Cunjevoi by Caitlin Doyle-Markwick

Caitlin Doyle-Markwick is an activist, writer and performer from Sydney, by way of Newcastle. Her writing has appeared in publications like Overland, Antipodes and Otoliths. Working with her theatre collective BigMuscles SadHeart, she wrote and produced her first play, JobReady, a surreal, black comedy about the welfare system, in 2017. In 2019 she was a resident playwright at the Old 505 Theatre, where her latest play, As She Lay, will premier in 2020. Caitlin is a member of Solidarity and the Refugee Action Coalition.

 

Cunjevoi

Tiny bubbles of oil swell and pop, and swell and pop, occasionally sending boiling droplets flying outwards like golden spittle. Little red-black dots speckle my forearms where it has got me before.

The blood smell has gone and has been replaced with the protein smell. The meat smell. I flip the patty and it hisses at me. Steam billows up and around my face.

I feel a hand on my waist. Not my waist, the bit halfway between back and bum, whatever that bit’s called. Jamie leans around me, but not so close that the steam gets him.

‘Mairana, would you mind jumping up to the counter for a while? We’re a bit short.’

‘Ah, yeah… sure’, I say, shifting to the left to let his hand drop off my body.

‘Geordie, can you…?’ he looks at Geordie and indicates, with a yellow-white latex-gloved hand, to the two hotplates. Geordie nods, moves in between the two plates. You get to be dextrous with those spatula and tongs after a while, like Geordie is.

I go out the back to swap my apron for a clean one and examine myself in the mirror. The sweat sits thick on my face. I wipe it off but it appears again straight away. My skin has broken out in pimples again. There’s a halo of frizz around my head, and my black curls spring out at all angles. I try to flatten it all with my palms, but then give up and pull it all back into a hairnet.

I step back to see myself from a distance. My shirt stretches too tightly across my boobs. I gained weight, will have to lose it so that button doesn’t pop. I pull the apron up and re-tie it.

I look through the round window into the kitchen. The door keeps out most of the sound and it’s like looking in on a silent film, one stuck on loop where the machines and the people keep doing the same movements. I cross my eyes slightly to blur my vision. Now it looks like a watercolour, where the paint hasn’t dried yet and is still sliding across the page. All smudgy silver, yellow, red. Sometimes I do this, just to soften things a bit.

Jamie’s face appears in the window, a blot of pink.

‘Coming,’ I say, refocusing my eyes. I swing the door open and walk up to the counter.

For the year I’ve worked here I’ve managed to stay mostly on cooking, where I don’t have to face the public and I can’t hear the train announcements flooding in through the front doors every other minute.

A customer waits while I navigate the ordering system. I pretend not to notice him. If I say sorry he’ll think I’ve done something wrong, so I don’t. I want to tell him, it’s this computer, the bastard-of-a-thing, but I don’t.

‘I need to jump on a train at 10:50,’ he says.

‘Just a minute.’ My uniform is sticking to the sweat on my back. ‘Okay. What can I get you?’

‘A large chicken nugget meal, please, with Fanta, not Coke.’

I notice the man’s collar is stained yellow where it meets his neck. Doesn’t he know not to wear white twice in a row?

‘Will that be all?’

‘Yes, thanks.’

‘Tap here, please.’

He pulls his card out of his breast pocket, which has a blue logo on it in a star shape, and a pen stain.

‘Thanks, Darl’’. He’s happier now his nuggets are coming.

‘Mairana, you’ll have to pick up the pace before peak hour.’ Jamie’s voice comes up from behind me. ‘We’ll be getting slammed soon.’

‘Okay.’

He walks back into his office out the back.

‘Little prick,’ Clara says, only loud enough for me to hear. She’s behind the computer next to me. Clara’s worked here for three years, Jamie for nine months.

‘Geordie reckons he’s getting promoted to regional manager soon,’ I say.

‘Scum always floats to the top,’ she replies.

‘Ha…Yeah.’ I wonder if scum would have bought us all Celebrations chocolates for Easter when he arrived, like Jamie did. Probably. A scummy ploy, maybe.

For the next two hours, the orders come non-stop. It’s just past two o’clock, the end of my shift, when they slow to a halt.

‘Where’d you say you moved to, Mairana?’ Clara asks in front of the lockers.

‘Arncliffe,’ I lie.

‘Ah yeah, that’s right. Same line as me. Leaves in five, we better be quick.’

‘I’m actually going to stay at a friend’s house nearby,’ I lie again.

‘Oh.’ She smiles and winks, ‘got it.’

Some clothes and a book fall out of my locker onto the ground.

‘You wanna squish a bit more in there?’ she says.

‘I keep meaning to clear it out but… you know.’

‘Yeah. G’night. See you tomorrow.’

‘Yep. See ya then.’ I wait for her to leave before I pull out the blanket.

I check my phone. I’ve missed the Lithgow train. Damn. The Newcastle train, second best, leaves in five minutes. I check that Clara has gone and then run across the station hall and through the gates.

I manage to go unnoticed by the noisy lads going back to the Coast, and find an almost empty carriage. The nylon seats are purple now. I like it better than the bureaucracy-green of the old seats. Purple feels softer, more like a colour someone might paint their bedroom.

I lie down on one of the three-seat chairs and pull my blanket around me as the train starts moving. A voice comes through the overhead speaker in a tired, indifferent drawl. Sometimes I feel like the surly tones of the drivers are reserved for me, as if they can see me through their cameras, curled up on seats that were made exclusively for bums, thighs and backs, not for torsos, heads, feet. Or like I’m a stranger they found lying on their porch in the morning.

‘Thank you… we hope… journey.’ I catch the driver’s last words.

I open my book to the dog-eared page. I found this book on the last train. Next door to Number Twelve-and-a-half was an empty shop. It had been empty for so long that Mumma often groaned and grunted her way through a hole in the paling fence and hung here washing in the backyard. When Roie and Dolour were little they had often peered through the black glass… But I’m too tired to keep reading. I drape a scarf over my eyes to block out the light as the train staggers out of the city.

A hand pats my shoulder gently.

‘Good morning, Mairana.’ Rohit is looking over me with his nice smile, holding his cleaning equipment, a bag in one hand and the long pincer tool in the other.

The train is still and the sky outside is turning pink.

‘Did you sleep well?’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Pretty well.’ My body feels heavy and my eyes aren’t ready to open yet. ‘Deeply, anyway.’

‘No trouble?’ he says.

‘No, no trouble.’ I rub my eyes. ‘Thanks for waking me.’

‘You are welcome. You have a good day, take care.’

‘You too. See you soon.’

He pincers a soggy newspaper and puts it in the bag before going upstairs.

A coal ship sounds its horn as it is pulled into the harbour. A deep groan that rumbles under my feet and up through the city. Another fifteen ships sit waiting in a sullen line along the horizon.

By the time I arrive at the beach the sun is up, casting a greyish light over the flat ocean.

I pile my things close to the water where I can keep an eye on them, and change into my swimmers under my towel.

I walk slowly into the water until it reaches my waist and then dive in. The water’s still cold. It’s that time in December when the ocean is still catching up to the air.

Under the cover of the water I rub my underarms and my groin clean. The grease on my skin rises to the surface and swirls around me for a moment before it drifts off. I get some sand between my fingers and rub the skin on my face until it feels smooth.

I put on my goggles, take a breath and dive down as deep as I can. I push the air out of my lungs so that I can sit like a stone on the sand.

I used to do this as a kid, only then it was in those chlorine suburban swimming pools, where the sides are curved and painted that aqua colour so the pool looks like it goes on forever. It was part of a game I would play with my friends, called ‘Stone’. I’d stay down there as long as I could, until I thought I might pass out. I got to be very good at it.

I move my fingers side to side front of my face. They look like they’re glowing. Why does everything look whiter under water? Beads of air cling to the tiny hairs all over my body. I touch my belly and feel movement under the surface. Does the salt water make your organs float? My skin feels liquid to touch, like it might just dissolve in the water.

All I can hear now is the blood pumping out of my heart, up my neck and past my ear drums, so that it sounds like the whole ocean is pulsing around me. My lungs start to feel tight after a minute. I can’t hold it long these days.

I wish humans had evolved to have bigger lungs so I could stay down here longer, in this blue blue blue where there’s no clanking or announcements or complicated orders of chicken-burger-without-the-cheese or fat-sizzle noises. What if we rewound evolution and went back to the sea? Back past the point of fish and their shark terror to the calm of being a jellyfish, floating along with the current, not even needing lungs or breath, maybe glowing, if it’s deep enough. Or a Cunjevoi, squirting a bubble of air out every so often to keep things fresh. Or seaweed, or some other part of the seabed, thinking that the sky is that silvery layer that is the top of the water and never knowing what the real sky is, never needing to know.

The edges of my vision are going dark now. I push myself back up to the surface and my lungs inflate with air again.

The first morning swimmers are arriving. A late middle aged couple, retirees probably, who go to bed early and wake up at this hour by choice.

I adjust my swimmers as I get out of the water. They’ve gone saggy around the bum and the underarms.

‘Stunning morning, isn’t it?’ says the man.

‘Lovely,’ I say.

I rinse off in the shower and buy a coffee to drink while I wait for the bathrooms to open. Not sure why the coffee shop opens first. I unwrap the burger from last night in my handbag – I’ve learned to leave the tomato and mayonnaise off so it stays dry – and sit next to the rock pools while I eat.

The tide has only just gone out and the wet, blue-grey rock in between the pools looks like damp, pockmarked skin. Just below me is a manhole-sized pool. The dark seaweed that lines the walls moves slowly to and fro, as if the pool is its own tiny sea with a current of its own. Maybe the pools are all connected underneath by tiny tunnels that all lead back to the ocean. A few fish swim around the bottom, too big to swim through any possibly-existing tunnels, waiting for the tide to return and take them back out to sea.

Seagulls start to gather around me. I shoo them away with my foot. ‘Piss off’ – like they understand me. I wonder sometimes if they feel any shame, scavenging like this. I finish the burger and fill the rest of the space with coffee.

In the bathroom I get back into my uniform. Haven’t had time to wash other clothes yet. My uniform smells like chips, but nothing worse than that.

The woman next to me on the platform looks familiar. She’s got a travel bag on wheels and too many layers of clothes on for this weather.

I remember now. I’ve seen her once, maybe twice, on the Lithgow Line. She looks tired, but a resigned kind of tired, like she doesn’t expect to be not tired any time soon. We lock eyes for a moment and I think she recognises me. She looks away and walks along the platform to the opposite end of the train.

I find an empty carriage. I don’t bother to take out my book this time, the coffee did nothing. Caffeine when you’re this tired is like trying to paint over a crack in a wall when the wall has actually been split in two. I fall asleep before the train leaves the station.

‘Nah, I didn’t even see it happen—’ I open my eyes just as the boy sees me. He whispers something to his friends and they go back up the stairs. I fall back to sleep for ten minutes.

‘Morning ladies and gentlemen. Just need to check your Opal Cards’. I pull my blanket off and try to push it out of sight. The inspector holds her hand out for my card. ‘Thank you.’ She looks me up and down before walking off.

I don’t get back to sleep. The carriage fills up at Hornsby and there’s no way to lie down.

I buy the paper and sit on a bench where no one can see me from work. Around me are a few old people with their own newspapers in all different languages, sitting here pretending that they’re waiting for a train when really they’re just watching, waiting for nothing. Then there’s the intercity passengers, or customers, as we call them now, waiting with their luggage, half an hour early for the train just to be safe. Some of the older ones are well dressed, as if country trains are still a fancy thing. Pigeons walk around on their club feet picking up crumbs with their broken beaks. If only they knew how healthy the pigeons in the suburbs are, maybe they would go there. Then there are the lumps along the edges of the hall, like mushrooms growing in the cracks of the building, that are actually humans in sleeping bags.

There’s a commotion near the entry gates. I look over my newspaper with the other bench people.

‘There’s nothing we can do about it Ma’am,’ a station guard says. ‘There are some complications with the new timetable.’

‘How does a train just get cancelled? It’s just sitting there not moving.’

‘There will be another train leaving from Platform 19 in ten minutes.’

‘Why can’t you people just do your jobs properly and make the fucking trains go?’

‘I am doing my job, Ma’am.’

The backs of my eyeballs hurt. The screen leaves white rectangles in my vision when I look up at the woman in front of me.

‘Just a chicken burger please.’

The burgers fly across the screen at my fingertips. Chicken burger.

‘Anything else?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘That’s six ninety-five.’

She gives me cash. I open the till and slowly count out the coins for her change. It feels as though someone is pushing on my head from all angles. I picture myself lying down to sleep on the counter between the computers.

‘If you see unattended baggage… please do not touch it… notify staff immediately.’ An announcement moves across the hall from the platforms and through the front of the shop. I don’t know if I would have heard it if I didn’t know the words off-by-heart. It’s like when a friend calls from far away and you only hear them through the ruckus because you know their voice. Except this isn’t a friend. It’s more like when you hear a song you know from a distance, and suddenly you can hear the melody clearly, because you know it.

I count the coins again and put them into the woman’s hand.

‘Sorry, I need another dollar,’ she says.

‘Oh, sorry.’ I hand it over.

‘Thanks.’

‘Next please.’

‘Just a large chips please.’

Large chips.

A little girl looks over the counter next to her father. I can tell he’s her father by their heavy eyebrows.

‘And a Coca Cola,’ she says. Father looks down at her, then back at me.

‘And some orange juice, please,’ he says.

Orange juice.

In the top right hand corner of the screen the fifty-nine turns to two zeroes and the thirteen before it turns to a fourteen.

I log out and walk out the back. Clara is gathering her things, moving quickly. Or maybe my mind is moving slowly. She looks up.

‘You look buggered. You alright?’

‘Yeah. Just tired. Didn’t sleep well.’

Jamie walks through the door behind me.

‘Hey guys,’ he says. He’s smiling. ‘Look, I’m really sorry about this, but we’re a bit understaffed today and I just need one of you to stay for another hour or so until Jason comes in.’

Neither of us speaks.

‘Just an hour. Really. Tops.’

‘I need to pick up my kid,’ Clara says. ‘I get charged more if I’m late.’

I rest my forehead against my locker and close my eyes. I think about lowering myself down into a deep rock pool. How I would take a deep breath and dive down to see if there were any tunnels leading out to the sea, and if I were to find one, would I swim through it? There would be every chance that the tunnel might go on for so long that I would run out of air, and not come up again. I would remain forever a part of an underwater system that maybe no one knows about, become part of the rocks, and the algae, and the sand, in all its million pieces. Or I might swim out into the open ocean. The blue blue blue ocean that goes on forever.

I lift my head up and look at Jamie.

‘I have a train to catch,’ I hear myself say. I open my locker and pull out my bag, and my blanket. ‘And she has to pick up her kid.’

Claire Albrecht

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

Caitlin Wilson reviews Sun Music by Judith Beveridge

Sun Music

by Judith Beveridge

Giramondo

ISBN 978-1-925336-88-7

Reviewed by CAITLIN WILSON

“I often think about
The long process that loves
The sound we make.
It swings us until
We’ve got it by heart:
The music we are” 

“Girl Swinging”

Judith Beveridge tells us what she is. In the introduction to her collection Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, she describes herself as a lyrical poet, and discusses her belief that poetry must be a “showdown between the word and the poet” (xv). 

She begins her introduction with her ‘why’. A shy child, she found comfort and company in books and her own imagination, something she credits with drawing her into poetry: “I could manipulate words to sound more confident” (xiii), she says, and that her use of “masks and voices” (xiii) allows her to open up. For someone who doesn’t “particularly like” talking about her own poetry, this introduction illustrates an ability to zoom out, adopting a self-aware bird’s eye view of her own poetic idiosyncrasies and inspirations.

Echoes of this interest in shaping and moulding abound within the collection: in “Invitation”, the speaker does this with food; “I try to steer the flavour, arrange the colours on a plate” (38).

However, her most striking confession is how her childhood shyness inspired her love of nature, a fascination which proliferates in her work and in this collection. She explains that “the natural world didn’t make demands of me to speak to it”, something which is clear in her poignant and meticulous observations of nature (xiii). Her poems are earthed and earthy, giving the impression of a poet bewitched by the simple wonder of the world. Nature as a lively yet undemanding presence operates in Beveridge’s work as both a jewel to behold and describe, valued in its own right, and as a gateway into an examination of humanity, womanhood, personhood. In kitchens and gardens, nature is sniffed and poked, something to be moved by and something which, of its own accord, moves. Beveridge paints us a nature that is elegant, blunt, and vibrant, but never uncommunicative. 

The introduction prefigures a curation of some four decades of a much beloved and awarded work, as well as thirty-three new poems. Once delved into, this collection ebbs and flows, widens out and narrows in with pin-point focus on facets of a rich and richly observant creative life.  

Her earlier work, sampled here from The Domesticity of Giraffes (originally published in 1987) and Accidental Grace (1996), wafts from the page in familiar spirals. These poems are soft-edged, recognisable. They could be written about moments from a hundred Australian childhoods, or the subject of a thousand lunchtime daydreams. It says something about what we ask of poetry that I need to clarify I mean this as a compliment. The poems aren’t out to skewer a broken world: they speak to it and about it with gentle care and curiosity. This work is invested in the flux between indoor and outdoor, the grey space between inertness and liveliness. Symbols weighty with meaning are juxtaposed against the everyday – in For Rilke, ‘our hearts – they’re like utensils’ (7) and in The Fall of Angels are ‘faces cracked like china plates’ (33). This early work is also ripe with soundscape, fitting for a collection collated around its namesake. Yachts (86-87) asks the reader to hear the small symphony of seaside sounds – “the call of an oriole”, “the sharp strike notes of bellringers”, “a child count the stars in the water off a rickety pier”. The way her speaker conducts the soundscape changes – “if you can hear” becomes “you’ll know”, becomes “maybe you only hear”, and “perhaps you hear”. This vacillation between certainty and uncertainty, concrete and imaginary, leave the reader suspended in a moment at once real and magical. Dichotomies abound in Beveridge’s work. 

Through her title Sun Music, Beveridge rightly draws our attention to her preoccupation with poetry’s sonic and rhythmic potential, encouraging us to hear the poems she crafts. However, it is her use of another sense that charmed me most. Scents drift up from her poems – a “dark potato” and the leaves and lemon the speaker uses to try to cover its funk in “Flower of Flowers” (30) tickle something in the back of the reader’s mind, a curiously powerful invitation to enter a poem through the nose. Perfume plays a strong part through the decades, a seeming favourite motif of Beveridge’s. It makes sense: smell is hugely connected to memory, and perfume, in particular, is something man-made that gestures toward the natural. Hints of rose and sandalwood are concocted to remind us of the beauty of the earth, to allow us to wear it. Beveridge’s use of scent activates something almost primal in her reader, leaving them no choice but to live through the poem, to step into it like an herbaceous bubble. 

The works taken from her 2003 collection Wolf Notes are populated with more spectres of the human than the earlier selections. These characters are at once strong and vague, often more archetypal than wholly ‘real’. The mysterious ‘she’s of “The Lake” (102) and “Woman and Child” (105), the titular Fisherman’s Son (109), “The Artist who Speaks To His Model” (116). The animals remain, in Wolf Notes (112), and the birdsongs of “Woman and Child and Whisky Grass” (107), though their existence is often filtered through a character’s sensory experience of them. Visuals, too, are sumptuously laid out. In “The Dice-Player”, dice are “an affliction of black spots” (99). 

“Marco Polo’s Concubine Speaks Out” (61) and “The Courtesan” (119), written some seven years apart, illustrate Beveridge’s ability to return to characters and images and develop, deepen and darken them. The speaker of the first tells us the  “wind is blowing in the chrysanthemums”. In the second, the courtesan describes how “lightning flexed its muscled whip”. Whether this marks an overall turn to the darker, harder and more visceral in Beveridge’s oeuvre depends on how you receive the images she offers, part of the beauty of her work. 

The Storm and Honey selections, from 2009, shift pre-occupations from the earth to the sea. Beveridge conjures fishing metaphors and watery imagery with (perhaps verging on tiring) frequency, though her gemlike capturing of moods and moments is omnipresent. There is a sense of looking out, looking beyond in these works that feels like an exhale. 

The new poems, however, begin with a look back. “I rarely come here now, once or twice since you died” begins “Revisiting The Bay” (175), an achingly nostalgic memorial poem for Dorothy Porter. They are littered with memories, with preferences and perspectives earned by a life of creative observation. There is a sadness to these poems, though she warns us of this in her introduction: “I hope there’s enough overall sense of joy and wonder to override a creep into these darker tones” (xviii). These darker moments are, indeed, visited upon but never lingered in unduly, and she looks to the future here alongside remembrances. Her natural affinities remain but seem more charged with worry now. The poems show an enhanced sympathy and affinity with animals, beyond passive but loving description. They are impassioned, and loaded with a satisfying punch of righteousness. “To My Neighbour’s Hens” (178) is explicitly animal-rights (or at least chicken rights) oriented, with its plea that the sweet hens next door need never experience “slopped wire floors” and “battery cages”. “A Panegyric for Toads” (214) is a masterclass in balancing levity with the deep and dark. 

Beveridge’s poems are all about balance – conversational and musical, weighty yet light as a perfumed breeze. They give the reader the space to live with them, comfortable and churning, until a line strikes you like a sparkling melody, lingering long after the music stops. 

 
CAITLIN WILSON is a Melbourne-based student and writer of criticism and poetry. Her poem was recently short-listed for the University of Melbourne Creative Arts poetry prize, and her criticism can be read in Farrago and The Dialog, among others.

Sarah Attfield

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.

 

 

High Rise

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

barber shops
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
noisy churches

pound shops
pawn shops
knock-off handbags down the market

our graffiti
dogs with muscles
cars cruising with bass turned up

You used to hurry past
(or never set foot)
couldn’t imagine
living like that

all Harry Brown to you
hoods in underpasses
broken lifts
suicide towers

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

 

Retail Therapy?

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
re-stock
greet customers
weigh measure fold
smile thank pack

ignore the comments about her
hair breasts skirt trousers face
smile
lack of smile
make-up
no make-up

suppress the need to pee
eat
sit down
stand up
get a drink

agree to stay back
start early
lift too much
work faster
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

Beth Spencer

Beth Spencer’s books include Vagabondage (UWAP), How to Conceive of a Girl (Random House) and most recently, Never Too Late (PressPress). She writes fiction, poetry, essays and writing for radio and performance. She has won a number of awards, including the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award in 2018 for her short fiction collection The Age of Fibs, now a Spineless Wonders ebook. She lives on the Central Coast NSW. www.bethspencer.com

 

Eating the rich

The first time I went to a restaurant was
the local Chinese place for Dad’s birthday.
We ordered steak and eggs and chips,
except for my brother who shocked us all
by ordering these strange things
called dim sims. When they arrived
we watched, a little horrified,
as he poured a dark thin
sauce in his bowl and ate them.
I’m not sure what I expected might happen.

The second time I went to a restaurant
was the new Pizza Hut at Ringwood.
Once again it was Dad’s birthday.
This time it was my sister
who assured us that yes, that’s right
we all eat off the same plate!
She also showed us the proper way
to bite into the slice then pull it out away
so the mozzarella cheese
made a long gooey satisfying river.

The third time (Dad’s birthday again)
was a French Restaurant in Mitcham.
Chosen out of the phone book
and the only one open on a weeknight.
We had fun passing forks full of rich
sauce-coated dishes across the table – try this!
(whoops, a big glob plopped into an unused
wine glass — no worries, the waiter whipped it
away without a single word) and we laughed
and talked at the tops of our voices.

Then the bill came.
We grabbed a quick look
before Dad picked it up.
          The whole table went silent.
Dad’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t say a word.
Just pulled out his wallet and (lucky it was pay day)
placed way more money on the table
than at fifteen I could earn in a week.

The next year we went Bowling
and had fish and chips.

Erin Shiel

Erin Shiel has poems published in Meanjin, Cordite and Australian Love Poems. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the University of Canberra VC Poetry Prize. She is writing her first collection.

 

 

Grace Bros Miranda Fair Lighting Department

In my childhood home, three bedrooms
and the lounge room had chandeliers.
Not purchased in bulk from the coffers
of a French Noble, once lowered on feast
nights and lit by servants scurrying
before the guests arrived to drink claret,
eat suckling pig. Not made by Venetian artisans
blowing bulbs by mouth, twirling rods
in hot ovens until glass dripped like amber
sap. Our chandeliers were bought one by one
with five dollars saved from each pay week
for the best part of the year
I turned seven. Chandeliers need flock
wallpaper to accentuate their luxury
so my father spent weekends lining up
the patterns of one strip with the next.
Some of the houses of the brickies
he worked with were lined with Opera
House carpet, Regent Hotel tiles. Our
chandeliers were bought from Grace Bros
Miranda Fair lighting department.
On Thursday night or Saturday morning
we’d visit that hot cave glittering
not with seams of gold quartz crystal
or glow worms, but with chandeliers
(and their poorer, colonial style cousins
destined for country kitchens).

A thousand price tags dangled above our heads.

*After visual artist, Nicholas Folland, The Door is Open, 2007 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. See image online at http:www.nicholasfolland.com.au/page23.htm

 

My mother, balancing

On the first day of my mother’s first job the boss
sent her out at lunchtime to order a toasted ice cream
sandwich. All the men in suits thought it was funny
when she came back with the sandwich dripping
through the paper bag onto her white gloves.
At her second job she got married and they held

a farewell party. But I don’t want to leave, she said.
They thought that was odd. My mother’s work was at a desk
with a large accounting machine with so many keys.
It had its own rhythm that I never understood. Cha Cha Cha.
She was always racking her brain for a missing invoice payment
of $36.20. At her third job she was allowed to work even though

she was married. When I was born they delivered the accounting
machine to her house so that she could find the numbers
that weren’t quite right while I slept to the Cha Cha Cha.
She had rubber thimbles on her thumbs so she could flick faster
through the papers looking for that number that wasn’t right.
She made friends at work. They shared recipes and diets

and stories about their children putting plasticine in their ears.
They paid each other’s children 50 cents on school holidays
so they could keep them quiet and bring them to the office
to file or organise rubber bands. In the lunch hour they rushed off
to the supermarket to shop for dinner or school lunches.
…. Mince…. Oranges…. Bread…. Milk….

My mother’s job was before work too. She would dust the house,
put a casserole in the crock pot and hang the washing on the line,
cracking in the wind. The cold singlets would flap in her face
as she said her prayers. She said it was the only time she had to pray.
The magpies and the cat hung around her feet until they were fed.
At her fourth job in the furniture factory, when she did overtime

she asked for cash but received diamonds and shares in uranium
mines instead. She sold them quickly to pay for my school
uniforms. When she lost weight she admired herself in the window
of her office causing trouble on the factory floor below as the workers
stopped making chairs to whistle. She walked over the sewerage pipe
at the Botany wetlands to save on bus fares. I remember lying in bed

watching her do her hair for work, still a bit sleepy and loving her
scent swishing by my bed. Twist, twist, twist it up into a beehive.
Tweed skirt, twin set. Perfect for the office that is air-conditioned
for men in suits. At her fifth job my mother paid doctors’ wages
and minded kids with disabilities so their mothers could have a break
and go to the hairdresser. She still managed to balance the books.

When she retired, the women she taught to balance books came
to visit her. There were funerals of the women who had taught her.
She found that missing $36.20 in the shower. In her mind she saw it,
in the wrong month. The credits and debits fell into place
and she felt easier. But that was just one part of the rhythm restored.
There was the mortgage too, the school fees, the meal planning,

the lunches for my father, the trolley shopping, the jibes from tuckshop
mothers about her latch key child. The day off when the child was sick.
The saving for the trip to see the in laws she had never met. The shiny
bloke in the office who made sleazy comments. The boss who kept
a second set of books. Her father’s angina tablet prescription, clutching
at her heart. Her mother who needed help choosing carpet… Cha Cha Cha…

Joseph Schwarzkopf

Joseph (known to some as Butch) is a Western Sydney based poet and visual media artist, born to Filipino immigrants. He enjoys doing laundry, long walks through Kmart, and late nights at Mr. Crackles in Darlinghurst. His practice explores the varied experiences of the Filipino diaspora in Australia. His works have been published in UNSWeetened Literary Journal, UTS Writers’ Anthology, and the Australian Poetry Anthology. Joseph’s favourite word is pie.

 

Naaalala Ko

I remember Ate Maria, waking me up for school, I’d get ready, go to the corner shop
             and get Dad the paper, pack my lunch and walk down to Torres.
I remember coming home, exhausted, but there was always a meal on the table,
             and Manang would bring over her kids and we’d study together.
I remember on Sundays, we’d all rush out of church to get home for the family breakfast
             every Lolo, Lola, Tito, Tita, Ate, Kuya, Pamangkin, Ninong, Ninang, Kapatid – we
             were all there.
I remember meeting up with my barkada, we were the street’s breakdance crew,Enzo
             would bring the linoleum and Jek would carry the boombox – we’d battle with
             groups from the other streets at the rotunda where there was a basketball court.
I remember when Jepoy first got a colour TV – the entire street would gather round his
             house, sit in his lounge room, peer through his windows.
I remember Aling Alice and the Sari Sari store she has at the front of her house – it
             was the street’s centre – the easiest place to meet and you could get nearly
             anything you ever needed there.
I remember Gagalangin, the safe side of the most dangerous, densely populated district
             of Manila – Tondo. Smokey Mountain was on the other side. My Kuya Bino was
             the gangsta of our area.
I remember Manila, crowded, busy, beautiful – cleaner that it is now.
I remember leaving the house I was born in, the last time I saw the stove where I’d greet
             Mom each day, the last time I touched the floor where I’d slept each night, the
             last time I closed the door.

Bronwyn Lovell

Bronwyn Lovell’s poetry has featured in Best Australian Poems, Meanjin, Southerly, Cordite, Antipodes, Rabbit, Verity La, and Strange Horizons. She has won the Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award and the Adrien Abbott Poetry Poetry Prize. She has been shortlisted for the Judith Wright, Fair Australia, Newcastle, Montreal, and Bridport Prizes.

 

Working Girl

You and I can both get jobs
and finally see what it means to be living

— “Fast Car”, Tracy Chapman

i.

I trade time for dollars at the minimum
wage exchange. I wipe tables instead

of writing poems. I am well versed
in the cycle of reheating and eating

frozen meals in the windowless staff
room. I know my worth in hourly

increments. I have purchased property
with my body. I have a small patch

of grass the bank lets me mow. I live
within my fence, make my garden

pretty, iron my uniform to hang an
empty effigy to my hollow shape.

I am paying the bank off for a metal
box in which I cart myself across

suburbs pumping noxious gas exhaust
on my way to the shopping centre

where I serve the fried flesh of dead
animals to pigs who don’t think they

are animals. I scrape the waste from
their plates into the trash to be shipped

out to stink up some other place
where garbage piles like body bags.

ii.

I want to do the real work — I want
to write the world anew but that’s

not what companies pay me to do.
I am the overqualified unskilled.

I am the doctoral student you drive
-thru, that see-through counter chick.

Sometimes I wonder what lipstick,
wig, tit tassels and a spray tan might

do. How much could I make? What
would it strip from me and could I

break even, pay my way out? What’s
a small heart-sink for cash in hand?

iii.

I see how it happens — an overdue
power bill, medication for the cat,

funding cuts, no penalty rates, my
savings account stripped bare.

There isn’t a woman in my lineage
who hasn’t earned her keep.

Stripper me does not differ greatly
from strapped me. She’s just a girl

trying to make some money. She’s
simply more practical: writes off

fish-net stockings and pole-dancing
classes on her tax. It wouldn’t take

much — full body wax, theatre-thick
foundation, waterproof mascara

and a spine. The girls in International
House do it. Call them Asian beauties

or student slaves. Call me by my name
badge, ‘Love’, or something else entirely.

Aiden Heung

Aiden Heung is a native Chinese poet, born and raised on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau; he holds an MA in literature from Tongji University in Shanghai where he currently works and lives. His poems in English are published or forthcoming in many online and offline magazines, most notably Literary Shanghai, The Shanghai Literary Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, New English Review, A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Aesthetic Apostle among many others. He is an avid reader. He can be found at Aiden-Heung.com or www.twitter.com/aidenheung

 

Ritual

The face I’ve put on for almost twelve hours is in terrible
need of repair. I take off my face and rinse it

in the sink scrub it cleanse it smear on some lotion
and hang it in the cool air to dry. I look in the mirror –

blank gaze of a man staring like a black bird before winter
who’s forgotten the migration routes.

Time urges everything into a mound
of dirty underpants in the hamper. The only

thing worthy of preservation is the face. It
should be charming again tomorrow when I use

it in the office, and I should be happy as one who can
easily fit in and leave no trace of recognition. You don’t

know me.

Angela Costi

Angela Costi has four poetry collections: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014). Her full-length play, Shimmer, has been remounted at several South Australian secondary colleges, 2016-17.
Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia and overseas, including Hecate, Southerly, LINQ, Meanjin, Tattoo Highway, Alternative Law Journal and Peril. In 2009-10, with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, she travelled to Japan to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and the Stringraphy Ensemble. Her essay about this collaboration, and performance text, A Nest of Cinnamon, are published in Cordite, 2009 and 2013.

 

The Weed Eaters

Flower beds, veggie patches, nature strips, paved courtyards
you are all under attack, the weeds have arrived in droves
deep-rooting themselves in your clay-based soil
they pretend friendship but you know they are here to compete.

I search for my tools of decapitation and with my trusty glove
begin the ritual of tearing them out, they may sting, they may weep,
they may resist the tug, but I have no sympathy for their resilience
despite their appeal to my heritage of peasant foraging and eating.

Baba with his weak knees and ailing joints continues the ritual
of picking them selectively from his yard of green excess,
with his large plastic bag, seductive swing in his grip,
each nettle, thistle, dandelion, creeper and clover are his.

He offers me their contents as the world’s source of wisdom
but regrets with a ragged look not knowing how to cook them like
‘your mother’. I stare at them and can’t see the scripture
or verse of Cyprus yet promise to keep them safe in my fridge.

At night, I can hear her robed in her silence opening the fridge.
I know what she’s up to, feeding her hunger for nostalgia,
she has them cooking in my non-stick pan, then slides them
onto two plates, squeezes the lemon liberally, drizzles the oil.

Paused in the hallway, I almost return to my bed, but
her bitterness seeps in and I long for the horta of childhood.
Mama is waiting. We eat as one, ravenous for what was.

 

The Good Citizens of Melbourne
Trams are the good citizens of Melbourne… There are nearly 700 trams on Melbourne streets. Looking after them takes a lot of men: cleaners, overhaulers, tradesmen of all sorts…
           —Citizen Tram, a 1960s film by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board

Sitting next to my young mother is Deena, her sister
with eyes men fall into.
She’s older and focused on
getting them to work,
making sure they don’t miss
stop 20.           Facing her
but almost falling into her lap is Thelema, her cousin
with arms and legs that don’t stop talking:
did you hear about Effie? Yes, you know her…
she’s the one with the glass eye,
the one that works the zipper machine…
She’s fifteen, younger than me – she looks fifty.
She has a proxenia,
he’s at least thirty,
her parents want to get rid of her
because of the zeemia
with the gelato shop boy.
With a slight lean of her head
away from the window
Deena intervenes:
Effie shouldn’t be forced,
it’s criminal, her parents are vavaree!
Then my mother, who is a mere fifteen herself
says: Maybe she’s better off,
who wants to be sklavee
for the rich man
and his needle and thread machine?

Deena, Thelema, Young Mum are
a trio of handbags, lunch boxes,
orange, apricot, lavender skirts,
shirts with wide white collars
showing neck bones, smiles
of modest pink lipstick,
earrings that clasp the ear tight,
knees protruding with pent up
bursts of freedom as they speak
in a flurry of Cypriot-Greek
on the busy tram
heading to a factory
where young women
make fashion
for others.

The tram
halts
before stop 20,
the Driver
turns his mouth into a fist:
on this tram we speak English
if you keep up with your gibberish
you can get off at the next stop!

The language hovers over their heads
like a thought cloud of orexee,
darkly spiralling,
sending them down into a well
where there are no windows to see
the plum trees, the magpies, the milk bars…
Each day they caught that tram
they renewed their vow
of silence.