Featured Writer Brendan Bonsack: Four Spoken Word Poems


25 Words or Less

It was a Monday when I saw it
the competition said
what would you do if you, for a day, were Prime Minister?
in 25 words or less

I don’t remember the prize exactly
but I remember thinking
I could win this
could I win this?
I could win this, yes!

It was Monday and
I had to get to work
and I couldn’t find a pen
so I tore out the page of the magazine
and stuffed it into my hip pocket

I was trying to think of these 25 words on the 58 bus at 8:15.
It was 15 late and now I would miss the 8:30 train
and because of this
I remembered that I hadn’t paid
the gas bill and it was 60 days
and my housemate had given me 70 dollars
which was more than his share
but I’d already spent it
on fuel for the car
and jars of pasta sauce
and some things from the chemist
and this magazine of course

And then it occurred that the rego was due
and why did I even buy that car
I never even use it
and how yes it was great when she and I
would drive and drive for days
to nowhere and for nothing but to lie
under that black, black sky
and feel for sure that there is no spirit without the body
for how could the spirit survive with no body to receive it?

And how I still feel that when she was ill
I was cruel, I was scared
I was cruel
I walked the kids the long way to school
for the extra minutes of babble and distraction
and I wandered, meandered
among supermarket shelves, alone
listless and swathed in that knowable knell
of air conditioned music

And how in those years
I unlearned words
and learned more of the spaces between them
the way you over-trace squares
with a ballpoint pen
in Sunday’s crossword
by hospital bed, on the waiting list, 32 down

It was Monday at 4
and I still hadn’t thought
of my 25 words

What made it so hard
was intrusion of calls and the printers offline
and knowing the board needed their papers by 5
with their order of quail and winery wine
and everyone knew it was that point in the graph on the PowerPoint slide
where people would have to be fired
and everyone knew how Sue got sacked
in curt officialese by efficient SMS:
that’s 160 characters or less

And that made 25 words
seem like re-writing the Constitution

And I burnt the pasta again because I forgot the oven;
on TV police were looking for a gunman
and those streets looked a lot like mine from the air
those tiny little places with the lights on
maybe everyone down there was scribbling
into that same competition corner square
their hearts thumping with every sudden sound in the garden

I don’t remember the prize exactly
but I remember thinking, I can win this
I can be the best
one rousing call to action
a simple stately sentence
you can fit into one breath

“do something, anything”
is all that I said

well, they say less is more
and if I were PM
that might just be enough
more or less.



Talk About the Apocalypse

talk about the apocalypse
in the presence of the moon and she’ll
smile that dry, powder smile
not so much to say
I told you so, but
it’ll be alright

the old man drank too much again
everything was better in his day
crying into his six thirty news
slapping his Herald in rage
what is a beekeeper
in a world with no bees?
who bombed the Titanic
and blamed it on floating white rocks?
anybody knows
a stone that size would surely sink

happy birthday, old man
happy birthday to you
those bergs, you know, can hold their breath
for fifty thousand Junes
and the sigh they make
when air escapes it is said
to cause a ripple in the moon
it’ll be alright
one more, old man
I’ll drive you home

talk about the apocalypse
in the presence of the sun and she’ll
smile that penetrating smile
not as if to say I’ve been telling you
but take my hand
it’s been a while
no side of me is nightfall
yet, I taught you to sleep as a child,
my searing palms
cupped beneath you, and
this is all I know of love
what comes after
a world with no bees?
the old man is sleeping
keep your eyes on the road

I’ll send you a dream



The C-word

My father was a communist
I always knew when he’d lost his job
Because he’d pick me up after school
Still in his work boots and overcoat
Clamped against the cold

And dink me home on his bicycle
The Johnson twins laughing and
Making faces as they passed us in the car
Mrs Johnson yelling from the front
Don’t stare, don’t stare!

And I would play boy in the crow’s nest
Perched on the handle bars
Face in the biting wind, calling
Pot-hole ahead! Hard to port!
Steer left!

And I’d stay up late
And while Gran wasn’t looking
He’d give me a dram of wine in a jam jar
And I’d roll off to sleep
With a vision

Of my father, the communist,
Hunched over paper in the lamplight
Wreathed in a trail of slow grey smoke
Like following
The sinking of a stone

My father was a communist
I always knew when there was trouble at the docks
By the light from the bathroom
Sharp and thin beneath the door
And the hall would fill with shadow talk
And the sound of running water

And I would lay still against the loud, loud linen
And play the spy
Their words the warp and weft of gauze
And all I ever heard was Why? Why?
And Don’t you think about the boy?

And brushing my teeth for school in the morning
I’d spit my Colgate at the spatters
Of blood remained where the sink plug clung
To its tiny chain

My father was a communist
I always knew, when Gran promised the Melbourne Zoo
But told me I should clean my shoes
That night I would see him

Propped up with pillows and pricked with tubes
Eyes clamped against the oily
Disinfectant glow

And perched on the steel back of a chair
I would play the sparrow
Pondering the leg spring or wing span needed
To reach his bed in a single bound

And be the boy who wondered
If to land would hurt him
Or if I would catch his slow disease
Just for being near him

And Gran would laugh
Buckling me in to the seat of the car
No, who told you that?
You can’t catch Communism

It’s not what he has
It’s just what he is.



A Doctor

I once knew a doctor
a doctor of the mind
it was my first time

she said: write me a poem
about the ocean

I said: alright
and I wrote:

I am the ocean
not all of the ocean
not all of the time
but enough of the ocean
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: is that all?

I said: well, with the time available,
and my pockets so full of holes

she said: read it again,
only this time,
change the word “ocean”
for “love”

I said: alright
and I read:

I am the love
not all of the love
not all of the time
but enough of the love
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: I don’t think you’re sure
I think you’re very unsure

I said: I think you’re just angling
you could change it to anything
like, how about, “fish”?

she said: go ahead, if you wish

I am the fish
not all of the fish
not all of the time
but enough of the fish
to reach for the lines
of your shore

she said: these lines,
are they stretching away from you,
or casting towards?

I said: are we talking about water,
or are we talking about love?


-Brendan Bonsack


Brendan Bonsack
’s poetry has featured in Melbourne’s White Night festival, and Poland’s UNESCO Poems on the Walls project. He was a commissioned public transport poet in the 2016 MoreArt Festival, and shortlisted for the XYZ Prize for Innovation in Spoken Word at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival. Brendan was a feature poet in La Mama Theatre’s Autumn program, and was supporting feature for US touring poet, Madison Mae Parker. He is author of six books of poetry, including collaborations with international writers.

Brendan’s poetry books are available from Amazon, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, and Bandcamp: http://brendanbonsack.com/books/


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