Tricia Dearborn: Six poems from Autobiochemistry

From the sequence ‘Autobiochemistry’





Most of earth’s hydrogen is not free
in the atmosphere, diatomic,

but tethered to oxygen, in water –
the human body’s solvent.

Conceived in oozing warmth
we grow in a sealed-off sea.

Once born,
we require regular watering;

in the name of homoeostasis
our bodies regularly wring us out.

Besieged by infant need,
surprised by sorrow, laughter, eros,

we brim, we drip.





Gold does not tarnish.
Tutankhamen’s death mask glows

as on the day it was lowered
to his emptied, resined flesh.

It resists most chemical assaults.
Aqua regia, a fuming union

of savage acids, will dissolve it.
So two Nobel medals sheltered

in plain sight —
a flask of orange solution

on a high laboratory shelf
the duration of a war.


On my way into the shop, I stumble.
Bend to retrieve the impediment,

a handful of thrumming pleasure.
The owners say nothing but trouble.

I add the cost of her to my milk and bread.
Fed, belly comically swollen:

a paper ball chaser. Teased,
a small spitting warrior.

In scarred lip, wasted limb, matted fur,
scurfy skin, behind the cloudy

blinded eye, something immune
to the onslaught, incorruptible.


From the sequence ‘Virginia Woolf’s memoirs’

Freud’s narcissus

“Freud is upsetting; reducing one to whirlpool …”
VW, Diary, 9 December 1939

Vita dropped you at Selfridge’s
to buy a steak for your dinner guest,

Freud. When you started tunnelling
in earnest, excavating

the caves behind yourself,
a small you was spotlit

on that ledge, your half-brother’s
hand under your clothes, moving

inexorably down.
By the time your imprint

published Freud, by the time
you gave him steak for dinner,

he’d recanted what he knew
of such violations, pronounced them

a child’s own fantasy.
That night his gift to you

was a narcissus. You gazed
into the swirling waters.


Scar massage

a tiny section of my body
was excised, sent off for biopsy

a day or two later
somebody jokingly asked
how I thought my mole was going

I found I could not bear to think of
that small piece of me
floating in clear fluid in a plastic bottle
in a pathologist’s office

irretrievable, irrevocably

I was left with a cavity
that has sealed itself over
with the help of two continuous sutures

now that the stitches are out and a week has gone by
I massage the scar for five minutes twice a day
using, as advised, two fingers
and as much pressure as I can tolerate
to prevent the join

I am astounded by the depth of its colour

other parts of me have been lost
other scars left to harden

these are not so visible

I have stopped ignoring them nonetheless
have stopped trying to disguise them
with complaisance, competence, facts-at-the-ready

I return to them, feel for
their shapes under the surface
attest their presence
with as much pressure as I can tolerate

I speak to them

tell them
that they are no longer alone


Everything including the obvious

how can I describe you, my surprise, my unpredictable
your mind encompasses multitudes while I
am down on my knees squinting at the particular

your brain works sideways like a crab but in every direction at once on many …………………………………………………………………………………………………..levels
no point asking what you’re thinking — too many things to list
though sometimes I ask you to toss me three at random

the tips of all ideas have handles, their wholenesses dangling below
you flash the handles and I learn to catch them

for the sake of internal peace you’re learning to winnow
but your taste for multiplicity expands me,
flavours our life together, my habit of discernment a seasoning

by comparison I’m a slow simplistic one-track wonder
gathering towards potential actions in my steadfast cumulative felt-sensed way

shake it up! you say
willing to lose it all to gain it all
in your world everything including the obvious

just one of the possibilities


A chalk outline of the soul

Sister Pascal sketched on the blackboard
a human soul
her impromptu rendition —
which I believed anatomically exact —
shaped like a vertical dog’s bone
but wider at the bottom and more angular.

She dotted it with chalk
which was original sin
then removed each smutch with the duster
which was God’s grace
as manifested in baptism, marriage —
in all the seven sacraments.

That was the year I learnt
how you made words with letters,
imbibed the way their patterns
created sound and meaning, divined
that in spite of this some words
conformed to no rule but their own.

While Sister Pascal taught God’s grace —
the one route to redemption —
as chrism, wedding band,
Eucharist, a small white moon
on a silver salver,
quietly I married the word.


‘[1] Hydrogen’, ‘[79] Gold’, ‘Freud’s narcissus’, ‘Scar massage’, ‘Everything including the obvious’ and ‘A chalk outline of the soul’ were published in Autobiochemistry (UWAP, 2019). They have been republished here with the author’s permission.


Tricia Dearborn is an award-winning poet whose work has been widely published in Australian literary journals, as well as in the UK, the US, the Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand and Macau. Autobiochemistry, her third collection of poetry, was recently released by UWA Publishing; her other collections are The Ringing World and Frankenstein’s Bathtub. She has an IPSI (International Poetry Studies Institute) Chapbook coming out in 2019. Her work is represented in significant anthologies including Contemporary Australian Poetry, Australian Poetry since 1788 and The Best Australian Poems.

Poetry collections

Autobiochemistry is available from UWA Publishing

The Ringing World is available from Puncher & Wattmann

Selected reviews

Review of Autobiochemistry

Review of The Ringing World

Selected interviews/podcasts

Other Terrain Journal, issue 4: ‘Interview with Tricia Dearborn’
Poetry Says podcast, episode 27, ‘Tricia Dearborn on relaxing about writing’
Verity La Poetry Podcast, episode 8

Tricia Dearborn can be found on Twitter @TriciaDearborn and Facebook

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