Tuesday, January 31, 2017

why sometimes when I am driving do I feel like I am in a movie?

For Simmone Howell

My character is ‘driving woman’
I’m not sure of my motivation
there may be a dead man in the trunk
I glance at my child in the rear vision mirror
possibly I have repressed memories
of being a trained assassin
the houses I’m passing are painted houses
nothing has depth
nothing is its own true colour
I glance in the mirror again
the back seat is empty
at this exact moment
the car slides past
an exact duplicate of myself
waiting to cross the road
It’s like a movie
but the reality
I’m driving
I’m not sure of my motivation
the car is doing the thinking for me
it really is real life
cars stretched to the horizon
honking to each other like wild geese
we all get out
stand on our cars
and sing

Monday, January 30, 2017

In the deep dark of the night, how do I let go of my fear?

For Lefa, with love

There is so much to fear how will the work of it ever be 
thoroughly done in the half-felt, incomplete hours? 
She gets up in the night, pulls on her dressing gown,
scuffs her feet across the floor (past the picnickers in the hall)
to the kitchen to make some kind of soup. Salt, salt, pepper, salt.
She lays a cloth napkin across her knees  and sips from a spoon. 
Salt, salt, pepper salt: It tastes of childhood, 
the combination flavours of safety and harm.
It is natural to be afraid, says the shadow, who has followed her
from the bedroom (past the picnickers in the hall)
and sits across the table from her, watching the spoon break
the surface of the soup. She folds the napkin and pats
at the corners of her mouth. Salt, salt, pepper, salt.
In the morning the soup pan, the bowl, the spoon, the napkin,
have all been cleared away. She tastes dread in her throat, 
salt, salt, pepper, salt, the flavour of the waking dream.

How Can I Be In Two Places At Once?

Unless you are a bird
history entering
the panelled eye
time is colour
light is memory
migrating by heart
led by the wing
but there is only one bird
of all places
who cares nothing
for what is a bird 
sticks and feathers 
made and unmade
you sleep 
standing up
on the wind

This poem is a temporal anomaly because it is yesterday's poem published today.
It is for my friend Kate Clifford, long time Internet companion and all round excellent human, who asked 'How can I be in two places at once?' 
The bird comes from Boyle Roche, an Irish politician in the late 1700s infamously said, "Mr. Speaker, it is impossible I could have been in two places at once, unless I were a bird." While Roche was famous for mixed metaphors and malapropisms, in this case he was quoting lines from a play.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Guess Who

 For Penny Tangey*

A girl walks into a pet shop,
and says to the guy behind the counter,
‘Just the usual thanks.’
He stares at her, slightly panicked.
He can’t tell if she’s serious.
she gazes at him for a long time.
‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘It’s a joke.’
He can't help feeling he has let her down in some way.
She lingers for a long time at the 'oodle cage,
and the dogs act like they know her, 
some sit,
some walk on two legs,
they whine, 
play dead.
She says, ‘I have another joke.’
He says, ‘I don’t like jokes’ 
but not loud enough for her to hear.
She says, ‘What’s the difference between a duck?’
He waits. 
When she doesn’t say anything, 
he’s forced to say, ‘What?’
The puppies tumble over each other,
rubbing against the cage, purring like kittens.
She stands up, walks over to the counter.
The puppies whine.
‘One leg is both the same,’ she says.
He frowns, thinking about it,
he’s about to ask her to explain it,
but she is already gone.
The puppies are bereft,
they sleep all afternoon,
and at the end of the day, 
though it’s against the rules,
he takes one of them home,
a Groodle he temporarily names Ernest.
He tells his housemates about the girl,
holding the puppy on his lap,
and they have lots of questions, like
‘Was she wearing glasses?’ 
‘Did she have red hair?’
‘Did she have a big nose?’
and he says, ‘well I guess
that’s a matter of opinion.’
And then they start asking different questions, like
‘Would she take a long time to choose a video in a rental store?’
And ‘If she was a celebrity, would she release a perfume?
And would she name it after herself?’
And he says ‘listen,
she was the kind of girl who’d walk into a pet shop
and say, just the usual thanks.'
He lets Ernest sleep on his bed
and the next day, takes him back to the store.

*Penny wrote: Could you walk into a pet shop and say "Just the usual thanks"? Actually, this is a great question for playing Subjective Guess Who. Maybe not for poems.

The Internet of Women

Jo asked 'How can I help?' so this poem is dedicated to her, and to all the women from Ninemonths, the parenting forums I joined in 2002 when I got pregnant with Fred and especially the mums in the private group we created to share photographs called Our Baby Photos, which became our safe place on the Internet for a really long time.

The Internet of Women

Well, the years went fast, but the time between
three and four in the afternoon lasts forever
dust suspended in a shaft of light.

Every day is a miracle, and you’ve never been so bored,
you are literally never alone, and you’ve never been so lonely,
You sit down and type ‘how can anyone live like this?’

That’s how you find the internet of women.
The medium is the message, breastmilk, blood, cervical fluid,
we leak into each other’s lives.

First you make the character of yourself,
and then slowly you become that person,
until you’re ready to take her out into the world.

Once we met in a private forum called ‘Our Baby Photos’.
Now we’ve spread out across platforms,
and into ‘real life’. I’ve met women in every state of Australia,

my children have played with their children,
some of them are still friends. Of course the kids think 
they invented the internet.

The years went fast, but days go slow.
How can anyone live like this?
Every day is a miracle and you are literally never alone.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why does this hurt so much?

For Raelene, who asked, and for Shelley, who hurts.

Hurts so much, bright agony of light
piercing the slatted blinds and I’m awake.
This is the pain I won’t give up.

Contradiction. I wanted to go somewhere,
so I buttered toast, blasted milk,
drank coffee by the window, looked down to the street,

and all that time, I was a body with corners.
Contradiction. I was soft and I was brittle,
pressing my fingerprints into the burn.

When the wound speaks out, I am grateful
for the company. I’m waiting to see
how okay I’m going to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Collective Sleep Dysfunction

Nights fail you and mornings are hard.
Are you on the side of sleep or no sleep?
Scared/not scared
of the dark that waits behind your eyes,
the masked parade of thoughts,
front row tickets to the carnival of dread.
You lie down in bed and it’s just not working,
or maybe you drift off okay until
you half dream yourself falling down stairs
and stagger awake,
and then you can’t sleep all over again.

"We slept in the night,
in the morning we got up
and made something of ourselves."

Here we all are on Facebook, on Twitter,
the midnight choir of the narrowly awake:
Why can't I sleep when I'm so darn exhausted?
Why do I stay up too late even though I know
I will be tired tomorrow?
Why are we still awake?
If you don't sleep all night, is it really the next day?
Why don't I want to get out of bed?

"We slept through the afternoon,
as night fell, we dreamed ourselves awake."

Questions in the poem dream-harvested from the fabulous likes of:
1. Melanie Sanders
2. Sabdha Pink Charlton
3. Nicole Hayes
4. Jo Case
5. Penelope Davie

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

At any given time what is the weight of the human head?

How long must we carry the precious burden of skull?
The total body mass index of being human
weighs more than you thought it would
the ache of hair pulling on your head
but you mustn’t speak of the pain to anyone.
What is the weight of care? It weighs nothing.
Children are heavier asleep, they care for nothing,
not even sleep. Their heads roll away from you,
though they would be no good to use as bowling balls.
Brains are sort of bouncy, like tofu, weigh a smidge over a kilo.
The brains are hardly the issue here, and doubt
is more of a stomach thing. Necks are the real heroes, 
though we’ll be crushed by gravity in the end.
Anyway, it's a beautiful design flaw. 
Our heads are so heavy but when someone enters the room, 
we look up.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Guided Tour

Do you remember Lake Mungo well enough for a poem?
Question asked by my mother

there are fossils in the memory 
that can be uncovered
by the faintest swirl of wind
roads get rewritten
we leave ourselves in the places we visit
i am half and you are half

here i am
a small fist of bleached bone,
here you are
the ribcage that sheltered me

dry surface
shallow hills
seems lifeless
everything important 
occurs somewhere hidden

wooden structures crumble
undoing of shallow history
bone things become ash
stories run deep glacial
radical rising

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How do you ask the right question?

For Ej, who asked.

In the hot afternoon, we turn on the sprinklers,
for Avery, aged 6, and Frieda from next door.
Bees hum to the clover, but at the light touch
of the first drops they lift, six bees together,
and glide in a single mission to the vegetable garden.
Avery and Frieda dance at the edge of the lawn
Wait, says Frieda, what powers do we have?
Summer, childhood, where every day is long,
blue sky, green grass, frozen bananas on an icypole stick.
Nothing is perfect in this world, not even slow time on warm days,
but the children make something of it,
more lasting than memory.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Big Wet Thing

It’s a lot of work really
Sandwiches made and not eaten,
you bring home a beach worth of sand
and disperse it in the bed sheets
an ecosystem forms in the base of the shower
and you’re washing shell grit down the drain
long after the beach weather
has clouded over.

The older kids run in, swim too far out,
while the little one hangs back,
fearful of the waves.
So your husband edges slowly into the water,
‘watch the kids, hun’
and you hang back on the beach
to take care of the littly.
All you really want to do is swim
out to the horizon,
out past the edge of the world.

You get out the camera.
You look down the lens and see
light chooses you 
or it doesn’t choose you.

Today's poem responds to a photo prompt from Nadine Cranenburgh. Photo is by Leon Brooks

Friday, January 20, 2017

Should I think about it first?

Dedicated to @ernmalleyscat

Some things don’t bear thinking about.
Some of those things happened today.

I’m in this safe place
where poems slide
down my face.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Weather Warning

Today's question – Is it going to rain today? – courtesy of Zoe (@SaidHanrahan) so:

for Zoe

How do you make a river?
You feel one on the tip of your tongue,
taste it as it runs past,
trickling down the page.

We hang out our washing,
gather it in, fold it up, put it away, take it out,
put it on. It only stops being laundry
when we wear it.
And in the meantime
fine days turn to dust.

There is the rain you want,
and the rain you don’t want.

Right now, outside,
the air is so still,
it is holding its breath.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Do you like pomegranates?

For Mark Lawrence, who asked the question

My girl’s asleep
Absence of earth
What is hidden
Remains alive
Things within things
Mother and daughter
The seeds of war
Hell’s garden tended
By Hell’s gardener
Seeds bit into
Sour and sweet
Because she was hungry
Because she was curious
And sharp
Because, in a way, he suited her
Because she already lived
Between two worlds
Because she liked the taste
She sucked the tingling juice
She lingered
My grief is winter

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

More Than I Love You

What’s the most beautiful thing a child has ever said to you?
Question from Jessica Obersby 

I love you more than I love you.
He speaks in tongues, honey & milk.
I breathe his breath, summer sweet,
as I lie down to sing him to sleep.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Is that music?

For Thirzah

It’s late, the guy next door practices bass,
Silence staggers between sounds,

Two, one two, one two.
Hurts so much, human.
And it’s not easy, but you think you’re alone, only
Thirzah and I are listening.

Meat, muscle, memory. Not music, but
Undermusic, the subaquatic strum.
Ssh. I hate it but I love it,
In the dark you are the song of the dark, impure,
Counting out loud, in your head.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How do I defend myself from a territorial cassowary?

Dedicated to Sean M. Elliott

How do I defend myself against anything?
I can protect the body but not the soul, not the soil
of the soul, not its rich cake. Nothing will ever become of us
so you have time to think it over, but still
cassowaries love cassowaries. Something has occurred
in this space, like a cassowary word: too low for the human ear,
the only recorded human death.
A boy who threw a horse's bridle at it,
and took a claw in the neck.  He died of negative blood. 

If you should see a territorial cassowary,
drive your car slowly, back away, keep your dog close,
place something between you and the bird
like your backpack or a hundred a years of history.

Live as you would like to be remembered 
by the cassowary, father of sons.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


He kissed her lips
and she fell asleep for a hundred years
of the fully mouth,
wordless conversation
which is, somehow,
all about him

(After a challenge set by Kathy to write a 'kiss' poem)

Friday, January 13, 2017

On the chances of running into my 21yo self in Brunswick Street: Sevenling

For Jessica Louisa

Then: time was the consistency and colour
of pumpkin soup, nicotine stains, last night's beer bottles.
A night would last a week and summer went forever.

Now: a deck of days – can't be held in one hand –
shuffled, dealt, played, swept up. Ever played 52 pick-up?
52 cards, 52 weeks, pick 'em up.

Science of subjective time travel totally checks out.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


 We talk of how the dog, now young,
will slow with time, how age will diminish
his ambition, no longer will he wander
up the wild scent paths.
We say he will learn to stand at thresholds,
bearing those mingled odours:
the perfumes of chaos, rivalry and escape.
He’ll grow out of digging up the neighbours’ gardens,
eating their garbage,
busting their screen doors and breaking into their houses,
bowling over their toddlers,
running with the other dogs in the street.
Time passes for all of us and one day
fox stink is just fox stink,
same as it always was,
but the appetite for it is gone.

We talk of the dog, sit on the deck,
eating crackers with cream cheese, and chips and dip.
The kids get rowdy in the pool. The trees 
are mirrored in the window glass.
The birds sing the evening up out of the river.
Clay, matter, time, stories: 
the smell of the river wafts up.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

But the mornings ring clear

When you give it up, give up swimming
In the dry water, the hush goes quiet,
Night comes and the light stays on,
Everyone is having more fun than you

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Advice to a poet

Try reading the words on the page as though they were
the life you have forgotten. Clouds move past the sun
and it’s not because I’m still angry, or because I haven’t had a drink.
You probably don’t remember learning how to talk
to a listener who is both you and not you.
Try reading these words as though they were meant to be spoken aloud
room window garden street
            baby city morning sun
                        books coffee toast eggs
Enough of that talk. Imagine a reader you can trust.
Now imagine a writer you can’t trust.
She’d give you something to eat and a cup of tea
listen to everything you had to say,
how awful it is at home, rolling out her pastries, 
nodding, murmuring, not writing anything down,
not one word. Who knows what she thinks of you.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Reach: Swimming lesson 2017

For Avery

It’s your turn to learn how the body loves air,
how gravity is a shared human accomplishment.
Kick kick kick, long legs, long arms. Reach
for the light on the water, the ducks on the pond,
birds, leaves, the hurricane fence, the dogs in the field,
the ball in the sky, for the boys playing ball,
for the house on the hill and the long way home,
scoop up the suburb looking down on the pool,
carve out your history with your small hands,
reach for your sisters, who’ve left you behind,
touch the wall, touch the sun, reach.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The woman who lives in IKEA

I only come out when you’ve gone,
smoothing down the bed spreads,
wiping fingerprints off the glass table tops.
At noon, I saw your child (you didn’t see me)
lying on the bed with his shoes on,
while a man neither of us know
sat forward in the easy chair
his eyes fixed straight ahead of him.
Yes, tell your daughter, the phone is glued to the table,
I always know where it is that way and it doesn’t work,
like most things in this world, it’s just for show.
A few years ago, I lived in the studio apartment
with the loft bed and the desk, the balcony
laid out with outdoor decking and a table for one.
Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty serious,
I’ve upgraded to a three-seat couch,
the kitchen even has its own room
and the bathroom is behind the sliding door.
Nothing works, except the layout.
You know I’m thinking of moving on again pretty soon.
The next apartment has a nursery.
There’s a time in everybody’s life
when you have to think what’s next?
Where am I going with my life?

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Ways of seeing

If you'd never seen a map
you wouldn't know
how a road can look like a vein.

Today I saw a woman in the carpark
wearing my t-shirt,
not literally mine
but an identical shirt to one I own
and I thought how nicely it hangs at the back.
No matter how I twist my head,
how I distort myself
in front of the mirror,
I could never see myself like that,
as something whole and fluid,
moving inside a piece of cloth.

Friday, January 06, 2017

solid burn

she wonders how many people
in this suburb
have killed someone

she has this theory about carports
and serial killers

she says I like cheese
I say I like cheese too

she says
we're connecting
on such a deep emotional level.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Urban Forest

She has a pocket in the front of her dress
a map a photograph a silver key.

The wolf beside her has forgotten it’s a wolf.
It thinks it is the shadow of a wolf.

Here stories are the fingerbones of stories,
a mother sets her child on the forest floor and disappears,

the father and the grandfather
attend to the antics of a small white dog

the child scoops dried leaves into his lap.
The shadow of the wolf is disguised as a dog.

He pads along the path, looking left to right.
Everything is exactly as it seems.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Dog

The dog’s got the jitters.
He tells me he’s worried about the fireworks
Someone’s letting off in a distant suburb.
He paces in and out of rooms,
Smiling, frowning, wagging his tail.

The creek is overgrown with weeds.
We walked there today in the midday sun.
An old woman was feeding the ducks,
The shops are closed till the end of January,
No one round here seems to be young,
Old men in their gardens frown when I walk by,
And a Ute drives down Darling Road,
honking its horn the length of the block,
though mostly there’s not much traffic at all.

Summer is something that happens to other people,
Somewhere away from here, the dog tells me.
It's the fireworks, getting on his last nerve.
I tell him, make the most of it kiddo,
It’s the only summer we got.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Things we said in the car on the way home

We look out the window, saying nothing for a while
This is more than everything, this drive,
Through the wide and tree-lined streets, we smile,
Shadows shifting and alive.

This is more than everything, this drive,
The words unsaid between us grow
Shadows shifting and alive,
So much for memory, I know.

The words unsaid between us grow,
Like summers when we were young
So much for memory, I know,
I can’t make the shape of language on my tongue  

Like summers when we were young
And there was nothing much to say,
I can’t make the shape of language on my tongue
It doesn’t matter anyway.

And there was nothing much to say.
Through the wide and tree-lined streets, we smile.
It doesn’t matter anyway.
We look out the window, saying nothing for a while.