Pen-demic

by members of Hunter Writers Centre

(A new contest will start next month – stay tuned)

Winner of the $100 cash prize:
After: ‘She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.’
-J.D, Salinger, A Girl I Knew

The Red Blossoms
Rosemary Bunker

She breathed in the fear of the city, corralled on the balcony, green flashes of shrieking parakeets in the paper bark wall ignoring red blossoms, army of dandelions whirling and twirling batter her thyme, nothing to block Covid army, legions of red crab TV blossoms jostling on the floor, in the chair, her hair, aimed for her mouth, their entry, their survival in her lungs and her resistance a bar of soap like Don Quixote and she ninety years old in her V for vulnerable E for, she knew, expendable shirt no way out for her although she had listened, done what, more if she could in the supermarket, waiting at arm’s length, feet marked  in the queue, holding herself, stick woman paper sketch not brushing a surface, not touching a hand and how she missed that, the feel of skin, banned now, stroking and patting the cat, touch of life, checking the pet food, following the security guard single file down aisle three for toilet paper and the guard jokes if anyone coughs you’ll  shit yourselves from fear so the crowd cackled but this was no time, was it, for jokes and she clamped her mouth shut against red marauding crab blossoms and the heat, the sexual frenzy invisible in the supermarket, lurking on the empty shelves, the cash register as she waved her card, a magician no longer herself but a tree, absorbing and transforming night fog of fear that choked her dreaming of lovers, his hand on her thigh, of ham sandwiches and thick mustard that once was time for food and bottles of bubbly and red but not now, not on the edge, looking down, spades of rough-thrown earth marking the trench for her to fall when Covid hit, take no prisoners, she would go down but not to-day for the dentist accosted her outside the door with a thermometer proof of wellness required, pass friend, but the end would come soon enough, this certainty same as ever she did not want, feeling the thirst, the throat coated and closing, the lungs, hers no more resisting air, Canute a laugh, so she must stay here on the balcony, stay home, wash her hands, soap on blossoms like salt on slugs, coat herself with sanitiser and wait.
Winner of a $50 cash prize:
The fourth horseman of the apocalypse
by John Tierney

It made my Irish blood run cold. Standing in the fresh food people’s vegetable aisle, I couldn't believe my eyes. The shelf was empty. This made the great toilet paper heist of March 2020, fade into insignificance. A real crisis was upon Australia. No spuds! The need for potatoes, springs from deep in my Celtic DNA. Immediately, graphic images filled my mind of my great-great-grandparents flight from Ireland, when the potato crops failed in the 1850s. If Australia cannot even produce enough potatoes to feed itself in 2020, I suddenly realized we were done for!
          At the time, I was on a 'sensible restocking' run (which is good). This is not to be confused with panic buying (which is bad). The latter behaviour could even bring on another tongue lashing from Sco-mo. ‘Just stop it,’ he intoned on one-morning news bulletin, 'it is un-Australian.’ Whatever that is. We kept our excursions out into Coronavirus land a secret from our six children, who were becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of their ‘ageing’ parents during the pandemic.
          I had only been home for five minutes when there was a knock on our door. It was Amanda who lived in the apartment across the corridor. She often dropped in, usually to wait for the locksmith to yet again let her in. The conversation this time started on a positive note. She asked if we needed anything from the shops (code for toilet paper). ‘No, we are fine’ I said gratefully. 
          Then the conversation took a more sinister turn. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise, as she announced the pending arrival of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse on his pale horse, to potentially unleash pestilence on our floor. Living high up in an apartment tower, I smugly assured myself that we were safe.  However, in our mid-seventies, we were in the most vulnerable pandemic group. 
          Then Amanda dropped her bombshell. ‘I am moving back with my parents' for two weeks because I want to put as much physical distance as possible between Bradley and me. Tomorrow he returns from Europe. With rising alarm in my voice, I enquired where his travels had taken him, hoping it might be, Iceland, the Outer Hebrides or Lapland. 
          ‘Well, Bradley has been overseas for the last three weeks, having a lovely holiday with his parents in Italy, Spain and Britain,’ she said without a hint of irony. ‘Now the government is insisting that he self-isolate for two weeks. Although he’s across the hall from you, he promises not to come out,’ Amanda said, in an unsuccessful attempt to reassure me. 
          During the next two weeks, my greatest fear was that Bradley would develop cabin fever in the tiny one-bedroom apartment, go stir crazy and run screaming at me in our common hallway, before dashing to the elevator to escape. When Amanda left, Pam and I looked at each other in fear, and said in unison, ‘don’t tell the kids.’
Winner of a $50 cash prize:
Nothing to Sneeze About 
exponential poem
by Kit Kelen 

you wouldn’t murder your old granny in her bed

or anyone else’s for that matter
 

you wouldn’t smother a baby with a pillow

in ordinary circumstances
 

take tissues from a terrible cough 

or a bum that needs wiping
 

you wouldn’t go into a crowded mall 

and open fire indiscriminately with a semi-automatic weapon
 

you’d never turn off someone’s life support system

(unless they’d specified when and under what circumstances

and you’d agreed reluctantly earlier on)
 

it is true sometimes you’re hot

and you might take my breath away from time to time 

you might give me fever now and then 
 

but you wouldn’t use germ warfare

just to win an argument 
 

you wouldn’t play Russian roulette for kicks

or make yourself a mummy in one of those dolls

 
you wouldn’t start up your own zombie apocalypse 

wouldn’t want poxy zombie breath 

you’d always clean your teeth
 

you wouldn’t put children out on the street 

take crumbs from their starving mouths 
 

you wouldn’t vote to end the economy 

or curb the human species

(well, maybe you would) 
 

if you wanted to top yourself 

you’d think up something pleasanter
 

but anyway 

I think you can see where this is going
you’re not a complete evil shit are you?

so don’t touch every bloody thing

and wash your hands after
 

stay the fuck home 

don’t catch COVID 19 

do not pass it on!

Winner of a $50 cash prize:
House Arrest
by Eve Gray

The house has been arrested
cautioned to stay within
doors not to do more
than look out of windows
remain within the confines
of walls and the perimeter
of fences. These orders stand
for an unspecified period.

Faces pressed against glass
peer in prying geraniums trying
to hide their curiosity behind
coarse furred parasols,
blushing for the breath they leave
fugging up the window panes.

They are standing at ease
but on guard nevertheless.
The place is under house arrest
it must not leave the precinct
without an armed guard
and permission formed in triplicate.

Lawns cower mown down
beaten back by bullets of old rain
Inhuman voices patrol in gutter
and sluice the milk of inhuman kindness

below ground where it is no longer
relevant. The house in question
soon learns its walls intimately
all ceilings seen flawed floors
all known finger-printed into memory

There is nothing to do but wait
and measure the length of days
along halls take stock of dimensions
and the condition of the paintwork.
The house is under arrest
and I have been appointed gaoler.
A Walk in the Park 
by Ann Blackwell


“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”  
― Emily Dickinson 

Shivering under a large umbrella a stinging rain hit us in opaque grey sheets.    
      ‘Oh Godso this is Oxford’. I muttered under Mike’s armpit. ‘and we have to live here for three years.’   
      The rain sodden place was called ‘Gloucester Green’ a barren bus station, the gateway to Oxford University.  My first impressions of this beautiful ancient city were not good.   
      Our bed and breakfast was in an old Victoria house that had been turned into rooms for overseas students.  We had a tiny bedroom and a cupboard for a bathroom which contained a hipbath and toilet.   A small 2-bar heater was all we had to keep warm.  The shilling electric meter spun around madly and suddenly went ‘clang,’ and we were plunged into darkness and cold.    The room smelt of damp mold and encrusted old carpet. 
      Breakfasts was a gruesome affair.  Mrs. Adams, a huge lady who owned the place, walked around with a fag hanging out of her mouth, coughing and making grotesque gurgling noises in her throat without removing her cigarette.  She would squint through the smoke and dump a plate of fried eggs, sausages and toast in front of you.  The eggs stared up hardened and the sausages solidified in cold fat and stuck to the plate. She had a loud, rasping voice and a temper, so students didn’t complain.  
      I hate this place’ I said to Mike. ‘We have to find other digs.’   
      We hunted all over Oxford, and I had to let go of my image of a ‘rose covered thatched cottage.’  Rows of dirty back-to-back terraces was all we could afford.  Then an Australian friend told us about a place which belonged to a Miss Wake CBE.   
      She let out her attic on the third floor of her Victorian house, just off Banbury Road. She was in her eighties, lived alone and only wanted quite tenants.  We tiptoed in and spoke in whispers.  Miss Wake dressed in black with a walking stick, oozed out of a blue velvet chair.  She blinked at us with watery eyes and had white hair sticking out of her chin.  I was terrified. 
      Heavy Victorian furniture squatting everywhere, red velvet curtains slammed shut and on side tables stood glass domes, with beautiful stuffed birds incased and stunned.  She spoke only to Mike but seemed to think a married couple would be better than just students.  I yearned for this flat because it looked out over a garden and beyond there were trees. 

The attic was freezing.   We only had a 2-bar heater, which we dragged around after us. I watched as the wind blew the rug off the floor.  We woke with ice on our bed and the cold wrapped around me like a ghastly mold.  Going to the toilet I’d pull the old-fashioned chain, and it went ‘clink’. The tank frozen solid.   The rain never stopped lashing the Birch trees against the windows and ice crept along the windowsills.  
      Riding my bike to work it was dark and often icy, and I rode past people huddled at bus stops, looking gray and shrouded in coats.  I wondered how I could survive this English winter and then one day we woke, and the sun was shining.   
      The Birch trees that had tossed and hissed during the winter, now stood silent. The brilliant green of their foliage banished every dark thought.  Waxy yellow crocuses appeared in great clusters, stumbling out among the tree roots and tumbling down banks. The fields and woods were flooded with snowdrops and bluebells.  I breathed it all in and felt deliciously happy. 

Oxford's beautiful ancient buildings came to life and vibrated as though a chord had been struck and people come out of hibernation.  The grey coats vanished, and you could see people’s shiny faces.  I rode my bike through the Parks and watched Mike playing cricket in the sunshine. There were boat races, punting on the Isis, College balls and fierce debates on issues of the day.  Life was full, vibrant, stimulating and beautiful.  I put away my umbrella and walked barefoot through the park, sucking in the sun and smelling the sweet smell of spring. 

 

seclusion
by Nicole Rain Sellers

under a cairn

         i pool

             ink in rock

i trace

    a lichen alphabet

              consonant cracks 

                        vowel grooves

boulder shards

         scribble the hill

                     i seep out
Holiday
by Grant Palmer

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

No one comes close to me
My body might struggle to resist
But once I endured war

You can afford your holiday
Think of those who now can’t
Who deal with sclerotic bureaucracy

I’m bitter and paranoid
On drugs to keep me calm
So tell me why you need a holiday
Breakfast in Lock-down
by Gillian Telford

After ‘At the still point, there the dance is.’ – T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets.

Each day kicks off 
the same, so here you sit  
looking out to the garden 
and beyond, with one ear 
tuned to morning news 
the other to the birds— 
a thoughtful time when 
it would be easy to forget 
what you know lies beyond 
the limits of your vision.  

Between angled roofline 
and treetops, the horizon 
is a rift of sky 
pencilled in with blue, until 
for a breathless moment, 
two pelicans, as white 
as passing clouds 
soar into view. Wingtip 
to wingtip, legs trailing, 
they rise and fall, exultant 
on the updraught, taking  
you with them to where 
sky and water are one.

 

crown shy
by Claire Albrecht

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

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

nations nestled just so, some breathing room
in generational diplomacy

and when the wind blows it's camera shake
the lines blur, borders break

leaves like hands reach out
and touch their second skin

their kinfolk, their ocean grasses
before collecting themselves

retreating, shy and tired
to take their places

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

we take a photo and tell each other we’ll remember
to try again next year
Yes
by Chris Russell

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

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

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

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

let the planet slow
let it linger here to make
this moment longer
A survivor of the last epidemic
by John Tierney 

Only Australians over seventy would recall the terror that families felt during the polio epidemics that blighted Australia about every decade between 1910 and 1960, before the Salk vaccine. Just like the Coronavirus, it presented like flu. But overnight polio can do irreversible damage to the body's nerves, muscles and joints. The fear of the spread of polio in the Australian population in the first half of the 20th century was worse than the fear that is currently generated by CV. On the Victorian border during the 1954 epidemic, police were turning back cars that tried to cross, if they contained any small children.
            When I was born on the 21st January 1946, I contracted polio. How? A country doctor attended a polio case at a home in Cooma and then came to the local hospital to deliver me. He brought with him the poliovirus on his fingers. It was a pity that he didn’t wash his hands more thoroughly! Ten thoughtless seconds dramatically switched the direction of my future life path to one of slowly deteriorating physical disability over seventy-four years – so far. At night I had to sleep on my back, with my left leg in a fitted plaster cast until the age of seven.  During the day, I needed to wear an iron calliper, until the age of 12. For the next 40 years, there were more hospital visits, including five knee operations, as the Late Effects of Polio increasingly tightened its grip on my disabled body.
            In my 1950’s childhood, hospitals were part of an annual routine for tracking my ongoing disability. I was one of the lucky ones because I only went for check-ups. Many years later, I heard horror stories from fellow polio survivors, who had been kept in hospitals for years of ongoing therapy. Some of it, such as the use of the notorious ‘Double Thomas Splint’ (a diagonal cross shape) was designed to keep the child’s body limbs immobilized and straight. Medieval torture chambers would have been proud of such an invention.
            My visits through the wards containing dozens of young polio survivors were traumatic. Many children were in iron lungs because they would die within ten minutes if they were taken out of these breathing machines. In the polio children's wards, parental visits were often not encouraged, because, for these preschool children, it was felt that the departure of the parents after the visits could be 'upsetting.' Sometimes parents could only ever see their young disabled children through glass screens. Even now, PTSD counselling is needed for many of these polio survivors in their later years.
            As a result of polio, there have been some significant gaps in my life, particularly with sport, but we play the cards that we are dealt.  Sometimes, but not often, I reflect on what might have been. I am not a vengeful person, but if I could find that careless doctor who delivered me without washing his hands properly, I would sue the bastard!
Melany
by Butch Torres

Those black eyes summed me up. It was unnerving. A tall slender black woman with furtive deep-set eyes arrived from a refugee tent camp in Egypt 12 months ago on a Humanitarian Visa. Originally from Somalia she was one of the displaced thousands fleeing the country due to the Civil War of 1991. I had little understanding of the reasons for this war yet had heard about the atrocities inflicted. Now I was face to face with one of its victims.
          It was hard to focus on my role as her Case Worker. I worked for a housing agency in Hobart as a Case Worker in their Supported Accommodation program for homeless women and children. I was here to support her gain her own accommodation. Her current property was temporary, a bed sit, hardly room to turn around. 
          “Where is Beverley?” she shouted, “why is she not here and you are? Who are you?”
          “I’m your new worker.  Beverley has moved onto another department.”  I explained.
          This was not true. Beverley had come back from her last visit with Melany and flatly refused to go back. Bev had been her third worker in three months. This was not the news Melany would want to hear and I was not going to add to her layer of disgust and distrust with the truth.
          Melany eyed me with unashamed malice. I was pulling out all stops to hold myself together really wanting to get out of there. 
          “I am here in her place to help you find a place of your own.” I said.
          “Where are you going to put me?” she sneered. “I want to stay here.”
          Melany had been told many times that this bedsit was only temporary until we could get her something more suitable and permanent.
          When she arrived in Hobart she was bustled together with other African refugees in a group house. She never made friends, enemies yes.
          Melany’s story was horrific. Caught in the massacre of thousands of people, she witnessed the slaughter of her nine children. Shot, beaten and attacked with machetes. The murderers made her watch.
          I didn’t work with Melany for long. Thankfully the Mental Health Service responded a couple of weeks later to a referral made months ago. They provided intense trauma support including long-term accommodation. 
          I moved back to the Mainland not long after this. Pleased and relieved that Melany was receiving the specialized support she needed. How does anyone recover from that experience?  Yet I hope she does find some portion of peace in Tasmania.
Melany:
           I am a strong African Woman. They cannot beat me down. They murdered my husband. Took him away and mutilated him. Why? He was no threat to them. He did not work for the government. He owned a small shop selling groceries. No threat to them yet they tortured and killed him because he was nothing to them.
           They murdered my nine children in front of me. They held me forced my head up to watch. They lined them up and some were shot others hacked to death with machetes. They gloried in their pain laughing and jeering. They raped my girls and butchered my son’s parts. This was my punishment for being the mother who carried them in her womb, fed them from my breast.
           I am a strong African woman. I AM RAGE.

 

Breathe
Graham Davidson

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am."
— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

All my life I’ve been fascinated by the magnificence of the immune system. Experience has taught me to meditate whenever invasions of tiny parasitic organisms strike. I go deep within myself and do what I can to assist as my antibodies learn to adapt. I marvel at their capacity to push back and bring the marauding hordes under control.
          I do understand that, to a degree, a symbiotic relationship with these tiny invaders is important to maintain one’s good health and wellbeing.
          However, this recent plague is worse than any other, choking my lungs and breaking them down, making each breath a greater struggle than the last. It swept through so fast that it caught me by surprise, making it hard to concentrate. It caused my complexion to become pallid and grey.
          But years of meditation have now paid off. I have learned to tune into my immune system so well that I can influence the formation of specific mutations within the antibodies as a means of defence against disease. It has taken a great many attempts to trigger a mutation that has an impact on this current pestilence, but now there is one that works. I am finding it easier to breathe, and colour has returned to my face. While it may not have rid my body of the plague altogether, it has flattened the curve and stifled the irritation.
          Feeling more relaxed, I go deeper within myself; deeper than I have ever gone before. With each breath, I take in energy from the infinite multiverse surrounding me. I am at its core. I feel a healing power with each new breath, and share it as I exhale, wishing for all creatures everywhere to benefit from my strength.
          I go deeper, connecting with the energy that comes from all those entities that are part of the whole. I am at their centre, and they at mine. I drill down further, going far deeper again. There is an energy that emanates from what I assume to be a hive mind associated with the disease my body has now so valiantly brought under control.
          Hoping to gain a better understanding, I immerse myself within this unique energy field. It is a tangled web, billions of messages crossing over each other that seem meaningless. I relax and allow the energy to flow through me until I can make sense of it. There are so many thoughts. There is so much angst. There is panic. But among it all, there is also joy, love, and happiness.
          There is a multitude of ways in which the thoughts are presented, like different dialects or languages. And among them, there is one thought that remains the same across this vast array. It surrounds me, travelling through my deep blue skies and the cables these tiny organisms have laid across my skin. It occurs with great frequency, a reference to my most recent antibody mutation. Their hive mind has given it a name.
          They call it, COVID-19.
Brain Power
by Marilyn Sanderson

I need to reign in my brain. My ‘Time’ in the age of COVID19 has spread like gas realised from a canister, unfettered by the constraints of timetables, routines, appointments or commitments and now my web of thoughts is on the verge of descending into chaos.  So many whims, ruminations, opinions, concerns, musings, ideas, deliberations, arguments, discoveries and considerations are banging off the walls of my cerebrum that I am in danger of concussion.
          Oliver Sacks, British neurologist, made understanding the complexity of the brain more accessible to his lay audience demonstrating that the brain is some much more than grey and white matter traversed by electrical impulses.
          Most of us have known people whose lives have been changed when their brain blows a fuse. Eyes, ears, skin, taste buds, nose may all remain intact but still the brain-traumatised person’s experience of the world is recalibrated confounding both the assaulted and their nearest and dearest.
          Reading Atul Gawande’s piece on ‘The Itch’ in the New Yorker in early February I experienced a Saul on the road to Damascus moment. Gawande explored the relative importance of perception and reception in constructing our world view. As an isolationist regime has taken hold people have found that their reception of stimuli is less cluttered freeing their attention to focus on mindful, creative adaptation.
          A psychologist once told me that a person only needs to be deprived of external stimulation for twelve minutes before they drift into negative thoughts. Sobering. It makes you think about hermits though doesn’t it. Maybe all those ascetics who lashed themselves bloody in pursuit of enlightenment should have walked out of their cells and burned a few more candles.
          But if Emily Dickenson and the Brontes with their view over the graveyard at Haworth, had not experienced an isolation of sorts, the literary world would have been the poorer. For an existence stripped of external, often vapid demands, can liberate our brain.
          While we may share experiences, perception is unique. Police sift through witness statements to piece together evidence as recollections of an event vary. Memoire writers often face a backlash from those who shared an experience but recall it from a different perspective.
          But it is the unique perspective that is the germ of creativity and there is a plethora of creativity emerging in this Age of Covid19. A typical neurone, (and we have tens of billions of them) is connected to about ten thousand other neurons. That provides an amazing opportunity to find novel solutions. The vast majority of people adapt to challenges by drawing from the reservoir of interconnected experiences and navigate purposefully through them.
          Covid19 has proved a challenge to a planet of brainpower. The challenges facing us now demand that our brains are freed up to prioritise our needs over our wants, sustainability over rank consumerism and nurturing community over toxic individualism. If intellect is the sum of all neurological activity, then we need to seek mindful experiences in this time we have been given to nurture wisdom on a global scale.

 

Anno Domini
by Ned Stephenson

Fra’ Gilbert wiped sweat from his brow then rested his palms on the oaken table. Below him was the body of Fra’ Gautier lying face upon a linen sheet soaked in beeswax and rosemary. Many of the red welts on the man’s torso were black in the centre and the lumps in his armpits and groin had ruptured to release rivulets of foul-smelling pus. The stink clawed at the air overpowering the normally fragrant apothecary.
       Across from Fra’ Gilbert his apprentice waited for instructions, the boy’s pock-marked face making him look older than his years. Fra’ Gilbert had found the lad a year ago climbing the cliff on the sea-ward side of the abbey. He suspected we was a runaway servant, but he was safe inthe abbey and was proving to be a clever herbalist.
       Fra’ Gilbert let out a breath.
       ‘Ad gloriam dei.’
       ‘Ad gloriam dei!’ Repeated the apprentice.
       ‘Wrap him now, Raymond, it’s time for his soul to be judged by God. Begin with his legs and leave his face to the last.’
       Raymond did as he was told and Fra’ Gilbert took up the bowl they hadused to wash the Abbott.
       ‘Master?’
       ‘Yes Raymond?’
       ‘Do you see how the fleas have treated the Abbott? His ankles are covered in their marks, and all up his legs. He has been plagued by them. Could it be that God’s vengeance is being delivered by his smallest of creations?’
       ‘What do you mean?’
       The apprentice pointed. ‘All the brothers we have buried have been marked heavily by fleas. You have told me before how they bitesome of us more than others. They seem to not like me, and you have said before that they do not bother you at all. Yet the brothers who die are favoured. Like the Abbott here, he has dozens of bites.’
       The apothecarist wiped at his forehead again, the stone room was unusually warm today.
       ‘And what of it?’
       ‘With your permission I would like to put Pennyroyal in our rooms.’
       ‘That is a dangerous herb Raymond! Do you know what it’s used for?’
       ‘Yes Master,’ Raymond blushed, ‘by shameless women who do not wish to carry child. But Master...fleas will not enter a room when Pennyroyal is used as a rush mat.’
       Fra’ Gilbert looked again at the ashen face of the dead man, willing God to speak to him. They would now be voting for a new Abbott. Fra’ Theodore was the obvious choice, but he too had just caught the plague. Fra’ Gilbert himself was not without a chance, at 53 he was one of the oldest monks still alive. Would God speak through him and end this scourge? He would strive to be a wise leader, he thought to himself.
       ‘No Raymond,I see no reason bringing that wicked plant into our abbey. Now finish Fra’ Gautier’s shroud, for we must hurry to make an arsenic tincture to help our Fra’ Theodore recover.’
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”
Emily Dickinson

Birthday in Paris
© Jeanette Campbell

Pocket-sized hotel,
floor peeped out around the bed,
no room for bags,
tiny ensuite nestled in.

Narrow stairs snaked down to
a basement breakfast –
croissants, buttery and warm;
pastries, chocolate-filled;
brewed coffee, black and strong.

Map in hand we ventured onto
the narrow street.
We were in Paris –
It was my birthday,
Our anniversary – 38 years.

The Seine beckoned,
iconic calendar bridges,
riverside stalls, little boxes,
all with roofs of green, open to entice –
books, paintings, tapestries
under the shady linden trees.

Padlocks called, cajoled
‘Secure your love
in the City of Romance’.

We pondered, chose one just for fun,
with painted hearts, pink and blue.
We clasped it on the rippled fence
with great fanfare and celebration
then left it there with all its friends.  

A Brioche café tantalised
with culinary delights -
strawberry tarts, cream puffs, raisin rolls
and cappuccinos just like home.

The Louvre soaked up our afternoon
with delights of a different kind –
murals, jewels, chandeliers that dripped with gold.

Mona Lisa watched all
who flocked to see her smile.
The Lacemaker concentrated
on her work close by,
oblivious of all the fuss.
We could spend a week – we will return.

Erotic dancers at the Moulin Rouge,
serenading, seductive –
feathers and flesh,
for a hundred years.
Champagne and glitz -
fantastically French.

One last call to cap our day –
the Eiffel Tower twinkling
diamonds at midnight.
A carousel still turning as
the city lived into the night.

Tomorrow we will take the train to Amiens,
Archibald was killed on the Somme –
We will pay our respects for
a life snuffed out in the slush and mud.

Mona Lisa – Leonardo Da Vinci (1503)
The Lacemaker – Johannes Vermeer (1670)
Archibald – My husband’s great great uncle

 

This Blood Stained Shore
by Chris Russell

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

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

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

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

Universe of soup
Ingredients galore
Random chance
No recipe
Or grand design at all
St. Corona
Jo Lynch

After: “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Emily Dickinson

Blessed with a sweet molasses
slowness, we realise we yearned for

Blessed with new habits & old hobbies:
home-life has never propogated such rewards

And outdoors: the air is clear,
Someone mentions butterflies, 
& creatures returning to their rightful places,
in the spaces we've made

Families too, they gather 
In driveways nowadays for
window-bear spotting,
full of cheer & a closeness
that comes with the luxury of proximity
un-wound from routine

Warm drawing room desks where young
Fathers work & shuffle papers
that catch the sun & my eye

As I glide by on a break
I wouldn't usually take
To watch the sunset, peacefully
& reflect on all the gifts granted
by St. Corona:

Statue bestowed a new-found persona
In a park I never would have explored,

Should we not have been moored
in this situation: isolation, 
the sequestration of impatience,
some bright & ready maintenance

Blessed with reprieve,
We all stopped & breathed the freshness
that comes from air that is calm

These breaths will not last,
The pace will pick up
The contemporary myths
which keep us all miffed
Will begin to stir & wretch

But we all had a taste
Of that which was sweet
& we all witnessed our systems
come forward to meet the crisis

And at least now, when I yearn for
clear skies, calmness & spontaneity
I have a deity to worship
Cautionary Rhymes for Cautionary Times
by Diana Pearce
Inspired by the notices in the lifts in my apartment block
 
Wash your hands
       Wash your hands
              With reg-u-lar-ity.
                                                   (repeat at will)

Don’t touch your face
       Don’t touch your nose
              And sneeze into your bent elbows.
                                                    (repeat at will)

Hands off lips
       Hands off eyes
              Don’t forget to sanitize.
                                                     (repeat at will)

Stay home from work
       Stay home from play
              And hope you’ll live for many a day.
                                                       (repeat at will)

Tanka by Jan Dean

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

there she stands, static ---
he thinks she leans as sloth
but her mind dances
cavorting gloriously
mending the world’s woes
Your absence is a window
by Anna Forsyth
After Morning Sun by Edward Hopper

I remember piecing you together 
not a morning person, I’d coax you
to the window, where you’d sit
knees firmly clasped.

I let your light play tricks on me
imagining you softer, less angular
painting myself into a corner for you.

All the poems I write now are erasure
shadow boxes, windows, vantages
all opening to a geometry of absence.

This morning’s view is from The Hill
edged with metal lace
a perfect metaphor
for how memory
is so cold
but you in morning light
are so etched.

Your absence
that’s what this window is
how missing you 
I’m framed.
The Armchair Times 
by Kit Kelen

STAY AT HOME FOR AUSTRALIA!

fix things! 
create!
have a long ponder 
be home and show you care

watch the rain fall 
sometimes be sunlit
encourage the garden to grow 

build bridges 
mend fences 
house proud?
here’s your chance – get cleaning
you needn’t be nationalistic about it 
but have some fellow feeling 
please stay home for Australia

you can’t fight hypochondria with paranoia
but maybe the other way around?
… while you’re considering that
perhaps a lovely cup of tea, a chat?

so many ways to be at home
talk to the others
now equally far 
and safe in their homes
(a great comfort, surely?)

read a novel 
fall into a poem
or picture 
have a song and dance

do it for the whole wide world 
for creatures everywhere
feel your carbon footprint shrinking
it’s happening just while you’re thinking 
put on your favourite music
sit in your easiest chair

then sleep comes back to me 
in a dream 
I know we’re safer there

be well 
stay safe
stay home 
take care
Fences
by Dianne Montague

"Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The breeze was soft on her bare arms. The sun, tantalizing in its promise of summer. She stood alone immersed in silence. Only the occasional birdsong. If she closed her eyes she could be anywhere. Anywhere but here - in the backyard of suburbia. Seven years ago the new house was appealing. It came with a husband and children. It brought the promise of love, security and belonging. Every woman’s dream. She thought.

It wasn’t that she hated him. It wasn’t that she disliked being a mother of two children. It was the certainty that - this was all it would be.
At The Site Of A Massacre 
By Averil Drummond 

Your footsteps slow, 
The sun is low now, 
Time to return. 
But you feel… 
What do you feel? 
Your ears strain, 
Soft river sounds,  
All is very still. 

But wait. See those trees, 
Their spirits flit among them. 
The babe, blood-splattered,   
Falling from her mother’s arms. 
The youth, manhood waiting, 
Turns to fight, runs wounded, 
Dying friendless, tribeless. 

Dusk falls. 
Do you smell smoke? 
Dim figures round a fire. 
Sharing the day’s tales, 
The gathered food.  
A laugh, soft as a whisper. 
You feel no fear, but peace, 
For now, you know. 
They can never leave this land, 
And never will.  
Dambusted on a Cliff
by Grant Palmer


I just replied to a grieving friend
Not well known, her stories though 
Always encouraging, infused with emotion 
Ignoring my past
An agent of the fourth horseman. 
A harbinger of death 
That was me 
Planning someone’s mortality 
Confronted and threatened with death 
Not knowing tears 
Trained to dam them, 
Tear ducts redundant 
Never meant to cry 
Why the bursting flood 
Something is changing in me 
Never cried or been teary like this before 
Now on a different journey in life 
Not sure what I know any more 
Fingers just grasping the edge of life 
One of the vulnerable 
Falling into nothingness
Listen
by GIllian Swain

I am sinking

old air shackles shadow across shoulders

weight hangs

I am light in a mangle of

all we are meant to be

rising

heat pushes

out of question and rush

hear the hum of

movement

warmth

heartbeat like

wingspan

I am

rhythmic

day is long

and open.

 

Stay Home, Save Lives
by Jan Dean
Good Friday, 2020

out the window
a grey, cloud-covered sky

roof tops and distant, dark
trees bubble    invisible rain
hiding ugliness, accents

the melaleuca tree, leaning
away from the house

once I saw a wattlebird
in its tiny fern-like leaves
and cream bottle-brush flowers

below, water pools indent
slate steps    time expands

and contracts      a friend emails
she overeats, slips into depression
everything is too hard

I pray she wraps herself
in creativity     a mystical mood

bordering dreams suggests
I could complete the Camino
with feet hovering above ground

I failed to notice the pink super moon
missed haircuts mean

my hair sprouts at right angles
to my head     will gravity
take over and bring it down?

familiar themes echo    isolate
    sacrifice    ah, the pace

of drizzle    if staying in
doing little else than washing hands
like Pontius Pilate, often

is the way to fight corona virus
then this is the perfect battlefield.
Down from Dorrigo 
by Kathryn Fry 

In response to:
“That it will never come again 
is what makes life so sweet.”
-  Emily Dickinson 


Had you not come here you’d have missed  
the red drift down from an Illawarra flame, 
the cream of a yellow carabeen on the forest 

floor and the untold shades and shapes like 
thoughts in the continual clamour for power.  
Insects swirl where the sun filters through 

and you remember those who lightened your  
path. Birds ripple and render the air and you  
wonder will they always. Had you not come  

here you’d have missed the fluency of palms  
and vines and thosoldover-powering trunks.  
And your mind hoveron a draught of hope. 
Tanka
by Jan Dean

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

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


Originally Japanese, tanka in English doesn’t rhyme or use capitals. 
Limited syllables promote compact form surrounded by space.
damned whichever way and blessed 
by Magdalena Ball

       After Edward Hopper, Morning Sun (1952) 


she wore it well    slack jawed 
waiting for the start

   
overdressed    on her bed 
isolation    in the sweet city 
empty walls     green light  
fills the room with    solitude 
still life    without the flowers 


everywhere is industry    outside  
a sound effect  surreal   like remembered voices  
out of a dream     always on the go     
even when      dis ease is on everyones        
lips     skirted round    better 
stay quiet    words are an opening 


she watches   waits for change 
stuck in the     tableau 

misses the transition 
night turning    to day 
the harsh   angles   of shadow 


an intrinsic    intelligence 
dissasociated    
out of     the picture 
 

what if she stayed    in that space 
kept watch   sunlight in matte tones       
reflecting         on airbrushed temples 


took nothing     broke no rules 
curled in shadow    in stillness    
      but ready 
                 to become heavy 

yellow escalator

Canary
by Diana Pearce

Miners carry small songbirds
into the darkness,

as the sunshine fades
death is a wisp of gas.

Who makes music
in dark places?

Who sings
the last notes?
Spoon Requird
by Grant Palmer

Haven’t had sex like forever 
A fiddle isn’t the same. 
Who would I start with again
Just to spoon 
Feeling weird and alone
Pluviosity
by Phil Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The past is finite, yet always getting bigger 
The future unknown but always getting smaller 
Both meet in the middle at the present. 
That fleeting point in time never fixed
And sometimes forgotten 
Before the past there was nothing 
No memory of what came before 
Just stardust waiting for happy time 
And when the future ends 
Nothing but stardust again
Just like before the past

Edward Hopper painting - Morning Sun (1952)

Tanka*
by Jan Dean

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

 

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

Moon Rise, Sun Set
by Claire Thomas


Moon rise, sun set 
On a hot Summers day, 
And I’m trying to soak 
My worries away. 
For there’s drought out the back 
And fires on the coast, 
Affecting the people 
I care for the most. 
Moon rise,  
Sun set. 


Sun rise, moon set 
On a warm Summers morn, 
And I’m blinking away  
At the news of the dawn. 
For the storms through the night 
Kept the fires at bay, 
And filled up the tanks 
For the harvesting day. 
Sun rise,  
Moon set. 
 
 
Moon rise, sun set 
On an Autumn afternoon, 
And I’m staring in wonder  
At the size of the moon. 
For the clouds have now parted 
Bringing an end to the rain, 
Which has flooded the banks 
Causing heartache and pain. 
Moon rise,  
Sun set. 

  
Sun rise, moon set 
On a cool Autumn day, 
And I’m buttering bread  
To add to the tray. 
For the teams have been struggling 
All through the week, 
Working to stem 
The flow of the creek. 
Sun rise,  
Moon set. 
 
 
Moon rise, sun set 
On a crisp Winters eve, 
And I’m snuggling up 
With a friend in my sleeve. 
For the strong, icy wind 
Caused a crack in the tree, 
Disturbing her nest 
And making her flee. 
Moon rise,  
Sun set.  
 
  
Sun rise, moon set 
On a fresh Winters morn, 
And I’m hammering nails 
In a box on the lawn. 
For my small, furry friend 
Needs a warm and safe view, 
When the next blasting wind 
Comes barrelling through. 
Sun rise,  
Moon set.  

Moon rise, sun set 
On the first week of Spring, 
And I’m wondering what else 
This season will bring. 
For the bush on the coast 
Is now bursting with green, 
And the farmers’ new crop 
Is the biggest they’ve seen. 
Moon rise,  
Sun set.  
 
 
Sun rise, moon set 
On a budding Spring day, 
And I’m digging broad holes 
In the soil and the clay. 
For now is the time 
For beginnings and birth, 
And spreading new seed 
To embrace the sweet earth. 
 
Sun rise … 
         … Moon set.  
 
After Edward Hopper’s Morning Sun ( 1952)
by Judy Johnson

Her dress, as she sits on the bed gazing passively out the window, is almost but not 
quite the colour of the horizontal line of building that looks like a terracotta train 
pulled in to some railway station in the sky. The painter has simultaneously set 
her apart from her surroundings, and made sure she makes no impact as her weight 
does not even dent the sheet. Hopper wants us to think she’s alive and lonely in some 
early-hour eyrie above a busy street below that bustles, shouts and horn-blows anonymity
from its furthest psychic distance. But I see her as no different in substance than any other 
painted detail. The sky, the bed, the shadows that never move, the bricks, her alabaster 
thighs. She is just an unwound-up version of the human-shaped stardust cluster that we all 
are. Not even endowing her with that one staring eye you imagine might harbour a deep 
un-ignited spark, can make me see her as animate. I think instead of watching and
yearning for real connection, she has resigned herself to social isolation and is listening to
her familiars: the objects and angles and stain of light on surfaces inside and out.  She’s
been in solitary confinement since the 50's after all. She must know by now that the
inanimate is only mute and other until it speaks to you and you answer by paying attention
to its own tales of isolation. It is then you become part of something bigger. It is through
empathy not human relationship that you become real.

 

Painting Containment
by Gail Hennessy
After Edward Hopper’s ‘Morning Sun’ (1952)

The calligraphy of morning’s sunrise
paints its geometry of light and shadow

first strike a column of white illumined brick,
it runs the window sill, colours silenced factories

in a precise line of storied red across the skyline
etching a desert cityscape against water colour blue

light seeks its own patterns, stencils cuts outs
sears the division between white and black

the woman sits on a hospital cornered bed in a hotel room
arms embracing the triangle of her legs, a zigzag of angles

a slanted blind projects elbow-sharp angles, steals
her shadow to silhouette across sheet and pillow

projecting the single smudged circle of her chignon
as it escapes the containment of her focused solitude

canvas traps planes of light in a precision of division
and in the lightness of her being she floats weightless*

it is her lover’s brush that seals her in her isolation as
the touch of his caress on canvas morphs her into being…

*with reference to ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera
Interruption
by Tammy Briggs


I continue my daily routine of walking to the sounds of my monkey brain, but now I do not stop to listen to the wattle birds. That beautiful sound of civic chatter amongst the gum trees basking in the sun. These communal beings getting on with life as they have not been disrupted by the virus. I cannot stop and watch them singing to each other anymore. The track has become too busy. People who are now locked up are free to invade my solace. They are out in droves pounding my track instead of escalators to office floors; showing no manners, runners speeding towards me, sweat dripping, the desperation clear on their faces.  

The fast pace of working life has invaded the peace of the Wyrrabalong. The arrogance which was used to chase the dollar to buy that house and that car is now around every bend. There are no more lizards to scare me lazing in the sun. The wallaby who used to greet me as I reached the crooked ‘Old Man Banksia’ is gone. So too are the tiny robins who come in March to mark the change of season. They no longer flit through the bracken covered ground. The pounding of angry feet upon the sandy black soil of Bateau Bay has scared them all away.  

I stood my ground once when I was twelve with a racehorse. I dug in my heels and faced that horse down. It charged at me snorting, eyes fierce with rage showing no sign of stopping, forcing me to fling myself face down. This is how I feel now with these runners hurtling towards me still dressed for the office from the neck up, leaving a sillage so alien amongst the blackened stumps of the burnt trees, sprouting green regrowth outshining their latest seasons colours from Lorna Jane. Their fiercely dead staring eyes assuming I will move, and they are right. I move not because I am scared or intimidated, or want them to run free, uninterrupted, but only because I did not remove the giant ‘Wolf Spiders’ web with him stuck right in the middle waiting for his prey stretched across the track. Nor did I destroy the occupied ‘St Andrew Spider’ webs which are everywhere this time of year. Instead I stepped under them. In this time of uncertainty, we all have our way of coping, amusing ourselves. Mine is to respect the nature of the beast, and let nature take care of these victims of interruption. A passive aggressive approach maybe! But anything for a laugh. Its time to slow down world. 

The isolation which restored the already self-isolating’s peace is now the new norm for all those who chose the world. That has always been our superpower, us introverts from society. We already know where the spiders hang.
Entering the Wilderness ― a reflection for 2020
by Jeanette Schultz

Today, I stepped back into the wilderness
Otherness. Wildness.
No boundaries, no pathways, no answers
Simply sanctuary
The bliss of being
The blessed sweet unknown

Dried leaves and moss and twigs
tangled undergrowths of memory at my feet
here before I existed

Rediscovering them now
in solitude
in the gentle unfolding of each moment
in the rain falling now
in the delicious scent upon the earth
as fear is dissolved

Even while the earth is dissolving in fear
struggling for breath
fear and more fear
the same process destroying and healing
as people return, desperate,
to the forgotten wildness and refuge of home

In the stillness
I remember the first time I came here ―
a small child
returning home alone
after my first encounter with death

A jammed door opening
running out into the wilderness
tears stinging my cheeks
laying my head in the long soft grass
while the clouds spun their stories above
Flewdemic
by Mick Fairleigh

Oh how the pendulum swings, healthy one minute and sick as a dog the next.
      The War to end all Wars is over and I, Bibiana Sassy, am back home catching up on lost time, after spending several years on the frontline as a nurse in France and Belgium.
      I'm at my local favourite bar, the Ole' Cantina, downing a few alcoholic and party beverages.
      I sure did catch up and celebrate with the locals on all mylost nights of socialising, turning it into one hell of a long, long night of celebration.
      Waking up after my night of partying, I am very, very ill, with non-stop vomitting and a very high temperature.
      The Spanish Flu has hit every country in the world and on how I’m feeling, I think it has found its way to my little neck of the woods. Of course thisis the first thought I have in my head, 'Oh no, don’t tell me I have I contracted the Pandemic virus.'
      Straight away I get myself to my doctor, whoruns a full examination and tests on me. Later that afternoon the doctor rings and asks me to comein, for he wants to explain the results to me in person.
      When he calls me into his office, and before I can uttera word he says, "All your results have come back positive. There’s no need to worry, for it is not the Spanish Flu you have, but the Spanish Fly.It was caused by mixing all the alcoholic beverages you had last night, with this very potentand dangerous stimulant."
      All I can say is that I left the surgery in a much, muchmore cheerful and healthier state,to the one I had arrived there in.
      I am so relieved after that little scare, I guarantee youthat the Fly who flew over my tongue and down my throat, will not be getting a chance to repeat that so called adventure ever again.
Dreaming
by Ann Blackwell

Emma came up from a deep sleep trying to remember the dream that had pushed her into such a dark place.  She lay there with her eyes open thinking who was in the dream and what had happened?  Was it her husband or someone else?  She remembered her hands clinging to someone as he disappeared into dark waters. Did she get up afterwards or go back to sleep?  The room still dark the shutters closed tight but she could hear voices outside, she knew it was morning. I should get up. She wanted to but her limbs felt heavy. She felt pressed down and did not want to move.  Her eyes closed again; her mind dropped away. I can’t wake up now. She put her hand out and felt him next to her. She let herself sink into a groggy sleep again. 

She awoke suddenly to the jangle of the doorbell, jumped out of bed feeling shaky, grabbed her dressing gown and tried to push back her tangled grey hair. Opening the door, she found her daughter standing back on the front steps.   
      ‘Are you not up yet, its 11am.  You OK? 
      ‘Oh yes, I’m fine, but I decided to sleep in today, there seems to be nothing else to do.’ 
      ‘Is dad still asleep as well? Her daughter asked laughing. 
      ‘Yes, the lazy old devil.’ 
      ‘Well, I’ll just drop this fruit in for you that I got at the market.’  Her daughter said passing her in the passageway and going to the kitchen.  ‘If you need anything else just let me know.  I’m pleased you and dad are self-isolating.  It’s the right thing to do.’ 
Emma watched her daughter arrange the fruit in the bowl.  She was suddenly overwhelmed by sadness and fear but was not sure why this simple task had moved her to tears.  She got a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose so her daughter would not see she was crying.  ‘Would you like a cup of tea before you go.’ She asked her daughter.  We can still remain 4 metres apart.’ 
      Umm, OK. Just a quick one. I have the boys doing home schooling. 
Emma put the kettle on and said she had had this really awful dream last night, but she could not remember it.  It had something to do with her dad falling.  Emma’s fear subsided having someone to talk to. 

Her daughter packed her bag and said she will come back this afternoon as she wanted her dad to sign some papers for her.  Emma quickly showered in the guest bathroom so as not to disturb her husband and went out to her doctor’s appointment at 12.30pm.  She went on to the Post Office and the grocery shop before returning home at 2pm. 
Hello, I’m home again,’ she called and walked down to the kitchen.  Her daughter was sitting there white, trembling with tears running down her face.  What’s the matter. She said, fear gripping her throat her heart racing.  

‘He’s dead.’ her daughter said sobbing. ‘I’ve called an ambulance. 
      Emma collapsed to the floor and wailed. Oh God, it wasn’t a dream. 
Morning Sun
by Phil Williams


Morning Sun Peggy’s gaze was fixed on the window of the apartment opposite on the third floor. Was someone looking at her through binoculars? A voyeur taking advantage of her peaceful, morning sun bath? 
      Immediately she felt vexed, violated and vulnerable. Her simple pleasure had been rudely interrupted.
      During winter, Peggy yearned for the sun’s rays. Now in spring, the sun was at a perfect angle, gently warming her bones and giving colour to her long, slender legs. The morning meditation was normally a perfect way to start the day.
      Annoyed, she quickly slid into jeans, strode to the window and dragged down the blind to block the offensive intrusion. How dare he assault me in my room like this! 
      Carefully, she pulled back the side of the shade and peered out, trying to confirm her suspicions of a pervert across the street. But there was nothing; no movement, person or binoculars.
      At lunch that day Peggy discussed her situation with a friend. Geoffrey volunteered to draw a poster which would block the deviant’s view, but also convey a strong message. After work he arrived at the apartment and pasted the large image onto the pane.
      ’This is meant to stop what he’s doing,’ Geoffrey said with authority. The offensive drawing was ‘The Finger,’ a centuries-old signal for contempt and disgust. 
      The next morning, Peggy arose and peeked to the side of the poster to the opposite flat. Surprisingly she saw an easel. But she could not quite discern what the artist was painting. Then at lunch time Peggy bought a pair of opera glasses. Before sundown she was able to clearly spy across the void. But the apartment’s curtains were drawn. Peggy was miffed.
      As soon as it was light the next day Peggy hastily jumped out of bed, grabbed the opera glasses and focused on the apartment with now opened curtains. The easel and canvas had been turned towards the open window as if the artist wanted Peggy to see.
      The painting was revealed. A woman, sitting on a bed with long tanned legs, a short red nightie and blonde hair were enough for Peggy to recognise herself. Relieved that she may not have been the victim of a pervert, but an unbeknown life model for a female artist, she was nevertheless perplexed.
      An attractive woman in black pants, amber sweater and short black hair appeared next to her easel and waved to Peggy with a paint brush. The artist held up her own poster across her chest, a pretty face smiling above a drawing of a flute of overflowing bubbles and a message:
      ‘If you like my painting join me for a drink tonight, 7 o’clock?’ Betsy
The Swimmer
by Colin Mountford
“Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you in two weeks, where’ve you been?” 
      “Sydney, Gus, my brother Joe had a stroke and didn’t make it. I had to go and tidy up his affairs and see to his funeral.” 
      “Henry, I’m sorry to hear that. If there is anything I can do, just let me know, ok?” 
      “Sure Gus, I appreciate that.” 
      “Anyway, I’m here for a few laps; how’s Maggie?” 
      “Fine Henry, Look, I must get going, Maggie wants to go shopping. I’ll see you tomorrow.”  
      Joe wiped himself down with an old towel that hadn’t been washed in a decade. He got dressed and left. 
      Henry stripped down to his swimmers and moved toward the ocean baths. He dipped his big toe to test the temp. ‘not too cold, I’ll adjust,’. Testing the water was like kicking the tyres on a car, it must be done. Grabbing hold of the pool ladder and climbed down. Henry only did the breaststroke; it hasn’t always been that way.  
      Henry had been going to the ocean baths for 43 years, hardly missing a day. He had been a great swimmer in his prime and won many carnival events, mostly ocean comps. Today, he swam to forget his problems and let his mind drift away. After his wife Mary died, all his problems were solved at the bottom of a bottle. 
      He didn’t have much else. The kids lived quite a way, and he rarely saw them. They have their lives to live. His arms stretched out and he started kicking the water. Pushing his old tired body as best he could. ‘I can’t do any more than 10 laps now; the body can’t take it; at least the water is nice this time of year.’ 
      Pushing through the water and the pain, he finally finished his laps and rested at the number 3 diving block. He was breathing heavier than usual. “Hey Henry, I haven’t seen you here lately; Where’ve you been?” he looked to see Jim Merrick. 
      “In Sydney Jim, Funeral of my brother Gus, you know how it is.” Henry climbed out of the water and rested on a seat. He grabbed a towel and wiped the water off his aged and wrinkled skin. ‘I must ring up about that sunspot soon.’ Henry stood and started to get dressed. He sat down quickly as he felt dizzy. “Hey Henry, are you alright?” asked Jim.  
      This is the third time he felt dizzy after a swim. “It’s nothing, I may have pushed myself too hard.” 
      “Alright mate, just take it easy.” Jim looked at Henry and thought He shouldn’t be swimming so many laps these days. He sat on the seat longer than he normally did. He reflected on his life; staring out to sea; a large coal ship sat in the distance waiting for the next available dock to fill up and head back to China.  
      "Maybe an island cruise, the guys always tell me it’s good… 
RulesforSocial Distancing
by Gail Hennessy

After an Imitations of Andy Warhol, ‘perhaps’


                                 the tongued hamster wheel
                                  offers arms of glitter gold
                                   gilded to dual bile yellow

eternally masticating its tail
swallowing with taloned teeth
offering ascent or descent

                                                everything will depend
                                                on where you stand

you can choose ascent 
                      or descent
depending on your POV

stand soldier stiff, arms at your sides
do not let your hands reach for support
touch is always present to betray you

keep 1.5m from the person ahead
keep 1.5m from the person behind
a cough or sneeze may slay you

remember, take care what you inhale
you can not regulate the proximity
of the person standing behind you

                                     make sure you know up from down

you are allowed to exercise
                           but you must keep moving
                                                   the body’s health is paramount

no space for the stretch of the spirit
the eye’s longing for distant horizons

remember                                   always be on the lookout
                                              for invisible glitter
on the hand rails

everything depends on where you stand
what you do not touch
Untitled 1
by Grant Palmer

That we know ultimately what all our futures hold doesn’t mean that it hurts when it arrives. And there is nothing after it comes, just like before we were born. Tiny specks in a massive , fascinating, yet capricious and uncaring universe. Full of stuff we don’t understand or how it even got started. Because of how how our heads work we will always ask why. The sciences tell us why, but offer no comfort. Belief in beings, primitive and absurd, who lets it all happen and doesn’t care anyway; cancer has no answer There is no meaning to life, we are just driven by the evolutionary process. 

Such thoughts are blunt; pragmatic and are the problem of evil destroys any thoughts of inherent meaning. The cognitive dissonance wrought; as in our grief tears our minds are torn apart. But that doesn’t stop us from caring and sorrow, when those things that we value succumb to the inevitable. 

We need to bring our own meaning love and care. No one will do it for us. Striving to follow our dreams, taking chances. Sometimes it’s like face planting onto the parade ground. But if you fall and miss the ground you can fly just like Arthur Dent. There is going to be mistakes and bad decisions, but the good ones when they come together always outweigh the bad. Our children, our lovers and friends. They are what makes life a journey with meaning. That when inevitability arrives we have left something better for them. Our own journey has helped others along the way.
Before she met him
by Dianne Montague

In response to the prompt: 
Nice people don't necessarily fall in love with nice people.  Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

She didn’t know that he had her photo on his mobile . . . on his desk at work . . . on his bedside table. She didn’t know that he knew her favourite café and recognised many of her friends . . . that he’d dated her sister to get more information about her. She didn’t know that he followed her everywhere...that he had hundreds of photos of her. 
      If she’d known she would have refused to go out with him . . . avoided being alone with him. She would have rejected his sexual advances . . . his declarations oflove . . . his insistence that they move in together. She wouldn’t have surrendered to him . . . his demands . . . his monopoly of her time . . . his dislike of her family and friends.
      If she’d known . . . she’d have lived past 26.
*A Time of Polio
a trilogy for Joan
by Diana Pearce

1

I know the bleakness
of late autumn skies

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

there is great pain

I am alone in an ambulance
through its windows

starless skies

my mother rings every morning
I survive each night

limbs bandaged
full-splinted body

there is great pain

slowly my winter passes
spring becomes
my seaside rehabilitation


2

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

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

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

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

3

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

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

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

She listens
smiles contentedly
swings towards tomorrow.

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

Fear’s Arrival
by Grant Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy and alone
Teary and anxious
My fear has arrived
Untitled
by Grant Palmer

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

Not knowing our future,
That commitment is hard
Things that I say,
But you feel you can’t.

Feeling imperfect
You are not a bad person
We live our own standards
Not the standards of others

Learning and discovering, taking charge,
After all it’s your life
Fulfilling a dream is what life’s about
Not constrained by the judgment of others

One life to live
Nothing after death
But the uncertainty of our future
Means taking that chance

 

In Winter 
By Averil Drummond 

Winter nights fall fast, the fire beckons.  
In somewhat melancholy frame of mind, 
you fumble in the bookshelves by your chair,  
seeking for what solace you may find.  

An ancient volume clothed in plain blue cloth, 
detritus from a pre-computer age.  
Compressed by more entrancing companions, 
falls and opens at an ivory page. 

You reach and take it up; the poems of Keats. 
Vague remembered lines that you did ken, 
in dusty, sunlight classrooms long ago, 
of autumn, urns and peaks in Darien.
  
So callow then, you could not comprehend 
this brief life lived in servitude to art. 
His struggle for perfection, unconsidered. 
Meer words and lines learned, perforce, by heart. 

Was Keats enfolded by the quintessence 
of Truth and Beauty, as he fought for breath?  
Did poetry bestow this consolation? 
Watching beside her favoured son at death.

Whimsy, perhaps? But unforeseen delight 
in reconnection with your youthful ways, 
brings thoughts of other lives truncated, 
as fire of genius consumed their days. 
 
Did Shubert hear the strains of his quintet, 
that poured forth from his soul as shades drew near? 
Numinous choirs sing in praise to Mozart 
the requiem he would not live to hear? 
 
You feel old. Perhaps not over-wise?  
Long years half lived with petty hopes and fears, 
A candle guttering low in melting wax, 
no glorious flame shining, as did theirs.  
 
But did you find the comfort that you sought 
in this communion with a radiant mind? 
In truth you did, for in such contemplation,  
is quiet joy and blessing for mankind. 
 
 
 
Connecting family in the time of Corona
by John Tierney

Remote social media connection within families and with friends will become all the go in the autumn of 2020, as the virus continues to restrict our freedom to associate. We are fortunate that technology has reached such a sophisticated level during the Coronavirus crisis. When this new virus struck, our very extensive family were already exceptionally well connected. This was mainly through text messaging, with photo and video images and hilarious Gify graphics doing the rounds of our devices, recording various family events.
         Messages in our large family text circle, usually occurred several times a day, depending on the current family issues and news. This all started to evolve rapidly after the arrival of Edward, our eighth grandchild in December 2018. His every cute move and development milestone was recorded and sent via social media, by Michael and Chloe, his doting new parents from their distant home in Melbourne. With the arrival of the Coronavirus, there was a shift, to using this internet technology from a fun thing to be helping the family pull through this crisis together. Suddenly the family along with the rest of Australia and the world were in peril.
         During the lockdown, our daily connections by text on fleeting topics weren't enough for our increasingly isolated offspring. Better communication between family members became imperative. In early April, the family made a technological quantum leap when our children set up zoom video conferencing. The launch of this new way of connecting was set for 4:00 pm on Sunday 5th April 2020. The problem was that three of our overeager descendants, independently set up on their devices, different family conferences and codes for the same time.
         Chaos ensured as fifteen of our family members joined one of the unconnected three meetings. Eventually, an agreement was reached over the phone, on one conference and one access code. Finally, we were all on the same page or in this case, screen.  As more joined into the agreed site, the situation became increasingly chaotic. Eventually, fifteen participants joined, but Zoom, only provides the vision of eight screens at the one time, with the main one activated by whoever speaks. With so many speaking at once, the result was far from ideal. Only two family members were regular zoom users. So, what followed was a series of rapidly improvised tutorials on the zoom tools, by the family ‘experts.’
         The 'agenda' was for people to describe their day, starting with the youngest. As the grandparents, that meant Pam, and I was last in the queue. We didn’t get a look in as the meeting veered off onto other topics of family interest. This first family zoom meeting got mixed reviews. Still, after several weeks of increasing isolation, we all agreed it was great to see and hear each other in the virtual world.  However, no one wanted to repeat this zoom experience. Perhaps 15 noisy participants were too many?
Tanka
by Jan Dean

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

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

 

Day Four 
by Grant Palmer 

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

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

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