Half-Woman

The shame that I felt when I found that telltale pink in the seat of my underwear for the first time was overwhelming. I was the first of my friends and didn’t have an ounce of the confidence that was required to traverse that milestone solo. I had spent the previous  six months trying fruitlessly to suppress this womanhood that inflicted my body like a disease, shaving the little brown hairs in the bath that sprung up while I slept and trying to flatten the soft pink puffs of breast that rose away from my smooth skin in obstinance. I was twelve and this body didn’t feel like mine anymore, the firm, effortless muscle of childhood that had let me not only keep up with, but overtake, the boys, was softening into curves that required me to undo my jeans before pulling them up.

I remember my last moment of unselfconsciousness, walking the sunlit hall from my bedroom to the bathroom topless only to have my younger sister come to her door and laugh, ‘why are your nipples sticking out like that?’ I’d immediately crossed my arms over my chest, the first, but not the last time I thought to hide my body.

The blood was unmistakeable. I wasn’t ignorant of biology. To my great embarrassment I had scored 100% on the sex education quiz the week before. I snuck into my mother’s bathroom while she cooked dinner and sifted through her drawers until I found the plastic package I required, clenching my short, dirt-filled nails into my palm to hold back tears. I didn’t tell a soul that night, scrubbing my blue underwear in the sink while my family slept, hoping that if I erased all traces, I too could forget.

By the morning I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer and I went crying to my mother, my voice all but disappearing as I whispered the dreaded words ‘my period’.

I wish I could have celebrated these changes like I watched some of my friends do. One in particular who excitedly mentioned ‘discharge’ and wore pads under her blue denim mini-skirt simply in anticipation and hope that she would get her period soon. Somehow in adolescence more comfortable with her body, with her sexuality, than I would be for the next ten years. Looking in the mirror all I saw was angry skin and chubby little-girl cheeks that no longer fit on this awkward half-woman, half-child body. I felt like Frankenstein, stitched together, ugliness embodied.

Get me away from here, I’m dying… (or Never Fucking Happy Pt. 2)

file-1

Missed messages and sidewalk stalemates;
This sideways city confuses me.
An urban infestation, there’s no assimilation,
Just an old man with his foot on my throat.
A colonial boot, a well-pressed suit,
With the rag-clad clinging to the edges.

The old girl in front growls at the beeps
Of some renegade opal machine,
Engaging tunnel-vision in 3…2…1…
But she looks so fine, vanguard of the woeful,
With her twine-secured zippers and off-pink crocs;
Where is she going and why does she growl?

Parramatta Road flies past the frosted glass
In some stereoscopic blur; that strange, empty street,
Lined with junk and endless alleys,
Boasting flawless wedding gowns and lighting displays
For no-one in particular,
Like a shy parakeet or a toothless monk.

Soon I’m home to the sound of endless sirens
As something flies past the window;
The one with the corner rotted off
And the frost creeping in like a hiccup.
Probably one of the local cockroaches,
Looking for his mate, or maybe just an explanation,

Smeared against the underside of that well-shined boot,
I look out at the lemon slice lick up high,
Hanging low like a Cheshire smile,
Peaking out from the smog and light-pollution
That conceal the constellations that once
Danced upon my diorama.

Everyone seems to know someone
Who knows exactly how I feel,
That this land of opportunity
Is a collective sigh into the cold concrete
Of our own confused creation;
A land suffocating and sputtering,
But at least there’s good coffee.

Ode to the Suburbs (or Never Fucking Happy Pt. 1)

I sit now watching a couple through the split in their yellow-lit curtains, in the dance of domesticity 

Ironed tracksuits and morning smiles sunny-side-up

All the words unspoken, feelings unfelt, lips unkissed 

Didn’t they learn that life is not a Christmas list?

 

 

Reality in monochrome; all these grey-cladded whites

A hundred whiskered men with their socks matching the pavement 

I’ve never felt so lonely so far from alone

Doors closed, shutters drawn, a double-glaze that’s keeping out more than just the cold

Out of nowhere; Out of my thoughts

Image-1

The framing’s set, the ribbon tied,
A soft sweet portrait in my mind,
Like sandy strawberries, gritted teeth,
An anxious knot, a salted cheek.

I see it now; colours coalesce,
The Virgin bare between your breasts
As tulips tumble off your tongue,
Into my ear – not to hear – just for fun.

My monolingualed monotony,
A spirit dull and hard to see
Beneath the layers of privileged youth,
Of all-white towns and God’s Own Truth.

You’d strike my prose like a gentle harpoon,
Or an open window amidst a monsoon,
Then out you’d hop without a word,
No reply: A romance blurred.

I’d crystallise, deep in my den,
A banana waiting to ripen,
Then you’d snatch the crop and toss the fruit
To a height no rocket from earth could shoot;

My interstellar ecstasy,
An astronaut with a VB,
I’ll show you mine if you show yours,
We’ll row this stream with cosmic oars.

The poetry came quick and easy,
Sipping soy caps at Panizzi,
Stupid rhymes and joyful tunes
Spread across our afternoons,

Until that jagged love fled
And paced above us overhead,
Cloaked in those stars we thought we knew
[Not we – just me – there is no you]

As I melt I make no noise,
But for the scribble of these foils,
My soul desire, an empty chest,
A stroke of my neck, sorely missed.

Floating with the stars’ alignment,
Grappling with this last assignment;
I know no French, I’m sure it shows,
But for you I’ll try so here I go:

Alors que,
Les larmes peut-être ruissellent
Contre notre toile de millefleur,
Dans l’ombre de votre toucher
J’entendais “Tu vas me manquer.”

Surrender

This disembodied self

Was I always empty and waiting to be filled?

With your milk cries and more cries and mam mama won’t shut your eyes cries

A blunt heel taunts the inside of my ribcage

And you never stop your pink finger prodding, pinching, punishing

A scream has aged long in the basement of my throat

It’s threats to come out have grown feeble

I feel my muscles soften, my bones deteriorate

As you seize the tenderest parts of me

My moon-white flesh here for your eating, drinking, sleeping, soothing consumption

My skin run ragged

I have receded and in the hollow my form has left lies you,

My health and vigour your inheritance

Rainbow Dreams and Golden Soil

Skeleton trees hang earnest above
And roos hop over the grassy lake,
Magpies stop to pay their respects
As I lie in my Mitsubishi escape.

The bush mice waltz to Matilda’s tune
As sun sets over the billy’s boil,
But hearts and hands have lost their way
To the pregnant fields where I once toiled.

Arthur’s pastels melt up above my mind
And over the silent turbine dreams,
Metal beasts riding high, cast
Stolen shadows on whitewashed streams.

Ancient sanctity swapped for our
Anticipatory emptiness,
Our standard may wave in the metal claw,
But we’ll never outpace the serpent’s hiss.

Mama

dead flower grave

I dwell in the place where it’s never quite dark and the stars hide from industrial gaze.

I’m trying to move away but your ghost keeps reeling me back in; that time you got the fish-hook stuck in your finger.

I thought that, as long as I’d listened to enough Phil Elverum, I’d be ready for anything.

You are no more: nothing. A memory that I’ve already forgotten, now just strange shades; a bright lipstick, a pale stroke.

I wandered through our fairy garden and found you hanging from The Faraway Tree.

A rubber duck, a measured sigh; one last tear from your clotted eyes.

A funeral that reminded me of that watered-down ribena. I can only pick out so many sultanas from the Venetian biscuits.

Where was I? Not at the end, but when it mattered? The metropolitan imperialist must step down.

The fairy shop is long gone, re-opened only to close months later. I feel an alien to that town, an alien to my past – an alien to you. Where are you? No response. Blank. Barely an eviction notice. A sorry note pasted on the window to those that would stop by – not to purchase, just to look.

The sole unbeliever, a thorn amongst the roses. That lone ancient quiver that your death composes. There is no god here, at least not one that I’ve met. I cannot feel you near me, please don’t shut your eyelids.

Did you see me that time?, when you’d been gone several days but you opened those big bovine things and stared at me, mouth making jumbled but silent motions. I don’t want to look at the neuroscience, I just want to look at you like that again.

What were you trying to say?

Incest

My mother and I shared a kiss only once. It was the cold middle of my eighteenth year and I was in love. I had spent a week sleepless, my clammy fingers clutching the edge of my green floral quilt as my heart raced and I counted down the hours until I could see him again, talk to him, send him a message to confirm the reality of these fireworks deep in my ribcage. I could barely eat and my emotions were a car wreck. One moment I would be singing sweet in the bathroom and the next screaming at my sister that I hated her and she could never again borrow one of my dresses.

Coming home one night after an official first date on cushions in the window of a Thai restaurant that quickly descended into making out in the back of the car, I was flushed and elated, my silk dress a little askew. My mother was still up, her hair in the short, brown bob it had worn since before I was alive, and her faded forget-me-not dressing gown pulled tight against the bitter night. I could see her forcing herself to be normal when she was desperate to ask me, ‘how was it?’ She just smiled and I headed down the hall into my room. After a few minutes she came in and sat on my bed. She turned to me as I pulled on my flannel pajama shirt and finally asked, her sea-blue eyes bright with loving curiosity. ‘It was wonderful’ I consented in a rare moment void of biting sarcasm, and I fell down beside her on the mattress, my head still crowded with every moment of that evening, his hand on my thigh, his voice whispered in my ear, my lips on his a thousand times, and without a seconds thought I had thrown my arms around her and brought my lips up to meet hers. With the moist contact my illusion grew a hairline crack and I sat back, blushing lightly, and stuttered ahead with the conversation, telling her how much I liked him and what a nice night we had had. She never reacted and I wondered whether in her sleepy-eyed state she had even noticed our exchange, or ignored it to preserve some shred of affection bestowed from a generally surly teenage daughter. For it certainly wasn’t the usual in our very white and middle class Australian family to pash our family members.

Mother of my Mother

Did I breathe you in?

The salt spray of your bones,

The gust that blew you over the frosted caps.

 

You fell from my hands:

Grey, eggshell and sediment,

And I felt the absence of you in that fierce opening between my collarbones.

 

I fell into the bitter blue

And tried to feel you washing over me,

In my eyes, ears, between my toes.

 

But my hands came up empty,

The rippling rivulets a poor substitute

For a warm shoulder and a quiet laugh.

 

The prints from your feet have long faded,

But once again the substance of you disperses these waters –

A lonely mist at the bottom of the sea.

Saint Stephen’s Green

ssg

She took me down to St. Stephen’s Green and we walked beneath the limes. Her apricot hair gained a certain Venus-like quality in the early-Autumn gale, and I wondered what it would be like to be born inside a scallop. I guess my mind was trailing off to any odd place at the time, trying to ignore the announcement she had made earlier at The Temple Bar.

We trailed down the path, me dragging a little behind, emulating the contemplative pace of an Athenian student. In a city filled with sacred spires, the holiest of holies seemed to lie somewhere between the swaying willow branches that would bow their heads each time Saoirse turned to give a quick glance. I too hid from such gestures, even knowing that any further avoidance could possibly lead to an eruption anytime soon. And sure enough, when she again saw my hesitation, that apricot jam turned into an incendiary lava-flow.

“Oh, for fucks sake, Tony! Aren’t you going to even congratulate me!?”

“I’m happy for you Saoirse, I am.” I lied, hiding my face from her polygraph gaze. “I just think yo- well, we – ought to think about what this’ll mean for us”

“Seriously, man? I’ve been offered my dream position and you see it as an opportunity to have a little pity party in ‘our’ honour? Oh, give it a rest, will ya?”

I breathed a slow visible sigh into the drifting afternoon atmosphere and stopped to prepare myself for what lay ahead. The endless foaming sky was a curious backlight to the scenery, injecting each instance with a dream-like happenstance and wrapping our lives up in a big moody glove. I could tell she was fuming but I couldn’t really muster the same energy; my mind floating from freckle to freckle along the corner of her chin. She had just gotten these new monstrous black frames the day prior and they seemed to lend her stare a further degree of severity.

“It’s not your ‘dream position’”, I breathed.

“I’ve been working the last four years of my life for this opportunity,” she spat back. “Do you have any idea of how important a spot at Roosevelt would be for my future? I could be at MIT in a couple of years. Do you know how much I could end up making?”

“Ah, and I’m just the poor writer? So, you’re going back to the US after everything?”

“Seriously? Why are you so damn pathetic about thi- Look,” she paused. “I’ve been thinking, and I just don’t know if I can do whatever this is anymore.” She took a breath as we entered onto the large southern lawn, “it’s not you, it’s just that I ne-“.

“Really? Give it a rest, wouldn’t you? ‘It’s not you?’ Oh, come on, I’m the only one here!”

“Jesus Christ, Tony, I’m just trying to be polite here. Yeah of course it’s been impossible having to deal with your bullshit. Playing the part of the cold calculating bitch while you float down your endless stream of hopeless romanticism under your brow of self-aware woe. Love’s great martyr forced to swim alone against your sea of troubles. How many times have I had to place my ambitions in the backseat for you?”

“For me? I moved halfway across the world for you! I left my course, my job, my family; everything! Just to move to some country I’d never seen in my life!”

I stood silent as the leaves fluttered around our pointed opposition then I reached out for her pale wrist; her skin hesitating, until my fingers found their place between hers. “I don’t regret it ok? I love being here with you.”

She hardened again, pulling away a little and sitting down on a neighbouring bench that stood across from Joyce’s bust. “Then why can’t you support me here?”

“I just don’t think you’re honest with yourself, Saoirse. I mean of course I don’t see you as som–well some kind of robot, but when was the last time you talked about acting. You told me that was your dream: to write and star in your own musical about all the bullshit love songs our parents showed us, right?”, I said as I sat down beside her. “The way you sung could’ve made Björk blush. It was half the reason I decided to uproot myself so utterly to be here.”

Her spotted upper-lip smoothed into a small theatre of reminiscery as glasses glazed over with la-vie-en-rose. I held her hand again and we watched some little ginger boy chasing his golden retriever through the tulip paths, shouting in Gaelic as the sun lowered behind him. However, before I could loose that breath of repose, her face once again shifted into some twisted portrait of betrayal.

“Why would ya bring that up?” she sighed, as the weight of her hand began to feel a little cooler in mine. “I really don’t need that in my life right now. Do you think I do biochem just for the craic? Of-course I love theatre, but I have to be realistic here, Tony.” She stood up, straightened her jacket and shot a look back. “Also, fuck your grandiose romantic performances. I understand you’re just trying to be your own kinda John Wayne here but that puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on me. You’ve just placed me in this position where I’m expected to be eternally grateful for your insanity. I’m sorry but I just can’t be your Juliet or your Celine.”

She began to walk off towards the pond and cobblestone bridge in her frustrated yet eager to allure stride and, as if there were a pull on my strings, I shot up and put on my best ‘reconciliation’ face. “Saoirse please. You know I love you; I’ve made my whole life rotate around your every gesture.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t ask for that shit. God, I feel so suffocated around you. Can’t you see that?”

“Well you sure seemed to be pretty appreciative when I turned up on your doorstep.”

“What was I supposed to do? Send you all the way back to fucking Iowa? Tony, don’t you understand? That trip was my getaway. My chance to explore and adventure in this crazy fantasy land I’d only ever seen in the movies. I admit that what we had was special, and I did love you,” she stopped walking and looked over with those big Brutus eyes, “But, I think you made a big mistake buying that ticket.”

I kept myself steady as the layers of romance, which I had tacked up around me so carelessly, began to cascade down towards my feet. The trees surrounding us were bulbous and melting like the skin of a leprous cripple; each elephantoid branch jutting out in every defiant direction.

“And I’m sorry but I’m going on that plane. What you do from now is completely up to you.”

Having felt the curtains close, Saoirse turned and walked away, up and across that narrow bridge. I took a step in the same direction but was caught by the gaze of O’Donohue’s swans who had captured the last traces of sunlight amidst their glistening wings. I was planted in place like that of the growth-riddled maples and I saw the last lick of her flames reaching out to the leaves above before vanishing fast behind the foliage. I stood there and waited for a good while but, eventually, I placed my hands my in pockets and left St. Stephens for the north-side.

I found myself walking through the harsh evening, shoulders slumped, finger-nails scraping against the iron of the Ha’penny. I was reminded both of the absent little poems I’d trace along her forearm as well as this recurring dream I’d been having; one where a strange little French boy was trying to scratch out my eyes with his nails as I slept. Well – despite it all – I was glad I had my vision as I looked out at the city lights dancing across the Liffey, balancing precariously along each ripple. That water which seemed to flow right through me and out to sea, carrying my burdens out towards the land I had escaped from.

And all at once I heard the call of Venus along that flow, singing like a gentle siren of the deep and beckoning me back into the confines of that deep-sea clam; this world a slipper one size too small. Therein we would bask in the folly of our passions and I would bleed into her salted embrace. To go with her and to house my heart in that prenatal perfection seemed to be the only thing that made any sense. But – as usual – I measured my steps, climbed down from the railing and cursed my runaway organs. The chill blew in, the northern city lights glared down, and I continued on my journey. This city had swallowed me whole and I wasn’t going home.

Continue reading “Saint Stephen’s Green”