Saturday, December 15, 2012

A palette of red and green and white

One of my favourite annual Christmas traditions is raspberry picking in Kinglake. When you go back to the same place once a year, it's an amazing checkpoint of how your family is growing and changing. As we drove up the Kinglake road, Una reminisced about the dog who ate her sandwich when she was three years old. Not so long ago. A lifetime ago. This year Avery went picking too. He was very approving of the whole business. 

Before we drove up to the farm the sky was high, the sun a dazzling white hole in the dazzling white sky. "It'll hold," said the woman in the general store in Panton Hill where we detoured to get petrol. Fred and Una were squabbling about something when the news came on, that twenty children and six teachers in a school in Connecticut had been killed by a gunman. Martin quickly switched it off, but the girls had heard.
'Why would they put that on the radio?' Una asked. Then, quietly, 'Kids died? Between five and ten? Some of them the same age as me?'
We waited a while and put the radio back on, music filled the car. It always surprises me that Fred knows the words to all the songs. 
I looked out the window, my eyes filled with tears.
The road from St Andrews to Kinglake is tight and twisty, with a very steep drop down the passenger side. Una and I clutched at the car and tried not to moan aloud. Martin is a very safe driver but he does not always feel safe. 
Kinglake is a place that lost everything, and then lived again. We have grown used to the burnt trees, and now we are used to the regrowth, we have grown with this landscape and it has shaped us in hidden ways. 
When we drove out of the farm after the raspberry picking, we watched as the sky descended to earth. The landscape was all but negated by thick white fog. It seemed nothing was out there, the road apparently ending a few metres ahead of the car, but we drove on anyway, with faith that the road was still stretched ahead of our car, waiting to be found. Una cried, that the fog was thick, that the rain was falling. Martin said, 'But Una, the good thing about the fog is that everyone is being very careful, we are all driving so safely.' Headlights gazed steadfast out of the fog, appearing for a moment and disappearing, sharing that small envelope of space with us for a moment.
And then, just as we drove out of the township of Kinglake, the fog lifted, and we could see ahead for miles, over the valley, over the treetops, to the distant hills, soft with rain.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Confession

The last time I really enjoyed writing was in January when I did the month of poetry. Since then every word has had to be painfully extracted. Even these sentences are staggering from my fingers. There is no flow. I feel like I have developed a stutter, like I just can't get the words out. I feel like I have fallen out of love with writing. No, I feel like writing has fallen out of love with me.

I have whole novels that I am carrying around in my head, novels I feel convinced could be beautiful books, but the lines drop down on the page and clatter. I have no voices. No one is whispering in my ear. Sometimes I push through and write anyway, but still the voice doesn't come. Sometimes I wait but the waiting is hard and painful...what if I wait forever? Shouldn't I just sit down and get it done? I sit down, but it doesn't get done.

I have written words – thirty thousand of them in fact – spread among two novels this year. One complete, but wrong, but broken, and I look at it, poor broken thing and can't even begin to fix it. I am making little lives and then abandoning them half done, a neglectful god.

Oh yes, I know. I hear you. I have a two year old. But I have two year olds before, and pregnancies and breastfeeding and night weaning and tiredness and competing priorities and distraction and yet the voices never left me before.

I remind myself that writer's block can be a form of depression. I go to see a psychologist just in case. After three visits I am fairly sure I am not actually depressed. Tired sometimes. Struggling a little, could end up there if I don't implement strategies. But I am pretty sure I'm not chemically, clinically sad.

I just can't write.

The psychologist says, what would happen if you took time off writing? And I think, but then I am just a mother. Then I am just a really crappy housewife. Ah, she says. Ah, you say. Ah, I think. How telling. But I don't want to take time off, not really. What I want is the voices back. I miss them.

Even this blog lies empty.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Outer Suburbia

"Northern suburbia did feel at that time like the edge of the world, relentlessly ordinary, yet also liberating in being so quiet and uncluttered, and not without a strange beauty." Shaun Tan, from Comments on Outer Suburbia

Like Shaun Tan I grew up in a suburb that was "in process", slowly being carved out of the bush. I lived on a road that curled up the mountain like a spine and played in houses being built in the bush behind my back fence. The cement slab and floor would be built first, and then the wooden frames, and sometimes then the money would run out and the houses would stay like this for years, and we would move in like feral animals, playing games in these half-thought structures. I learned to ride my bike in the subdivision up the road - Lentara Avenue, Weemala Court, Lalwinya Road, Summer Court. My best friend had five acres of bush just up the street. Her parents still own this property on Mount Nelson, Hobart, which was once surrounded by paddocks and entirely private, and is now surrounded by houses peeping over their wire fences.

It has just been announced that an independent school, Acacia College, in Mernda (an outer area of Melbourne) is to close because of financial reasons. Doreen is not far from our house, and the independent schools in that area are probably the closest to us (with the exception of Eltham College). Frederique did a GATEways program at Acacia in grade one for maths and Martin came home pleasantly surprised at the area and the school. Since Avery was born we have looked at several houses in Mernda and its neighbouring suburb Doreen trying to get our head around the possibility of living there. I wrote this poem about it in January. For us the appeal is that we can afford a comfortably proportion four bedroom home, but also it's the ease of it; a friend described it as the supermarket approach to buying a house. You choose your block, you choose your house from a catalogue, the price is fixed (yes, I know, except for all the hidden extras). You choose your colours, your façade.

Doreen surprised me the first time I went. I was expecting McMansions. I was expecting to hate it on sight. I was expecting to laugh up my sleeve at it. I was not expecting to half fall in love with the austere beauty of it, to see the potential of what it could be (what it still might be if it can survive the haphazard development - so many developers that Doreen and Mernda are actually several microsuburbs pressed in together). I was not expecting to look past the surface gleam and yet still simply like some of the display homes. I was not expecting to find a really great cafe and community gardens or to be impressed by the cultivated parklands and waterways. I was not expecting to be able to visualise myself living there, or the regret that I would feel when eventually we ruled it out because of lack of infrastructure like public transport, adequate roads, and untested schools. The thing about Doreen is that if you have ever driven there from the city, chances are you went up Plenty Road and yeah, it's one sprawling developing suburb after another. But when you drive there from my place (ie if the centre of your universe isn't the inner city) then you drive through the most amazing green hills and bushscapes. If you live in Doreen chances are you're going bushwalking in Kinglake on the weekend, or ridging your bike through Arthurs Creek, or coming to St Andrews market or a nearby Farmer's Market or taking your kids to Scouts in Plenty or archery in Yarrambat. It's not a million miles from EVERYWHERE. Just, unfortunately, from essential services. But in terms of places you can buy a house for less than 500K within the city limits, it's nice. It's really, really nice. And your neighbours aren't drug dealers and terrorists (well, not exclusively). I bet if you did a quick doorknock you'd find lots of teachers, nurses, administrative staff, retailers and tradies. People like us, a family who came to home ownership after the boom, who was scared out of the rental market by crazy rent hikes and lack of availability, a family who found themselves with another baby to love even though they probably couldn't afford the children they have (ie a family whose circumstances had moved beyond "ideological" to "practical considerations").

The coverage of the closure in the Age brings out all the old bigotry about the outer suburbs. Someone from Middle Park writes (without vitriole): "You would think access to schools would be high on any parents list when choosing a place to live and I understand these places are sold as cheap, but the age old adage holds true that price does not equal cost!" (I believe it was only a few months ago that we were shown photographs of "stricken" parents from her area because their kids would have to use public transport to travel to Elwood or other areas because Albert Park High School was beyond capacity. Inner or outer suburbs, when it comes to public schools, the ball was dropped by the Kennett government and since then everyone's been standing around in the playground kicking it with their toes, not brave enough to pick it up again.)

Acacia parents are described as "aspirational" because of choosing a fairly inexpensive private school education (to go with their "McMansion" - another myth - the houses we've looked at in Doreen tend to be reasonably modest single-storey houses). Look, I am a huge proponent of public schooling and have been known to sneer lately at MLC running around flailing their arms about all the hundreds of thousands of dollars they seem to have lost track of. But when it comes to Acacia, I sympathise. There is no public secondary school. The roads are jam-packed in the mornings with commuters. Trying to get round the roundabout in Hurstbridge to head back home in the mornings takes ages because of people driving in the back way to get to the city, so commuting to Diamond Valley College (probably the closest secondary) is a time commitment, plus as if it's not expensive enough living in the outer burbs in terms of car dependence. 

I agree that it's not the responsibility of the government to bail out independent schools. However, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure all areas are adequately serviced by the state school system. Mernda and Doreen have no secondary school. Real Estate agents are always assuring us that the Doreen high school is "in planning stages".  From a quick google, it looks like someone is conducting a "feasability" study and some property has been "earmarked". Uh-huh. It is also the responsibility of government to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure in place for developing suburbs. While I don't think the government should hand the Uniting Church 10 million, I do think they need to work more closely with the community than offering "advice on alternative placings". But hang on, should Bailleu be held accountable for mistakes of past governments and the massive planning debacle that is the northern growth corridor (and all outer growth issues in Mlebourne)? Well, actually, yeah. It's in the job description. 

I remain fascinated by Doreen. Shaun Tan and Vicki Wakefield in her wonderful debut All I Ever Wanted show that Australian life happens there in all its beauty and ugliness and complexity. Perhaps as well as continuing to foreground the infrastructure issues in these areas, its time we started to explore them on a cultural level as well, to turn around the assumptions and stereotypes that allow these areas and the problems they face to be dismissed as consequence of bad decision making on the part of the individuals who have chosen to live there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Western Australian Premier's Book Awards

I went to Perth.
On the plane I read Away by Amy Bloom. You all should read that book.
It was warm and sultry in Perth, storms forecast though the sky was blue and empty.
I caught a taxi with Max Barry, Mif Farquharson and Rose Lucas.
I raved fannishly at Rose Lucas about her wonderful Bridgings anthology, in which the critical theory resonates with the same playfulness, the same rhythms, as the poetry. I don't know of many other projects that layer poetry and critical theory side by side like this in a way where each informs and performs the other.
I met Alice Pung. She was lovely. I might have invited myself over for a cup of tea.
I went to the State Library. I am always at home in libraries.
I went back to the hotel. I am never at home in hotels.
I went to King's Park State Reception Centre.
I mingled.
I made a speech. *spoilers*
I amused myself with the fact that Max Barry's man fans were oddly like 16 year old teenage girl fans.
I bought a book for Una's birthday and had it signed.

The sky opened. The storm. It rained. It rained and rained.
We ran in the rain to the bus and then we were driven to The Old Brewery. I was sitting opposite the very interesting Matthew Allen (and his equally interesting wife whose name I didn't catch, which goes to show how bad I am at mingling).
In the morning there was breakfast and a pale stormless sky. There was checking out and a quick walk. There was checking back in to get my wall charger for my phone. There was checking out again. There was a taxi. There was the airport. There was the plane. I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It didn't make me cry, but I loved this quote:

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is probably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”(Copied from Good Reads)

What did I say in my speech? After thanking the Premier and the people of Western Australia, I told them that my mother had once lived in Western Australia, which I think was the furthest from Tasmania she could get. It was a long time before I was born. From something she once told me, she was nursing a broken heart. So Western Australia is part of my family folklore. Also I have always been aware of Western Australia having a very distinctive literary tradition of its own. And I am proud now to be part of that history.
Only Ever Always, winner of the Western Australian Premier's Book Award for best Young Adult.
Rest of the winners can be found here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hey Mickey: Babies Love Books. Or Book.

Did you ever hear of Mickey? How he heard a racket in the night? Because I can tell you anything you might have missed. I know ALL about it.
'Is it very different having a boy?' people ask me. Well, sure. I mean, he likes cars, balls, building towers; he's a mile a minute, climb the table, run away with the iPhone laughing kinda kid. But Una loved cars and still plays with blocks. Frederique was active and into everything. Avery likes drawing and music and Charlie and Lola. He likes to dance. He approaches drums with his hands already flailing in the air. He loves to brush my hair. At his new creche he rocks a baby in its cradle and says "sssh, sssh." He tries to give a real life baby a drink of water. Though he is not usually that interested in nurturing play, he nurtures us. "Are you all right?" he asks as Una sobs on the stairs, or calls to Fred wailing angrily in the bedroom. ("No Avery," she wails back, "I am NOT all right."). "Are you all right?" he says to me, if I lie down on the couch, patting my shoulder, stroking my hair.

If I have observed anything it is an aesthetic difference. It is a tension between our two bodies, because he is not me in a way that is clearly delineated. When Frederique was a baby (my first), all sorts of identity collapses threatened, and sometimes at my most tired and deranged, I felt I was parenting myself. A trace of that remains, sometimes I look at her and see my own face staring back at me, my own fears troubling her eyes, or - more delightfully - my own smile at the corners of her mouth. Though Avery's eyes are my eyes. His are brown like mine, rounded. Fred's are the mirror of her father's: the sea on a changeable day when the light is soft and intense and even one minute and blazing through clouds the next.

Avery has a penis. This in itself is a novelty to me. Sometimes when I open his nappy I say, "Hello penis" because it still takes me by surprise. From behind he is squarer than the girls were, at the hips, at the shoulders, under his bum. He is tubbier than Fred was at the same age (tubby, I suddenly realise is an adjective I am entirely comfortable using for a boy, but would hesitate to ascribe to even a baby girl.) I am told constantly, often by strangers, "Boys are so much more affectionate than girls." Una used to tell me she loved me all the time. She would seek me out for a cuddle. Fred loved to sleep in my arms. But admittedly Avery ups the ante. He flings his arms around me, snuggles in, kisses me on the lips. He is just as affectionate with Martin and the girls. Fred perhaps gets more kisses than all of us. Is this because he is a boy? Or because he has been conditioned by older sisters? Or because he has been in competition from the beginning for my affections, my attention? "Mummy" is one of his few clear words, and he shouts it across the room. From the girls he has learned the art of saying "Mum, mum, mum" to get my attnetion, even if he has nothing to say.

So did you ever hear of Mickey? Perhaps you've been living under a rock all these years, and you don't know this famous picture book by Maurice Sendak in which Mickey wakes up to a racket, falls somersaulting out of his clothes into a dreamscape where rotund bakers sporting Hitler moustaches are baking an oversized morning cake. They mistake Mickey for milk and mix him in. But Mickey is master of his own destiny. He makes himself a bread dough aeroplane and flies into the stars over a cityscape of bottles and cartons, watched over by full Mama moon. He dives into a giant milk bottle to retrieve the milk for the morning cake as compensation for his own refusal to be the milk. He brings back the milk so the morning cake is saved, but he also wins his own identity, he's not the milk and the milk isn't him, a fact he rejoices with a phallic Peter Pan-esque crow before returning to the comfort of his own bed. If you want, I can recite the story for you word for word.

I admit Avery will tolerate two other titles, Yummy Ice-Cream has been a firm favourite for a few months now (I point to Panda, then Sheep, then Owl. "Freddy, Una and Avery," I say. "Yeah," says Avery with one long nod, as if the thought was just occuring to him too). And we've been reading This Little Nose to him since he was a teeny "poor little grumpy person" with a little red coldy nose. But In the Night Kitchen is Avery's book.

'What was my favourite book?' Una asks me as I read In the Night Kitchen one more time, and I struggle to remember one book that Una particularly loved - is it middle child syndrome (maybe Fred would never have permitted Una to dictate through preferences) or is it that she was simply eclectic in her tastes. Fred had a favourite book from before she was one, it was Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten; however, it wasn't to the exclusion of all others. But if we try to read another book to Avery he says "Hey!" (as in "hey, what do you think you are doing?") and hits the offending book. So it's Night Kitchen. Again. "One more," he says after the last page. "One more me baby."

It strikes me as I read In the Night Kitchen that Avery is a boy, Avery is Mickey in a way that my daughters have never been. The proud male body that struts is Avery's body. To a point. A round ended, bluntish point. I realise that Avery is subject in the way that the girls are never really subject in so many of our favourite books and movies and TV shows. Yes, yes, I know that Mickey is the sort of antihero we can all relate to, individualistic, fulfilling his own needs and happening to save the morning cake along the way. But his maleness is quintessentially part of his identity, part of the joy of his being. "Cock-a-doodle-doo" he crows.

"Ew!" says Una. "You can see his doody." 

"That is a very rude book," says Fred.

There's nothing essentially rude about a penis, I insist. "After all, Avery has one." But they are 6 and 9 year old girls. We will beg to differ on this one.

I had a brief flicker of envy at this sharp realisation. Avery is a boy. Of course, I am not suggesting this means his life will be necessarily easier. He may be marginalised in other ways: he might be gay, or acquire an injury or have a learning disability, or he might simply not fit with the social expectations of a white western male. As the brother of sisters, as the son of a feminist mother, as a male in a post-feminist era, he may feel he has to apologise for his masculinity, there are times it will probably feel a burden to him. But it's a privileged position to begin from, if for no other reason than he is born into the role of protagonist in so many stories, he will grow up without the confusion of identification that my daughters face, that I myself have always faced. For every Brave there are a hundred Toy Stories and he will own his place in them all. He is Peter Pan, he is Captain Hook, he is Indian Chief, he is Sherrif, he is President, he is Soldier, Sailor, Tinker, Spy, he is Old Macdonald, he is Policeman, Fireman, Postman. He's a pantheon of gods, of superheros. Of course there's no reason why my girls can't be any of these things too, and they have been, for a time, slipping in and out of these roles. But still. There it is. The body that sets him apart from me. Yes, the difference is mostly aesthetic to me, a feminist with the power to deconstruct codes like masculinity and femininity. But still, I am struck by what a powerful thing the aesthetic is in our image-driven culture where what things look like dictate their function, their purpose, their reception and the narratives that coalesce around us, bringing meaning to our past, shaping our destiny.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

News n Chews*

When I was in grade 2 I went to a different primary school for one year. It was the primary school where my dad was the Acting Principal. We would drive together in the little brownish orange Renault 12, which had one of those fold out arm rests in the middle of the backseat which formed an excellent border between two squabbling sisters, though of course on those days I sat in the front, except when we were driving Stuart Mitchell from across the road. He would get out at St Virgils and then I would climb over from the back seat into the front. It was 1982. The school was in Glenorchy, a suburb north of Hobart (actually its own municipality). On the way to school Dad would often stop at News'n'Chews, probably to buy cigarettes and a newspaper and I would get a "chew", a Whip or a Nudge, which were small then (the same size as a Milky Way), or a Caramello Koala, which of course you must always eat EARS first, then nibble the head until you reach the caramel, suck the caramel out, then consume, feet last. This is the only way to eat a Caramello Koala, and if you have been eating it the wrong way all this time then consider yourself edumacated. If you are from overseas and do not know what a Caramello Koala is, or if you are from the 90s onwards and do not know what a Nudge bar is, then alas.

Anyway, this is a newsy sort of post, so here it is:

First news:
Only Ever Always been shortlisted again! This time for the Western Australian Premier's Awards. My brother-in-law recently relocated to Perth after joining the Navy - he wants to be a submariner. Anyway, this seems a fair deal to me: a brother-in-law in exchange for a shortlisting. Thanks Western Australia! Crow Country, by my mate Kate, is also shortlisted, so are we officially a power couple?

Second news:
The Melbourne Writer's Festival and me. I shall appear. It is coming up fast and I have dates. Would you like to date me? I am interviewing (Morris Gleitzman and Melina Marchetta!) and doing panels and even more daunting there is one session that is simply called Only Ever Always. Just me and my book. Woah. I would really love it if you come. Details to come about the interviews, but the three panels are available for booking. Remember to come by the signing table and say hello.

Third news:
I have a story in Island 129, out this month (launched by Karen Pickering on Wednesday 18th in Hobart). For those of you interested in the relationship between life-writing, blogging, creativity and fiction, especially anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you might like to know that the story has strong roots in the blog. This post here (about Snappy - ah Snappy) forms the backstory, and the actual incident the story was based on happened during this period, and some of the imagery from that poem ended up in the story, as well as this conversation with Una. The other thing that happens in the story is true too; I never quite got around to writing a blog post about it (though I wrote and rewrote it in my head). Anyway buy a copy of the magazine (or better still subscribe) here. I wonder if News'n'Chews stocks Island Magazine.

*When I googled to see if News'n'Chews was still there, I discovered I had used this title, and this anecdote, in 2007 for a similarly newsy blog post. Sheesh. We authors are always plagiarising ourselves. We need a refresh button.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Girl in Bed 1

There is an anorexic in Bed 1; I hear her giving her birthdate to the pediatrician and work it out in my head. She is a few months away from her 14th birthday. She is painfully self-conscious as are the other two anorexics in the ward. We saw them earlier, about to sit down to morning tea. It was laid out in the playroom on the table, despite a notice instructing that no food or drink be consumed in there. Martin and I walked into the empty room and sat down at the table as Avery pottered about, helping himself to trucks and dinosaurs. Broom, said Avery. And, Rahr. And occasionally, a rasping wheeze, a bone rattling cough. We glanced at the meagre servings - not sure at first if this was before or after the meal. Processed cheese slices, individually wrapped servings of a crackers, oranges. The girls stood in the hallway, talking earnestly to each other, all of them radiating the same painful self-consciousness. It dawned on us that they expected to sit in here, but none of them were able to negotiate the complex task of entering the room with us already inside.
Avery found a black and white chequered flag and waved it in a surprisingly authentic figure-eight. He stumped out to the three girls and they studiously, painfully ignored his incredibly overt charm. He insisted on drawing their attention. One finally giggled nervously as I went out to scoop him and bring him back, plonking him next to the bins of toys again, wiping everything down that he'd touched.
A nurse came in.
'He is welcome to stay and play,' she said to us, 'but we need the table.'
Martin and I moved to the edges of the room. The girls came in and sat down. Almost immediately one complained about the orange, she doesn't know what to do with it. 'Oranges are for juice,' she said. 'You juice them, you don't eat them.' The other girls agreed, none of them, if they are to be believed, know how to peel an orange.
Martin and I took Avery back to the ward and left them to it, despairing over the impossible project of entering and consuming an orange.

Later the girl in Bed 1 was on her bed, drawing. The Happiness Trap sat on her bedside table. There were two 'get well soon' cards on her chest of drawers. She had a pillow from home, white with strong black geometric patterns and two teddybears, one large and brown, the other gaudy pink. She was settled in - for how long?
The doctors were visiting the ward. Our doctor examined Avery who, after waiting all morning to be examined, had just fallen into a deep sleep. His breathing was still ragged and there was still the occasional cough, but he had improved so much, I expected we would simply be discharged and therefore I was paying more attention to Bed 1.
The girl hid her drawing bashfully when the doctor showed interest in it.
'Wow, that's really good. Is that one of your special...things that you do?' the doctor asked. I got the sense she'd muddled up her syntax, almost got lost in the middle of the sentence. Awkward.
The girl shrugged. 'I always draw when I'm bored.'
'Do you want to talk about it?' the doctor asked, and she doesn't mean the drawing anymore. The girl was silent. 'Not today?' offered the doctor.
I was scribbling this down in my journal (despite the fact that there is a sign outside the ward saying No Recording Devices) so I didn't see her response but she isn't going to talk about it now.
'How are you feeling in yourself? Any aches and pains?'
'I'm still getting them. Eating. And drinking all that Sustagen.'
They exchanged a few more words, the girl had some work, some textbooks, she said.
'We don't want you to fall behind,' said the doctor. She patted the girl. 'You'll get there.'

I was writing this down when the doctor examining Avery said, 'Has anyone talked to you about his heart murmur?'
I put my pen down.
She explained to us that infants can get them when they are sick, or for all sorts of reasons, but it can also mean there is something structurally wrong with the heart. 'On his x-ray his heart looked a bit...' she trailed off - there was something she wasn't telling us. 'Big,' she finished vaguely, and she frowned, listening intently to her stethoscope.
They had taken the x-ray in case there was an obstruction that had caused his sudden severe retractions, which is what caused us to call the ambulance in the first place, our tiny boy gasping air in, his chest receding so savagely it threatened to disappear, his stomach ballooning, his narrow ribs protruding.
The doctor told us the next step would be an ECG which they may as well do while we are in the hospital and that she will have to examine him again when he is awake.
Martin had to move the car because parking is terrible in the area, mostly two hour. Before he went, he brought me a cup of tea from the parents room. He spilled a little on the floor and we had a brief bitter squabble, fuelled by exhaustion after a long night in emergency for both of us, and then the rest of the night for me sleeping in a fold out chair, tending to a fitful Avery every 45 minutes, breastfeeding him like a newborn every few hours. And then this new uncertain worry, scratching at our tempers.

I sipped my tea. Avery slept soundly. I heard the whirr of what sounded like a dial-up modem, the ding-dong ding-dong of someone summoning the nurse, and on another patient's television Homer Simpson declare: 'Boring!' My room was empty now, the girl in Bed 1 had slipped out unseen by me, maybe scared off by the intensity of our conversation, or maybe she was more polite than I had been and hadn't wanted to eavesdrop. The girl in the bed across from me, a seven year old with a broken wrist from a scooter accident, had gone home a few hours before. Her mum had been friendly, bought me a latte in the morning and wouldn't take my money (I was short anyway). In two weeks they were going to Thailand. Bed 4 had been empty since we'd arrived somewhere around midnight.
The hospital had that timeless, dreary quality of an institutionalised day. Early, when the night's long artificial twilight had finally given way to morning, Avery had looked out the window into the grey concrete courtyard and pointed up. 'Sky,' he said. The sky was the same colour as the concrete.

Avery woke up. Lunch arrived and Avery refused everything (even the jelly) except the mashed potato. The two doctors came back before Martin, while I was still shovelling potato into his mouth. As I was telling our story again to the second doctor (the short haired groovy one who had previously attended to the anorexic girl) the other one gets a call. She gets off the phone looking cheerful, embarrassed, mostly relieved.
'That was radiology,' she said. 'They mislabeled the x-ray.'
She listened to Avery's heart again. 'It's definitely on the left,' she told the other doctor.
It transpired that radiology had labeled the x-ray so that the heart appeared to be on the wrong side (the right instead of the left).
'There's no sign of the murmur now he's sitting up,' she said to me. 'Which means it's nothing serious. If it was something to worry about it, we'd still be able to hear it.'
She listened a few more times, again expressing relief that the heart was where it was supposed to be. It does happen rarely, they told me. The night before the doctor in emergency had said that one in a hundred appendixes are on the mirror side - not to us, this was to the family in the next cubicle, whose son, as it turned out, did not have appendicitis on either side.
Avery coughed then, and the doctors were confident that it was croup. He got another dose of steriods and we were also given a script so we could keep them in the house in case of a relapse.  
On the way out of the hospital I passed a board that had been put up for positive affirmations. I wanted to write my favourite aphorism on there, 'Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid', but I felt suddenly self-conscious.
'She was incredibly beautiful though,' said Martin, meaning the girl in Bed 1.
She made me hurt, as if all her raw nerve was somewhere outside her skin, and the signals from her brain were intercepting the signals from my brain. I felt her self-consciousness in the submerged part of my self, the stratum layer, that is and always will be thirteen, almost fourteen.
And with Avery bright and buzzing from the steroids, warm in Martin's arms, we walked down the corridors, past the birth centre where Avery was born, into the empty space of the wide bright foyer, down the lift to Basement 3, through the carparks and finally out into the wintery grey street, specked with a sort of pre-rain hanging motionless in the air. We walked down towards the bowling centre, where Martin had parked. 

'Sky,' said Avery.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Love Story

I walked into the bottle shop with a cleanskin red I'd bought only twenty minutes before. I had Una with me.
'My husband says I bought the wrong colour,' I told the man behind the counter.
'Wrong colour?' he asked confused. He thought I meant the label.
'Red not white.'
He laughs. 'Oh right, I like that. Wrong colour.' He laughed again. 'What do you want? Semi or a chard? I've got some cold.'
'Oh, chardonay,' I said, like I have an opinion. I don't really care. I don't really know the difference, having been most of my life a red drinker - but suddenly red is too intense for me.
'Here you go, Darling,' he said.
Outside Una told me with conspiratorial quietness, 'Mum, I think that man has fallen in love with you.'
'What makes you say that?'
'He called you Darling."
I laughed. 'I'll have to watch out for him.'
Worried, Una said, 'I hope he doesn't come and take you away one day.'
'I won't let that happen,' I assured her.
Una thought about that. 'You would punch him in the nose,' said Una.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Polenta and goats cheese "cake"

This isn't really a cheese cake but you make it in a spring form cake tin, so I am giving it the honourary title of cake. Avery loved this dinner and even the girls wolfed it down and they can be iffy about onion. I guess the cream and the butter and the cheese help. The onion retains a bit of crunch but you want that with all the creamy cheesiness so don't be tempted to cook it first.

From Donna Hay seasonal diary 2006

1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup polenta
30g butter
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
sea salt and cracked pepper
150g spinach
1 small red onion
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup single cream
80g goat's cheese crumbled

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (355ºF). Grease a 20cm springform cake tin.

It also says to line the base with paper, which maybe you could do if you want to be fancy and not serve it out of the tin like I did, but greasing it will be enough I reckon. Save a tree. 

Place milk and water in saucepan.

Forget about it until it bubbles over dramatically and then say to your husband, "oh I meant to do that.". OR bring to the boil.

Gradually pour in polenta, stirring until smooth. Reduce heat and continue to stir for five minutes. Stir through the butter, parmesan, salt and pepper. Oh, and I added nutmeg.

At this point you can lock yourself in the bathroom and eat the buttery cheesy polenta straight off the wooden spoon and then make scrambled eggs for dinner for everyone else. OR you can proceed with the recipe.  

Spread polenta over base of tin, top with onion and spinach. Whisk together eggs and cream, pour over spinach and top with crumbled goats cheese. Cook for 40 minutes or until set.

It says it serves 4 but I think you could easily feed six with a hearty salad and bread. We had leftovers.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vego for June

We have started having the conversation about eating animals. It has happened later than I thought, Frederique is 9, Una is 6. Up till now they have hadn't had a problem with the idea of meat, easily slipping between cuddling their pet chooks to tucking into a roast chicken dinner. I was vegetarian for many years as a teenager, but went back for bacon around the age of 20 and now eat more or less everything. Anyway, after a few conversations where the girls expressed great concern at the idea of eating fluffy baby lambies, we've decided to go vegetarian for a month. I too have been wondering about the ethics of meat eating again. I am not really opposed to eating meat, but I do want animals to have quality of life, and somehow I don't think simply selecting free range options at the supermarket is enough to ensure this.

I am sort of hoping this might give us a chance to readdress what we eat, when we eat it, how we shop... Our hens were off the lay, and so I briefly entertained the idea of going vegan, but I just don't think I am prepared to go that far, especially with Avery so young and, you know, lattes. Cheese. Lattes.

The girls like chickpeas, lentils, beans and a reasonable range of vegetables and both eat all fruit. There is a nut free policy at school, and we've struggled to find savoury sandwich fillings that they'll eat, but it seems they like broad bean dip with alfalfa sprouts. Getting their lunchboxes healthier and more substantial is one of my goals with this month's trial. Martin deals with his own lunch at work (I am not sure if he will go vego for this - he usually has tuna). I cook lunch for Avery, usually an egg, baked beans, veggie fritters or leftovers, sometimes he has a tuna sandwich. I have a salad or toastie or leftovers or a "snack plate" - cheese, biscuits, fruit & veg, nuts - or, if I am lazy, fruit toast with peanut butter. Which is what I have for breakfast most days too.

Anyway, my rough evening meal plan for this week - seven meals though if we are lucky at least one of these meals will get thrown over for dinner at A Boy Named Sue:

Veggie soup
Beetroot and feta gozlemes with Waldorf-ish salad (with hazelnuts instead of walnuts, since we have some)
Tempeh sausage rolls
Gado gado (hard boiled eggs and steamed and raw veggies with homemade peanut sauce)
Goats cheese, spinach and polenta bake (from a 2006 Donna Hay Diary) with orange and fennel salad
Store-bought sesame falafels, store-bought hummus, flat breads, tomato and cucumber salad

Friday, May 18, 2012

Google Prediction Zeitgeist

Google prediction search
Google prediction search not working
Google prediction search funny
Google prediction search turn off

Why won't my baby sleep?
Why won't he marry me?
Why won't my ipod sync?
Why won't my macbook pro turn on?

Why don't you love me lyrics?
Why don't muslims eat pork?
Why don't I have a boyfriend?
Why don't you get a job?

Are you interested?
Are you being served?
Are you there chelsea?
Are you gonna be my girl?

Why didn't they ask Evans?
Why didn't you tell me?
Why didn't frodo fly to mordor?
Why didn't I think of that?

When did the titanic sink?
When did facebook start?
When did jesus die?
When did alcatraz close?

How far?
How far did I run?
How far along am i?
How far is the moon?

When will the world end?
When will I die?
When will iphone 5 be released?
When will timeline become compulsory?

I don't know how she does it
I don't know where you're going
I don't know how to love him
I don't know what to do with my life

Monday, May 14, 2012

Aurealis Awards

Only Ever Always has won an Aurealis Award! This is an award for excellence in Australian speculative fiction and I way so chuffed to have won it, not the least because I was up against some pretty tough competition. I have a big soft spot for the Aurealis Awards, not least because they recognise books that might get overlooked otherwise. "Truth may be stranger than fiction," wrote Frederic Raphael, "but fiction is truer." And I think that is especially so of fantasy, where there is a breach between the interior and the exterior worlds and one leaks into another, because fiction is about our inner selves and our inner worlds, and the border territories where the inner meets the outer.

I went to the Aurealis ceremony seven years ago when my first novel Undine was shortlisted. I was a newly franked author who was still getting used to being a mother, in fact it was one of the first times I had been separated from Frederique (she came with us to Brisbane but stayed with a friend while Martin and I went out to the awards). I was mildly pregnant with Una, maybe about five weeks, so I couldn't drink...I think I was still learning how to manage social situations without alcohol (a steep learning curve for many mothers I am sure). I was very shy. I didn't win, but I don't recall being particularly upset. Scott Westerfeld won, I think it was for So Yesterday. Nearly everyone seemed to know each other. I remember seeing another shy author in the audience and thinking 'if I was braver I would go and be her friend.' These days I am much braver, I would definitely approach a loner at an awards ceremony. But also thanks to festivals and other writing gigs, and of course Twitter and blogging, I now know have lots of Aurealis-type friends.

I wish I could have been in Sydney on Saturday but the logistics of managing Small Person Who Still Breastfeeds was all a bit much. And of course I would have missed my mother's day morning cuddles and delightfully odd presents. And witnessing Avery discover his inner dinosaur. RAWR, complete with rabbit/Tyrannosaurus Rex hands and a convincing knee crouch and shoulder hunch.

An Aurealis on the eve of Mother's Day, as Carole Wilkinson pointed out on Twitter, is a very nice confirmation that I am doing okay at both jobs (Carole Wilkinson has done a pretty good job at both herself). As I drove home last night through the green hills and the weather, I saw a mother cow licking the head of her calf with a big raspy tongue. And I thought "Happy Mother's Day to us, Mama Cow.' Because she was doing a pretty good job too.

Monday, April 23, 2012


On Friday I said, 'I will miss eight-year-old Fred.'

 Una said, 'In the middle of the night eight year old Fred will take off all her clothes and then she will be in her birthday suit. She will run away outside and nine year old Fred will come.'

 Fred said, 'I think nine-year-old Fred will be the same girl as eight-year-old Fred' but there was a flicker of uncertainty in her voice. 'Eight-year-old Fred will rise up and go to Heaven,' said Fred.

 For her birthday, Fred wanted to get her ears pierced. I made an appointment and took her to the chemist (I wanted to go to a tattoo parlour, but Martin didn't approve). 'Do you want me to count to three?' Lauren the Beautician asked. 'Or do you want me to just do it?' 'Just do it,' Fred said. Bang. Bang. She flinched. It hurt more than she thought it would. She didn't cry.

 Later she joined the conspiracy. 'It didn't really hurt,' she told Una. 'It just felt like a pinch.' 'I just got my ears pierced,' Fred would tell people after we left the chemist - the ladies in the toyshop, people in the cafe. Only women though. She leaned forward to me at the cafe. 'All the women here have pierced ears.' My ears are pierced but I don't usually wear earrings. I was nine like Fred when I had mine done. I still remember the shock of pain, the loud noise of the gun.

Fred kept saying to me, 'I just got my ears pierced.' It was like she had to rethink herself. Our appointment was at 12.30. She was born in the early afternoon. So eight year old Fred really left then. And nine year old Fred, in the end, is really quite a different girl after all.
'Maybe one day,' Fred said to me that night before her birthday, 'eight year old Fred will visit. Maybe one day you will see her again.'

The ghost of the girl you once were is everywhere Frederique. She slips in and out of the shadows of your face, and in your brother's face who is so much like you. She brings messages from the past, but I cannot send a message back to her. She does not stay to notice what the world has become without her. She is a spirit of the wind, and nothing will pin her down, she is the moment between breaths, she is here, she is here, but when I reach out to touch her she is gone.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dear Easter Bunny

Dear Easter Bunny,
I would be very gra greatful if you could send me a chocolate bunny and a butter cream egg. Also dad says that he wish's that the basket on the picture was real so can you please try to make it real. Can you also send me a pretend chick and some chocolate eggs. Happy easter! fr love Fred xoxoxo

Dear Easter Bunny
I will be very graetfull if you could send me a pet bunny.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Only Ever Always has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards. A few friends are on the list this year in the various categories (including mine!), and lots of books I admire are there so I am thrilled to be included among them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February Highlights

Back to School

Quality Time

Kasey Chambers at The Zoo

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This one's for you

This is for the love forlorn and the love homesick
For the love afflicted and the love addicted
The love ambiguous and the love confused

This is for the one who was loved and left
And for the leaver and for the ones who saw it coming
And said it or didn’t say
This is for the love losers and the love lost

This is for the love-in-a-mist and the love-lies-bleeding
And for the love-in-the-afternoon
And the love-on-a-bicycle
And the love-between-two-slices-of-bread

This is for the love blind the love deaf
The love wounded and the love dead
This is for the ones who turned off the machine
This is for the ones who called it

This is for the love heroes the love battlers the love survivors
This is for the victims the love scarred
This is for their children who will grow up
And love

This is for the love cooks and the love sweepers
The love makers and the love sleepers
The love bankers and the love spenders
For stay at home lovers and for working love

This is for the ones who updated their status
Who rewrote their bios
Who pictured themselves in someone else’s profile

This is for the love simple the love basic
This is for what I did for love and all the things I didn’t do

This is for you

Friday, February 03, 2012

First Day, New School

1. Una, Grade One
You are stalky arms and legs
And a stiff green dress.
You are a backpack
And a broad rimmed hat.
You are eyes peering out
From under the rim.
You are a cubby hole
With your name on it.
You are your lunchbox.
You are the new girl on the mat
Sitting closest to the teacher.

I am goodbye.

2. Fred, Grade Three
You bounce
on the balls
of your feet.

Your worried smile
shows a gap.

You ask me not
to kiss you goodbye.

But your hand gives
the secret signal:
two quick pulses.
A single heartbeat

to tell me you love me
that right now
you need to be loved.

Two girls vanish into a world
made for them. I swim
through a sea of parents,
into the quiet of the deserted playground
looking for my husband's face.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Circus Girl

Yesterday Martin went back to work and I didn't write a poem. I took the girls shopping for school shoes and to have their haircut. The girl waved her scissors somewhere near Frederique's head and charged me $22. She was, admittedly, an excellent comber though. Fred almost cried because the only Mary Janes in her size had a buckle. The shoe shop girl was brisk, firm, and on my side, unlike the hairdresser. In the end Fred opted for clompy shoes with velcro fastenings. Una tried on every pair in her size, walked around very thoughtfully in each and settled on very fancy brown t-bars. I gave them all the moneys and then I went home.

At home I lost the baby twice. In fairness to myself, once before we went out, and once after - and by then I was a whole new person. The first time the front door (with a dicky latch) had swung open and he had quietly taken himself up to visit the chickens. Fred, Una and I ran madly around the house inside and outside. My heart pounded. I was so relieved when he showed up. They were a long two minutes. The second time, Fred found him almost straight away. He'd climbed up the steep ladder and got himself on the trampoline. For a baby who's not really walking yet (15 steps is his record to date), he sure can move. We are all on high alert. Also yesterday Avery, who is a veritable strap houdini, fell out of the high chair onto his head. It wasn't a great parenting day. Today he did this boneless thing in the supermarket and managed to stand up in the pram totally self-liberated, despite a firm five point harness. I remember there was a girl who went to my high school who was a skilled contortionist. She would perform sometimes at school concerts. It was sort of like that.

Where is she now, that contortionist girl? What bleak-hearted circus did she join? I can't remember her name, but I can clearly visualise the bendiness of her body, and the sharp angular face. Angela? Andrea? If we ever speak of her again, let's call her circus girl.

Every day of January, this is the sort of thinking that went on in my head just before I wrote a poem. I miss it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's the last day of everything

It’s the last day of everything
Summer has crept out the back door
Words taste salty on my tongue

The baby has woken a song
His hands found the words hiding
in their shape like a diamond

In the sky light is fleeting shadows pass
Laundry flaps on the line the end
Of the world and nothing is dry

Now I think about it nothing
Ever dried not completely you
Can’t enter the sleeve for dampness

The time for drying is done
In this peeling wooden house at
The fierce edge of disappointment

Things that will not end well include
The unrisen cake the fridge left open
This mineral poem

Words taste salty on my tongue
It’s the last day of everything
I don’t know what memory is for

Monday, January 30, 2012

the silk of sisters

everything fragile
and the mirror is the world
this is the fairytale
I never told you
and it is coming true
the pride, the fall
the sideways sweep
see how it frames you?
your eyes haunt your face

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dromana Poems

Rickets Point Arthur Streeton, 1890

sea gull

glooming algae

storm carry


shimmer light
heat glaze
long shallow deep

ghost ship
making waves

look what
wash up

two daughter
one son

one man
far out

sun set pastiche
80s retro

late night

one house
up lit
late night
big shed
kid red

young man
out with friends
no ID

foreshore fireworks
city sky falling

us out
streets store
tomorrow’s heat

We had a night in Dromana at my sister-in-law's husband's family's holiday house. The painting above is actually Beaumaris, not Dromana, but looking out at the hazy heat this morning, Streeton's paintings were in my head.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The BFFs hit their late 30s

For Z
She lives on the island
of our shared childhood
Something is making her sad
She's been brained
By the gods of trouble

An ocean is not impossible
We could go for gold
In the telephone olympics

If days were dealt
Like hands of cards
I used to get
A royal flush of her

Now she draws
A two of kids (and me a three)
There's hearts and spades
(labour, love)
Not many diamonds between us

And now she's clubbed
Oh gods of chemical sadness
Watch out
My voice is in her head too

Friday, January 27, 2012


for Kelly Gardiner
A clutch of rhubarb, pale green, rose blush.
Heirloom: divided from her uncle’s crown
And dispersed among the family, now grown
In this garden plot, so green and lush.
The bush, the river. Summer’s fertile hush.
We drank coffee, talked of writing, and now
She cuts me several stalks to carry down
To where the car is parked. There is no rush.

The vegetable bouquet fills my front seat.
I take it home and cook it, soft and sweet,
In the cast iron pot that was my mum’s.
Perhaps the bub will have this as a treat
Or it could be a foil to fatty meat
Look how dark and deep the colour runs.

The evening holds the heat, I sweat and stir,
And think of the mild morning spent with her.

So, in the fourteenth century the seeds
Were worth far more than opium, it’s said,
Indeed a potent drug from what I’ve read
It cured fevers, plagues and serviced other needs.
In the early eighteen hundreds close to Leeds
An apothecary finally got ahead
By learning how to grow it in a shed
Now rhubarb grows as easily as weeds.

They used as you’d expect good horse manure
“Night soil” was also merde du jour.
Let’s move on! And turn to other art
Now sugar was more readily procured
A recipe from sources quite obscure
Says cook it as one would a gooseberry tart.

In my dad’s wartime town a household tried
To stew, like chard, the leaves. They sadly died.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let them come: an Aussie "bush" ballad for Australia Day

Inspired by Firstdog

There's a small wooden boat that is barely afloat
On an ocean of sorrow and dreams.
While Australians vote, the PM clears her throat
And hope comes apart at the seams.

They will never arrive, neither dead nor alive,
If our politics bring them undone.
Let their dreaming survive, let their drowned one's revive,
Let them come, oh let them all come!

The borders aren't there, it's just water and air,
And land, water, air should be free.
There's plenty to share in this place "rich and rare",
And after all, we all came here by sea.

So let that boat reach us, let us learn what they'll teach us,
Let them come, oh please let them come.
And when they beseech us, let's not give them speeches,
Let us take them, let's take every one.

Yes we'll pack up the lies, let ourselves recognise
Our own selves in the depths of their faces.
In welcoming skies let a blue flag arise:
Shelter here, in our wide open spaces.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


It’s a city, it’s an island, this girl is looking for her cat.
She’s also being haunted, I should probably mention that.
A girl she knew in high school, but didn’t know that well
It’s all a kind of metaphor for some kinda sorta hell
I think she’s got a boyfriend, in fact they share a flat.
But mostly what she’s doing is she’s looking for her cat.

A poem by Una

On Your Own
A girl plays softly on the piano
Nobody’s around
And everybody’s out of harm
The light shines on to the painting
As you look at it and stare
The painting makes you feel calm
The sunlight shines in the painting
You can almost see it move
As you look at her
She’s concentrating
She doesn’t know she’s being painted
She plays as the birds fly around

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the long-dead artist's widow

For Daphne
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light,
Every brave and dancing dazzle a strike against the dark.
Here – a boy emerges from the shadows in the park,
And here a girl leans over, in lemon sun, to write.

These children have been pressed together, hidden out of sight,
We weigh them up and balance them, beauty strange and stark,
Every brave and dancing dazzle a strike against the dark,
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light.

We’ll hang them in the lounge room, or the hallway where it’s bright,
They’ll live in our whole vision, every glimmer, every spark.
We’ll visit with our infant son your place of mud and bark
We’ll tap on glass, and peer inside: you’re sturdy, but you’re slight.
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light.

Today Martin and I did a wonderful and strangely poignant thing, we went to visit his Great Aunt whose husband was a wonderful artist in the post-war years and came home with six paintings and two sketches after sorting through, oh, hundreds with all the sketches. It was amazing looking through the work, selecting which ones we wanted to keep - a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love that they are all of children of varying ages (the one in "lemon light" is a very young grown up), and they all suggest inner-reflection, a depth of experience that the artist respectfully observes from a distance, without intrusion. She lives in a mudbrick house in Wandin that her husband and his brother (also a painter) built soon after WW2. A magical place. It is some many years since David died, and Daphne recently decided she would rather give the paintings to family who know and care about the subjects in the painting (mostly their five children) than try and sell them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

We enter the green forests where treeferns

We enter the green forests where treeferns unfurl secret desire – long of tongue. Lichen scales a Mountain Ash like second skin.
Valleys plunge and mountains swell.
Cicadas scream: warn us that we will be lost.
We are lost, we are travelling into the past, a little faster than walking pace.
We are looking for ourselves waving at crossroads. We lean out, we wave, we are looking.
There’s someone at a back fence, their garden grows towards us, three grown ladies: a triptych of daughter, mother, grandmother.
They solemnly wave. Is that us, I wonder, waving frantically, is that us? Which one am I?
I am still waving, though the train’s long gone. I go inside with my mother, with my daughter and pour each of us a cup of amber tea, leaves drift below the surface.
The forest is still growing. I can hear it from my kitchen. The whispering of stringybark, the throaty husk of fernsong. I have forgotten to tell you about the birds.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Villanelle for an outer suburb

From outside there drifts the sound of hens,
The tv in the lounge room murmurs on,
And at the edge of things the light descends.

The next-door neighbours entertain their friends
In the late gold of January sun,
From outside there drifts the sound of hens.

And further down the street what’s broken mends
(a cup, an egg, a life, stuff come unspun)
And at the edge of things the light descends.

Across the road a marriage slowly ends,
At number twenty-four the worst is done,
From outside there drifts the sound of hens.

The road, you’ll see it narrows as it bends.
This is where the Wilsons lost a son.
And at the edge of things the light descends.

The shadow of each object looms, extends
The TV murmurs on and on and on
From outside there drifts the sound of hens
And at the edge of things the light descends.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Steps at Heide

Sunlight, grass, flowers; the world expands.
Stout with purpose he stands
Wobbles, steadies. Then without dramatic
Flair he takes a step. Two, three, four,

Observed not by me (I faced the other way).
He soon repeats the stunt, hands
Grasp air. These legs will bear him
all his life (god willing), through every door

Into the world of men, places
I will never follow [public toilets, his mates’ dark houses, his lovers’ houses of light, the apartment he rents for a month in France, the road flecked with butterflies that he drives down too fast on balmy nights, his honeymoon suite]
Anyway, it is done. Four erratic steps.
Unseen by me, but history made this note.

Friday, January 20, 2012


on closer inspection
I discover
an insect wing
stuck to your cheek
and I see you
for what you are

a surface
in this house of surfaces

the insect wing
is also a surface
webbed with dark veins
a mosaic
of tiny flecked surfaces

I pluck it from you
let it flutter

the floor
the final surface
which supports

Thursday, January 19, 2012

swimming lesson reprise: a sonnet


reach her
hold her
teach her

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

swimming lesson

that man
is teaching
my daughter
how to breathe

one two

scattering light,
her arms
seem too thin
to matter, but
she’s progressing

he scoops her body
suddenly sideways
against his large body
touches his cheek
to her cheek

I catch my breath
the surface of the pool
chlorine smells
like slow time

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lullaby for sad girls

Press your head and listen to the deeps
The burrowing of Beetle as it creeps
Deep inside the tunnel where it sleeps.
Lay your head down on the pillow dear.

Light has gone and everything is drear
Listen with the pressing of an ear
Something down there sings so soft and clear
Sorry for this child as she weeps.

It’s night time darling, everybody sleeps,
In the morning, I will still be here.

Monday, January 16, 2012


His working life began with cleaning bricks
He'd lift them one by one and scrape them down
With mostly migrants, old Italians, Greeks,
Their forearms as thick as Christmas hams.

At lunch: spaghetti poured out from a thermos,
The talk, not rough or kind, of adult men,
The feel of brick dust scouring epidermis,
The unrelenting ache of labouring.

He spreads his teacher's hands as he tells this,
Hands for music, hands that help him speak.
Embarrassed, laughs, "I didn't last a week."
His head goes back, I watch him reminisce.

It's that old tale of boys becoming men;
Quite simply put, it didn't happen then.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Park

I had a daughter once, a pretty thing, I took her to the park.
She built a wild, living house at the base of some trees
and became an angry thing, and refused to leave.

I still drive past that old park sometimes, hoping to catch a glimpse.
Everything’s fallen into disrepair.
The slides enter the deep earth, the swings have swung off their chains.

All the ladders go nowhere.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


That dog never gave us anything but despair
He snarled and bit. Every time the screen door opened,
He bolted. Once he got run over, and worse survived.
Something had gone wrong in the making of him, mum said.

Though frightened of gleaming tooth, I loved him.
He was a terrier, brown and silky with long blonde hairs
He could fit on a lap, he worshipped my mother,
He knew the words walk and cat. Shook hands.

Most of the time he was okay, as long as you kept
The door tight shut, and didn’t let him go a visitor.
He was unpredictable. I’ve loved men like him since,
Lying in front of the gas heater with one eye open.

They sent him to live on a farm. I can picture him, bolting
Across paddocks, no law, nothing, would catch him
Skimming the fences, taking off into the sky.
He could run that dog, though he never gave us anything but despair.

More Month of Poetry

The official blog, created and co-ordinated by Kat Apel can be found here. You have to have a password to read the daily poetry, but there's other stuff to look at there.

Anna Ryan Punch, an accomplished poet and fantastic being, is recording her poems at her blog: four hundred years ago, a baby went to sleep.

Amra Pajalic, a really interesting YA author and all round supergal, is recording hers at her blog

Camer0n is recording his at his blog: not unimportant. I particularly enjoyed his How to roast a chicken in a Sestina:
Enlist a poet to extol the extinguished life of your noble chicken.
Remember how it knew how to chicken and none of your guests know how.
Serve its memory best on the day with gravy and steaming hot.

I have decided that Sestinas are a kind of fabulous delirium. You have to be potty to keep repeating yourself like that.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Swollen tissue, bulging gum.
Sleepless you arch against
this old enemy, pain,
angry at the savage saw

as what lies hidden rises.
Child, this thing will come
and change you, sharpen you.
In time there will be more

through shining pulp, one by one,
then each lost, and grown again.
It is eternal, a gleaming truth
hidden in the puzzle of the jaw.

This is what the medicine is for
so drink it, the sleeping hours wane.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A house that folds itself inside a house
A house within (and so within within)
The longing of the object for itself

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Word Made Flesh

The kiss that passes from your mouth to mine is a word
First learned. Such strange tenderness, in the full
Rose of your blushing mouth. This is a love song, though you
Are not my first. But I have known you since you were complicated:
All shadows and bones made of light, I have seen your sisters
Tug you into the world by the length of your limbs.

I am here you signal with your semaphore limbs
On daily waking, every morning a new bewildering word
Wielded in the drama of laundry and breakfast and sisters
You look out the window at landscapes stretched under a full
And golden sun, a dangerous kisser (it’s complicated),
Renewed everyday from the same ancient light source: you

Who are the centre of everything understands this, you
Who wears yourself out like clockwork, your mechanical limbs
Chugging along the floor towards anything complicated
So you might understand it with your fingers, speak its word
Fathom it with your emerging cerebrum to the full
In the same way you long to comprehend the intricate sisters.

For example you know that like your own hands, sisters
Come in twos, rolling around on the floor, they are like you
But so long, so complete in their power, so risen, so full.
They weave and dance they plait their limbs,
They speak with tangled tongues, and each comes with a word
That is the shape of their faces, their complicated

Selves which began in the shadow- and light-world and complicated
My body, split me into shards of matter, into sisters
And now brother of the tender kiss. You are the word
I couldn’t think of before I went to sleep, I couldn’t think of you
Until I felt the press of your burning skull and your limbs
Aslither from the tightness of me, an emptying of what was full.

I will never be that vessel again, I will never be so full,
I will never be so starving and cram packed, so complicated.
You are the last of them to arrive, the last package of limbs
The last precious gift of skull. No more brothers, no more sisters
For something was born that early afternoon, what was born was you,
What was born was the last, the final word.

I gathered you into my limbs and looked at your face full.
It took one word to make you complicated,
To give you to us and your sisters; I carved flesh to name you.

I was awed by Anna Ryan Punch's Sestina when she wrote it ages ago and reminded of it today when I saw her and Kat Apel, organised of Month of Poetry, chatting about it on Twitter, so I decided to give this puzzle like form a go. It took me a while to get my head around it, but I found writing it oddly hypnotic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Display Home

This house is not to scale. The Sinatra has a powder room,

while the Columba has a water closet, he says, as if it means something.

I laugh. I am wearing my boots and a two hundred dollar dress

because we are pretending to be grown ups, but grown ups don’t laugh

and my handbag cost fifty cents and we don’t want a room

for our play-station. The man looks at us as if we come from

very far away, though it’s only twenty-five minutes up the road

and we do that every time we need to buy milk and bread and shoeshine.

Size is everything and the rule is you have to have three types of cladding.

Before we went in, we felt we were doing something dirty

like going to Club X, or contemplating swinging, or mixing our rubbish

with our recycling. At home our chickens have been cooped up

and one of them is getting pecked by the others, we call them the bitches.

We’ve built a new separate coop for Rosie who gets pecked and we made it

out of a wooden box and a stained glass window and she stays in there

all the time. She might die still, but at least she’ll spend her last days

in peace. I think about Rosie and the chickens and wonder what would happen

to them if we lived here. What would happen to us all? The backyard

is a sliver of green, with plants that were frightened into existence.

They manufacture the air you breathe because there’s not enough here

to sustain us, but that’s an extra, it will cost you.