February Writing Contest Winners announced!

$100 awarded to Lucy Nelson for ‘Visiting My Bones Again’

$50 awarded to Dee Taylor for ‘The Blank Canvas’

$50 awarded to Chris Williams for ‘About Nature’

Special Mention: Gail Hennessy for ‘The Days’ and Gregory Struck for ‘After Thackeray’

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Read the wonderful submissions to the 
MayJune, September, and November contests

Max Ernst - La belle allemande (The Beautiful German Woman)

Max Ernst – La belle allemande (The Beautiful German Woman)

photo of city lights by Bran Lloyd on Instagram: “Electrify ..."

Electrify – Bran Lloyd

Loplop
Chris Williams

After: La belle allemande (The Beautiful German Woman) – Max Ernst
Authors note:  Loplop was a birdlike alter ego that Max Ernst developed as a familiar animal. 

February 10, 1945. Helene Ehrmentraub, sixteen, took down the sign for the last time.  For Sale. One horse. Lame.  Torn between staying with her horse or leaving with her mother,  she stayed in the small village, 5km west of the Oder River. The gunfire and the tap tap tap of a hooded crow on the one remaining dusty window kept her awake all night.  Why couldn’t it just stay in its nest, in the Church’s broken bell-tower?  
        Outside, a white-tailed Eagle swooped, searching for rats, or mice or anything that scampered. Like that chicken, trying to evade the fleeing men yesterday. War had returned with the unmistakable shuffle of defeat. 
        “Make sure you hide well in the hay barn.” Her mother said yesterday just before she left. “Make your face dirty. You must keep safe. Promise me. 
        Helene had nodded in her torn dress, bare feet and scarf tied tightly around her breasts. Her pointy, bird-like nose twitched as a groaning, clanking noise pierced the ominous silence. Battered, rusty metal rattled up the long hill from the Oder. A black car sped up and stopped in the square. The door opened and a man in a black suit holding a cigarette stepped out and stared at the window.  
        Helene had no time to hide. 
        “Come out or you die.” Helene did not move. The man in the black suit calmly walked to the door, opened it and stared. Helene glared through the floating dust motes, her defiance pierced the hollow space. 
       “I am the Commissar. You must leave now. Twenty angry, hungry men are coming, looking for women. Flee.” 
        Helene thought of her horse and shook her head. 
        “I will stay. I have nothing to fear anymore.” 
        Later, the Colonel with the jagged scar across his face lined up nineteen men. Before she lost consciousness, Helene remembered the pain. Everywhere, from the force of her soul, trying to escape. The Colonel jabbed the Luger in her mouth. Red fluid spread slowly across the floor. 
          Loplop flew through the door to the church’s broken bell-tower. Watched and waited for the beasts to march on then headed north to the forest. The Commissar flicked a cigarette out the door and left. He was just one man.  
        The next day, under a beech tree, deep in the forest, Loplop watched and waited as a woman gave birth to a baby girl.  And danced for the new soul. 

Maree Gardner Chapman

After: La belle allemande (The Beautiful German Woman) – Max Ernst

‘Well here I am, in all my glory,
Da! da!’
Moonfaced fixed and staring into space
Composed with dash and verve
He had such a nerve!

A hybrid dream girl sure enough
An avant garde idea of womanhood
Stuck for words, silent, dumb as a post
A fantasy of what he loved the most
He had such a nerve!

Deep within his psyche he sculped me up
Spoonfaced, shy of even one embrace
Beautiful, well that’s a bit surreal
Me, an icon, image plasted everywhere
Only a woman knows it isn’t fair
He had such a nerve!                     

A Larrikin Upsets the Big Apple(cart)
Jan Dean

After: Electrify – Bran Lloyd

Is this a soulless bargain, to be in my dream metropolis, dressed as a mummy, bandaged with slits for peep holes and a bound mouth? Street cleaners leave puddles on the pavement for reflection so there’s no need to crick my neck viewing vertical buildings. Soon, I move with the manic pace of a driver devoid of lessons and license, behind the wheel of a supersonic sports car proceeding all go and no slow, trying to overcome mute existence in a merciless space. The recurring route zooming around 42nd Street and Lexington Ave perfects my prowess since speed limits mean nothing to me. Seconds sprawled on brownstone steps sustain until night when I gasp at the sunburst of the Chrysler building, touching the stars with its Thai temple-dancer’s headdress, before catching live performers at Times Square but cannot share my exultation, without speech. Twin towers, no longer there, stay indelible in memory, past a screened lake of tears, and the continuous now of unstoppable screeches. You never know your pluck in a big city and I always dreamed of the Big Apple, a city reviewed in millions of images and words, where I wave hello to Liberty while busking mime aboard the Staten Island ferry, smuggle a skateboard into the Guggenheim, and starting at the top, navigate the down-draught of its spiral, determined to sneak in an ecstatic performance at the Museum of Modern Art — make a figure eight on the lake at Central Park after eyeing a bagel with cream cheese and other kosher delicacies, while craving lashings of local dialect — wish I could contribute to cacophony with I’m an Aussie shouted at pedestrians from the back seat of a yellow taxi, but my mouth remains shut, superglue-tight. However perky I’d like to remain, the irrefutable state of affairs is; everyone here has a face, restrained as much as mine.   

Phil Williams

After: La belle allemande (The Beautiful German Woman) – Max Ernst

The apparition glided from the rear of the dark restaurant. As it approached into the growing brightness I could make out a female shape, but I could not see her limbs moving. It was as if she had wheels, not feet. I saw a stern face, white shirt fastened with black buttons, secured at the collar and wrists, and floor length black skirt. Long hair was pinned above her head.
             There was no smile, no words of welcome, just a no-nonsense gesture for me to sit at a bench under a green Heineken umbrella overlooking the river. I dutifully obeyed because she had a military bearing. I was the only customer at four oclock on a spring afternoon. Sunlight filtered through the plane trees onto the levee of the Rhine.
           When the stein arrived, it came with a bowl of mixed salted nuts. I began to protest, because Id not ordered food. My budget would allow me just one drink, two at the most, and certainly not a snack. But the officer-waitress pivoted and was wheeling back into the gloom. I was afraid to call her back for fear of retribution.
            The restaurant was not what Id imagined it to be. I was expecting an oompah band, blood sausage and buxom wenches serving pitchers of frothing beer to carousing drinkers. Instead, I sat alone sipping the pilsener, feeling guilty that Id snuck away from a sleeping partner to find solace, after a disharmonious day of travel.
            To my surprise, another stein of thirst quenching beer arrived, this time served with a smile. As she bent to wipe the table of salt and peanut husks, I noticed her attractiveness. Then came a bowl of pretzels. After all, Id devoured the nuts and shed noticed my hunger. Unsure of how I might pay, I asked if she would cash a travellers cheque so I could pay the bill and the campground fee. 
            Where are you from?’ she asked in perfect English. Her lips, now highlighted with red lipstick, were engaging and her Heidi Klum facial features were stunning. 
            Ten minutes elapsed when she returned with a bottle of Riesling, two glasses and a small pizza. She was dressed, not as an officer-waitress, but as an attractive Fraulein with blue eyes, blonde locks and short skirt. There was no account and I worried further about escalating expenses.
                Now sitting opposite, she poured the wine, raised her glass and looked me in the eyes. Would you like to stay with me tonight? I have a penthouse overlooking the river and I can provide Bavarian hospitality.
          From behind, a mystery hand appeared and grasped a wine glass. A familiar voice demanded:
                 ‘Ill have some of that thank you.
                 My partner sat beside me, kissed me on the cheek and smiled at the beautiful German woman. 

Pomegranates in a Basket - Margaret Olley

Ponegranates in a Basket – Margaret Olley

Pomegranates 
Maggie Ball

After: Pomegranates in a Basket – Margaret Olley

It wasn’t fruit 
but the simulacrum of fruit 
expensive, dispersed about the table 
an appearance of abundance 
almost, but not quite, satiating. 

There were two thousand acres 
in the carpet of her mind 
or one yard of cracked linoleum  
and a chipped kitchen sink 
in which she bathed the baby. 

The air was fruity in the summer 
her child growing  
against a backdrop of paint. 

There were no pomegranates  
only a broken vase 
and the memory of a basket. 

The sweetest scent of all 
red paint, orange flowers 
arils large and bright 
almost, but not quite, real.  

Ruby Fruit
Jan Dean

After: Pomegranates in a Basket – Margaret Olley

Suspended from twiggy branches, pomegranates have the power
to spin, like so many dizzy planets, praising themselves: Make-do

will do, we’ll sit in a jug or even a tatty basket made ages ago
at occupational therapy. Let us perform. Your fans will clamour
to adorn their walls with us. Get on with it woman.

Pomegranates bask in the warm glow of a golden background.
Margaret must have tugged her bounty from a tree, growing wild

and free; in haste, anxious for her diorama to dazzle onlookers;
a picture of plenty. The crumpled tablecloth attracts light on humps
and shade in tunnelled folds. Less intense, blues and greens

make a marvellous contrast. My mother’s approach was different.
Long before antioxidants were discovered, her pomegranates came

in the young garden of her two-year-old dream house, nestled
beneath her bedroom window, facing the street. I don’t know if hers
were a dwarf variety. She trimmed both shrubs into manageable

upside-down cones. As my family will attest: Mum’s pomegranates
were large as Margaret’s, with smooth, shiny orange-red skin;

rare treasure to behold, marvel and devour. Drooling, we took turns
splitting them. Deftly, our fingers tweezed, gingerly removing rubies
from the cream membrane that cushioned them; slurping, revelling.

The Blank Canvas
Dee Taylor

The cigarette brought scant relief. Margaret took a final drag then twisted the butt into the overflowing ashtray beside her cup of Irish Breakfast tea grown cold with the waiting. She stared into the green depth of her garden. Her mind as blank as the canvas in the room behind her strewn with tubes of paint, a collection of brushes and another overflowing ashtray. Lucy would be in later to clear the mess away and then attempt to sort the brushes into some order even though she had told Lucy time and again to leave her stuff alone. She sighed at the plainness of it all. The bone crushing normality. Maybe it was time to give it away and enjoy the quite ebbing of her life. No surprises left, just a slow decline into the expectations of her age and all that accompanied it. 
           She heard a quiet rustle in the garden next door. Ben picking some innocent plant to sacrifice into the latest salad fad she supposed. Her knees were stiff this morning. She gave them a brief rub and shifted her position in the wicker chair with the peeling cream paint and studied the toes of her worn slippers. She liked their scruffiness, not thrown away because they were old. Life.
           The adjoining garden gate creaked. No, she thought, she could not handle his positive platitudes. Not today. She hauled herself upright and hobbled inside leaving the cup and ashtray for Lucy. 
           The quietness of the house held her in a familiar embrace. The slight mustiness reminded her of old clothes and of the secret hidey holes in her grandparent’s house in her favourite hide and seek games with her brother. They’re all gone now. 
           She stared at the virgin canvas. Nothing. She shuffled the paint brushes and thrust them down into the white and blue china mug with the Chinese design. Back to the canvas. Still nothing.
           Perhaps another cup of tea. As the water rose in crescendo she arranged the apples in the fruit bowl looking for inspiration. No that won’t work she mused. 
           A loud knock at the front door. Margaret glanced up at the large timber framed clock. Lucy has a key and she wasn’t due for another half hour, best to ignore it. 
           Back to that damned canvas. She stared at its inhospitable surface and pursed her lips. What could she do with it? Throwing it against the wall seemed a possible solution. She lit a cigarette. 
           The minutes ticked on. A key turned in the lock. 
           ‘Hello Margaret, how are we today?’ 
           We? I wasn’t aware there were two of me, thought Margaret. ‘Hmmph I’ve had better mornings.’ 
           ‘What’s wrong?’
           ‘Oh, don’t mind me Lucy, I’m in a mood this morning.’” 
           ‘Well this might cheer you up, look what Ben from next door left for you at the front door.’ 
           She turned to see Lucy holding a large basket of Pomegranates. Margaret smiled.

Bravery never goes out of fashion.

Thackeray

Quietus
Eve Gray

After: Thackeray

The case that held everything in, lies laid out like neatly folded clothes, reminding of the shape that once filled them and gave form – empty – empty now. The warmth has gone from caressing hands and consoling arms, from the hug of torso, the swaddle of legs and press of thighs.
        Sound has gone, the whistle and sing of him, voice replaying all the moods, soft to loud, loving to angry, fear to re-assurance. Little grunts of sleep, coughs, sneezes, sounds of tummy rumblings, sighs – all silent now, closed down now, faded to black … smell of fresh showered skin, of effort and exercise, salt smells of sea and swimming, hair and pores glistening all gone.
       
The shape and form, the architecture of his body, the scaffolding, the enfolding of mogul bumps of muscles across the six-pack, sling and harness of the loins, string bag net of privates that died after active service and resurrection again.
       
The light shining off skin – tight, tanned, glowing; the flash from moistened teeth – gleaming white ivories a keyboard shaping its own music. Eyes flashing, a lighthouse in the dark – lights searching or soft with little lines of support to give clues to wit approaching or tucked in deep, or hurt, even a touch of disappointment.
       
It has picked up its invisible form and taken its place in the universe – anonymous air until some thought remembers him and that grievous loss requires ongoing bravery.

Gregory Struck

After: Thackeray

It had begun simply. I was sitting at my desk, gazing at the god in front of me – my computer. I heard a sound. I looked across the office to Cynthia’s desk. She was crying – not for the first time. I looked at her, embarrassed. I didn’t really know her – a smile here, a casual word there. Enough to ask what was wrong? I wasn’t sure. She looked up. I walked to her desk.
        “Are you ok?”
        “It’s alright.”
        “Anything I can do?”
        “Thanks. I don’t think so.”
        “Ok. Let me know if you need anything.”
         She gave me a half-smile and I went back to my desk. My spreadsheets hadn’t gone anywhere.
         Two days later it happened again. Her supervisor, Barry, had just left our office after talking to her – from the corner of my eye, the one-sided conversation seemed intense. I looked at her – the tissues were out again. I walked over.
        “Look, it’s none of my business, but there’s obviously something wrong. Can I help?”
         She looked at me. Seemed to make a decision.
        “It’s Barry. He’s been … suggesting things.” Saying this seemed to open something in her mind and the words started pouring out.
         The “suggestions”. A visit to her home for “mentoring”. A drink after work. Criticisms of her reports. Talks in his office – him letting her know he could smooth her promotion pathway, her trying not to look at the family photo on the desk. Now the latest – the company might be downsizing and a good word from him could be helpful – if … He didn’t need to spell it out.
        I spent a restless night.
         Next morning, I went to see our manager. I told him what was going on. He listened. Said he would consider it. The following day, I was called to his office. He shut the door and looked at me. Some preliminary remarks. Then …
        “Barry Thomas has been with us for over twenty years. He’s a big part of our marketing division – a big part. On the other hand, Ms Adams has not shown herself to be a team player. We’re letting her go. Best for the company. I suggest you stay away from her till she’s cleared her desk and gone. She’s talking about a solicitor. Of course, the company would not look well on anyone who supported her in such a move. We might have to reconsider such a person’s future. Such a person would have to think about where his loyalties lay… make a decision …”
          I looked around his office. He was one of those managers who liked to inspire the workers with motivational posters everywhere. There was one on the wall behind him with a quote from someone called Thackery – vague memories came back from high school English. I looked at it.
        Bravery never goes out of fashion.
         Silence filled the office. Eventually, he prompted me with a cough. I looked at him.
        “I’ve made a decision.”

All in One Day
Grant Palmer

After: Thackeray

Fighter attacking
Oerlikon spits fire
Relinquishing life
Victoria Cross
Afterlife of heroes
Life unremarkable
Owed by his shipmates
Under the sea
Respected by all

Dehumanised enemy leg
Innocents murdered
Special no more
Honour undeserved
Outraged families
Nation shocked
Or should it be?
Unit disgraced
Respected by none

Bravery
Dean Briggs

After: Thackeray

Of course, bravery has always existed but since the arrival of fashion the pair have been inseparable, arm-locked, runway companions. Hominids landed on the planet, wearing only birthday suits and little, other than a shrug, was done about it, for a very long time. Early attempts at apparel were courageous for the wrong reasons, as both fig leaves and loin cloths were abject failures.
           It seems inevitable, after a couple of hundred generations of nudity, when the best solution to a problem, was to whack it with a club, that a more sartorial event might eventually occur. The genesis could have been begat by an all too familiar modern conundrum. Perhaps, an ancestor from the House of Cro-Magnon, an older chap, (known as Grog, Thunk or Damiann) cursed with the world’s first enlarged prostate, was often caught short in the wee hours, and forced to endure shivering, shaft-aching, moonlit piddles. It is possible that, in desperation, he wrapped his buffalo hide doona around his other and nether regions before setting off. The next morning, on reflection, he warmed to the idea of a cloak, and (here is where the courage kicks in, and remains) decided to experiment.   
         With a bone needle, pluck and some big-catgut, he set about creating a bespoke neanderthal cape. Next thing you know, it was receiving airtime whenever conditions turned a little nippy.  His companions gave this curious behaviour a wide berth. Unwittingly, such daring had invented the first garment, or ‘dah buh fog’ as it became known. Those around ‘Dame’, surely fell about laughing at this curiosity, shaking their shaggy, protruding eyebrows derisively, until, with grunts, gesticulations and catwalk-like sashays, he was able to illustrate the rationale behind it. 
         Understandably, the concept took off like a rock in a bonfire. Within weeks, others, reassured by peer pressure, made adaptions to the rudimentary shape to increase functionality and suit each individual’s curves and penchants.
         Then ‘Damo’ had another flint-like epiphany. He decided to tweak the design with the sole purpose of making it distinctive, rather than merely practical. The game had changed again, on just that whim. Soon, different groups began developing their own styles. Primitive charcoal croquis appeared on cave walls. Suddenly, anyone who was anyone and everyone who was not, was wearing something.
            Following hot on the stiletto heels of these experimentations, as the centuries piled upon one another like felt hats in a Saville Row millinery, the Haute Couture Period evolved, glowing with more pizazz than a gold lame cummerbund. Fashion began its most serious tilt with form. The tireless warriors, the Coco’s, Karls, Yves, Donatellas and others, dreamt, nipped and tucked, taking risks on an hourly basis, paddling where most had not even realised there was water.
            And the lynchpin that made it so, was ever bravery, beginning with Damiann, alone in his discomfort, right through to today’s garret dwellers, standing solitary, amid a dozen naked mannequins, all anxiously anticipating next season’s paradigm. 
Sun Tunnels - Nancy Holt

Sun Tunnels – Nancy Holt

Visiting My Bones Again
Lucy Nelson

After: Sun Tunnels – Nancy Holt

My hollow bones are there in the field.
They lie apart in clean pieces and
I visit them like a tourist.
Sightseeing is play, dulled by objective.

They are larger each time I return.
By now,
I can walk right through their middles without stooping.
A cylindrical seam encircles me.
Overhead, a fissure from an injury I don’t recall
frames a knotted thread of light.

They are cleaner, too.
Cleaner each time:
windswept,
rained on,
sun dried,
washed of bodily stuff.
No sign now of marrow.

If I press against the wall,
I can hear the roar of my forgotten blood.

colourful abstract painting of a seated woman by Del Kathryn Barton

The Fever is Here – Del Kathryn Barton

The Time Box
Shelley Stocken

After: The Fever is Here – Del Kathryn Barton

My belly skin droops as though weighted, deflated, 
sequestered from youth by a silvery mesh. 
My bosom’s surrendered to duty, its beauty 
fed out through the forces of physics on flesh. 
What once was a rich crowning glory grows hoary, 
each follicle sapped of its opulent brown. 
My face is a time-tattered etching; once fetching, 
it now recalls every ephemeral frown. 

If one point in time could be chosen, kept frozen 
and carefully packed in a carton, pristine, 
the rose in my cheek would bloom slightly more brightly, 
but what is a bloom for, if not to be seen? 
Each mark on my skin is eternal, a journal 
of life loved and laboured, of old tales and new. 
My story is littered with errors and terrors, 
Unboxed and defenceless, imperfect but true. 

My sons have been leaving me my whole life.
In pieces, like fragments of ice or retina –
they have been slipping from my vision,
like words I can no longer read.
They walk before me into the long days
of adulthood; they do not turn.

unmothering - Kristin Hannaford

They do not turn
Maggie Ball

Afterunmothering – Kristin Hannaford

It was the fourth labour, if you don’t count the losses  
in between. She didn’t count, nonetheless 
they were part of what she carried, that unearthly  
pain written into her hips as she bore down.   

A doctor whose name was already lost 
told her she might not survive another 
but here she was, the weight, she knew 
a daughter, tearing her open. Wound of love.  

The boys would leave her 
had already begun the dismantling 
laughing cruelly in the hallway 
dropping towels like tears, punching.  

she would not take her family for granted 
counted her lost cousins, parents, siblings 
an entire generation left behind, disappeared. 

Here, in this world, everything happened  
in present tense. The boys took what they needed 
slipped out without a backwards glance.  

Her daughter, on the point of arrival 
dark hair crowning, would not be so careless.  

Apron Strings
Jeanette Campbell

Afterunmothering – Kristin Hannaford

Cut an inch off every year – 
this wise old friend 
was 20 years ahead of me. 

Snip the scissors gently; 
bite your tongue; 
hope           pray         listen. 

Holding back is hard, 
keeping fingers out of the pie while 
leaving the door ajar. 

We’ll get together when they need a hand. 
We’ll get together then.  

When they turn, hopefully they’ll smile –  
remember who I am 

and I’ll smile back. 

Not in my House
Dianne Montague

After: unmothering – Kristin Hannaford. Inspired by the anniversary of the Christchurch Massacre and the anguish of mothers as expressed by ‘unmothering’.

Another bloodied floor bodies crumpled

White man sights fixed gun high burning heart

Strike down intruders
bring down Their God

right defended         jubilation

Questions without answers
righteous fury fed by power

Covered women          sobbing swaying

Still          who to blame?

More bloodied ground bodies shattered

Black men sights fixed guns wave throbbing hearts

Wipe out infidels
destroy Their God

honour upheld          triumph

Answers without meaning
demonising words hidden in rhetoric

Uncovered women          crying praying

Still          who to blame?

Platitudes          Platitudes

Sobbing Swaying Crying Praying

About Nature
Chris Williams

After: Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

The last remaining human 
A poet, defiant in isolation 
Watched Nature’s inexorable descent 
Shroud the village in wanton entropy. 
Watched through one window intractable 
The slow ivy crawl 
Swallow buildings in monochrome green carpet. 

At night, plastic tides lap and comfort him 
The fish, they have abandoned him 
Light, his only companion, returns as promised to blot away darkness 
That lurks in grand palaces, little red books and ignorance. 

The poet, now in a dusty cell, behind bars 
For telling the truth 
About Nature.       

Derelict 
Kathryn Fry

After: Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

Kikuyu broke boards to carpet the floors,  

showed ants and mice a myriad of new ways 

They were in first, having smelt the remains  

 

in the compost bin. Rats found a gap in the tiles 

and tunnelled passages. Birds landed on the roof 

and shoots mottled the guttersReclaimed  

 

by nature, you say? In the bedrooms, lantana  

at two metres high jostled with bitou bush making  

seed in window light. Possums moved in and a cat  

 

dropped her litter near the pantry door left open 

in the rush. Formosan lily beamed and powdered  

the walls in the laundry with pollen to ward off 

 

deadly night shade in the hall. There’s blackberry,  

home for snakespennywort and petty spurge  

in the bathroomprivet in the loo. Pigweed  

 

and onion weed made a cover for the ‘roaches.  

Yet waiting in the lounge waa young sapling of 

camphor laurel, built to dig deep, to outlast the lot. 

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

Vonnegut
Chinese Fishing Village reclaimed by nature - grown over with vines and grass

Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

Donation
Shelley Stocken

After: Vonnegut

I never tried skiing or absinthe and sugar 
I never read Hegel or Hawking or Plath 
I didn’t wear earrings or three-inch stilettos 
No-one ever told me I lit up a room 
I couldn’t tell whatsisname down at the bread shop 
his voice was the last thing I thought of at night. 
But now in the gloaming, the didn’ts don’t matter. 
They taper with each numbered 
dwindling 
breath. 

This tedious postscript is not as expected 
No stink-sodden albatross hangs at my neck 
The act of contrition placed squarely before me 
is flimsy and weightless. The light shines straight through. 
By this time tomorrow my lungs will belong to 
another poor bugger. I ask only this:
Don’t squander postponement with gasping and shouting 
with tutting obstructions and huff-punctured sighs. 
Breathe slowly and deeply. Inflate your intention 
and shape the air truthfully as you exhale.                           

Reprieve
L Croci

After: Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

Easy to forget function of things, 

like houses built to shelter humans, 

a hubbub of streets writhing 

along a mountain slope, 

when nature drapes a green chenille,  

hugs the ground back to its own, 

wears edges down so smooth,  

soon not even outlines will remain. 

 

There’s no-one left to tell the story 

nor is there any need, 

the old surrendered to the toil of age, 

the young to the miring magnet of the city. 

Nature was handea fragile manumission,  

at least so long as greenness lasts. 

                                        

Curlin’ Creeper
Phil Yeatman

After: Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

A cobalt flash sculpts overgrown buildings from the dark. Heat bathes my face. Butane stink, somehow satisfying. You hate it at first. Then you learn to like it. Then you don’t smell it at all, unless you think about it.
      Vegetal sizzling. A fistful of tendrils and emerald leaves crinkles at my feet like the legs of a dead spider. Butane canister strapped to my back, I fry the vines with a military-grade blowtorch.
     
People with PhDs call it pueraria inimicus.
     
We don’t speak Latin. We call it creeper.
     
It creeps. Always. You sleep, it creeps. Eat, creep. Laugh, drink, fornicate, shit, read, dance, whatever. It creeps. They say it was designed in a lab in Singapore as a sustainable cotton alternative. Grows up to a kilometer a day, feeding off sunlight, other plants, wood, fabric, sewage. Animals. People.
     
Satellite images of South-East Asia show nothing but creeper. Everything’s gone, even the trees.
     
Bangkok’s towers are green rectangles against the sky, grave markers for millions of people.
     
You used to hear stories from refugees. Monster traffic jams, everyone trying to get out at the same time. These people stuck in their cars, they didn’t even see the creeper coming up over the sides of the road. It sucked them dry, turned them into flaking mummies.
     
My headlight sweeps across another rustling tendril. I torch it. Lance of flame. I’d smoke the whole place if I could, but there’s only so much butane a man can carry.
     
Another vine. Torched.
     
Along the riverbank, jets of fire blink like lightning flashing within storm clouds. Khaki uniforms and masked faces appear and vanish. The containment line is five hundred kilometers long, largely on the eastern side of the Brahmaputra river, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to the Himalayas. That’s a lot of men and women with blowtorches.
     
Every six hours boats cross the river, swap us out with Team B. Six hours later, we’re back. Five days on, five days off.
     
Burn, burn, burn, burn, burn.
     
We call it curlin’ creeper.
     
Food doesn’t taste like anything anymore. The sex, when I find it, is angry and desperate. I don’t sleep well.
     
We get a fortnight’s holiday once a year, flights included. The light at the end of the tunnel. But a lot of these guys, once they come back to the containment line, they tell you they hated it. Their own comfortable bed, their kids, their friends, their hobbies. They hated every moment. You can leave, but you can’t forget.
     
Others never come back at all. It’s not that they quit. You’re not allowed to quit. But there’s always that final way out. You sneer at the idea at first, before it ripens in your mind, turns sickly sweet.
     
Me, I won’t slit my wrists at a five star hotel the night before I’m due back here. I won’t overdose, or leap over a balcony.
     
I’ll keep burning.
     
And burning.
     
And burning.
     
Because if not me, then who?
     
You?

Piet Mondrian painting - colourful squares and rectangles

The Days
Gail Hennessy

After: Chinese fishing village reclaimed by nature

On the first day planes stopped flying, birds began singing into the silence
ghosts inhabited the town

On the second day after the rain the rivers began flowing again, etching the land
with green valleys

On the third day in the fishing village doors were kept tightly closed; boats knocked at the floating docks

On the fourth day grass grew through the cobblestones, up the walls of the houses choked the chimneys with green velvet, snug as a warm blanket; the windows in the houses stared blindly

On the fifth day the fishermen opened their doors, walked down to the harbour, cast their nets from their boats, pulled them in over the side, then hung them out to dry like cobwebs catching each dewdrop, used their knives on the rocks and every oyster delivered a pearl

On the sixth day the children abandoned their devices and followed the wind through the empty streets, danced into the mountains and played in the clear pools at the foot
of waterfalls, while back in the village their parents waited for the sacred lotus to rise into sunlight

On the seventh day the children came home, the wind swept through each open door the world began to breathe and the fishermen saw that it was good for the earth had rested…

Julia and Mondrian 
Gail Hennessy

After: Mondrian

I remember how you loved
the perfection of mathematics

its surety about itself
its clarity and precision

like meetings in music
the bow mating with violin
cello and oboe

a combination of shapes
rectangle and square
portrait and landscape

stained glass in
primary coloured jewels
(your name)

blocks of vibrancy
working magic through
proximity and distance

in the dependability of relationships

you in your garden harvesting each perfect
circle of sun-drenched fruit
warmth in your hands

Door in Paris at 29 Avenue Rapp, very close to the Eiffel Tower. Built between 1899 - 1901. Art Nouveau masterpiece by Jules Lavirotte

The Forgotten Ghosts
Rebecca Pearson

After: Door in Paris at 29 Avenue Rapp – Jules Lavirotte 

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.” 

― Gloria Steinem 

‘Here we are – the most haunted house in the city.’ Peter was like an excited child as they turned the corner, and the building site came into view. He was managing the structural restoration of a historical art-nouveau building and had just this week received the keys to the site.
   Clair only half listened as Peter apprised her of the building’s disturbing history – of the many deaths that had occurred on the property over the years and all the spirits that still lingered there. Clair wasn’t interested in ghosts, only architecture. She was a sensible, 43-year-old who no longer felt any fear for childish ghost stories like these. In fact, lately, she’d felt little of any strong emotion. But this was better than being scared all the time. 
   
‘The entry hall is said to hold the ghosts of 8-year-old twins who died after falling down the great staircase. People have heard whispers and giggles and felt a cold little hand take hold of their own.’   
     
As Peter spoke, Clair was reminded of so many childhood nights hiding under the covers from the dark dread that crept through her room. Her fear had continued into her 20’s when she was a poor artist still chasing a creative career. But now she was a grown-up, with a sensible banking job and organised life, and these phobias had been banished. Clair hadn’t even realised the fear was gone until just now as Peter’s story brought back lost memories.  
     
The building was concealed by a wooden site fence, but once Peter unlocked the gate and pulled open the panel, the building’s lavish entry was revealed. Most striking was the enormous red-wood door, made more imposing by the stone sculptures that framed it. Wood, stone and iron swirled around the entry like a living, breathing creature, and Clair was halted by the force and beauty of the structure. 
     
The bust of a woman was carved above the top of the door, her stone eyes following the visitors as they approached the building. Was she warning them? No, Clair corrected herself. I’m not a child, I will not be scared.  
     
But then she looked up at the woman’s gaze again and felt a faint thrill. She considered how, along with the fear leaving her, so had the excitement in life. The mystery of the unknown world. She had forgotten what this felt like – this sense of wonder.  
     
‘Ready?’ said Peter as he stepped up to the doorway and unlocked the smaller inner door. 
     
Clair walked up to the open door and touched the cool wood and wrought-iron feeling the excitement build. As she stepped beneath the stone bust, a cold draft swirled around her, and she felt her heart speed up. One more step and she was standing inside the building, listening. Then she heard it – so faint – the whisper of a child. 

Dragons Doorway
Dee Murdoch

After: Door in Paris at 29 Avenue Rapp – Jules Lavirotte 

The nightmare is now real. The world sees a door way of ornate timber, ceramics and stone art work, for us trapped on the other side, we are faced with darkness, pungent odours and a true sense of foreboding. 
    Within minutes of passing through the doorway we were engulfed by a true sense of foreboding as the massive doors creaked behind us and the darkness descended, sealing us off from the world that we knew. We entered through the doorway hours before, full of enthusiasm and laughter, we had spoken of the magic that may have inspired such stunning structures, however we never thought we would become part of it. What was the inscription that we had read to the right of the door? It told of the breath of dragons creating the furnace in which the ceramic tiles which adorned the doorway were formed. It spoke of the majesty of the dragon and an entry to a hellish cavern, one in which we now realised we were trapped. 
       
The minutes and hours that had passed seemed like an eternity. When you are in darkness and have no control, your greatest demons come back to haunt you. The child hood stories of monsters under your bed, of trolls that steal small children, of cavernous voids that open from floors if you step on the wrong stone. It was all so real in the inky darkness. 
         
At this time, the moment of our greatest despair a shaft of light appeared, highlighting a scale like formation that seemed to have come through from the outside – the world we knew. Our spirits lifted. A brief mention of the dragons and the inscription seemed previously like a child’s folly, however right now we all became true believers in these ancient stories.  
         
The stories that my grandchildren had implored me tell them, the world of the dragon now seemed like my greatest asset. Could those last two pieces of chocolate in my handbag be the secret to our escape? Could I convince my fellow travellers to trust me, when all seemed so bizarre? These were people I had only met the day before, when we signed up for the day trip of the great doorways of Paris. 
         
Having no other option, I spoke up. I confessed my belief in dragons, of their beauty, power and the terror that they could unfurl and lastly of their love of chocolate. It seems peculiar that we humans when faced with little or no alternative with cling onto any glimmer of hope, no matter how crazy it may seem. 
         
With the nurturing words of my fellow travellers in my ears and taking the chocolate in my trembling hand I walked towards the shaft of light and placed the two pieces on the scale like structure and said a simple thank you. The light grew, the glass on the door became transparent, the door opened. Daylight and fresh air had never been such a precious commodity. 

Walking Away
Dee Murdoch 

After: Mansfield

She has the strength to toil on the farm, to raise children and to hold back tears 
The ability to love for decades and yet remain unloved  
The determination to mould a relationship long after the clay has turned dry 
Knowing that the fire has faded and still searching for a residual spark.  
Then with little warning she changes  
Collecting her possessions, she turns out the light 
Closing the door on a life that has no purpose  
Walking away requires every cell of her energy  
Though to stay would see her very being wither and slowly die  
She craves happiness and new places  
To meet strangers and learn of their life stories  
To walk on soils totally foreign to her  
Her life turns a new page.  
A chapter yet unwritten,  
Of words yet to discover 
Her soul is replenished  
She is once again woman 

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.

Katharine Mansfield

A hospital bed parked in your lounge, subtle as a semi-trailer. Your trademark lip curl, still up for a protest. No, it wasn’t too much to ask, to check out from your own bed, but these nurses have a bad case of occ health and safety, sorry Dad. You are splintering, breaking. By Thursday, whipper-snapper strangers who only know you as a bent frame, come, go, witness your unravelling. Jesus, the indignity of nappies for grown-ups; not a murmur from you. (I recall your contempt for anything medical, your scathing rendition of that “How are we today?” bullshit in hospitals.

Fiona Lynch, Our Father.

Always There
Dianne Montague

After: Fiona Lynch – Our Father

She disliked the room, the food, the people and most of all the solitude.
        Two weeks respite, that was the plan. Then, hopefully, a more permanent arrangement. The plan changed with the weather, my mum’s health, or state of mind.
       
It had taken too long for me to encourage her to leave her home of thirty years; too long to decide which small self-contained room in a retirement village suited best. Soon after arrival her health deteriorated.
       
“Aren’t you coming today?” My mum’s voice had developed a wining tone.
       
“I’m having a day at home mum. Just need to get some things done here.” I tried to sound calm.
       
“But you didn’t come yesterday.”
       
“Yes I did Mum. Remember. We went out to lunch.”
       
“Did we? I don’t think so. Are you sure?”
       
What was the point in arguing with a mind that was lucid one moment then confused the next? It was hard getting used to the change in her, after seventy years. I’d gone back home with a child after my divorce. Even kept the peace with my selfish dad. Just for Mum. Helped nurse him for ten years, till thankfully, he died.
       
“I’ll always be there for you.” Over the years Mum regularly said those words. These days I heard myself say, “I’ll be there for you Mum, no matter what.” It was the, ‘no matter what’, which was getting to me.
       
I looked around in that barren space. Just a bed, side drawers and chair. Bleak and impersonal. Toilet and shower, around the corner. Just far enough to make it – or not. A garden framed by a sliding window and heavy curtains. It’s come down to this. How can I ever move Mum into this for the rest of her life? It’s just too awful. But she’s too frail to go back to the retirement village.
       
“I’m going back to the retirement home. Nowhere else.”
       
My immediate response was relief. I can’t make her stay here I’ll take her back and see what happens. Maybe she’ll die before she has to make that final move.
       
Again, I was the child hearing those words. “I’ll always be there for you.” The reality was … she wouldn’t.