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Hunter Writers Centre is thrilled to announce the winners of the
Members’ May Writing Contest

$100 First Prize: “Love Story” by Shelley Stocken
$50 prize: “Autumn Ghost 1” by Nicole Sellers
$25 prize: “Imaging the Mind of Man Ray” by D.M. Dorahy 
$25 prize: “Looking Back” by Diana Pearce
$25 Members’ choice award: Magdalena Ball for “Skeleton Leaf”
Special Mention: “Albert” by Ann Blackwell 

Read all 2021 wonderful entries
August, May and February 2021 

The pieces below are best read on a tablet or desktop

Skeleton Leaf 1964 Olive Cotton

Skeleton Leaf 1964 – Olive Cotton

I don't need you to remind me of my age. I have a bladder to do that for me.

Autumn Ghost 1
Nicole Sellers

After: Skeleton Leaf 1964 – Olive Cotton

You wink and dissolve in sepia
mulch underfoot, a velvet
of bark and twigs, ash and fog.
Spring will weave something dewy
from the vacated spiderweb life
you cast across my path, will wrap
the house in ivy, gleam snail trails,
swell snow peas, drip into my coffee,

push me to the beach to find in sand
your skeleton, some permanent imprint
of whole leaf, snowflake or spiderweb.
You harvested heirloom seeds, grafted
your gametes onto my spine, your shape
refracted and scattered in droplets
wherever I swim, patterned in liquid nets
or frozen steam, according to season.

My moth-eaten, backward heart dives
for the rules you made, unearths a family
tree mirrored in seaweed and leaf litter,
blood and bone, roots wider than its branches.

Skeleton Leaf
Maggie Ball

After: Skeleton Leaf 1964 – Olive Cotton

Age came with no preamble
the thinning of tissues, intricately laced veins
where skin was once smooth.

It was still possible to see the girl in her bone structure
looking outward, sienna ferrotype, always the eyes
bigger than you’d expect in such a small face
full with something recognisable, unsayable, longing 
and resignation, carried together, held in tension.

Already the body was shrinking, the world blurring
she needed help up the steps, stumbled against the door
burned her arm rendering schmaltz.

Sat and sat and wouldn’t stand for fear of falling.
She leaned against the arm of the big chair
feeling the lightness of her imprint.

From that spot she could conjure
a lifetime, any moment she thought lost
ghostly against the window
the spaces and places she’d known and left
sheer, timeless, at the end of a finger
frail but no less real, no less solid.

All Fryed Out
Mick Fairleigh

After: Fry

I‘m around the same age as the senior Mr. Fry,
And like him I empty my bladder right through my eye,
After the passing it’s so much of a relief,
As I give one or two shakes to my dribbling sheaf,
The feeling I have after pushing the loo button,
Is so fantastic as the door is a shuttin’,
I can now hit the sack for a sleep of four hours or five,
And start off again as the morning sun does arrive,
So now the whole pattern continues after my shuteye,
That puts me in the same leaking club as you my dear Mr. Fry.

Filigree Faces
Jeanette Campbell

After: Skeleton Leaf 1964 – Olive Cotton

Ornate, intricate, delicate form,
stunning beauty, symmetry.
Attributes command desire.
Exquisite structure,
beauty spots attract, fascinate.

Upstanding while the winds are silent,
on show while all is calm.
No substance to withstand the chaos,
crushed under the quietest storm.

All is merriment, celebration,
see-through, transient lives –
blown away in the breeze.

Autumn Ghost 2
Nicole Sellers

After: Skeleton Leaf 1964 – Olive Cotton

I trace the wedding lace on engraved silver
gelatin photographs, sip from your chipped cup,
scan the iron sky while I wear your woollen hat.
Your capillaries script my lungs, pulse, summon

cold air. Inspiration taken from your mouth
will never expire but echo in other cries, whorl
in future fingerprints, flash inside storm clouds,
move under amniotic surf. Vestigial lizard tails
will sprout in summer, offshoot generations
will branch and fork, stream, flow, gush brine
into rocky brooks, join brackish rivers, fill seas
with grand plans. Your salted window tints my view;

outside, crows sketch faint guidelines. I squint at the way
you shield us, define us, divide us, your fragile, unbreakable
blueprint revealed in dirt and time, cartilage never barer
or more lucid than in winter. I want to wade in your glass
and fade like a white owl’s wingbeat, but I stay distinct,
a cellulose lattice, my ridged veins black, a snowflake
poised over the ocean, a porous leaf not yet released.

A Sprung Trap
Jan Dean

After: self portrait – Max Beckmann

Veins pulse, breath shallows. Cornered, there’s no escape.
With right hand up, left down; close to the body
as if warding off onlookers, a sense of containment ensues.
Beckmann appears blind in his left eye, yet he sees through you.

Is it animal cunning? No difference in colour between shirt
and skin turns up the heat. A glow forms in the triangle of red
made by scarf, pot and steeple. Were he to jerk backwards
Beckmann might break through the back window, go down

down, down and deliver as a broken parcel, scattering blood
and body parts around the fairground, soft and sweet
with lack of sound. Although aloof and insular, Beckmann
is compelled to communicate his passion, expressing emotion.

Does the red scarf signal stifled feelings twisted his face
with broad forehead and narrow chin into a grimace?
His mouth, emphasising the jut of bottom teeth, conveys a snarl.
Does he whimper? Two paintings hem him in; a landscape

with cathedral and a still life with pot plant. Only minimal parts
are shown; a steeple and two potted leaves suggest release.
Could shock treatment bring the only successful outcome?
Would that relieve the fume and soothe his soul?

self portrait Max Beckmann

self portrait – Max Beckmann

Everything was normal and right. There were dishes in the sink and the sound of kids playing in the street and the trains passing smutty wind. Something had settled over the kitchen. Rose kept the colours inside the lines and all the patterns were proper, sensible and neat. Happiness. That's what it was.

The Kitchen Table
Gail Hennessy

After: Winton

morning light knocking on glass
seeping beneath the window sill

a stage set for the first meal of the day
the stoked fuel stove an embered glow

knives dissecting bread and butter plates
on the white tablecloth starch-stiff

bowls assigned their rightful place
each spoon a sentinel, a parallel companion

a china jug bordered with autumn leaves
holding the morning’s freshly delivered milk

the electric jug gargling smoke signals
my brothers flip flopping the toaster

our mother standing, a conductor at the stove
bringing porridge to the boil in slow circles

she is spooning it into our three waiting bowls
we are drizzling runny honey from a crystal pot

swirling our initials onto the steaming surface
spreading amber alchemy to sweeten the morning

and we never knew it for happiness

Love story
Shelley Stocken

After: Winton

Once I would notice
your hand on my back
the things on your bookshelf
your funny-shaped ears

Blushing with promise
I tripped on my feet
to get to the place where
the fairy tales go

Breathless, I traded
the catch in my throat
the gut-turning flutter
the thrill in my spine

Then to subsist on
your practical gifts
your boots in the hallway
your punctual snore

Tired from chasing
the heels of a dream
I asked if you wanted
a nice cup of tea

the enigma of Isidore ducasse by Man Ray

The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse – Man Ray

A Chance Meeting
Beth Spencer

After: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse – Man Ray

You think I won’t, but
I am bound to feel it,
felt it, the zig zag 
needle in my bones, 
the flesh sliced
and stapled, the blood 
raining, the wheel
turning, the metal 
dripping, the thread
sprung in the hooked crook, 
held in the spliced whoosh
as I open to you —
all of me, spread out
all in pieces,
Tied up in knots.

Imaging the Mind of Man Ray
D.M. Dorahy

After: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse – Man Ray

Today I am taking photographs of my unique assemblage – a response to that inspiring phrase penned by Ducasse: “…the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”. A prototypical surrealist, he has juxtaposed the familiar to create an absurdity that incites us to ponder, or, maybe, to wonder.
         I have gathered those few essentials that I need. A sewing machine: that efficiently engineered device which replicates the manual labour of hand-held threaded needle. The epitome of Modernity it noisily speeds up the once painstaking process of sewing – to make or to mend – by rapidly replicating each little stitch, each a precise reproduction of the one before: trooping lines of uniformity.
This machine brings to mind memories of Papa, tailoring away in Brooklyn and asking me: ‘…what good is this art-making Emanuel, what is this bohemian life in Manhattan going to bring you, you gotta settle down, raise a family and earn a respectable living!’
I add an army blanket: relic of the trenches. I wrap the smooth, metallic device in the prickly-fibred fabric. Umbrella-like the blanket is a canopy of calm.
Next a ball of twine. The string I unravel secures the blanket folds: looping, crossing over and under and around, twisting and turning. Intersections that mould and shape and sculpt the now hidden object which becomes an enigmatic icon, a covert homage to Ducasse, and perhaps, Papa.
Now the useless contraption is transformed, muffled: suffocated and silenced. No more rat-a-tat-tating, no more ghost-like reminders of machine guns firing. Impractical, irrational, a useless package this, something to be dismantled and discarded after the shooting of my film.
Then, only the photograph will remain. It may remind us that chance meetings of absurd realities occur constantly. Like the chance meeting on a battlefield of a bullet and a man.

Ann Blackwell

After: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse – Man Ray

I am eighteen, this is my first job and I want to make a good impression. I have been here four weeks. The city of Johannesburg is buzzing outside, and I am feeling very grownup. I watch the three white male staff chat and laugh at the front counter. My job is to give them spare parts information, which I have in a cabinet on cards in front of me.
        Answering the phone and I notice Albert standing in front of me. He is a tall, good-looking African man, with trendy dreadlocks and a gentle smile. Albert does all the heavy lifting and carrying of spare parts for the three white males on the front counter.
         ‘Madam can you give me the number of this engine part please.’
        I point that I’m on the phone when the other phone starts ringing. I feel flustered with two phones wanting information and now Albert’s waiting for me as well. I whisper to Albert ‘answer the other phone’ and ask them to wait. He shakes his dreadlocks with a definite no.
        ‘Please Albert.’ I urge.
        He picks up the black Bakelite phone and starts to speak, when the two men from the front counter, rush over and one hits him with a crashing blow across the head. Albert falls to the floor and the other man kicks him in the ribs. He does not move.
        ‘You black bastard, how dare you.’ Fumes the white clerk.
        I am frozen in fright. My heart is thumping, my anger boiling, I can’t speak. The white males are glaring at me. Everyone in the office has come out and are staring at me.
        “This is a ‘white’ phone and blacks are not allowed to touch it. Albert should know that.” The clerk says, red in the face.
        “But it is my fault, I asked him to answer the call.”
        “So, you want his filthy black mouth on your white phone, do you? He says exploding with rage.
        “There is nothing wrong with Albert’s mouth, you dickhead. How dare you hit him for no reason. Are you mad?”
        He looks at me with absolute horror and says,
        ‘Oh shit, are you some sort of kaffir lover? I should have killed the bastard.’
       The whole office is now staring at me with disgust. I feel helpless and embarrassed. A woman is rubbing the phone viciously to get Alberts mouth off it. I have never been part of this savage cruelty before. I see racism every day, but it has been more verbal than physically violent. They drag Albert behind the shelves and leave him under a blanket.
        Albert is tightly bound up by Apartheid Laws, and he is not seen as human by these people. Under that blanket there is simmering silence and burning hostility.
        The next day I see Albert and whisper, ‘I’m so sorry.’ He walks past me his head held high but does not utter a word. I realise that I am part of his problem. I must leave this horror; leave a country I love and leave Albert to sort it out. Nelson Mandela is still in goal for another 28 years.

Outback Australia - Kath Williams

Outback Australia – Kath Williams

Kath is a Newcastle, Hunter based photographer. Follow her @kathwilliamsphotopgraphy 

Maree Chapman

After: Moriarty

Youth waved as it was passing
well that’s my perception anyway
I was running fast to catch it
but somehow I lost my way

On the branches of the family tree
hung images of the crookedness of life
the disengagement of relationships and fracture of a man and wife

Not much dialogue was offered
but at the mention of her name
I could swear I heard eggshells underfoot
and I wondered, was it grief or was it blame?

In the twinkling of an eye the confusion then was cleared
like a ray of brilliant sunlight truth appeared in all her glory
she entered through the crack that swiftly brought me back
to right the wrongs within my own life story

So all dressed up, side stepping all the eggshells
I left the rabbit hole feeling very optimistic
finding answers to the questions I once misunderstood
leaving the mystery behind for good
I applied another shade of lipstick

Byron Dreaming
Chris Williams

After: Outback Australia – Kath Williams

The Byron is dead, sang before his supper
Anaphylaxis on a pork chop.
Born on the Colony’s birthday, never seen.
Tyre treads, patterns in the dust
Across the tracks where the Songlines were sung
way beyond the horizon. Blue sky. Mined.
The cattle sway and piss and shit
On the floor of your agnosia
The dash of blue, too blue!
To see the brown eyes’ memories.
His vision from the cab: emptied landscape, baying cattle weeping
For a place on Woolworth’s shelf.
There is no water here, gone with Gondwanaland
And farmers shut the gate, it’s already too late
To escape, to the Bay where the Byron sang.

It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

But maybe every life looked wonderful if all you saw was the photo albums.

Shutter Moment
Beth Spencer

After: Moriarty

On the day I got to be a daffodil
With green dyed socks on my hands for leaves
And a yellow crepe paper crown

I felt so happy, because this was who I was 
And this was all I needed to be,
Part of a field of golden daffodils.

Nothing more expected of me 
Than to bloom, and sway, and be.
To root myself into the ground

And grow myself towards the sky.
I was a burden to no-one.
Irritated no-one.

I said nothing wrong (said nothing at all).
Took up the most slender amount of space.
Required only sunshine and a drop of water.

I could close my eyes and 
invent the world.

The Lam
Cedar Whelan

After: Outback Australia – Kath Williams

hiding out
laying low
off the grid
on the lam
out of touch
not missing
I know where I am

want to sit down in country
stop running and heal

so many of us out here
leaving histories behind
creating new identity
acceptance without scrutiny
and a chance to start again

Looking Back
Diana Pearce

After: Moriarty

My memories are filled with images
that flicker
like fractured light past
photos of unremembered instances,
past my personal realities.

My brother and I hold hands
stare unsmiling at the camera,
I am four, tossing grain to feed the hens,
I straddle a large horse, my uncle has the reins;
familiar faces, the rest forgotten

I recall
watching my grandmother
plucking feathers from a beheaded hen,
riding my pony to help my father muster sheep,
bottle-feeding orphan lambs and poddy calves.

I piece together the fragments
that dance through my mind,
remake into a whole
patterned by choice.

Chris Williams

After: Williams

Author’s note: The prompt verse comes towards the end of the poem. There was a meadow of asphodel in the Elysian Fields of the Greek underworld.

You can call me Reggie. Maybe Dad was just being pragmatic when he named me William, like taking out insurance for old age. He was amnesic towards the end.
      He never did spend much time with my brother and I. He was too busy doctoring in the day and writing at night. I spent most of my time daydreaming about Hades, the afterlife, girls in tight sweaters. Mum thought I was destined to study history at Uni. Or fashion.
        I followed dad into medicine. Must have been genetic. He left all his old text books just open, laying there on the floor. Sometimes he’d even point me in the right direction. Treatment for a stroke, symptoms of a coronary, syphilis, how to pop back a dislocated shoulder.
        But I always hated that name.
      So, when I was twenty-one, I marched into the registry office and changed my name to Reginald. I kept the surname. Something about singing and Welsh heritage. Only problem was, I couldn’t sing.
         I found my calling two years into my medical degree. Dentistry and Gardening. Don’t they follow the same principle? If the roots are rotten, pull them out. Decay? That’s only a natural process. Everything decays. Eventually.
       They say its all in the genes, so I suppose I should be able to write poetry. But how can an image, an emotion over a beautiful sunset be coded in bits of DNA?
      ‘Hey Dad.’ I said once. ‘I like your poem “The Girl”. Something about her “big breasts” under her “Blue sweater” that turns me on.”
      “There’s more to poetry that big breasts, son.” he said with a gleam in his frugal eyes.
         I read some others. Pretty basic if you ask me, like who gives a fig if he’s eaten your plums? In the icebox. Where’s the imagination there? Like he could have smashed the plums or thrown them at a blank canvas then he’d have created artistic purple smears. But no, he just ate them.
       Did he ever love me? He wrote that everything he does drives him from those he loves. So at twenty one, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Poor mum, she stayed out of duty. Didn’t they all back then?
     It all came down to that Asphodel. The white lily of the Greek underworld. I hope you reached the Elysian Fields and not Tartarus. You deserved to spend eternity hanging out with Daedalus and Persephone-with-the-big-breasts. She might even wear that blue sweater you liked so much.
         Because your life was never mediocre.

Letting Go For Liberation
Margaret Cook

After: Williams

Wise to do some letting go now,
seek ease amid the things we cannot change
but know are changing us,
commanding our embrace and our alliance.

In warfare we can be distorted,
in acceptance there is peace;
better we find transformation in the conflict,
seek increase, not reduction.

And in the space of the transition
might we see the soul that is within us,
impervious to threat like the cloths that mask our bodies,
and know the fleshing out of a simplicity,

of Liberation.

Her Own Path by Clarice Beckett

Her Own Path – Clarice Beckett

Jan Dean

After: Her Own Path – Clarice Beckett

The year the woman artist came to town, we lived
in a cottonwool world, where night closed in
like a song, sung through a haze of mist and sand
sent up from the beach via zephyrs.

Our meeting place, a group of telegraph poles
emitting the hope of religious symbols
marked the point of departure for chaperoned girls
who skipped down the path to a booth

where they took turns anointing coy boys with kisses
abundant and free. The boys hid smiles

behind their blur of sunbeam-blessings.
Each morning girls rose early to choose

prize berries for their staple diet of homemade
ice cream and milkshakes, pink-tinged
like the evening sky. They wore rice-starched aprons
of white to protect perfection. IT WAS ALL A LIE.

That year, anyone who couldn’t comply
with membership of ‘straight, narrow,
staid, pale and spry’ was shoved towards
another path, leading to a cliff of sighs.

* Oil on canvas on cardboard: National Gallery of Victoria

Holding Hands
Brian Noble

After: Her Own Path – Clarice Beckett

Feathered in the pink-splendored glow of east,
            this morning’s mood soothes of patience bearing.
                        In the gothic beauty certainty brings,
            I shall pass along this somber road with you.

To our right, the dead bodies are left to rot;
Passing into the grave-stock, their worship approaches
            Among the fog of bones,
                                         misery rises…
in the ghoul,     their memories grasp about.
            Our presence baffles their brackish minds;
                        They breathe us in,
                                                       and slump like ragged dolls.

Summer Drama
Neil Patterson

After: Her Own Path – Claire Beckett

It was shortly after dawn on a still summers morning when I stepped out onto the road, looked directly south and was immediately alarmed. The distant roar, similar to that of a waterfall along with the sweet smelling smoke of burning eucalypt had awakened me. I could see the orange glow of the bushfire above the tree line three or four kms away, it was difficult to tell.
          As I watched, a number of RFS pumps dashed past followed by of police car. It seemed serious and I urgently woke my family. Our teenage daughter Brie, refused to rise with my wife Jan taking over the task of extracting her. Jon, our eleven year old son, was mesmerised by the smoke and the fiery glow. By now ash was raining down and the smoke was increasing.
          As we changed Jan starting packing a smallish box with those items we needed to take. It is surprising what is and what isn’t important. I helped as we packed insurance documents, passports, our will, a selection of photographs along with the hard drive from our computer. Our lives in a box. The smoke seemed to be seeping into the house and we were all coughing a little.
          Blue flashing lights parked outside our little home and a policeman directly but politely suggested we drive into town where we would be safe. Jan had fear written all over her face and obediently nodded to the cop. I pulled the car to the front of the house, the visibility was by now restricted to about ten metres, with the noise from the fire becoming a growl. I was in the driving sear, Jan next to me and the kids in the back with our young Golden Retriever who thought this was a wonderful new game and licked everyone in sight.
          With our worldly possessions safe in the boot, I drove away from our little wooden house unsure if we would ever see her again. Jan read my mind and stifled a tear. We drove into town, about five kms, with the smoke haze thinning out as we went. We were directed by signs and the police to hunker down in the local community hall. We parked ourselves, accepted sandwiches and tea from kind hearted people and waited. We didn’t quite know what we were waiting for, news of our house good or bad, news that the fire had abated, we really just sat a waited. Then came the news. A very sombre looking fiery, reeking of smoke and covered in god knows what courageously spoke to all four of us. “You guys live as 456 Lake St,” we nodded as one, “Well the good news is there is no damage to your property however the fire is still raging between town and your place meaning you will need to bunk down here tonight.”
           The girls cried in relief, I winked at Jon, he smiled and the dog wagged her tail.

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