Poetry

Flight

This poem was published in Meanjin Quarterly, Winter, 2016

Heading home from the open-plan,

where hourly the air grows

heavier and his breath comes tighter,

he kicks through dying leaves.

No more open-plans,

finished.

At home in the rising lift he crouches

under the mirrors.

Inside, the lock dead-bolted, he slides open

the balcony door, reels towards

the balcony edge, thrills to the yawning

drop.

Three tiny nuns below

hand out brochures selling God

knows what. He pictures tumbling

them into his keepsakes box, also tumbling in

the job debacles. He could shut the lid

and hangar the lot.

Flipping open the box, he picks out a leaf,

cloudy orange flecked black.

He charts a finger over its pale veins

and waves it hovering off the edge,

down, now a vacant speck.

He picks out one more leaf,

cranes over, follows its flight helter-skelter.

Back in the living room

his phone rings.

A flatbed truck trawls past the nuns,

a jumping castle on its back

billowing golden, patterned with fawns.

He ponders landing in its forecourt.

What an entrance!

And what if by miracle

he should spring back a new man,

unflappable, grounded?

Drifter -

This poem was published in Meanjin Quarterly, Summer, 2014

Don’t I know you, dear?

Rosie’s puzzled eyes betray a brain undone,

slaving to place all the dears. She’s in her chair, praying mantis

claw hands forming unseen shapes in the air.

I think I’m going to travel, dear.

Head cocked and quizzical, her hands now form a steeple in her lap,

sucking sounds come from where her teeth once ranged.

She wants stories from her speckled past.

I describe the meringues she used to bake,

crisp outside, gooey in, sublime.

And the time we went to temple, how she giggled

when two men and a boy undressed the scrolls.

The reform rabbi at the crematorium gathers titbits

for a eulogy. A spirited wanderer, he says,

her last husband a British colonel,

their home a caravan by the Cornish sea.

We leave the building, heads low

under a streaked sky, and from the chimney

a plume of smoke rises, tentative, unsure

which way to drift.

My Mentor

My Mentor

Hello, welcome! My mentor clomps

into the living room, a red cast

on her left leg, a blue one

on the right, stretching out

those tendons, 8-years-old.

Red, blue, red, blue, where

are you going my lovely?

Jing, she declares. What is ‘jing’?

Onwards she roves, practicing

her bird calls, wolf howls

and arfs of the sea lion.

The days of ferrying her in a pram

are over; so too hauling her

in a Weebo cart in my bicycle’s wake.

Faster, faster, she used to say

as I towed her jouncing carriage.

I gulped for air and pedalled on,

despite myself.

­­

At the sea life sanctuary she sprawls

face up in the transparent tunnel

that curves into the marine world.

Fish, fish, she declares,

waving at the schools of colour

gliding in to greet her.

Two fish perform their ritual,

one stationary but trembling,

the other rubbing his flank along hers.

Now a stingray moves in, oddly

two-dimensional, its nose and mouth

mere slits under its creamy kite,

and there the sting, flick, flicking.

Before the mentorship took hold,

venturing out with Honey Girl

could slay me. In a cafe once,

she ambled over to a family:

Hello, welcome!

And launched a gooey hand

at the dad’s pate.

Dad parried,

Honey Girl harpooned a chunk

of his cake. I pleaded with the floor

to swallow me.

My mentor and I have seesaws to ride,

Play-dough to shape, errands to run.

We jump in the car. Music, she says.

The playlist delivers Justine,

singing Dinosaur Roar.

My mentor burbles with joy.

Gunjie, gunjie! she says:

‘so very pleasing!’


A certificate in her school bag

declares her student of the week.

Hooray for Honey girl!

We celebrate with a sushi spread.

Bedtime nears. The Owl and the Pussycat

ready their pea-green boat for

the night voyage. Tomorrow after school,

Honey Girl visits the occupational therapist,

the next day is speech.

Book, book, she says, red, blue, red blue,

one clamped under her arm:

Wonky Donkey.

Hee-haw, I say and she chirrups twice.

‘I was walking down the road

and I saw a donkey.

There was a honky tonky

winky wonky lanky donkey.’

Faster, she says.

‘Hehadonlyoneeyeandworesunglasses.’

Slower, she says.

Hooray, Honey Girl’s casts are off –

we head for the water park and climb the tower

to the source of the slippery slides.

Together we hurtle down the chutes,

around bends and fly into the landing pool.

My mentor is doll-like and silent.

What’s happened?

I heave her out of the water

and crouch face-to-face.

More slide, she says and I exhale.


In the changing rooms she asks

for help. I guide her body into clothes,

arms into sleeves, feet into socks.

One day, the therapist says, Honey Girl

will dress herself.

On a beach outing she approaches

the semi-clad with hello-s and welcome-s.

Good, good, she says, when they ask after her.

In the sand we build aqueducts and avenues

to rival those of Rome’s children.

Waves, waves, my mentor sings out

and she romps into the sea,

this child I am coming to adore,

who nudges me from

two dimensions into three.

What’s this? My mentor asks, staring

at the contraption in her bedroom.

A walking machine, Mum says, squeezing

her daughter’s plump cheek. It comes with

Peppa Pig and Wiggles on its screen, but

only when you walk – no walking, no wiggling.

Eee, my mentor says: ‘You gotta be joking.’

On the contrary, Mum says.

Faster, faster, I say, merrily ramping up

the dial. ‘Eeee eee,’ Honey Girl says:

‘You seriously gotta be joking,’

yet she draws deep and learns to jog along.

In the garden, we bounce on the trampoline,

her hands in my hands, heads close,

an A-frame of mutual support.

Then we lie on our backs

and take in the fragrant air.

My mentor points to the clouds.

Popcorn, she says.

Sheep, I say, baa.

No, she says, her eyes grave.

All aboard, all aboard! I announce.

My mentor, equipped with two biscuits

and a tetra pack of milk,

climbs into our pod swing.

I shut the door

and wave through the screen.

She is curled up inside

ready for take-off.

I send her arcing high;

higher, higher! she calls,

my adrenalin-junky step-daughter,

bent on a singular journey.

My mentor pauses on the garden path,

What’s this?’ she asks,

picking up a feather.

I flap my arms, she flaps hers.

Wings, she says, and us co-pilots

fly clear of the land and chart

our way through the drifts of popcorn.

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