Featured Writer Magdalena Ball: Five Poems from ‘Unmaking Atoms’

Unmaking Atoms

Yesterday you said goodbye
for the third time
your breath lifting
the hair on my neck as you
whispered another vow.

I watched you leave
your lips barred, arms bridged
against an unyielding chest.

I’ve kept track of these
a book by the bedside
scribbling invisible letters
while I blank my face.

When you return
your breath is shallow
the bed colder than wind
but we pretend it’s warm
wake in silence
words hidden in the ledger of loss.

Because I’m a woman
I know you’re right
it’s my habit of hiding
meaning in parcels
beneath my skin.
If you reached out a finger
you’d find them
swollen against the veins
releasing a strange scent:
musk and sadness.

You said goodbye again
maybe it was just an ordinary wave
a little post-coffee blood
pieces of flesh
I might pick up while I wash
dirty dishes, tidy the counter.

I don’t know how to share
other than secretly
in lemon juice ink
knowing every word unspoken
is one step closer to the one
that sticks
the one that will unmake these atoms.


Ashes for the Earth

Walking slowly
distraction of hearth left
to those that still bleed
a forest grows around me.

Lichen and stone
vine, rock and leaf
each footstep goes deeper
into the soil
breaking down the loam
beneath incorporeal feet
crushing barriers in my mind.

This forest is a city
the buildings of memory
tug and sting
phantom pain
whispered against this journey.

Sound comes in even pulses
breath is a dream I once had
in the days when trees were buildings
and fear was a girdle
maintaining form.

My body unravels
through this
nameless place
those attachments
the hunger of the living
can be shed
though not easily.

I still taste salt on my tongue
still hear the soft call
of my children
their fingers looking for me
in black and white lacunae
echoes in the disappearing air
even as I continue
making ashes for the earth

it’s too late to turn back.


Mapping Pluto

In the corner of my eye
crude patterns of dark and light winked behind
averted vision, engaged the cones and rods
of my retina as a shadowy silhouette
then gone.

Not for the first time.

When I was no older than four or five you were
there, question mark on your chest
like a slogan T-shirt, appearing from the dreamworld
whispering my name when no one
else was answering the phone.

In the lean years
your celebrity reduced to dark glasses and exo-status
I tried to keep you close through long nights
thrashing in my hallucinations
the nightmare of your voice, muted music
Holst’s Renewer, unwritten, unknown
like a true god of the underworld.

Let’s not pretend you’re nameless
hovering just there, in the ICU
lurking like an unwanted friend
against the metal tang of machinery
monitors, ventilators, keeping life going
while you wait, wait, always waiting
for the soft touch of flesh.

When I finally find you, looking
directly into your dark face
tenderly tracing bony cheekbones with my fingers
alien scent against my skin
will I feel this same hot longing
hollow pain driving my hands to knit and unknit
or will I know you implicitly
all the geysers, craters, moons and rings mapped
familiar as a welcome home.


Watagan Walk

There was a moment
Mount Warrawolong in view
throat constricted with the effort of climbing
where I stopped thinking about you.

Only fools would work this hard
I heard you say
but it was just wind in my ears
clouds parting briefly for a shot of blue.

Past boulders covered in moss
Illawarra flames, red cedar branches
walking barefoot, my feet treading
lightly on broken promises
like the memory of kinship
a wedge-tailed eagle overhead
eyes squinting against summer sun.

How easy it would be
to reject this gift
that was never mine
an exception to the rule
city girl on the hill
in plastic sunnies and khakis
lips whiter than the
ice cream mountain top.

Yet I call this forest home
find my own handprint
in abandoned caves
recognise goannas blending to bark
the screech of lorikeet and cockatoo
more familiar than a honking horn.

Eucalyptus breath
draws me back
as if it were a return
c’mon it says
your body is earth bound
this soil, this smell.


Redhead Beach

Arriving, never fully
at this beach
closed due to rough surf
snuck in, an interloper
sand from another time
between these toes

not one molecule
other than the enamel
on my teeth
the cartilage in my bones
from that person
on that beach
but here again
memory finding itself
the water hitting the shore
in patterns fully familiar
the rocky outcrops
shark tower

blue on blue
like heartbreak
your eyes against the ocean
the ocean against the sky

a seagull nods
as if to say
yes, me too
refreshed but not renewed

a network of cellular
connections between neurons
a conduit that survives
even the startling indigo
of that light

alone, always
but never quite
without you.

-Magdalena Ball


The poems are a selection from Magdalena Ball’s ‘Unmaking Atoms’ (Ginninderra Press 2017) and are republished in Rochford Street Review with the author’s permission. They include, ‘Mapping Pluto’ which was shortlisted for the 2015 Bayside Poetry Awards, and ‘Watagan Walk’ and ‘Redhead Beach’, versions of which were awarded commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.


highres headshot
Magdalena Ball. photograph by Morgan Hardy Bell (2017).

Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer, interviewer, and the editor of Compulsive Reader. She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and is the author of several books of poetry and fiction. Her collection of poetry, Unmaking Atoms, was published by Ginninderra Press this year. Magdalena Ball was shortlisted for the Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award 2017, the Bayside Poetry Awards 2015, and highly commended for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016. She also received commendations in the Poetry competition at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show.


website: http://www.magdalenaball.com

Unmaking Atoms by Magdalena Ball is available from Ginninderra Press

“The core of Unmaking Atoms”: Zalehah Turner interviews Magdalena Ball

“the inner and outer worlds of the bereaved”: Malcolm St Hill reviews Magdalena Ball’s Unmaking Atoms


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