Anxiety poem

We count out the things taken from us
handed back nestled in conditions 
permissions and we’re so grateful,
so grateful for the simple gift
of driving to the supermarket 
sitting up in the trolley like an adventure
choosing snacks for our drive back home
we’re so grateful, so lucky
to be able to drive to the supermarket together.

We walk around the block, hoping to bump into someone
never dobbing in the neighbours, we’re happy to see them
happy to stand in the street and talk to
their aunty, their mother, their entire family
the pavement becomes our meeting place
kids sharing toys, drawing worms and flowers
drawing hearts and rhinos and we’re so lucky
so grateful for the company, so lucky to have each other.

Our radius expands and we could go to the city
but our circle is set, not ready to be stretched and besides
we’re so lucky, so grateful. It’s a numbers game as always
one shot, two shots, dates and percentages 
kilometres from home, hours of exercise 
how many friends can you fit on a picnic rug?
how many friends do you still have and we’ll get there
we say, we’re counting on it, counting and counting
conversations edited to how are you getting on
we’ll get there. We’re lucky, we’re counting, we’re lucky.

Any other year of my life, I say, any other year and this 
would be unbearable. We can’t know what it’s like 
for everyone else, but we know we’re lucky, grateful
counting our lucky stars, counting our blessings
counting and counting and counting.

Masks

Before we took our masks off

we took them on and off

off when out and on when in…

 

before we took them off when out

we wore them all the time.

 

Who knows how fresh the air was

as we walked around the block

well-practised smise  

in case we encountered 

another half concealed self.

 

But before we wore them all the time

our masks weren’t even real

we carried them with us as 

a cliched metaphor, lazy 

description of the nuances

of human interactions

O, the masks we wear, they’d say

and you’d be too bored

to even roll your eyes.

 

Before it was a cliche though

it was probably quite a good metaphor.

Not brilliant, but apt enough 

to be used into a cliche we could hide

more subtle, smising thoughts behind.

Borders

 

Sometimes I’m that puzzle you bought from an op-shop

five dollars. You looked so pleased holding it under your arm

a rubber band snapped tight around the cardboard box

seasonally appropriate image of red and yellow 

leaves above a thick black river.

 

When we spread it on the kitchen table and sifted

pieces through fingers, fingers through pieces 

we couldn’t find a single edge to get us started

– not a single edge or corner – five bucks, sure 

but it was hard not to feel let down.

 

There are times on the train when young men sit near 

and speak softly to each other in the familiar cadence

of my father’s language. I want to tell them I know

I’m related to them, just look at my name

but it’s a language I only recognise by sound.

 

Or when I hand over my keep cup and the vowels 

of the barista are clipped like mine, hanging pounamu 

and I want to say bro, we’re bonded, secret handshake

but there are hundreds of us here 

with nothing remarkable about our easy migration.

 

Anyway, it turns out you can still put a puzzle together

when the edges are missing, but it’s harder to trust the process

harder to immerse yourself in the task

when you don’t really know if the bit you’re looking for 

is lost in someone else’s living room miles from here.

 

The trick is to start from the middle.

Work your way from the bright centre of autumnal leaves

towards forested outskirts, like an ever-expanding universe 

trying not to think what will happen

when eventually

inevitably

there will be no spare pieces left.

Learning to be gentle

I keep my judgements to myself, mostly

a cat claw stuck in the baby’s sleeve

causes more tears

 

than her top teeth pushing through gums

those stubborn numbers

finally in sharp descent.

 

Clusters form from a reckless traveller

while we focus on enjoying bath time

and every playground we can walk to.

 

I turn the pram around so she faces

the world head on.

I must be feeling optimistic.

 

Not knowing about thresholds

the step into the sunroom becomes

a literal tipping point

 

each morning, firm pats on a patient cat

until the patience of the cat snaps too.

The numbers

Every morning I check the numbers:

Covid cases and hours of sleep.

 

Try to focus on the rolling average forest

not the trees, though they blossom and bud.

 

It’s been a year of seasons.

I mean, of course it has, but so much so this time.

 

We spent money on woollen things to wrap around us

and from this end of it all I’m glad

 

to have hunkered down through the worst of it.

Hair growing unruly and the same two outfits.

 

I buy sparkly skirts in preparation 

for whatever good things are surely about to happen

 

and on the morning after Lotus first sleeps

straight through twelve of the night’s twelve hours

 

I walk to the corner store for bread and eggs

feeling extraordinarily ordinary

 

back to some baseline normality

and the forest is not fogged, 

 

but a dappling canopied, mossy floored space

letting wind and light breathe through.

Trust

The change table is a safe place, you learn
no longer protesting instead
laughing, finding your voice, kicking
to the edge raising eyebrows
until I respond.

You wake with a shout sometimes
then a smile when your dad or I
appear, faces goofy with love.
You’re all gums and drool.

One day soon you’ll sleep through
and I’ll miss our 4am meetings
when you feed with focus, then come to

that gummy smile again as you realise, I imagine,
I was here all along.

March 20th

The world is told to self-isolate just

as I might feel like mingling with the world again

I get Friday mornings off to shower, cut my nails

drink tea while it’s still hot. Rainbows in the living room

I walk around the block

 

collect two fallen frangipani flowers

an autumn garden inconsistency. Summer

a blur of pregnancy birth baby

two months measured out in feeds and naps

tears, each week I walk this walk a little quicker

 

each week things get better

before they get hard again, but mostly

there are more good days than tricky days

and never do I call them bad days.

One of my flowers blows to the ground

 

face-plants grass, stem to the sky

the other I hold as I write, bringing it to my nose

with each pause of the pen, sun-warmed

black-clad body, cheap kmart shapewear

holds my weakened core together

 

I swing my briefly baby-free arms about

the scent of good days and tricky days ahead.

Expectant / Morphology

Expectations and Reality

Here is a poem published ten years ago in my first collection, Wit of the Staircase. It is inspired by the form of Surrealist poet, André Breton’s ‘L’union libre’.

I wrote this poem from my imagination, looking up images and descriptions of what it might feel like to have a life growing inside me.

Expectant

after André Breton

Girl with the eyes of blown glass
With the limbs of a curled tadpole
With the thoughts of a startling gesture
With the breathing of a baroque organ.

Girl with the fingerprints of tiny forecasts
With teeth of tight buds and a harvest of rice
With the quickening of fists
With the heart of a fusible link
With the heart of a bicycle pump.

Maybe-boy with the eyelashes of ellipses
With the ears of fine bone drums
With the eyelids of swift translucent fish
With the fingers of quotation marks.

With the hair of hiccupping
And the ends of guitar strings
And of a shelter of bracken
With the bones of clay
With the weight of the world.

From Wit of the Staircase, 2009

There are images here which I love – the “eyelashes of ellipses” and “eyelids of swift translucent fish”, for example. But the last two lines feel awful to me and I wonder what feelings I had back then about having children. “Bones of clay” is vulnerable and soft in a terrifying way and “the weight of the world” feels devastatingly unfair.

Here’s a recent poem, this time based entirely on experience. She is a marvel and she is strong – I’ve seen and heard the four chambers of her heart beating and feel her movements deliberate and determined.

Morphology

We saw you on the fourth day of spring.
Still part of me and in ghostly black and white
but there you were, like a photo of the moon.

The sonographer chatted the whole way through
recommending nappy brands and hypnobirthing.
We could see your bones, your organs and eyeballs.

You are beautiful and perfect and even if you weren’t
you still would be. When we stepped outside
jasmine was everywhere, new blossom

on the otherwise bare twigs of winter. The next time we see you
you’ll be entering the world, exiting the world you’ve made inside me
and joining this marvellous place of birdsong and magnolia.

Each day the temperature rises gently, our body swells
ripples of your quickening strengthen your underwater dance
beating heart, undeniable presence of being.

September, 2019