‘Bookshop Exchanges’ in Neighbourhood

Illustration: Oslo Davis

 

My poem ‘Bookshop Exchanges‘ appears in Issue #4 of Neighbourhood.

The bookshop it mentions is Sappho Books, Glebe.

 

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Home Economics

The future’s uncertain. Caution is best.
So partner up and bunker down.
Stockpile your assets. Build your nest.

To be fully secure, you have to invest.
Add gold to your palace, jewels to your crown.
The future’s uncertain. Caution is best.

If you waste your life on folly and jest
you’ll wind up homeless – a fool, a clown.
Stockpile your assets. Build your nest.

Keep your cards, at all times, close to your chest
and your feelings hidden behind a frown.
When the future’s uncertain, caution is best.

Shut your eyes to the plight of the poor and oppressed.
Give your raft to a stranger, and you’ll drown.
Stockpile your assets. Build your nest.

An ice age is coming. This isn’t a test.
Only the prudent survive in this town.
The future’s uncertain. Caution is best.
Stockpile your assets. Build your nest.

 

 

 

Tramsheds

Tramsheds, 2011. Photo by Tim Brooks.

Those old trams were like wrecked ships in the swirling murk
of an underwater crypt. We passed through in shoals –
some with cameras, some with rope. To enter,
we’d break in through a hole in the fence, ignoring the sign,
rusted and bent: TRESPASSING IS PROHIBITED
and pass from sparkling order into shadowy neglect.

Back then, in Glebe, us weirdos could afford the rent.
But much can change in a decade. The only trams now in this locale
are functional, modern, swift – transporting the Great Washed
to respectable jobs – the carriages defaced not with spray paint
but ads. The sheds are unrecognisable –
gentrified and desecrated – entry is via escalator.

It’s Sydney’s Most Dynamic Food Destination, but you can’t get
a sandwich – the closest thing is a croque monsieur, topped
with a duck egg. The exposed kitchen reveals the chefs –
tattoo embellished, ironically bopping to Elton John,
proud of their ethical lifestyle choices.
Sixteen bucks – the sandwich is oily, hard to eat, and heavy.

Above the fluorescent overheads you can see the original rafters.
Up there, time is still suspended – particles of light in stasis.
Ten years ago, I was a witness – I saw past civilisation’s façade
to entropy. It was humbling and strangely comforting.
We fear what these spaces represent
so we make them functional again. The weirdos will go elsewhere.

 

Arlington

arlington

The high-rises were going up and the builders dust
was blasting sideways every time a truck juddered past
in a flatulent rush. All night, the squeaking of axles
and the hollow thumps of rusted barrels –
I was striving for noble silence but could only manage
tinnitus. The mind, like muscle, will eat itself
if not nourished. All highways are charmless –
they’re for people who work just for the paid leave,
counting down the months and weeks
until Bali or Thailand or Tahiti – a highway
gets you to the place you postponed happiness for
as fast as possible. No wonder I was miserable.
So I veered off down a side street in the loveless chill
of a wintry spring and trekked mud through the carpet
on the day I moved in; the awning forming a prison
of rainwater. Boxes strewn through the kitchen,
I gazed out at a hulking mobile phone tower
behind the trees: At least you’ll get reception here?
The nearest tram stop was Arlington; orderly
as a model train running through a miniature village.
Whenever I walked towards it, my body would shrink
but so too would my surroundings – the only clue
as to why it felt weird was the sound – as in dreams,
Arlington was muted; soundless. Trams would appear
in silence and I’d join its cargo of tiny people
to travel, like an epiphany, back to the loudness of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective

perspective

Heaviness and heat. There’s no way around
the tourists – caught in their resinous slipstream,
I slow to an otiose plod. Cigarette butt confetti
adorns the kerbside where we wait for the green man
while the smell of cremation, barbecue-glazed,
wafts up from Hurricanes (the ribs place
that provides its patrons with bibs). The sun
is a heat lamp, pressed to the roof of our terrarium.
Since October, the bridge across Darling Harbour
has been rigged with speakers so pedestrians can listen
to Frosty the Snowman on forty degree days.
Christmas is inevitable, inexorable, more so
than death – no amount of running on a treadmill
can prevent it; the date is set. The conveyor belt
of days and weeks has been getting faster,
but within the day’s oppressive slowness
is stillness – the sensation of time expanding
like hot glass softly expanding; a wobbling
blister of breath. Skyscrapers have replaced
cathedrals as structures of grandeur and might,
and the hush of ducted air conditioning
is a kind of breathing. My office window frames
peace; I keep the blind open to witness ugliness
receding. With time enough and distance,
suffering transmutes into wisdom. A plane
glides between buildings. All of us are loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in the Dream

lost-in-the-dream

My boyfriends take life too seriously. All except
for the Drunk of course, but what drove me away
was not the drink but his opinions – which he clung to
like jewellery in his clenched and shaking fists.
My boyfriends are addicted to their distractions
and whenever I tell them they’re lost in the dream
they ignore me because I’m a chick. I wouldn’t care
except that pleasure is greater when shared
and although they can be sitting right beside me
they’re very rarely there. We’re in the midst
of a spiritual drought, which is to say the self-serving
egocentrics have got us completely surrounded.
Nowhere is this pervasive uniformity more visible
than on Tinder, where requests for a partner
in crime are combined with snapshots of generic guys
drinking and water-skiing and mountaineering
as if to say: I’m a free spirit! Yeah, right.
When I ponder the reasons why I’m single,
I blame myself. I’m too proud, too weird,
too obviously baggage-ridden; too difficult.
I feel bad for the ones who do make the effort
which is why I’m always the one to end it;
a mercy. Then it’s back yet again to the dating
game, alone with my own brain, staving off
craziness however I can, as I pace back and forth
in my poems and pray: give me a man who’s awake.

Note: the title is borrowed from the album ‘Lost in the Dream‘ by The War on Drugs. 

Mesmerized (redraft)

giantreturns

A version of this poem was published earlier this year, but I was never completely happy with it. This is the redrafted version. 

Mesmerized

xxxxxxxxxthe word derives from Mesmer,
a German guy who spoke of animal magnetism,
of energy transference. Mesmer, with his swirling
pinwheel eyes that paralyse the mind and slow down
time, the swoon on the cusp of an epiphany, a dream
that’s neither good nor bad but interesting.
Standing in my lover’s light I’m caught
like a child in a doorway looking up at a giant
and his meanness dissolves as he carries me
like a tombola prize with my feet dangling
through the sky. But like so many boys, he’s rough
with his toys, and plastic can only be pushed so far
before it will snap. Yet whenever I crack
he’s always the one to come back, waving
his wine-stained peace rag, his voice casting spells
and his eyes like magnets, electrified –
and the whole thing starts again.

The Secular Sacred

IMG_6182

What ‘faith’ means in the modern age
is getting up and going about your business
day after day after day after day
without asking for a miracle.

A miracle – two eyes and a face
witnessing your witnessing,
and the weird relaxation that comes
from realising we’re all the same.

An act of creativity is always an act
of optimism, and the willingness to love
is always brave. Yet there is godliness
in solitude, and pleasure in waiting.

The hopeful suspense, the anticipation.
It’s the reason why we cover the eyes
of the person who is to be given a surprise –
it’s the juxtaposition of darkness and light

that jolts the dreamer alert to the fact
they’re alive. Suffering, like everything,
exists in the mind. You can change it –
that’s what faith is. You need it to survive.

The Glass of Water

The glass of water

A glass of water beside my bed – right in the spot
where I’m prone to flinging my pillow, directly
beneath my iPhone plugged in to charge like a man
attached to a bungee – unwittingly tethered to death.
I turn to anxiety as a way of warding off bad luck
(as if luck had anything to do with it)
and the worst thing is, it works.
Night after night, catastrophe is avoided
thanks to a nonspecific benevolence
which reduces suffering in idiots. I’m grateful
that this omniscient goodwill sees beyond
the girl too lazy to deal with clutter to someone
absorbed in the task of doing something that matters,
something greater than superficial order.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxThe glass of water
has always been there, and I’ve always
ignored it. ‘Fantasy prone,’ they call it.
But my dreams are always good.
The pillow only falls to the floor
when reality seeps in.

As she Breathed in the Spicy Scent of the Big, Bright Flowers

IMG_6018

Compatibility has less to do with pleasure
than it does being able to tolerate awkwardness
and boredom in each other’s presence
without hostility. That’s why romance
is associated with being young –
no joint pain, shonky guts, drooping jowls or chins
or nuts – it’s easy to love when the physical
is a baseline from which everything else
is up. The inconvenient fact I’ve come to know
in the lull between distractions is the long haul
isn’t fun. But there are other descriptors
with more than one syllable that lie in store for those
who can stick it out – words that go further
to illuminate the human conundrum.
Beyond infatuation lies something sinuous
and nourishing – beneath the field of poppies,
a paddock of mud. That person must be out there
for me, surely. I’m too full of life to give up.

 

 

* ‘As she breathed in the spicy scent of the big, bright flowers’ is an excerpt from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.