Taking the Plunge
At the time, your salty transit
went largely unheralded.
No lawman called you forth
to drip defiantly to justice.
No concourse cheered
your brazen breasting of convention
as you rode a No. 4 breaker
to the shores of our history.
Just this: a single anonymous enquiry
into the nature of your madness,
which long after remains a nation's insanity.
For the first time on this eager coastline,
body follows toe,
and all at once,
as if unleashed,
generation after generation
tumble after you
into the surf.
The idea of immersion stays with us
shadowing our sand-blown suburbs
and head-above-water ways.
These days, every afternoon hums
with our rag-tag westerly pilgrimage.
we weight ourselves instead
with beach tent and boogie board,
surf the asphalt undulations coastward
to border ourselves towel-square
in this most central of margins.
Long after you write your own passage,
a nation of salt-struck acolytes breathes
your brine into its crevices,
beaches itself on the shores
of your reckless courage,
finding your defiance
in every fearless fronting
of that first ice-cold wave.
(first published in Westerly, vol. 47, November 2002)
Travels Without My Daughter
The airport hums with my leaving,
and with the anticipation of her grief.
‘She’s hot’, I say,
my palm limpet-like on her forehead,
scanning for something I cannot name.
She’s tired’. You too. ‘Just go’.
Detaching myself, I write crumpled
bereavement on her face,
and steel my limbs forward.
passport, boarding pass:
this, at least, I know.
I’m cruising now, unstoppable.
You’re back there somewhere
folding her into yourself.
(Later, you tell me
her vomit hit the floor with the closing
of the doors.
You put it behind you -
they have people for that sort of thing.
I, who would not have,
am already half a world away, immobilised
behind a thin veneer of ritual).
seals me onward,
I plunge into the departure lounge,
a barely surfaced diver, gasping for breath.
This sudden soaring buoyancy
jostles with the sheer weight
of her absence.
From here, so many different skins
will pull me to my destination
which is nowhere but away,
and all of them will be easily shed
while my hands still glow
with the memory of her fever.
(first published in Blue Dog, vol. 2 (3), September 2003)
This word is not big
for the two of us:
these sure, firm syllables falling
cleanly on the ear.
enough, perhaps, for
metal and machine —
a clock’s dead hands, a mangled
shaft, the air
escaping from a tyre in
a long, slow hiss.
see? how the air slides
deftly in between.
There is space in here for straightening,
of metal and of time:
a screw wound tight, a sheath
of rubber stretched taut, promissory,
across a hole.
Breakdown: this word
is not big enough for the two of us.
Some things do not break
(first published in Etchings, vol. 1, October 2006)
my sister and I empty our shoes
without being asked,
having learned early:
that sand in the house.
impossible piles form
around the grevillea -
mountain ranges thrown up
from size 4 sneakers.
Even our mother
no longer blames the ants.
Down at South Beach,
we pick out letters on rust-eaten signs.
Do not walk
on the dunes.
Revegetating. Restabilising -
Our mother squeezes
keeps us to the path.
And at night, she closes doors
on its relentless advance -
inland and inland,
through pockets and crevices,
fissures and follicles.
But somehow, we know
that it stays with us, this
of our seasons,
and every highway's inevitable end.
Seashell to our ears,
there is only our mother's voice:
Don't go too
close to the edge.
But already, we know:
the edges insist on their own approach;
even in the dry centre, there is no path
that leads elsewhere.
broom and vacuum sweep
the coastline from our door,
my sister and I wirebrush
our feet on the footpath,
knowing there will always be
Despite months of cloistered, air-conditioned days,
the lingering taste of sea-salt on skin fails
to surprise us.
Bottomless pockets, shoes barely bought,
bleed sand as if tapping a vein;
And as we close
those late-night shutters
we catch ourselves in imagining:
a false-backed wardrobe - there!
how easily we step into
this vastness of dunes,
that expanse of sky.
(first published in Westerly, vol. 49, November 2004)
In Hong Kong,
they give you seven years – no more,
to shake loose that heavy flesh
and settle your bones into the earth,
Then they crumble you into brass,
to spend the rest of your death
squatting on mantels,
blind witness to the living.
In Japan, you find a corner
of the house, sometimes a seat
at the table, compact and sweet:
mandarins are the flavour of death.
And they pause, now and then,
in the midst of their breathing,
to open and close shutters
on the quiet business of the dead.
Here, our lavish bones crosshatch
the suburbs, push skyward
in columns of vehement stone.
Unruly skeletons lay
stubborn claim to acres; we picket
our dead yards, drunk, still,
on horizons, this luxury of air.
(Here, in this comforting vastness,
we spread our deaths
across all tomorrows,
as if the end of us were also
the end of the world)
(first published in Westerly, vol. 49, November 2004)
Halfway up, we’re within sight
of the summit, and I watch
your determined back
forge on, pushing its way stubbornly
through rock and through sky.
That stick you bought
at the gift shop, counting out notes
too rapidly to believe in it yourself
ploughs reckless into stone.
It’s not that steep, but by god you’ll use it
rather than have your tourist self
brought home to you here, exposed
on the edge of our world.
And here is where I’ll stop,
I think, this too-imminent cresting catching
in my throat:
once you’ve stepped up
into clear blue sky,
there’s nothing left
but descent, the sure, sharp
plunge toward earth.
All I ever wanted
was the promise
of a long, slow climb, to share
somehow the pleasures
of an endlessly deferred summit—
nothing ever coming home
So this is where I’ll stop
and watch your dogged upward push
towards our end.
(first published in Westerly, vol. 50, November 2005)
On the ocean road, we are tourists
of calamity; our father parks us close
to crumbling edges
and alarm. The sea puckers slick
rock-cheeks of disapproval, exhales
one body, consumes
Back then, we’d align ourselves to the beach,
pitching our safety on hastily dropped bundles:
a bag, a towel, a pair
of parents. And look up, wave-drunk,
to find ourselves gone. Or at least
far away; somewhere in the salt-spray
an invisible leaving. You’d play
at brother, then, hauling us
out, and how could I lament
the return of feet to seabed, that sand-
stagger homeward? Even now, I am first in,
furthest out, drifting