Seabirds Crying in the Harbour Dark
by Catherine Cole
Reviewed by CAROLINE VAN DE POL
‘The Brain – is wider than the Sky -,’ wrote Emily Dickinson revealing our capacity to expand our mind beyond experience to imagination. Acclaimed American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson recently recapped this magical opening of the mind that comes with reading when she wrote an article describing what it’s like for an author trying to find the right word. I was reminded of this image again when delving into a new collection of short stories from Australian writer and academic Catherine Cole. In diverse and joyful ways Robinson and Cole remind me of what I love about reading (and writing), of what I learn from books through that open invitation to go beyond a closed door, to find my way around the darkness and relish the light that shines through even the saddest of stories.
In this impressive collection of short stories, Cole finds those exacting words to reveal glimpses of life that fill you with love and compassion and leave you yearning to know more. It’s easy to see why her story ‘LOVE’ was chosen as part of the narrative for the Yes campaign for marriage equality. Anyone who reads this, who really listens as mother and son share the moment of disclosure, who feels the lump in the throat when she says ‘Mothers do know these things’ will understand the message for affirmation on marriage equality much more than from some of the distressing ignorance and bigotry flooding the media.
Cole, in writing that is both poetic and purposeful, selective, and at times, sparse, expands our minds and encourages the reader to look more closely at the detail and the ordinary lives of ‘others’. While some characters and places are more familiar each possess their own authenticity and truth. While many, on the surface, appear lonely and even suffocated by their longing, they are also, at times, comforting in their intimacy. There’s Dorrie on the ferry to Manly dreaming of her childhood, Ruth on her daily trek to the shopping mall and pet shop, Bert on his way to Villawood with gifts for the detainees and Willem preparing for work when all around him are partying. Often Cole’s characters feel like family or friends we know well, struggling to find their place. A recurrent theme of movement towards understanding prevails as we learn more about the many connotations of ‘home’ and what having a home means.
At times the memory of childhood or first love is evoked so provocatively that you can find yourself believing you might know ‘Little Kerrie’ or, in ‘Plenty’ you might find yourself wanting to slap James for his smugness and lack of compassion. In other stories Cole gives prominence to the environment and the external stimuli take over our senses as we hear the call of the furious ocean, taste the scratchy red dirt in the hot wind and feel the cracks in the ground of the outback ‘excoriated, open to whatever memories you might want to plant’ in ‘Steers’.
The stories of this collection resonate so well because of what Robinson calls ‘that movement towards essentials’, the removal of the extraneous to explore themes around love and pleasure in ‘The Navigator’ and loss and pain in ‘Hell Comes, Hell Goes’.
While enjoying the collection, I’m struck by that contradictory feeling of wanting to rush through the book and the stories, devouring each page in the way I might with a Raymond Carver or Alice Munro collection while also wanting to savour them and make my enjoyment of everyday escapism last longer. And it can be a hard to know where to begin because short stories, unlike a novel, offer the capacity to move in and out of the organisation at your pleasure. Should I read them in order, from the beginning, or dip in and out choosing on title or length?
Cole shows how to embrace and relish the short story, a sometimes-overlooked literary genre, while Seabirds Crying in the Harbour Dark would make an ideal study for teachers in how a collection of short stories can offer a sense of connectedness with its provocative themes and repeat characters, not unlike Tim Winton’s Minimum of Two.
CAROLINE VAN DE POL is the author of Back to Broady (Ventura Press/Peter Bishop Books); her first memoir. She is a writer and university lecturer in media and communication. She has a PhD in creative writing from the University of Wollongong and her articles and creative work have appeared in journals including Text and New Writing. Caroline has worked as a journalist and editor for newspapers and magazines including Melbourne’s Herald Sun. She has published two nonfiction health books on pregnancy and parenting. Caroline grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and she now lives in regional Victoria.
Kazem is a Kurdish musician and poet. He has been held hostage in Australia’s black site on Manus Island for 4 years where he continues to compose and write.
My guitar is my soul mate nowadays
I don’t care for the world anymore
I play my guitar with a heart full of sadness
My eyes drizzle like rain.
My heart is absent minded.
It’s going to tell the secret words.
It has a heavy pain to reveal.
It is profoundly sad,
sad like someone who has lost his sweetheart.
It has many words to say
but there are no worthy people to talk to.
My restless heart wants to fly
to take a message to someone.
But what benefit is there when there is no way to fly?
My heart is exhausted from waiting and effort.
It’s breathless and alone.
It’s become weak.
It’s looking for a way to fly.
My heart with a hidden secret
and a world full of wounds in a jail
has no path to freedom.
It’s been condemned to a sorrowful separation.
I wish there was a kind person to give an opening to this prisoner,
Give him a smile as a gift,
To let him free from fetters and alienation.
What a pity that it’s all a dream!
My helpless heart has never seen bliss.
The jailer is bringing new chains to fasten.
This is a different prison
Oh, banish the sorrow of my unblessed heart.
I’m like an iron, you know, I am strong!
The white demons have arrived with anger
to promise another Reza’s death.
They have sharp claws
They are roaring
The ground is wet from blood
though no-one has been killed yet.
They want a volunteer.
Someone like Reza Barrati.
Someone to be annihilated again.
The white demons are starving again.
They want to feed themselves with my own body
and celebrate until the next day.
They have no sorrow, no sadness, no pain.
My mother, my love, be strong.
I know it’s hard to say goodbye to your son.
Without seeing it, I can read the verdict:
My young body must be killed.
There is no sign for humanity.
There are no rights for humanity.
Power is in the hands of wicked people.
They have made the world
an un-passable bridge.
(mid August 2017)
– translation from Farsi to English Moones Mansoube (primary)
Adam Day is the author of the collection of poetry, Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books), and the recipient of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and of a PEN Emerging Writers Award. My work has appeared in the Boston Review, Kenyon Review, APR, AGNI, Iowa Review, and elsewhere. I also direct the Baltic Writing Residency in Sweden, Scotland, and Blackacre Nature Preserve.
Neighbor is lilac white and doesn’t mean
a thing. Life dissuades him with shabby
armchairs, cocked soldiers. Stashed
eyes. First alive fifteen minutes before
his death. Has a bicycle that like his conscience
gives him only a minor pain in the balls,
racks his rectum crossing road bumps, pumping
his legs in escape from the delusional
narcissistic wood fox and the nymphomaniac
nun. Here are his Prussian gray
polyester pants, his cheap mailman’s boots
that march. His ratcheted hand apes a trigger pull.
Past the skeletons of textile factories
boy with a moth’s mind floats in the cold
shallows, dodging leeches while men
do the wash. Breath and body, waves
and sea, everywhere
currents. Cattle on the sand
beneath the wheeze of seagulls. Mother
checks him – lifts his penis
from the drift-white and tightened
scrotum, an elegant example of free thought.
In the scalp of dark hair one little witch
marooned, slick and sucking. Mother
fumbling at it, a concentration-vein
like a taproot in her forehead, crumbs
of light at the crotch, the smack of spades
in the distance. Out the window, cow drops
green dung wet over a bucket of cherries
left by the spigot – in rain it smokes a little.
Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly
He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology
and Ovenbird Poetry.
He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Trump As A Fire Without Light #340
The ocean is full of motherfuckers that believed they were the ocean.
Trump As A Fire Without Light #341
Winter beneath my shirt, my nipples have become very political, and the one on the right has refused to acknowledge that winter is here. The wind howls and the fabric I’ve chosen is enough for my right nipple? How could one body swallow a season so completely, and have one nob in one quadrant maintain that this is the summer we’ve been waiting for? I have no desire to lose my own nipple. I am going to cut a hole in my all of my shirts to see how long the right can take this new discomfort the rest of the world is experiencing. I refuse to lose my body because one nipple is unfeeling, but I am willing to give up my whole wardrobe to make this point.
Trump As A Fire Without Light #342
The wind is a wall, and it never marks any territory for long. It will touch your blood to claim your blood. It will dazzle your soul as it changes your name. I don’t think this man understands nature. I know he doesn’t understand how a wall can turn on you at any moment.
Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, Vice President of the Australian Sweat Bathing Association, a founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).
bleachers on beaches
events transcribed in keyboard hiss
the therapist’s arena confiscates organisms
at the corner store now is all for none
a price on fun rises the thirteenth chore is unforgettable
alongside the cost
of a Callipo
beneath the stands what resembles soreness
bleachers on beaches resembles shock
details time that doesn’t fall
from glass bell
to glass bell
is built and thrown and urine soaked and flicked in
you are in no state to learn
to differentiate between
panic or heart attacks
while experiencing either
this turns out was the former
found in deep sweat
an auntie’s Christmas kitchen
while your vegan partner senses
something wrong so tries
to guide you through the carving
of flesh and of breast
a turkey that can only
be foreign in this heat
to a person who won’t eat
whatever’s got the
ability to smile produces
bite me, it seems you can
merry Christmas, you filthy animal