Saradha Koirala

Sunday 4pm

I saw you. Sunday 4pm, old hood

until then I hadn’t known for sure if you’d stayed on

although sometimes I’d find selfies framed with the familiar

white walls of a kitchen we briefly shared.


I knew what you were doing. Sunday 4pm

rounding the corner with your reusable shopping bag

well-trod path to TT Mart, well-browsed aisles of not-quite-fresh-enough bread

potato chips whether on special or not, the endless search for kale.


Most days we would laugh, dance down those aisles

criticising pop that blared through shop speakers, but falling for it too.

Wasn’t that always your way? The world is awful, you’d say

and move to its beat nonetheless.


Sunday, so perhaps you were headed for apple pie

to stand in front of the freezer door

staring into reflected childhood traumas

explaining away the guilt you felt at wanting dessert.


Deep-dish psychological reasons why

no one in your adult life should deny you your desires.

You could talk yourself into anything

with those qualifications of yours.


I don’t remember bad times at the TT Mart with you

but there were moments when neglecting to go

resulted in empty cupboards. I copped it.

And at least once we walked home in blue-stone silence


your face sinking to the shadowy state

that made my stomach flip and clench, my whole system in a holding pattern

until it could work out what I’d done wrong. Always searching for

that mysterious thing I’d done wrong.


Cobbled silence reached crescendo back in the kitchen

you hurled the filled bag at white walls, settled into that hollow place of yours

while I cleaned up scattered vegetables

smashed mushrooms, broken bottles.


Sunday 4pm and we were driving past your corner

on our way to play tennis. I hadn’t held a racket in years

six of us piled into my boyfriend’s car, a week’s worth of news

bursting to tell them we’re moving in together.


My new friends had heard all about you

so when I pointed to your shape moving along the footpath

they joked unrepeatably.

Jason kept an eye on you from the rear-view mirror


but I knew exactly where you were headed

walking solo with your empty bag.


Last week I spotted my ex in the neighbourhood we used to live in together. I hadn’t seen him in over a year and had at times been curious as to how I would feel if I did. I wrote this poem to show how that simple walk to the supermarket could be a microcosm of an entire confusing, anxiety-provoking and often emotionally abusive relationship. It felt so perfect that I was happily crammed into a car with some of the lovely new people in my life, being driven by a much calmer, kinder man when we saw him. Everything’s symbolic, of course, but it’s also just how things are now: safer and better; far less lonely and much more fun.

New Year

I didn’t realise the front yard’s potential until you took to it in gardening gloves, trimmed back the privet.

As last year changed from this year, and I could stop saying ‘last year’ with such portent, such regret; a phrase loaded with the weight of an on-coming sob-story, we were camping by the Wellington river. A settlement of pegged-out shelters, fairy lights and bonfires. I was miles from my Wellington home.

I say the h word again with a kind of inflection, trying it out for size, sighing out the həʊ, the m buzzes past my lips. I hold it in my mouth like a pill. This constant starting over exhausts me. Always has. Newness of a cleared front yard. I’ll dig in my toes, resolve to thicken like the trunk of a grapevine, let the porch be built around me for a change. Feathered things perch in my branches.

Disturbing the privet seems to be making my eyes stream, but on New Year’s Day I sprained my finger, slipped on rocks in flimsy jandals, a little drunk. There were bull ant bites on the tops of my feet and a blush of sunburn between my breasts. What I mean is, these things pass, they clear up. We heal and adapt. We look back and see fairy lights strung between trees, flickering with comforting regularity, we move closer to each other on an old brown couch. We look back and then we don’t look back.

Reading Medea on the Train

I stand for the woman whose feet

strain at the straps of her shoes

stare daggers at the snorer

slumped in priority seats.


The 7.17 chorus tells

of a recent Greek wedding

her brother’s? The audience invested as

festivities fill the carriage from a phone.


Jason’s woken early, texts a busy day ahead

we’ll be promised an ending

as long as we plan the next beginning.

His paged namesake remains oblivious.


Medea’s children smile at her

and she breaks down again.


I give her one more station

to change her mind.


Stuff I’ve Been Reading on the Train

When I got my new job at the end of June, the hour’s commute was initially daunting to small-town me. I talked about moving to Richmond, I investigated cycle paths (and therefore a new bicycle), I accepted rides from kindly colleagues, but ultimately the silent hour each morning on a train with a book won me over. Here’s what I’ve been reading en route to work:

Cargo – Jessica Au

Set in the 90s and beautifully, gently written, Cargo tells the story of Gillian, Frankie and Jacob one summer by the sea. This is a coming-of-age novel in dreamy long sentences and alternating points of view (something I can either love or hate in a novel). Jessica Au is a Melbourne writer and Cargo, her first novel, was highly commended in the 2012 Kathleen Mitchell Award for a writer under 30.

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

I had been meaning to read this for a while. Obviously it’s a classic, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so post-modern in its telling (self-conscious narrator, leaps in time and perspective, historical fact mixed with absurdist fiction) and funny in that dark and quirky Vonnegut way. Not your average war story and probably hugely therapeutic to have written.

9781921656231Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan

Somehow I have a class of Year 8s who are convinced I’m in love with John Green. It’s not even an English class! I guess I haven’t convincingly argued to the contrary, because seriously… he is wonderful. This book is so charming and funny and important. Written in alternating chapters by two outstanding young adult authors, the voices of the two Will Graysons are distinct and believable. It made me teary at times and the sweetness and bravery between the two boys who fall in love is pretty inspiring.

The Ties That Bind – Melbourne Social Writers’ Group

I’ve been so lucky to be part of two very active and supportive writing groups, both of which put together an anthology this year – no mean feat! The Ties That Bind is the second anthology from the Melbourne Social Writers’ Group and includes a range of work from writers at all stages of their craft.

wild-surmise-2Wild Surmise – Dorothy Porter

This is an amazing work. A verse novel in different voices, following the characters, Alex, Daniel and Phoebe. It has a marriage breakdown, astrobiology, space travel, poignant poetic references, explorations of sexuality, death, love. The verse style is almost operatic and allows the tone to shift from light-hearted to heartfelt to heart-breaking, page by page.



The Transmigration of Bodies / Signs Preceding the End of the World – Yuri Herrera

Two novellas from a Mexican writer, I confess I’d never heard of before. I found this a bit of a stretch for me and out of my usual realm of poetic stories about human interaction. It had a fable-like quality with the main character called The Redeemer on a journey to restore peace. It’s hard to put my finger on the actual style of this, but I’m always happy to be challenged thusly!

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby

Shout out to Nick Hornby in the title of this post, by the way (‘Stuff I’ve Been Reading’ is a phrase that belongs to him ). I enjoyed the lightness of this novel, which is both about and in the style of a 1960s sitcom. The main character is a determined young woman with a robust sense of humour. This is the kind of book most people probably read on the train – pure entertainment, leaving one with enough brain power to function effectively at one’s destination.

36541689In the Dark Spaces – Cally Black and Because Everything is Right, but Everything is Wrong- Erin Donohue

Another slightly-out-of-my-comfort-zone book, In the Dark Spaces is YA sci-fi, while Erin Donohue’s debut novel is a poetic, gentle treatment of mental illness. You can read my full review of both of these here at The Sapling.


Midnight’s Children –Salman Rushdie

I’m supervising a student who is writing an essay on the narrative voice of this novel. It’s so complex and clever and in talking to my student I have a deep appreciation for the way Rushdie has combined so many styles and techniques to create a character who creates a world. Describing the first 30 years of India’s Independence by personifying it through Saleem, born at the exact moment of independence, the world seems to revolve around his every move. Every sentence is packed full and perhaps takes a little more concentration than standing on the train at 7am allows.


How Not to be a Boy – Robert Webb

I’m a big Webb fan, as in Mitchell and Webb, as in Peep Show, as in Jez. This is Robert Webb’s memoir, interspersed with reflections on masculinity. Webb’s trademark humour is present throughout, but particularly in describing awkward interactions and encounters. Typically too, he is quick to acknowledge his privilege and careful not to come across as too complainy. An important read in this era of calling men out on their behaviour – I recommend this interview as a taster:

A New Beginning – Women Who Write, Melbourne

The first anthology from the second writing group I feel so lucky to be part of! Another lovely collection and so much work has gone into making sure it’s a polished and cohesive range of writing, on the theme a new beginning. Women Who Write is a non-profit supportive group for women in Melbourne. They hold regular meet-ups and currently have over 600 members



Blackcurrant Honey

Here’s another little snippet of my somewhat-unwieldy current work in progress, called Dear Billy… This scene is set in 1991.

(You can read another scene from this here, set in 1996)

I’m pretty sure Danny woke me, but he’s teasing that I woke him when I traipsed clumsily down the hallway. Mum’s out of bed now too and we’re all eyeing up the Christmas tree in the semi-dark.

Danny says he was just getting a drink of water.

‘Well I can’t sleep,’ I whine

‘It is technically Christmas day,’ he says pointing at the glowing digits on the microwave that shine out a time so unfamiliar it takes me a while to figure out.

‘It’s past three in the morning!’ Mum wraps her dressing gown tighter around her, frowns, and folds her arms.

‘Yes, technically Christmas day.’ Danny knows how to disarm Mum, with his cheeky smile that comes out so rarely these days. ‘And we are all up,’ he says.

Mum rolls her eyes, but it’s already decided and there’s no going back once she’s flicked the switch on the kettle. My brother gives me a wink.

We agree the first thing we should open is the gift basket from one of Mum’s colleagues, since it’s covered in cellophane and we can mostly see what’s in it already. The rustle of unwrapping wakes the butterflies in my tummy. Mum pulls out some boring looking crackers, a small bag of candied nuts, a solid brick of real coffee that smells horrible and some nougat. Pretty disappointing.

‘Where’s the chocolate?’ I ask, rummaging through the discarded cellophane.

‘Ooh this looks good though – blackcurrant honey,’ Mum reads from the label. ‘Yum!’ She leaps up suddenly with the jar in her hands and heads back to the kitchen, which is now full of steam from the franticly boiling kettle. She pops some bread in the toaster.

‘I’m having blackcurrant honey on toast!’ She calls out.

We laugh at her excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mum at three in the morning before.

‘Okay, well, me too!’ I call back.

‘Okay.’ She whispers loudly and peers around the kitchen door. ‘But, let’s not wake…’ she points to the ceiling which represents the couple upstairs. Our landlords.

‘Okay.’ I whisper back

‘Okay, okay.’ We whisper at each other and laugh.

I choose the next present to open and hand it to Danny. I’m grinning with excitement as he takes it and feigns complete shock at receiving something. I can’t sit still. He unwraps it carefully, knowing how long I spent in my room wrapping and compiling the items from my trip to the mall last week. He probably knows how long I’d been saving my pocket money for too, since he’s had to do the same. His reaction when he opens it is better than I could have hoped for.

By the time the sun comes up the three of us are a pile of shiny new things and ripped wrapping paper, sticky with blackcurrant honey. Mum’s beaming smile at every silly little gift she opened from us was completely priceless. She’s had a million cups of tea and no one’s even mentioned the gap under the tree where presents from Dad should’ve been.


In the 80s bikes were

handed down from someone taller


back pedal braking


I rode so slowly I

ended up on the ground

daily lessons in

momentum and

the way a knee-scab dries, lifts

from the outside edges in.


90s bikes faux mountain bikes

Shimano gears a point of pride

fluorescent touches on the frame

double towbar car rack family weekends

there have always been bikes.


The red one that moved

house to house with each break up

makeshift shelter beneath outside stairs

or leaning against a laundry wall

still so much to learn

about hills and hearts

about maintenance, about holding on.


Red was my favourite

my next bike was blue

bought days

after I changed my life

for a love that matched in hue

I fell off into a rosemary bush

smelt amazing, sure

but that feeling of betrayal

again and again

flat tyres

slackened chain

forever loosening the brakes

so a buckled wheel can still turn.


In place

I’m digging beneath trellised nasturtium in the garden of someone new. Planting star jasmine in the sun as a rain cloud approaches, but it’s the other kind I long to breathe in. The kind of jasmine that gushes over fences, escapes rambling front gardens, permeates shared paths. I pick sprigs of it always, carry it until it wilts. It takes me places.

So much has happened and I wanted to tell you. I’m astounded at my capacity to forgive. I’ve opened my heart to the gently damaged people of this world over and over, let them project their hurt onto me. I get it, but I won’t do that anymore. They seek help or not, move back home as I work through, work through, work through. Soil under my fingernails and the smell of almost-rain.

But I wanted to say something about the visits home. The places where family live lives I couldn’t have predicted and I’ve decided to tell the truth now. Stop listening to that voice in my head that nags at me to speak aloud the words and just speak aloud the damn words. I’ve lived long hours in transit, just to reconnect.

It seems everything I’ve ever written has been a metaphor for clouds: looking down on them from planes, watching them roll in darkly from the east, trusting they’ll rain themselves empty or just move on. It’s always been about clouds. The way they look reflected on the water’s surface, distracting me from the reedy depths.

Seasons change and I let anniversaries pass through me like a southerly at first, but even the wind feels warmer when you look back. The red flag of that first betrayal wilts like picked jasmine, fades in the briefly sunlit garden of someone new.


Auckland, 1942

The man who will become my Grandad waits by the gangway of the Devonport ferry. Yesterday, he missed his usual trip home and took the later ride. He’s decided now to always be late, deliberately miss the more convenient passage home and wait half an hour for the one ‘the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen’ will be on. He steps into the queue just in time to walk on board with her. Later, at a dance, she throws confetti on him like a prophecy. The woman becomes my Grandma, of course.

Pokhara, 1978

The other man who becomes my Grandad quietly follows his son to the bus stop, where a significant goodbye takes place.  His son stays on board with the woman he loves for as long as he can then watches the bus leave. As it happens, they meet again, become my parents, but now he needs the comforting arm his father predicted. Both men walk home together, tears along the dusty road.

Melbourne, 2017

I’m on a train, swiping left, left, left. Attraction exists not in digital form, a few bad snaps of your weekend shenanigans and a poorly written bio. I look up to see people interacting with the space around them, the way they hold themselves as they stand, their expressions, absorbed in their own distractions – paperbacks and podcasts, a phone conversation. Someone photographs the sunrise. I hear a favourite song tinnily through someone else’s headphones. But I’m just trying to get to work these days.


The last time we were strangers was on the roof of a party / you’d climbed higher to photograph bands playing at one end / view of whatever suburb we were in / I’d lost my sense of direction long ago

I pictured a fall, but you reassured me / only on your second drink and I guess I’ve always liked that about you / always only on your second drink / always just that little bit higher / even when the rest of us are on top of a roof

I was dancing solo to Paul Simon’s Graceland / not my favourite track on that album, but a definite favourite album / a link to my past in a place still so new / I was only a little self-conscious at that point

you introduced yourself and I felt this kind of safety, like, my situation was difficult then – disappointed in the man I’d moved here for                    struggling

to fit in –

but there would be people to know and to meet, I mean, if the roof collapsed out from under us…

I’d be okay, you know?

and with that clumsy realisation, clunky metaphor

my awkwardness around you was born

it’s hard for me not to look back searching for signs / even though I’m coming to understand there is no fate, no destiny, just good old-fashioned cause and effect / although that in itself can get pretty metaphysical

like the retroactive significance of you being / the first person I bumped into in the city. As in / my first ‘bumping into someone I know in the city’ experience / I was counting things in firsts / until they recurred

less mystical, more meaningful the moment you brought me / all the chocolate you could find from your cupboards / sat with me under a tree / I was pale that summer and in need of your blue-eyed chatter

I ride the two right angles / between your house and mine / lights if you let me stay late, or with you / your arms wide on the bike path, because of course you don’t need to hold on / of course you’re not going to fall.

Looking up

Did you see me at the platform

as your window approached, passed?


Or was my head down as you boarded

same train, different carriage.


I’ve taken a vow of silence in your direction

shifted bags so someone else can sit.


Conclusions are drawn

with sweeping gestures in the street


sparkly things catch my eye, I won’t stoop to collect

it’s enough just to know they’re there.


The optometrist prescribed looking up more

and I don’t blame her.


Look out the window through your own reflection

she could have said


focus your gaze beyond the tips of your fingers

as you stand, core engaged, legs strong


eyes on that chunk of universe

floating just ahead.


It always helps to know which station

is the one before yours


and which you’ll be at if you’ve gone too far.