Francis Thompson launched Salt and Bone by Zenobia Frost, Walleah Press 2014, at Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop on the 18 September 2014.
For me, this manuscript began with a dead rat named Cookies. I met Zen properly on a boiling summer day in Brisbane. The red dust storm from Sydney had just rolled through. The apocalyptic glow had settled. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a message from Zen asking if I had a shovel and/or could I help her bury her housemate’s rat. The poor wee thing had choked on the dust.
This late rat would later feature in one of Zen’s poems, called ‘Graveyard Haibun’, which is also one of the first poems I helped Zen edit. The draft versions of this poem alone could fill a small room. I remember so clearly sitting on the floor with Zen, surrounded by printed-out poems, the both of us furiously scribbling. After every hour or so of scribbling we’d yell “a-ha!” and change a single word, shift a line break, add or delete a comma. After about two years of this, we yelled for the final time and closed the book on “Graveyard Haibun”. I’d like to say we stopped editing that poem because it was perfect and finished, but honestly we also couldn’t bear to look at the damn thing one more time. But also the poem was perfect, clearly.
Five years after that fateful day with Cookies, I’ve had the pleasure of reading and editing pretty much every single one of Zen’s poems. I’ve seen her writing grow more and more assured. I’ve watched her slide effortlessly from topic to topic, from tone to tone, from cemeteries to video stores, from Kafka’s forgotten characters to third-century warrior queens, from terror to courage and courage in terror. What has remained constant throughout is her extraordinary attention to detail that sees her agonise over commas and draft poems until the there’s enough draft versions to construct a tasteful evening jacket out of. I’ve watched her pour herself into this manuscript, sometimes quite literally leaping into a pile of the printed out poems scattered on the floor, always furiously scribbling. This skill and this dedication has forged the manuscript I have the pleasure to launch tonight. As with the ‘Graveyard Haibun’, this book is perfect and finished and done (clearly), but also we’ve read the damn thing so many times that we’re having trouble looking at it straight anymore. So now you’re all going to have to look at it for us instead.
– Francis Thompson
On Thursday morning I meet Death. We inherit Sydney’s red-dust storm, and
our backyard is thick with it. The white cat with the poodle-cut is now auburn.
She cleans herself uselessly, tongue moistening dust into clay.
Six am sun casts every gravestone reflective. I never get up this early. I settle
on the hot, steady concrete of a grave, and try to learn silence.
Scarlet beetles skitter through dry leaves. Cicadas hum in hollows. Our raised necropolis is more awake than anywhere in this lidded city.
spring’s new crows
let sleeping dead lie
I breathe and watch. For a rare moment, my mind too is warm, dark stone.
I go out to feed my flatmate’s old rat and find that his lungs are full of the
desert. I sit on the kitchen floor with him in my lap. He is thin-blooded – an
aspirin-thief in his youth. Now, his nose has stopped bleeding for the first time
in months. Droplets congeal in the dust on his snout. I feel his body cease.
on the floor
we share rigor mortis
The cats sniff around us. They do not interfere.
I return alone, and enter the wilderness without pith helmet or field knife. Birds
own the graveyard, swooping for me to turn back; the dead and I are just
If I am very still, I fade into this place. My shadow thickens into my own ghost,
leads me down paths that are only pretending. I wouldn’t mind being lost here.
(I am already lost.)
hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons
a final word
Francis Thompson is a Brisbane writer and barista. When he was fifteen, The Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe used his poetry in their performances at schools around North
Queensland. Since then his poetry, fiction and reviews have been published in Voiceworks, Small Packages, Rave Magazine and OffStreet Press. He is currently working on his grandest and most challenging project to date — thinking up hilarious Wi – Fi passwords for the café he works at.
Salt and Bone is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/zenobia-frosts-salt-and-bone/
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