grandparents’ property and her mother and father worked for them. ‘I don’t want you playing with those filthy black children.’ My grandmother had groaned at me. ‘They are disgusting.’
Masie and I, our arms around each other, walked into the rainforest, where it was cool and damp. Giant green trees huddled together, hiding us from the hot sun and prying eyes.
Bright streams run between the rocks, crystal clear, cold water lapping our feet. We were surrounded by the smell of moss and forest wildflowers.
I started hitting the stream angrily with a stick and said, ‘I don’t like my grandfather.’
‘He touched me inside my knickers,’ I mumbled, hot with embarrassment.
‘Oh, what did you do?’ Masie’s eyes as big as saucers.
‘I jumped off his medical couch and kicked him really hard on his skinny shins, then ran away.’
Masie looked at me then laughed. She slid off the rock giggling and I was furious.
‘Why are you laughing Masie? I don’t know much about these sorts of things, but that’s very wrong, isn’t it?’ I said angrily.
Masie stood there and looked at me and I suddenly felt a distance push its way between us. I was puzzled and said crossly,
‘Masie what’s wrong? Why are you being so silly about this?’
Masie turned around slowly, then sneered at me. ‘He’s been doing that to me since I was ten years old.’
I felt my insides contort with fear and anger.
‘But why didn’t you tell me. I could have …’
‘Because I am black,’ Masie cried. ‘No one would believe me.’
She turned around and walked off carrying her berries on her head, leaving me standing there furious and hurting. I knew then that I had lost my best friend, as I watched her walk home down the hill. I went in the opposite direction.
Just Breathe and Remember
I’m going to die. I just don’t know when. I’ll be the last to know. The nurse said it was the paperwork. The social worker said it was the department, the lawyer said it was because the debate was postponed. I don’t care, I can wait and breathe. I breathe and watch all the memories flit behind my eyes like an old movie reel. It’s OK, really, it’s only my life.
Like the time when the kids were toddlers tearing across the beach, Lizzie swept out in the rip. I felt like my heart would explode after I saved her. Then, at the Carnival when you dared me to ride the Hurricane and my head spun like an old spinning top for days. The day after our wedding at Jenolan Caves and Miranda, three months old wailing in the big cavern as the sound echoed through the cold stalactites. Our wedding, how I thought I was the luckiest man alive, still do, finding you. The priest, the vows, the ring, all our friends and family around, it was like God was looking down and smiling. The first time we made love, just as special as the last time. The first day we went walking and I held your hand, or did you grab mine? Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to vanish. Time did not exist then. It doesn’t, now, while you are still here. The first time I saw you, I swear I could see your aura glowing, not believing my luck finding such a precious gem. Fate? Destiny? One in a billion. Lucky odds.
I wish I could tell you how much these memories mean now that the movie reel judders and stops. I wish they wouldn’t decay. You’d understand, you always did. It’s just us now, like at the start. Lizzie’s cancer came and took her too soon. Miranda never saw the snake, too far away to call for help. The venom stopped more than our hearts afterwards. It erased our future. Sorry, that’s when I gave up, just let go. You weren’t strong enough to fight both our demons.
So now I ask myself, what am I waiting for? Another chance to make things right or just another breath? That will have to wait for another life, my love, and I know I’ll spend it searching for you, or whoever you become. As I slip further away, hold my hand tighter, even if it gives me just another priceless second with you. We’ll always be there in the photos, gripping each child as if they might suddenly evaporate. All that remains now, my love, the faded photos, the sweet sound of their breath, the smell of their memories, and . . .
Fintan Magee – ‘Façade’
After: Fintan Magee – Façade
Dimity finds the squashed patch of grass where she rests each afternoon of the summer holidays after racing her brother along their set bike route on the Fernleigh track. She flops down to recuperate. Billy always wins. His back view calls I’ll tell Mum you won’t be long, and don’t be. You know how upset she gets if we aren’t ready to eat together. Feeling exhausted, Dimity barely notices his muffled instructions. Her sights are already fixed on a weird contraption lurking near her feet. She has no idea what it is, but imagines it some sort of measure. The more she stares the more it wields power over her. The hand cupping her chin becomes jellylike; her head swims into wooziness. Often she’d rested on this flat patch, clenching a long piece of grass between her teeth, looking up at clouds, mesmerised by their frolics in the sky. Now they seem to descend, encompassing her. For a split second she thinks of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in Oz, meeting exciting new friends in their weird and magnificent underworlds. This dissipates into sudden realisation she isn’t underneath the earth. She is ascending somewhere between land and the highest of skies. Clouds are keeping her afloat as they manoeuvre passage past a mob of emus scurrying along a floodplain and a lone sea eagle somersaulting swoops. So far inhabitants of this strange space are benign, but there’s no telling how monstrous others may be. Once clouds captivated Dimity for their charismatic ability to transform endlessly; now they put her on edge. The blue satin ribbon tying her hair up into a short ponytail of curls, unravels and extends into a cavorting wave, which is her only link back to earth and home.
The magpie squawked waited impatiently for its final meal for the day. A chance had released itself from the cheeky magpie. With no competition, the chick waited with is mouth open. It soon will fly away to make a family of its own. A dog walks by as I sketch my latest artwork. With only a nudge from the dog it brings me back to reality. As the happy tail walks off I reflect on the encounter.
Will the dog remember me next time we meet?. I take my sketch pad to the side of Horseshoe beach inspired by the friendly dog. I take the artwork to a whole new level. the embodiment of calm envelopes me. the dog doesn’t judge me for being different but instead gives me a nod of approval. his paws lift me if only for a moment. As the dog smells out a good place to lye down. I contemplate the inevitable. If only I Could live in a world where I wasn’t bullied for being different.
I long to fly the coop in search of a better life. If only the magpie would show me there’s only one way to find out. I strap myself in for the ride. it’s going to get bumpy. I lift my hand only to find out I haven’t moved off the rocky platform, that is life. I hold your hand to steady myself. the dog swims across the water so effortlessly.
There is nothing stopping me now with the wind beckoning me to trudge on. Horses whinny in the background. they don’t make eye contact as if mirroring me. I stroke the horses mane to calm its presence. I’m not a threat to it.
Only the voices in my head are a threat to my existence now.
I saunter down the road so easily now. the kookaburra laughs at the strange sight. the bird fly’s away in search of the dog to accompany me. As the happy tail comes out from behind a tree. There you are I exclaim. I’m so happy to have the whole gang back together again. the dog weaves in and out of the horse’s leg. the horse whinny’s that I’m here if you need a rest. you can jump on my back if you get tired says the horse.
The dog and the horse stay in the shade lapping up their friendship.
Adnate – Street Art Newcastle NSW
After: Fintan Magee – Façade
The lockdowns, quick stay home, I already do. It’s not that bad, this is “my” world. This is my freedom, you don’t know, but you will. No visitors, no one comes anyway. Why are they complaining? What’s the big deal? My world is small anyway. I walk, I run, I sing, I ride, I walk, I ride, I sing, I walk, I run, I run. Sometimes I want to run, run away, go somewhere else where the door is swung wide open and never closes. For now I live in your world and you live in mine. Do you know how it feels in a small world? You will.
I have a dream for him to cross over the threshold into my world and stay held lovingly in “this” world. For his world has become my world. How I miss my world. How I would love to welcome him into mine with the rest of them cheering on. Come in, come in, stay, dont leave. Who are you? No really who are you? We want to know everything? We can hear you, but we want to understand you. Its ok, we wont turn our heads when you scream, or stare when you don’t. We want to know you. Its ok, come closer, dont leave. When you go, it just wont be the same. You have a place here, you are one of us. Tell us your story. Where have you been? Tell us some more about your world, the lands you have traversed, the people who have held you, we want to hold you too. We will hold you, forever in our world. Its where you belong always. With us, not between 2 worlds.
After: Adnate – Street Art Newcastle NSW
Your eyes tell a story
blood, skin, history.
The past, the present, a future.
The past, stolen,
generations, faded white-painted warriors
herded across our land by white skin.
Blood, colours all the same
their skin, white burnt red by a violent sun.
Our history, as told by skewbald skin in a white-painted classroom.
Culture never dies on sacred land.
Struggle to be seen
struggle to be heard against a racist cackle.
Eyes staring, face, brave
tells more than one story
beginning with the word: Why?
Struggle for two hundred and thirty-three years?
Because we must survive.
Boxing Day Sales
I tried bargain hunting,
rushing the after-Christmas sales
bringing home the spoils
a Chanel® jacket
Oroton® evening bag
patent leather shoes
made by Jimmy Choo®.
I tried wearing
an unmatched jacket
over a too-long blouse,
spilled tea from a spout
that couldn’t pour,
staggered on stiletto heels
and stayed at home
with an evening bag
that had nowhere to go.
Cheela Plains Station sunrise – Dominique Ryan
After: Cheela Plains Station sunrise – Dominique Ryan
Eyelids down, body on damp rock.
There is no day or night, only rotation.
This close, ultraviolet might be visible
only to a hummingbird, fired in a harlequin kiln
against hillside moss, in the gap
between desire and memory, a homage to absence.
From here there is no longing, only breath
steady against filtered light, where forest is body,
an undifferentiated block, line and form, carbon dioxide and oxygen.
Outside this space, there is so much noise it is impossible
to pick out shards of meaning, to emerge unscathed
from the undergrowth, to re-engage with the river.
Sound has gravity, travelling through solid rock as wind
thunder, argument, breaking through the silence, punching in.
If humans could photosynthesise, taking nutrients from sun
would we change, become greener, not just our skin, voices softening
to a whisper, linking roots beneath the surface, healing.
We were back living in Whadjuk Noogar country again. It was Birak, season of First Summer. Christmas Day had just gone and it was school holidays. Cousins had come from their farm for a one week stay after the wheat harvest. Beach time!
Our road fizzled out at the base of a high sand dune and became a track up past a black and white peppermint stick light house, down through rocks and stretches of beach spinifex grass with spiky-ball flower heads. Around the curve of another dune and there was the wide sweep of Mabakoort, the Indian Ocean. Deep blue, so blue it looked like you could pull up a bucket of it and paint with it. We’d crossed it by ship two months before.
Our favourite beach was sheltered by long curving arms of rock that slowed the waves to a gentler swish. Throw down the towels and race each other into the water.
You’d got over the sun-hot sand that slowed you down, burning your feet so you hopped from one to another to lessen the pain, into the lemon green shallows specked with bits of sea weed. Now the wave-laid ripples underfoot smoothed out and you felt each piece of broken shell and fragment of old worn coral littered there.
You would flinch at the first cold shock of the waves that splashed your chest as you pushed towards the place where water and sun-bleached sky dissolved into each other and the salty iodine tang was filling your nose. This was the right time to let your knees buckle, let mother ocean slide up over your shoulders, go back to the place you were before you were born out of your own tiny ocean, carrying it with you as the water you are mostly made of.
Splash and dive and muck about, testing that our toes could still touch bottom. When we needed heat and our fingers were white and wrinkled we’d go back to the sand to towel ourselves warm before poking around the rock crevices looking for small crabs to annoy. In the rock pools we’d look down into the glass-clear water at red and green sea weeds, shells and trapped fishlings. If there were sea anemones, we would dare each other to put a finger into an open one to feel it clasp and cling with its slow waving tentacles.
Once we found a piece of green glass that had been chipped and rounded by the ocean into a Rodin-esque sculpture the size of my thumb. It sits on my shelf now, a memento of transition between two continents divided by that deep, deep blue ocean.
I am an old woman. I drift through the rooms in my house and feed on memories that always live there. They are my life now. I caress the red and golden beads of an amber necklace, still fired by the Silk Road sun at Tashkent. The stench of the animal market there has long since gone. My feet sink into the coarse grey wool of the rug woven by nomad women in Iran. The tree of life design has faded but I see an illuminated green pomegranate tree, heavy with fruit. No ugly memories live in my memory kingdom. They have been bedded, have become the compost from which I have grown.
Memories of childhood sweeten my life. Bleak scenes of rows and violence at home and school, the cane and the trap, have melted into background noise. I see myself as a confident child who knew her place in the world. God ruled, Mr. Menzies was in charge and father, his henchman. We lived in the country, an ideal place where a cow with liquid brown eyes gambolled on the common where we played. Roosters crowed and fresh vegies kept growing on the dinner plate. Never mind the drought, the grasshoppers and the cost of petrol.
I played all day on the common, in the creek or on the back verandah overlooking the world. A pudgy four-year old with dark plaits, I see my friend, Dora, playing with a stranger, – how dare she! – on the common. A club with many heads – treachery, jealousy, exclusion – hammered me. Scarlet flames of anger set fire to our woodheap as every fragment of my observer’s body coalesced into one tight shape that screamed vengeance.
Rage blinded me as I stumbled to my work table but my mind was clear. I grabbed a black crayon and tore a ragged bit of paper from my drawing pad. The tussle with words was brief. I did not know ‘bitch’ but wild animals were odious and hateful for my purpose.
DORA IS A LOIN
DORA IS A TIGGER
DORA WENT FOR A WALK
AND SHE DID NOT TAKE ME
The words, the mastery of the medium, thrilled me. I raced inside to show mum. As she read it aloud to her morning tea friends, I cringed and twisted to avoid invisible arrows that stung. She read ‘loin’ and tigger’ in a funny voice. She was laughing and I was hurting. How could she? My heart beat a wild rhythm as my stiff lips smiled.
I crawled to my bedroom and despaired at the wall that separated me from my mother. Ninety years later, misplaced trust and ambiguity still cloud that relationship but, like her, I am a mother. I gloss the judgment and see her as the best mother she could be.
But sometimes, when I feel again the passion of that four-year old, I wonder what happened to her fledging career as a writer.
Anthem for the Obscenities of Greed and War
They say the only way for us to make peace is through war
Yet hindsight shows warfare disguised, an evil putrid whore.
In the vacuum left by speeches, some have come to know
Rhetoric is merely sleight-of-hand to make the coffers grow.
They say it’s unavoidable; war and peace must go together
Enforced compliance must win out, it’s predicable as weather.
‘We’ regret the heavy costs, but global anarchy persists
Peace can only come through tactics wrought by iron fists.
They say freedom’s only possible if we can gain more wealth,
With no mourning for the greed that drains our planet’s health
The affluence of the nation is our primary fiscal focus,
Lust of flesh and pride of life; mammon our staunchest locus.
They say it makes good business sense to use a labour force
Whose desolation makes them weak, all par for obscene course.
‘To the victor belongs the spoils’ ‘tis said; there is no other answer
Corporations prosper, promoting economic cancer.
They say the poor must not complain; at least they have good jobs,
Close your heart, your eyes and ears; you must tune out the sobs.
And all the world revolves around the ignorance of the strong,
And vilifies the ones who weep for vast dehumanised throng.
18 Hours in Emergency
Drip Trolley hung with stranded jellyfish shrivelling to desiccation.
Insistent signal morsing the code for digital three
Dit dit dit dah dah! dit dit dit dah dah! dit dit dit dah dah!
Tell me your full name and date of birth, temperature ear beep, squeeze of the blood pressure cuff.
Colour coded people – Green for doctor, blue for nurse, rusty orange don’t know.
Data station on wheels comes with a crowd of green
Repeat your story behind curtains promising privacy, giving none,
Screens for a shadow play in a theatre never dimmed.
Ritual phrases scripting endless combat against the demons of sickness.
A plate of food slides in view,
Something white, something brown, something once was green
Taken away uneaten on a trolley with one tok-toking wheel.
Wheeled down long cold corridors,
Another bed, freshly made , taut and crisp.
Dislocated thoughts float by,
Disappointment that use too soon takes away the sharp fresh smell of sundried sheets,
Can I get some sleep now?
Alberto Giacometti – Dog (Le chien)
Rays of Light – David Diehm
To Toby, our Labrador
After: Dog (Le chien) – Alberto Giacometti
You are all heart
minus one iota of
in your heart’s cavity
every sinew tensed
with desire to please
because you care
more for your master
than you care for yourself
This Black Dog Heart
After: Dog (Le chien) – Alberto Giacometti
kicked around like some
poor hound rejected by its master.
Forced to scrounge for any left over
scrap of kindness.
This derelict heart – too weary to howl
prowls the peripheries of love.
Devoid of collar and leash – it roams alone –
neither whistled for nor commanded
rambling like some old stray discarded when
its owner’s had enough.
This black dog heart retreats inside
a mangy coat of fear,
each beat a hair’s breath away
from the comfort of despair, from the solace
of simply laying down to die – like
some vagrant pooch too weary to lick its wounds
who finds amidst the garbage mounds a haven,
a soft dry spot on which to lie.
This fleabag heart – loyal still to life – resists the urge to cease
and in its low growl angst – a slow, low growl of self –
After: Rays of Light – David Diehm
Jesus rays crown a golden pool
and a ship moves away from the breakwater,
misses out on sun-blessings
and heads a dark path to oblivion,
to the foggy edge of a mystery,
perhaps to fall from flat earth
and wander untraced through a hollow’s sphere,
meet up with Marie Celeste or MH370.
There are so many things we don’t know,
how one wave is different to another,
why it crests at a certain time or troughs at another,
why its life persists in a changing form
and it lingers unknown and alone,
why it misses out on the blinding light
piercing clouds in a crown, affirming a positive strength:
there’s a tabernacle in the sky.
Lean Dog, Mean Dog
After: Dog (Le chien) – Alberto Giacometti
My father hated them;
the ‘town dogs’,
escaped one-time pets,
the bellies of sheep,
leaving tussocks of wool and flesh
on red-rust grass.
On weekends now
they stalk city streets
lacerating bellies of another flock
with glass, not teeth,
fists, not jaws.
Bloodlines pulse like thin veins during my growing years; a teen bleeding to blurt questions to my parents, but there is no spill. My darling adoptive Dad dies, 1989. Brett and I live with my adored adoptive Mum, a bilateral amputee with stroke-stumped speech.
In 1991, laws governing access to original birth certificates change. A window winds opens. Adoption Triangle and I source identifying information. They phone bio-mother B.
I fear rejection.
Don’t tell Mum; she’d not welcome news of B. I’m pissed that B isn’t ‘Jenny’ the university student, that description Mum told me. Who was misinformed: me, or Mum? Her fib to cloud trails, to deflect rejection?
I meet B and her children, like a platonic illicit affair. One bio-relative asks: ‘how’s it been for you?’ I’ve no resentment. Their gift tags accept ‘Aunt Katrina.’
What’s this need to show B ‘my best’? I’m not releasing much, like a rusty chain grudgingly winding in a window.
I meet B’s mother. She leans forward in her wheelchair, elbows bracing, like Mum. I sense fear. I reassure her, no bitterness. Yes, 1950s. Yes, societal pressure.
Mum’s health plateaus; B’s health dives. At B’s funeral, her relative’s eyes widen like summer windows. They find B in my face.
I fear Mum will die while we were estranged. I mother my babies under her incessant gaze. Smothered, I pull blinds on her mother-eyes. Guilt tricks me to fantasise about knives in the kitchen drawer. ‘A case of two birds in one nest,’ a psychologist deduces. Mum’s dying, 1999. I resurface just in time; I open up to look her in the eye, to stroke her hand.
My mind flickers. Tell Mum about B? It’s too late, it’ll upset her.
Mum leaves me the house. My brothers— Mum’s blood sons—despise the decision and go quiet; those sons were not here to hold her elbow as she staggered, who’d not seen her drink, not taken her wet clothes from the oven.
2012, I’m in Canberra with a bio-relative, Things go belly-up outside the Portrait Gallery, alongside stone memorials which speak about First Nations people. I can’t catch the words of my bio-relative; I’m certainly slapped by its tone: a spew-up of a mis-caricatured appropriated-twist-for-a-laugh of an Australian First Nations person. How the hell do I even recognise this? It spits like water spilled on Mum’s sizzling grapeseed oil.
My bloodlines are taut. Snap.
My gut churns; I have no authentic experience to be cut, no claim, no cultural knowledge to flesh it, just deeply-sliced sadness for Mum for being ‘white enough,’ for hers I didn’t meet, for family represented by, for not being trapped by, stone.
If they speak to me—Evelyn’s non-blood daughter—I may not understand. I’ll try.
A fledgling relationship with a bio-relative of different upbringing, stumped. Call it a grudge, without clear fault, but I called it out.
I’m not of Evelyn’s blood. I’m of Mum’s caress. I’m lost. I hold tight to the hurt, to her lifelines.
Marcia ambushes me, the moment that I turn into our driveway. ‘It’s a tragedy,’ she says. ‘Winston was taken before his time.’
Her lip quivers and I feel an unfamiliar pang of sympathy for her — until she reaches into my car window and shoves my shirt label down the back of my neck. I bristle. The woman is insufferable. A retired teacher who still thinks she’s on playground duty.
Marcia and I are neighbours. We moved into 17A and 17B Ironbark Avenue, more than five years ago, but she still refuses to call me Sue.
You know the kind of place I mean – two duplexes crammed onto a tiny suburban lot with a narrow row of agapanthus lining the edge of the driveway. Hardly the ideal place for an incontinent bulldog to live. Winston’s favourite place to relieve himself was on my recycling bin.
I lost my ragdoll cat a couple of weeks after we moved in. I’d just put Bella down on a patch of grass near my clothesline when that wretched dog belted after her. She disappeared over the Colorbond fence, never to be seen again.
‘Good riddance!’ Marcia said when I told her Bella was unlikely to survive in the wild.
Well, now it’s her turn to suffer. Marcia dabs at her eyes with a tissue. ‘The trouble is, Susan, there’s nowhere to bury him here.’
She’s given me a delicious idea. I adopt a suitably mournful expression and sweet-talk Marcia into agreeing to having Winston preserved for posterity. I tell her one of my school friends is a taxidermist who has won prestigious awards for her artistry.
Her eyes light up before she twigs that this might be an expensive option.
‘I’ll see what I can do. Margaret is one of my closest friends – she’ll probably do it for mate’s rates.’
Marcia purses her lips. I can see her cogs going round. As if I’d have friends.
‘This way,’ I continue, ‘Winston will always be here with you. I know he’ll be different, but it might be a comfort to you, all the same.’
She agrees to think about it, and I go inside and give Molly a ring. She was a terror at school, and I’m confident that she’ll be only too happy to help me execute my plan. Our teachers used to call her Margaret, but she’s always preferred Molly.
In the end Marcia agrees and I take Winston’s remains to Molly’s place and we talk over some options for poses.
I’m still chuckling as I get back into my car. Molly hasn’t changed. Her suggestions are more wicked than mine.
Marcia is so excited about having Winston reincarnated that she can’t wait for the day when he’ll arrive.
When I hear the delivery van pull into our shared driveway, I savour the scene. Marcia takes the carton inside and lifts her bulldog out of the protective packaging. Winston’s glass eyes bulge as he strains to lick his privates.
After: Matt Lauder – Wave Rider
Winter comes a little harder each year.
Thoughts of summer sun make harsher the first fingers of probing wind
while memory throws up warm mornings
the kiss of sun on an uncovered back
the salt scent of summer’s balm.
Yet memory searches further back, with thoughts of winters past
– mornings alone in the grip of west-born wind
surreal fantasies of gold and orange as darkness cedes its place to
ocean lines of velvet smoothness –
dropping, gliding, flying – dancing the dance while others sleep
finding in harsh definition the answer to others’ “why?”
Yes. Winter comes a little harder each year.
A little harder.
A little better.
Matt Lauder – Wave Rider
This year I see only white agapanthus in their stiff straight rows. I keep looking out for the missing blue round heads but they remain elusive. It is the absent colour that creates the memory. The colour of my brother’s eyes inherited from our father.
I go searching for a photo taken on a Kodak box camera almost sixty years ago. I find it in tan old album.
In the snapshot my mother rocks back on her knees in quiet contemplation almost worshipping my youngest brother who is sitting in a small deck chair, his chubby legs sticking straight out towards the camera, his blue teddy bear face down on the lawn, as though he has thrown it away in a fit of pique, or he is simply observing the law of gravity.
I have carried the photo in my mind’s eye certain my brother is framed against a row of blue agapanthus but there are no flowers in this photo, simply a line of indeterminate shrubbery in my aunt’s garden. However side by side in the album is another photo, taken it seems on the same day, with my two year old sibling standing against a bed of white November lilies. These flowers reach his shoulders. They are planted, like sentinels offering the protection I could not give, stand-ins in my memory for the blue agapanthus.
Of course both these photographs are in black and white.
Carrying a bag of jumbled jigsaw pieces.
No idea what
the big picture
should look like.
Knowing pieces are missing –
some to be found,
many lost forever.
The impact of traumas.
Often what I do recall and share,
I simply have to concede.
They’re more likely correct.
I’m the mad one.
So hard to accept
there’s a lot
I’ll never know.
Let it go, they say.
Maybe one day
it will let go of me.
Mark whipped the ball off his legs and called Tom through for two. Tom did what good cricketers do and ran hard. When he touched down his bat to complete the run, he heard Mark call `yes, yes, yes’ and so set off again. When he was halfway back, in horror he saw his partner wasn’t running. Their eyes met and Mark gave himself deniability, screaming `no,’ but he needn’t have bothered. His grin gave away that he had tried to get Tom out.
Those five seconds passed over 25 years ago, and yet were seared into Tom’s mind. They don’t deserve to be, he thought, as there was nothing special about the game. It wasn’t a real match – no coin toss, crowds or commentators. They didn’t even have teams, just a bunch of 16-year-old boys on a camp. After a day of hiking, someone brought out a bat and tennis ball (essential hiking equipment, of course) and everyone simply took their turns to bat and bowl. Tom wondered if he was the only one to remember the game had ever happened.
But every few months, those five seconds broke out of Tom’s subconscious. He could be washing dishes, waiting at traffic lights or in a meeting to review the quarterly results, and he would find himself at that afternoon in some month in some paddock.
Tom had enough practice now that he could manage the reappearance. He could dismiss it straightaway, or let it replay. Sometimes Tom chose to sense the feelings that, now cold, burnt at the time. It wasn’t just rage at the betrayal, but shame as the other boys’ laughter confirmed his unimportance.
A third choice was to replay the five seconds that followed.
Tom turned back and started running. The tennis ball was already flying through the air towards the wicket, like an axe coming down towards the condemned man’s neck. With all his unfit might, he threw himself towards his wicket and, somehow, beat his executioners’ throw.
That was the end of the memory. Maybe Mark’s grin turned to a scowl, but Tom didn’t see. The laughter probably died, not because they were silenced by Tom’s escape – they just wanted to get on with the game. For Tom there is a pride and righteousness from defeating his betrayer. Even though he knew, but did not remember, he was out next ball.
After: Matt Lauder – Wave Rider
Realistically there are sixteen summers left to eighty.
Only if fortune is my friend of course.
Lord knows I’m fit and healthy.
Life in the old bloke yet so they say.
Easy to just ride the next random wave to shore but I
Really don’t want to land there quite yet.
Contemplation of waves and deepwater gone by, of
Oceans past explored, guide the critical choice of the final wave.
A life of ripples and breakers;
Seeing the doldrums as well.
The grandeur of life’s massive ocean swells in the memory –
Every moment embraced.
Remembering both tempests and calm.
Only one way
Looking for the final kahuna,
I seek the last ride and yearn for the long and perfect wave. A
Forceful finale of foam and an
Exhilarating farewell roll to my sunset shoreline
A Devout Child
She wasn’t always afraid of sunlight. There was a time
in the first month, sitting on Orchard Beach, looking up at pink
clouds in motion with something like gratitude.
It was Sunday in the new world, a new job from tomorrow.
Seamstress. Her mouth strained at the word, wrapping
around the English she was slowly learning, though it still hurt
pressing at the edges of her tongue, forcing a focus that caused
her head to ache. A job. She would be safe now.
Her foot slid back and forth in sand, the waves came in
went out, time expanded and space contracted.
The great body of water stretched out to a horizon she knew
would continue fading from green to blue to grey, all the way
back to the Russian Empire: Atlantic Ocean to Baltic Sea.
She closed her eyes, let the warmth move into her chest
recognised the moment, dreamt since she was a child praying
quietly at the back of the great synagogue
large white colonnades, wooden bench worn smooth
lips moving silently in another language: an easier one.
It wasn’t so far away. Maybe, in another dimension
this body of hers still occupied that bright space.
Just before we left for my brother’s funeral service, my elderly father took me into his garage and showed me where the key to the strongbox containing important family documents was hidden. He was so grief-stricken that he was afraid his heart would break.
It’s twenty-four years since my elder brother collapsed and died on his front porch after a game of golf. His wife performed CPR and the ambulance arrived promptly, but her fifty-year-old husband could not be revived.
I’m waiting on the side of the road hoping to see the Queen. It’s a vague, dreamlike memory, but then – I was only three at the time.
My ninety-three-year-old mother recalled the details. It was December 1953, and we were journeying south to visit my father’s family who lived in Nelson. My mother suggested that we stop in Ngaruawhahia, a small township south of Auckland, where we’d be sure to get an excellent view of the newly crowned monarch and her husband.
My five-year-old brother and I each had a flag to wave but, as time ticked by, they lost their novelty and we began using them as weapons. My father reached the end of his tether, and he snapped our flag sticks in half.
When the royal entourage eventually sped by, not even my mother caught a glimpse of her idol.
My daughter sent my elderly mother a magazine about the life of the Queen. At Mum’s funeral, she read an extract from her grandmother’s thank-you note:
‘Wearing white shoes ruined many outfits in younger days! I definitely did not like the dragon green she [the queen] wore recently. Why can’t she be consistent like me and always wear blue?’
At the time I chuckled at Mum’s sense of humour, but when I reread her letter recently, the reference to ‘dragon green’ made me recall a wisecrack my elder brother had made in 1960.
My mother discovered that the stomach upset she’d had at Christmas time wasn’t a tummy bug, but the early signs of pregnancy. She was 38 at the time – her two children were practically teenagers.
When Auntie M told her that she knew of someone who would help her get rid of it, my mother was horrified. My parents’ first baby had been stillborn. The thought of deliberately terminating a pregnancy was unthinkable. She declined M’s offer but borrowed some of her maternity clothes.
When she arrived home, my twelve-year-old brother said, ‘You’re not going to wear those awful smocks, are you?’ He held up one that was the colour of newborn baby poo. ‘Look at this one– it’s Karitane1 yellow.’
Karitane yellow, or dragon green, became part of our family folklore.
Dad’s strongbox was a repository for family documents. Family history is also ephemeral – shards of shared memories – stories of grief and laughter passed down from one generation to the next.
1. A Karitane is a nurse trained in the care of young babies and their mothers. [New Zealand]