Louise Wakeling: Six Poems

Subterranean arteries: Peter Kirkpatrick launches ‘Off Limits’ by Louise Wakeling

Off limits

how they love to plumb the depths, stroke
the underbelly of a secret Sydney,
those headless aficionados of overflows
and undertows who surge like stormwater
through pipes, abseil down slippery slopes,
wriggle through eighteen-inch drains
you’ve got to admire the intestinal fortitude
of drain-waders because life above ground’s
so…well, drained, so topside – not like
those strange stalactites, iron-red
and hanging from the roof, white mushroom
clouds of fungus, Moreton Bays dangling
roots like dark webs overhead, cold surge
of ocean at the Fortress’s gaping mouth,
moon and street-lights so beautiful at Lurline Bay –

only the chosen go to ground in tunnels
fumigated for their convenience – for all
they know, crocodiles of the Nile play
the strumpet there; snapping turtles
grow fat on frogs and rats, meet up
with Ninja pals or plot a heist, Rififi
themselves into the flooded basements
of merchant bankers in Macquarie Street,
infiltrate defence force installations
or suburban flats storeys up in Coogee Bay

they never know who they’re going to meet
down there – IT boys and office workers,
students slaving for degrees in Recreational
Trespass, Cave Clanners and girl graffiti-
artists on fold-up scooters bent on going
where they’re not supposed to:
theirs is a kind of moratorium
on compliance: in the absence
of Vietnams and tsunamis, they satisfy
an urge for diving into the wreckage,
sewer-surfing the past, thumbing their noses
at all those ‘thou shalt nots’ a city’s
predicated on, the obverse of our ‘clean
and green’, dedicated drain-spotters
seeking poetry in other people’s motions

published in Off limits, Puncher & Wattmann (2021)


hearing the world

mid-mountain, you feel the weather coming in,
palpable, drifts of fog and nimbostratus
infiltrating from the Southern Highlands.
past the village sign you know you’re home,
behind you now the four-car prang,
blue flashing lights, the glitter and crunch
of debris on the road, the rubber-necking
at what has kept you idling for an hour.
tonight, you’re unscathed. clouds
are gravid with tomorrow’s snow

all the forecasts agree
an extreme weather event
is on the cards, though the Bureau
insists on calling it a ‘cold front’
not ‘Antarctic vortex’.
pity – you like the drama
and magnitude of it, global weirding
with a vengeance. it still takes you
by surprise next morning, like in Oxford
all those years ago, your first sight of snow,
fat postcard-robins on silvery
branches, hyperreal, the whole world
transformed, and you, in that moment.

step into the garden on a slide
of ice, the dog-bowl topped
with a furry pane of glass,
a tarpaulin of snow stretched tight across
the crinkle-cut roof of the old garage.
padding across the yard, Frieda
leaves dark lacunae in her wake,
spoor disappearing into white-out.
you wonder if the Falls below
are suspended in ice,
like a Hokusai wave about to break

suddenly, driving becomes
a dangerous idea, why risk it
for your workaday routine,
coming down from the mountain to the
flat plains of what you do for a living?

Live Traffic Reports whistle you
off the journey, and you make
the necessary call. workaholic,
you will never leave off feeling guilty
for the windfall of a day at home.

the cat, incarcerated indoors,
peers behind a Roman blind
at ghost-white trees, an unfamiliar
stretch of lawn. the flight of birds
is stilled, their startled childlike cry,
the Buddha fountain silent among
the ivy. short curls crusted with snow
mean renunciation, but half-closed eyes
look inward and outward, long earlobes
hear what’s needed in the world

published in Off limits, Puncher & Wattmann (2021)


Afternoon at the Avalon, Katoomba

you look for balance indoors among music.
outside, the town broods in the shell of itself,
rain shutters the street.. a green slice of Paris
winks back at wrought-iron and glass.
the flautist unleashes scattered notes,
words hang back-to-front on doors,
light turns outside in.….all around,
spinning worlds airborne in droplets,
your new familiars, coral mandalas seeding
into shallow seas of air

across the globe, ancient orbs are spilling
into valleys of least resistance.. Death Stars
or Flowered Planets upend lives, they dock
on human skin like spacecraft, solar coronas
hovering above empty squares.….they push
at the body’s gateways, hitch a ride on breath
and open wounds.. you know how easily
they’d latch on, even in this sparsely populated room –

anywhere on this planet, ice-bound or sweltering
under blazing sun., there’s no hiding
from these not-dead-not-alive enigmas,
perfectly evolved to hijack cellular machinery,
a binding agreement your host receptors
can’t refuse.…. from there it’s just
transcribe….translate replicate:
a new musicality of its own

but for these brief hours, ferried on an up-draft
of sound, spiralling out of yourself,
you’ve shed all masks, you’re a meteor shower.
listen, fingers pluck the strings of a double-bass,
tender and insistent, like it’s a harp,
or your own beating heart

First published in Burrow, February, 2021


the man in the dark suit

that hot summer night her key was lost
did he find it…. does he keep it taped
in a diary at the back of a drawer
waiting to come back…..try every door
in the street — until the key fits
………..turns in the lock

her neck wears its ribband of bruises
thylacine stripes on her throat
where the shoelace bruised her skin
marks slowly fading in the weeks after

how every step brought him closer
and closerthe man in the dark suit
the face she never saw….squat neck
ears flap-angled from his head
the empty allotment behind her
rusting car bodies slumped in the grass

she goes through the actions…. reactions
why me ….why would anyone
want to kill meall the things
the world tells you ….I should have done
anything but get on that train
rewinds over and over
what stops her crossing any bridge
in the dark ….the sound of his breathing
her own screams afterwards
cutting through the night air
and all the while the indifferent
swish-swish of passing cars

she has to change the ending
twist her hand just so to catch it –
stop its trajectory or she’ll end up
like her mother. too stymied to move on
trapped on the downswing of ‘if only’
she stares at the ceiling ….parts the blinds
with two fingers…. peers into the shadows
is he waiting for her now in the dark street?

in the police station pleading
with the Murder Squad
don’t use my name
don’t tell the newspapers
who I am…. he’ll hunt me down
she sees him everywhere…. black tie
flying out …..shoulders hunched
as he bolts ….arms pumping
wonders if he stopped to re-tie
his shoelace on the platform

he was there…. at the end of the carriage
and she’d looked away…. thought no more
of him than any other man
staring with burning eyes

three women attacked within
six hours yesterday. ..A 20 year-
old student …
her breath breaks in short sharp bursts

in this city he carries his bland face
to work …..mows his mother’s lawn
on the weekends ..hands gripping
the mower….. arms lifting and falling
tipping grass-clippings into the bin
placing it on the kerb neat
organised ….he keeps records
flies a kite with his children
on the beach at Botany Bay

and now this nightmare figure
strapped to her chest …..Fuseli’s incubus
crouched on a woman’s body
formless ….spreading like melted plastic

First published in Guide to Sydney Crime, ed. Les Wicks, Meuse Press (2022)


unholy matrimony

she’s no beauty, just a girl doing
what comes naturally
fanfin anglerfish
evolution’s wild card
floating her goth allure
in the twilight zone

half a million times lighter,
the male nose-works her pheromones,
lured by her luminescence,
light bacteria pulsing in darkness
all eyes now ….he bites
into her stomach ….latches on
melts ….flesh fused

in that midnight ocean
he wouldn’t last long alone
biological imperatives
speak through her…. the gaping maw
ever-open ….translucent fangs
snapping shut on prey
final as a prison gate

he ain’t heavy he’s her parasite
atrophied ….sans eyes and certain
vital organs ….without a mouth
a dangling appendage
bound for life – a nutsack
to be honest – on tap
his entire existence

bloodstream fused with hers
nutrients hers, movement
hers alone ….Whither thou goest,
I will go


Louisa Lawson, New Pipeclay

Pipeclay was a miserable little hell to me to the bitter end…
………………………….Henry Lawson, A Fragment of autobiography. Vol.2

Louisa’s harnessed to a two-room hut,
her man often away – that stranger
intimate enough to leave behind
another mouth to feed.

Charlie’s first staggering steps:
he was bought from a Chinaman
for £2.10/-, they told Henry. send him back,
he said, we don’t need him here.

the rich seam of her early poetry, so queer
to others, peters out. Aunt Phoebe swoops
on the children with kisses, keeps a parrot
in her hut. .honeysuckle riots along her porch.

Louisa is stern, capable, hates this rough life,
the fear of children falling into holes,
last days of the poor man’s rushes, last threads
of her youth cross-stitched into needle-work.

no roaring days for her at New Pipeclay,
married at eighteen, no crowing of mateship
and the noble bush, only grey scrub
and prickly pear, the frail democracy

of men, and talk of windlass-boles
for raising heavy buckets
from a mine – the noise of wash-days,
frenzy of sheets in biting wind.

Subterranean arteries: Peter Kirkpatrick launches ‘Off Limits’ by Louise Wakeling


Louise Wakeling is a Sydney poet who lives in the Blue Mountains. Off Limits (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021) is her fourth collection of poetry. Her work has also been published online in Burrow and in anthologies such as The Best Australian Poems (2010), Antipodes (Phoenix Publications, 2011), Contemporary Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann, 2016), Caring for Country (Phoenix Publications, 2017), Live Encounters (2018), Arrival (Lost in Books (2018), Wild Voices: An anthology on wildlife issues, ed. David Bassett (2019) and Messages from the Embers: From Devastation to Hope: Australian Bushfire Anthology (Black Quill Press, 2020). Her first novel, Saturn Return, was published by Hale & Iremonger in 1990. Wakeling currently alternates between writing poetry, casual English teaching and working on a second novel about coercive control and intergenerational trauma in the lives of three generations of women in Sydney and on the NSW Central Coast.


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