Of the Moment

1. Blue Mountains, November 2012 

This garden’s fruits
(a continent, and decades
away) are not by any stretch
the fruits of his labour.

Yet under the balm
of afternoon herbs
and snapdragons,
lemon peel heating up,

I hang washing
and, with each breath,
fabricate memories.

 

2. Kenya, December 1941

Here’s the promised adventure, lads.

Against jungle backdrop,
red-fezzed vendors peddle fruit, sewing
machines, sweet grasshopper pancakes,
and (soldiers claim) their wives.

For a while, #5775477
is a boy from Edmonton.

Orchids take in the drunken spectacle
of white men dragging their own rickshaws

to USS Mount Vernon — ark of fresh goods:
papaya, tomato, eggs, sides of buffalo
like piano wire, live monkeys, dogs,
and finally a sailor leads
an elephant up the gangplank.

This elephant would not go on
to Singapore.

 

3. West Batu Parhat, January 1942

Camouflaged
as pantomime trees
and black-faced,
his first enemies pass by,

close enough to challenge.

You said (and you never said
much) you were more concerned
with self-preservation
than reporting them.

That day you realised
you’d been left talking
to the dead
beside you.

 

4. Changi, February 1942

“You are, of course, sole judge of the moment.” Churchill to General Wavell, 14 February 1942

How the quiet
must have struck them in the night,
all documents signed —

70,000 men surrendered.

Tin helmets in a silvery pile
and weapons stripped,
they march on Changi
to erect their own barbed wire
and bury masses of freshly butchered.

This part
Harold never talked about.

 

5.  Tha Khanun, June 1943

A rare scent: meat roasting.

Men who weigh like children
salivate into evening’s prison.

No dinner in sight;
cholera victims
burning.

 

6. Thailand, Christmas 1943

Breakfast: sweet
porridge, two sausages, corned beef,
pork and beans, buttered biscuit,
sweet milky coffee.

Tiffin: rice, curried fish
and veg, jam tart, buttered biscuit,
sweet and milky tea.

Dinner: roast beef, fried steak,
brown gravy, jam tart, pork pie,
fish on biscuit, four different veg, fried
potatoes, Xmas pudding, sweet sauce,
and sweet milky coffee.

 

7. Sydney, February 1946 / October 2012

In your pocket:
a notebook and a photo
of 100 Norfolk men dressed
in the last of their skin.

Decades apart,
our first look at the Harbour Bridge.

You once won
and kept
a cigarette card
with this view.

In ’32, the longest
single-arch bridge
in the world — a great
silver swell across water.

As a child, this seemed
such a miracle.

100 Norfolk Men

Harold Frost, my grandfather, is ninth from the right in the third row

 

Envoi

dredge the bones
from the river

shroud the bodies
in rice sacking

by boat or foot
the years go on


From Salt and Bone (Walleah Press)
Shortlisted for the Overland Judith Wright Prize 2013

not that poetry is a trap but prayer

I’ve just finished reading Nathan Curnow’s half of Radar, a 2012 Walleah Press collection shared between Nathan and Kevin Brophy. (The title of this post comes from “Gently Against the Grain”.) Great way to spend a spare sliver of a Tuesday. I should be reading more. Great poetry always reminds me I should be reading more. On to Kevin’s half!

I have some thrilling news I’ve been struggling to keep quiet: a poem of mine has been shortlisted in the Overland Judith Wright Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a wonderful feeling to be included on this list, alongside 11 very talented poets, especially as this is a personally significant poem. Our house-Francis (aka Jeremy Thompson) was shortlisted for this same prize back in 2011; he’d actually forgotten until today, so now I’m doubly pleased. May the odds be ever in our favour, shortlisters!

I’ve been darting back and forth between New Farm and everywhere else this week, with World Theatre Festival on at Brisbane Powerhouse. Thus far I’ve managed to catch All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre), JiHa Underground (Motherboard Productions) and She Would Walk the Sky (Company 2). Here’s my review of the latter for The Guardian UK (the show is on its way to London after Brisbane) and here’s my friend Nerissa’s Arts Hub review. And here’s an overview/preview of WTF14 Tahnee Robinson and I cooked up for Theatre People.

Make sure you catch at least something at this innovative festival! I’ve never experienced anything like All That Fall, which I think I’d categorise as “listening theatre”. Audience members sat together in rocking chairs (I took the photo above to show you) and listened to Samuel Beckett’s first radio play commissioned for the BBC. I’ve heard The Great Spavaldos is a unique experience, putting you in the role of trapeze artist via, I presume, immersive science-magic. She Would Walk the Sky experiments with Brisbane Powerhouse’s wonderful and challenging spaces (read both reviews above to read some contrasting thoughts on that).

In other news, I have an essay on consent and ethical nonmonogamy included in the upcoming Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow, which you can pre-purchase here (or, if you’re in Brisbane, at Avid Reader after March 1). There’ll be launches in Melbourne and Sydney early in March, too. 88 pages of awesome writing by awesome writers (and also me). Woooo!

Zen x

P.S. I have bought a stack of crafting supplies and I am super excited to start creating horrifying regresty-able works of art for friends (and maybe also some poetry crafts). Stay tuned for BROOCHBACK MOUNTAIN.