Petra White lives in London. Her most recent book is Reading for a Quiet Morning (Gloria SMH 2017).
Because I was permitted to
I waded through water.
Eyelashes still as the tiniest fronds.
The pond pure sleep,
a demon thrust down into the dark,
the nestling of elm roots.
Then the slow drip of colour
in the mind, a friend
for the seconds the light held.
I walked out into new darkness,
where I was permitted to go,
the moon waiting for me
like a piece of enchantment
I was taught to resist.
The moon, with its grey blotches,
white as as my father’s face.
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Unseasonable as a warm winter, pale on an utterly rainbow afternoon.
Not begging to be heard, not begging at all.
Here, everywhere, outside the window, on the streets and in the parks
danced men with twig like women in their ravenous arms, a dance
like that of creation, half terror, half the terror of love.
I fumbled into my small
red revolting car that smelt of rain and clattered with dirty coffee cups.
In traffic waited like a stumped parrot on a rod.
Then windows wide, the brashest air gushing in.
I drove and drove and never ran out of fuel.
And the road did not run out, the world turning in the sun’s glimpse.
Unbearably fresh the yellow flower fields
blazing in the heat
like crowded slabs of hell
the yellow flowers
blazing like tomorrow,
when I land and weep
the yellow flowers blazing like my skin
behind a hot windscreen,
pounding me into the here, the trickle of sweat.
When body becomes body,
only the flowers seem to sing.
See the muscular roos they leap above the nose-tickling weeds,
their flanks curved like machinery, paws bristling about the thin line
that is neither heaven nor hell but the tickly brush of the instant, barely tolerable.
Oh humans. Grainily composed of future and past,
who are, Rilke said, forever saying goodbye.
Suppose I got my teeth down into the instant, and lived there,
who would I know? The ‘open’, he called it.
How a spaniel enters a room and is instantly part of it,
how he knows just enough to get by,
fixing on a human like an apple grafted to a pear.
How a woman puts her head in her hands after a difficult conversation, how another says,
I am a tree planted halfway up a hill, I cannot spread my canopy to the top.
How the human hope sparkles everywhere.
Where is the chorus that wails around the car,
who sings the notes that make suffering true?
Melancholy silvers the tongue with ice,
freezes the self.
More light, more light.
Soul sits on a high shelf and eats breakfast,
the moon is a broken cabbage below her.
The god that created hell
and the hell that created god.
The strange joy of desiring nothing.
Wide sweep of road
and the waving spinifex know no minutes.
Only blank sunshine, desert.
The car carries nothingness,
empty seatbelts glinting in the light.
I stopped at a roadside diner and ordered chips, the only food, with ten different sauce bottles,
prepared in the bubbling silence and grubby neon light of the lonely diner
where nine people lived in the midst of vast planetary scrub and wind-bent trees,
feeding giant road-trains that arrived and left with a million lights dancing
each driven by one poor-postured man all day and night in solitude.
Colossal swathes of road like time, stretching before and after.
I sing the whole human package with its clutch of knowings,
the heart with its grappling of love, statistically half open a quarter of the time.
The body that travels like Ophelia into the estuary with hands outstretched
and nothing in them but reeds and echoes
of when the dust of the present washes off the fingertips entirely.
A journey unfolds of itself as the road unfolds beneath the tyres.
And then I turned toward death, my durian-scented hitch-hiker.
Life, he said, that reddish glow, it yet haunts your cheeks.
He spoke and as he spoke I could not choose but hear.
I stand like an animal with life and death intermingled in me, not unlike you
who have never felt more alive.
What if I offered to take you off your own hands now?
What would you say?
He said, like one who could not politely be refused.
The smell of chips ghosted the car.
The black road had gripped my soul.
I prayed for a stay of dawn.
And I clutched his thready arm.
Can we be friends instead? Will you visit me again?
Before long, he said, before long.
And vanished, leaving me with the long haul of life.
Always asking, what next, what now?
The formal voice that sings the formal notes.
Nicole Smede is a musician, poet and educator of Worimi and European heritage, exploring a reclamation and reconnection to ancestry through language, poetry and song. Her work has been broadcast on national and international radio, published in anthologies and journals and features on ferries, in visual art and sound art works. Nicole is grateful to live, learn and create on Dharawal country. https://nicolesmede.com
I hear voices of ancestors
crossing this country
with an anxious energy
I tread carefully
amongst old Lore
old grandmother trees
to ancient summits
where songs ebb
and flow with the wind
the songlines of my body
stirring the spirit within.
platypus in Gatthang
The landscape vibrates loud
beaming brightly from boulders
an intense hum of wings
where fearless thrill seekers
deep sea divers
rocky shelves overhead
trembling under our feet
stoney shoals set
immersed in cool silence
we tread tranquil waters
toward the embankment
we tread water
and the soundtrack rings loud
in our ears.
Yellow blossoms –
like bright shards of light
disrupt this green and grey landscape
they’re early this year.
Damp moss softens
underfoot moulded steps
and I ascend this rocky slope
does it, like the trees
recall my last visit?
birds in syncopated song
cut through crisp air
like the cold to the tip
of my nose
all is alive
in an awakening spring.
Rose Lucas is a Melbourne poet. Her first collection, Even in the Dark (University of WA Publishing), won the Mary Gilmore Award in 2014; her second collection was Unexpected Clearing (UWAP, 2016). She is currently working on her next collection At the Point of Seeing.
She is also a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate Research Centre at Victoria University
Van Dyck, c. 1619
In their best Flemish clothes –
lace ruffs and jewelry, brocaded fabric –
this young couple gaze
intense and hopeful
out of the canvas;
they lean toward me as though
were as fast as the shuttering
of a lens;
their bonneted child,
dandled on her mother’s knee,
looks behind and up –
she has no need to look my way;
Her parents are vibrant with
youth and prosperity,
their connection to each other,
their pride in the child;
like every family –
holy in their ordinariness –
they hold the unfolding generations
in their richly upholstered arms:
Look! we have made this future –
it belongs to us.
Only consider –
(and here the benefit of hindsight)
their willingness to pause,
to sit while a painter
takes their likenesses
in pigment and brushstroke,
within the rushes of time –
Look carefully –
hold fast to the slipperiness of this moment –
it will not always
be like this.
Heaving out from the harbour,
its narrow lean of wooden houses,
salt-weathered in a cloudy light –
a ferry clanks and judders
picking its way past little boats,
their tangle of nets
and out into the slap and wash of darkening water:
stink of diesel and fish swim
in freshets of air,
rubbing cheeks into ruddiness;
until the hump of island
sails into view –
its possibilities of destination,
palette of smudged greys and greens
flickering through the glass;
the angular spine of the Cuillins
a loamy sky,
writhing in channels of wind;
while, deep in boggy fields,
restless in peat –
These tannin-soaked fields,
this permeable membrane,
this elongated moment when a boat might
clip and ride,
a shoreline in sight.
Amanda Lucas-Frith lives on Wangal land in Sydney’s inner west with her partner and two children. She’s a communications and publishing consultant, and is currently completing the final subjects of a Master of Strategic Communication at UTS. She attended the 2019 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and is a member of Youngstreet Poets. Her poems have appeared in Snorkel and Cordite Poetry Review.
My life in lockdown looks
the same as it did before—
I search for my daughters’
hats, make snacks and play-
dough, and lavish colour
on each letter of the alphabet
just to tickle my tongue
to yellow, lilac, vermillion.
So many ways to make
bright things brighter
now the days close
and open like paper
fortune tellers. I write
to silence the chatterbox
to a single answer
and in this imaginary,
wage my Machiavellian
war against the diminutive
queens that surround me,
nesting between bathroom
walls or fortified around
the cubby house. The pest
control company kept
its social distance and said
they only use natural
chemicals, but at this stage
of the pandemic, I’ve lost
my organic moral advantage
and crave the kind of
annihilation only pesticide
can give. In the face
of diminishing freedom,
it’s curious how much
I desire to tame the dissenting
rattle, to be listened to
and obeyed as the single
absolute power of my
house, not minding at all
the cognitive dissonance
of wanting my daughters to
only do as I say, and never
as I do.
A Bright Room
When you arrived, I snapped
open like a purse and the surgeon
lifted you out, one sleek penny
at a time. He held you
level to his gaze and assessed
you like a rare coin, while a wake
of midwives pressed their fingers
to your mauve flesh.
Your father cut the cord
connecting us and we waited
for your cry in the bright room,
under the theatre light, where nobody
had mouths and every pair of eyes
held mine. I looked up to see,
reflected in the light’s mirror,
a kaleidoscope of myself
separate to my body—a ruby smile
from hip to hip—not mended
but altered by a blanket stitch.
Born again in a sea of sedatives,
I saw you there first: pools of black
gusting the surface to glass.
You arrived as a southerly wind
howling to the bright room,
your squalling cry cooling to my
touch, as I held you skin to skin.
Debbie Lim was born in Sydney. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies including regularly in the Best Australian Poems series (Black Inc.), Contemporary Australian Poetry and Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (both Puncher & Wattmann) as well as journals such as Cordite, Mascara, Island and Magma (UK). Her prizes include the Rosemary Dobson Award and she was commended in the Poetry Society UK’s 2013 National Poetry Competition. Her chapbook is Beastly Eye (Vagabond Press). She is working on a full-length collection.
The Year of Contagion
In times of virus
each cough hangs
a dark afterthought.
leaves its tingling
on the skin—
Still air can turn
Better whipping winds.
It remains unofficial
whether tears are effective
they keep urging us
to move on. We wear our days
with a new caution,
learn different ways
riddled with porosities,
we trail microclimates
like small habitable clouds.
Our peripheries burn.
Dani Netherclift has been published in Meanjin, Cordite and Verandah. Her work was nominated for the 2018 Judith Rodriguez Prize and highly commended in the Cliff Green Short Story Competition.
At once vivid and spare in its delineation of a physical, material world, ‘Haunted Autumn’ attends to both the tangible and elusive (/allusive) particulars of place in ways that confirm the collective nature of a setting or site as invariably experiential; a temporal space shaped by sensory experience; by encounters; by context. In accord with Michel de Certeau’s oft-cited line in The Practice of Everyday Life that ‘space is a practiced place’ (1984, p. 117), place becomes space here in the sense that it is never singular or fixed, but invariably collective: multiple and subjective, comprising various vantage-points, and complicated by contexts of the past/present.
Via lines of striking observation and through deft negotiation of the (digital) page itself as space/site, Netherclift’s delicate yet incisive prose poem also calls attention to the often-invisible labour—rendered evident, in the past months, by questions around what work, whose labour, is ‘essential’ during ‘unprecedented’ times, and at what costs (physical and emotional; personal and collective). Notably, the ‘indelicate revelations’ this prose poem calls to our attention also remain, in broader representations, largely obfuscated or overlooked: most figures citing university-sector job losses (to date or to come) have not included the loss of work anticipated by vast numbers of casual employees, upon whose insecure labour these institutions have relied. Concurrently, international students, upon whose fees universities have also depended, have been mostly excluded from government support. Through these precise lines and luminous images, Netherclift shows with both clarity and nuance the university space as one of many sites in which the effects of the pandemic are felt unevenly, even as student bodies remain/return/endure, ‘haunting’ liminal junctures and uncertain futures.
This is timely, compassionate writing that we are excited and grateful to publish.
—Jo Langdon for Mascara Literary Review
X marks distance. We never used to know this. X was golden, treasure. X was illicit. X marked the spot. X was kiss, was marked wrong answers. One might rush then, towards X, before, or take it as a lesson. With X, we erase time before.
Autumn leaves from the rows of ubiquitous plane trees drift and settle across university entry roads, piling deep in concrete gutters and banking in the unopened doorways of the gym. These leaves are as big as a large man’s palm, outstretched. They have their own susurrations, whispered ephemeral languages possessing no word translatable as absence.
One Sunday a half-grown black cat basks in sun on a bench on the Barista Bar deck. Seeing me, it dashes into the unknown black space beneath the slatted wood.
On Tuesday music is piped through the entry building—then, too loud, into the library.
Spiderwebs have gathered, dew-settled across the unopened hinges of the red mailbox outside the main entrance.
It grows colder.
Purple swamp hens arabesque across cement outside, beneath the coloured glass panes of the library study space.
On the lake ducks glide and duck, flaunting evergreen of underwing, motifs of things we cannot see or predict. Hope without context.
All day, rows of buses arrive & leave, leave & arrive empty. Denuded of passengers, the bus stops are periods, punctuations. One morning a driver asks me when I disembark if I am okay going into the university. I assure him that it is still an inhabited place, despite outward appearances.
Another time, leaving, I walk from the library to the main building on a perfectly blue-skied day and a fine mist of water falls from the edges of the building, cloaked in motes of sunlight and the deep vibration of mysterious unseen machines.
The revolving doors are stilled, marked unusable with narrow ribbons of red-and-white pandemic tape delineating the scene of an unimaginable occurrence. Abandonment—
as though they have given up the ghost.
Security guards perform requisite rounds, enacting circles; each hour they walk once around the study room; I grow used to their attentions. They walk the perimeters of the university-emptiness, echoing inwards with hours and steps and an ironic loneliness. They are here because some of us remain.
They talk too loudly in the library.
Students sit apart without X’s denoting distance, our unmasked breath covenants of trust.
We keep our distance. We acknowledge each other with looks
signalling a collective new body of knowledge.
Meteors fly close to the earth. I remember those fragments of dinosaurs preserved in lava and Tektites in Mexico and America. The KT Boundary intersects time before time after.
The number 42 bus home tastes of antiseptic—red-and-white taped, its air hangs hospital-like, disinfected. Each day it is empty, carrying the driver and me and crowds of absence.
The books in the library are cordoned-off by locked roller doors, barriers like X’s that you never even knew were there, before.
The university indelicately reveals its inner workings; an army of tradespeople, maintenance workers who maintain the neat green grass, the sanitisation of tables, the cleaning of closed off spaces, puppeteers of vibrations/instrumentalists, rainmakers in miraculous spaces.
Cabbage butterflies limn the autumn trees.
The branches bare more skin with each day.
Tiny yellow-breasted wrens almost indistinguishable from butterflies flutter up from green like feathered golden raindrops reverse-flowing into coming winter.
More students return, spaced by unseen X’s; the trimester nears its end.
We are here.
Maryam Azam is a Pakistani-Australian writer and teacher who lives and works in Western Sydney. She graduated with Honours in Creative Writing from Western Sydney University and holds a diploma in the Islamic Sciences. She is a recipient of the WestWords Emerging Writers’ Fellowship and has presented at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. She is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. Her debut poetry collection The Hijab Files (Giramondo, 2018) was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award and the Mary Gilmore Award.
The Ways I Cover
In summer I answer the door wearing a hoodie
because I’d rather look like a cold weirdo
than an NESB housewife
I bring Vegemite scrolls to the staff morning tea
and say I don’t eat chicken when I mean
I don’t eat machine-slaughtered chicken.
I wear beanies & berets in winter
and a scarf around my neck instead
I don’t even look Muslim
I shake men’s hands.
I say I’m not hungry rather than ask if the food’s halal.
I go to the beach with my hair tied up
and tucked into a baseball cap
and even swim in it
we’re all worried about skin cancer right
I say hey instead of salam when
I answer the phone on the train.
I skip dhuhr prayer rather than be caught
with my foot in the sink at work.
I breathe in the guilt.
Simeon Kronenberg has published poetry, reviews, interviews and essays in Australian poetry journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Poems, 2017. In 2014 he won the Second Bite Poetry Prize and in 2015 was short-listed for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. Distance, his first poetry collection was published in 2018 by Pitt Street Poetry.
I stood barefoot
on cool boards
in the hot kitchen.
fly paper hung
from a dusty bulb
yellow and thick
She looked out
stared into glare.
All was quiet
but for the relentless
hum of blow flies
and the low mutter
of a wireless
in the next room
as he listened
to afternoon news.
An upturned grey mouth
green faded eyes
face and eye-lids
dry as dust on snake skin.
in a long brown house
next to a woodpile
stacked by a son
Mostly, she sat
at a table
a wireless tuned
all day to the races
as she scratched
at the forms
Though she broke
a hip or two: Heard the cracks.
a snare across the floor
as she shuffled
Claire Albrecht is writing her PhD in Poetry at the University of Newcastle. Her poems appear in Cordite Poetry Review, Overland Literary Journal, Plumwood Mountain, The Suburban Review, the Australian Poetry Anthology and elsewhere, and she is the 2019 Emerging Writers Fellow at the State Library Victoria. Her manuscript sediment was shortlisted for the 2018 Subbed In chapbook prize, and the poem ‘mindfulness’ won the Secret Spaces prize. Her debut chapbook pinky swear launched in 2018. Claire runs the monthly Cuplet Poetry Night in Newcastle.
The hard work is starting to pay off!
my husband and I follow the 49/51 percent rule and
enjoyed the view. I panicked, kept pushing the time
back, and now I am at work 1 hour and 15 minutes early.
I don’t have time to work
using the search words ‘women in science’, I completed
40 hours of work in 4 days (you make your client
mashed potato and leave the skin on. your client
throws a microwave at you)
my commute today – variety is the spice of life.
a rather narrow way of viewing how people make
a living. try saying you ‘get to go to work’.
it’s a damn miracle
you got one job, larry. one job. some people will never know
how much thought and care I put into (go to work, or stay
in the bath and keep topping up the aspirin?) this is in
the bathroom stalls.
unfortunately with both of us doing shift work
we haven’t been able to catch up for his
biggest challenge so far? getting the printer to work.
you gotta be shitting me.
*found poem from my social media feed
Sarah Attfield is a poet from a working-class background. Her writing focuses on the lived experiences of working-class people (both in London, where she grew up and in Australia where she lives). She teaches creative writing in the School of Communication at UTS. She is the co-editor of the Journal of Working-Class Studies.
Who owns the view?
You don’t want our community centres –
bingo playing old dears
eating Rich Tea or
sticky carpet pubs
where pints are sipped and darts still chucked
with men outside on chairs
righting all the wrongs of the world
youth clubs teaching kids to
turn the grime into bpm
You don’t want our mosques
knock-off handbags down the market
dogs with muscles
cars cruising with bass turned up
You used to hurry past
(or never set foot)
living like that
all Harry Brown to you
hoods in underpasses
But now you want our views
high-rise living is suddenly a thing
with murals on street corners
cafés not caffs
boutique art in railway arches
artisan bread made by hand!
(that’s what we just call cooking)
And if there’s any of us left
don’t expect a welcome
She rolls her eyes when he isn’t looking
nods politely when he is
he points out the bleeding obvious –
she’s in the middle of doing
exactly what he tells her to do
she knows how to keep the counter clean
weigh measure fold
smile thank pack
ignore the comments about her
hair breasts skirt trousers face
lack of smile
suppress the need to pee
get a drink
agree to stay back
lift too much
not be cheeky
she is there to serve
the dickheads who ogle
the entitled who demand
and sometimes, the people just like her
who smile and roll their eyes on her behalf
she can laugh with workmates
avoid the boss
make up names for those customers
if she’s lucky she’ll get more hours