Featured Writers: Four Poems from ‘To End All Wars’

Parallels of latitude

In one version of our story, Gavrilo Princip,
.    named by his devout parents after the Archangel
Gabriel, dies in infancy – like six of his siblings.
.    In another version he survives, and applies
himself so well at primary school, the headmaster
.    gives him a volume of Serbian epic verse.
Roused by his reading, young Gavrilo,
.    born into a long line of subsistence farmers
in a remote Bosnian hamlet called Obljaj,
.    spends the rest of his life writing poetry.

Then there is the version where Gavrilo follows
.    in his father’s footsteps and becomes a zealous
nationalist. Expelled from school in 1912 for protesting
.    against Austro-Hungarian rule, our promising insurgent
absconds to Belgrade, where he soon falls in with fellow
.     revolutionaries – or ‘terrorists’ as we prefer to say today.
Gavrilo joins their training camp at Vranje but is killed
.    while handling ordinance the group was using
to rehearse their next assassination plot.

In a completely different version, Gavrilo stays in Obljaj
.    to become a teacher, who falls incurably in love
with Anna, the best friend of a distant cousin.
.    The embers of Gavrilo’s murderous rebellion are now
slaked by floods of passion for his bride, and nascent love
.    for their first child due early in the spring.
In this version, presumptive heir to empire Archduke
.    Franz Ferdinand and his new wife, Sophie,
survive the drive through Sarajevo, felicitously seated
.    in the second car of the imperial convoy.
Not the fourth, which is blown up by a hand grenade
.    thrown by the Vranje band as planned.
The intact royal car still stalls after taking a wrong turn
.    into the street where Gavrilo would have been that day,
ready with a gun, to accept this gift of fate – but for Anna,
.    who could have spurned him for another, and did not.

And so Kaiser Wilhelm’s never drawn into protracted war
.    by his Habsburg ally. The cousins on the thrones of Britain,
Germany and Russia remain friends for many years.
.    And Anzac boots don’t touch the shores of the Gallipoli
peninsula. Instead, ten decades on, squadrons of retirees
.    from Australia and New Zealand swarm from buses
every summer to trek the Dardanelles. To fill their phones
.    with photos they post on social media as proof
of yet another bucket-list adventure: this time the must-see
.    rugged ridges guarding open and as yet unspoiled beaches
north of Kabatepe on the Aegean coastline of a land
.    where Ottoman and Islamic heritage live easily enough
alongside western influence – in this latest variation
.    on our hypothetical narration.

Many of our travellers then fly on to France.
.    And after Paris they descend on regions like the Somme.
Hungry for rustic charm and local produce, they practise
.    high school French on villagers, who forgive Antipodean
vowels when asked about the choicest cycling routes
.    and picnic arbours – locals and tourists equally oblivious
to the treachery of tunnels, and the misery of mustard gas
.    and trench foot. And the abandoned corpses speared
on endless concertinas of barbed wire, lacing the horizon
.    of a ravaged swampland. One hundred years ago
in the final version of our story.

– Gisela Sophia Nittel

 

The Sestina Shot for Desertion

‘There is not a sign of life on the horizon, and a thousand signs of death. Not a blade of grass, not an insect; once or twice a day the shadow of a big hawk scenting carrion.’

Wilfred Owen in a letter to his mother 4th February 1917.

You were so young
and happy at first in the trenches of honour.
With no bugle or drum to sound your own beauty.
It’s a marvel your singing kept the tune straight.
Going over the top was a fizz in the blood.
All those excited, patriotic bodies

falling over the other decomposing bodies,
unburied. Maggots older than time in the eyes of the young.
Climbing over the top descended to a blood
sport.  And you trapped in the hell of those trenches of honour.
It’s a marvel your courage kept the bayonets straight.
Some see bullet holes as flesh-roses of beauty

or Owen’s ‘full-opened sea-anemone.’ Beautiful
loyalties face-down, kissing mud. Broken bodies
cleaned up by pure bravery. But history can’t keep a straight
face. Not when it comes to sacrificing our young.
It’s hunger for violence that lies behind all that honour.
Ask the carrion birds, those dull porters of blood,

what they think of the Great War. How the Hun’s blood
tasted no different to ours.  How the cruel beauty
of kill-or-be-killed pulls the trigger of honour.
Well, I have sons, and see no honour in piles of dead bodies.
Human nature’s a fucked-up sestina at heart. No young
doubt, ambivalence or straight

up compassion. No commitment to incorruptible beauty.
Just endless repetition. Clichés galore. It’s up to the young
to break pride’s spirograph.  Embrace the straight
line of peace, no matter the cost.
Ignore the compulsion to go round in circles of blood
for the sake of honour.

Oust the old men of power who hunger for War,
and then when they get it, take 6 words as gospel:
.   young
.             straight
.                    beauty
.                           blood
.                                    bodies
.                                           honour

then arrange them in 39 rows of cannon fodder.

-Judy Johnson

 

Raking the Powder, 1943

Every day I remove my ring, brooch
and bobby pins, draw the blue serge sack
over my head, tie the laces of my special
shoes—shoes without nails in the soles—
walk up the duckboard ramp and punch
the bundy to begin my shift. The powder
comes to me like a lump of wet clay.
I weigh it, then place it on a heated table
on a handkerchief of Fuji silk, as a bride
might spread her gown out over the bed
before dressing. Once it’s warmed, I load
the powder onto a trolley and wheel it
to the charging room. The machine has a plate
with holes like those on a salt cellar.
I slide a tray of caps under the shelf,
open the holes and brush the powder across
the top with a delicate velvet rake.
Push in too much powder and you’re history,
but there’s a war on, so I don’t think
about the danger. Occasionally the boss
takes us, the gelignite wrappers, the cordite
girls and the women who crimp the detonators
into the paddock for a safety drill.
One day he walked half a mile away,
dug something into the earth and marched back.
“This is what happens when you’re careless,”
he said, as grass shot into the sky and dirt
rained down on us. We were frightened and
terribly careful afterwards, but you never
think anything will happen to you. We were just
about to finish last Tuesday—you have to clean
the press and the pellets before you knock off—
when I heard this rumble. If it’s a pop
you ignore it, but when the floor moves
you know something is wrong. The blast stripped
the protective clothing off her—dress,
shoes, cap, everything but her undies were gone.
Stubble on her forehead like burnt hay.
Skin flaking off the way a dead moth crumbles
in your fingers. The foreman didn’t recognise her,
that’s how bad she was. I held her and said,
“you’ll be alright, love. We’ll have you
doing a foxtrot in no time.” She loved
to dance. She was barely conscious and had
no use for the truth. At least I managed to lie.

– Andy Kissane

 

Ilium

after Sidney Nolan’s Gallipoli Series

I

in the small shallows of midday
he bends to retrieve
fallen colours

slouch hat, bare chest
an emptied beach, flag against nothing
maybe a ship

out beyond the cut-throat rocks

walks the horses back into their shafts,
a ribbon of old picnic race tickets
worn as a shade to his dark face

smoke hazes their position
making the strappers nervous and sweaty
as the horses shift

II

the moment the guns fire
each horse stands
as if backed against bad weather

a range beyond human voice
attempts to hold the sky
to silence

even as it disappears

III

the horse is waterborne — legs kicking
neck a nebula in Andromeda
exploding shrapnel stars

he surveys the drainage
with its naked dead
the cliffs behind roseate and unhelpful

— it is Ilium unrecognisable

But for the crossfire
the man’s languid pose might be love-made
his naked face

untouched

as on a different beach, his lover
before the rain flattened
— or hit his left side

IV

cockade and plume ragged
the grasses on cold white sand
bend over their work

— driftwood in pyres

out there the ships are copping it

all the bright days, the burst
as swimming, they faced each incoming hit
of wave

their touching flesh beset
with exhaustion
bodies ripped in streaming light

— open
washed in blood, adrift
in limp animal-hipped shallows

V

in the act of firing a weapon
he searches for signs of the enemy
for death almost

beautiful

finds his slack arm holding lost shoes
drone and flash in all directions
the sky spilled

VI

into this two-up — unsaddled
the calm young
tread dirty air’s comet tail

the pillion flicks aside

one only is capable of moving
faceless, dog-tagged
held crutch and truss
to an armature of metal

they are parts of a gun
oiled to hollow downcast weight
of prosthetic

— weapon equal of the man

VII

in a moment of quiet entering the water
horse and rider are alert
for a trail of bubbles to surface

even here where rock or water belay
to knife point
the sea’s uninterrupted search

the world put in its place
distant, voided, cast into water
a horizon lacking solidity

VIII

they are limbed again, jaunted and weightless
no longer stilted to be heel-hauled
from open bodies of water

at play in some otherwhere

and the figure he crosses to
— already falling, gone ahead
dreams emptying like cargo lost at sea

the clean anonymous water
and he the sunlit swimmer
shield arm raised

no longer soldier nor anything from home.

-Angela Gardner

 


 

To End All Wars Cover

A selection of four poems from To End All Wars (Puncher and Whattman, 2018):

‘Parallels of latitude’- Gisela Sophia Nittel
‘The Sestina Shot for Desertion’- Judy Johnson
‘Raking the Powder, 1943’- Andy Kissane
‘Ilium’- Angela Gardner

Featured Writers from To End All Wars: Biographical Notes

To End All Wars, edited by Dael Allison, Kit Kelen, Anna Couani and Les Wicks, is available from Puncher and Wattmann

 

 

Listen to several of the poets included in the anthology To End All Wars read and discuss their poems on Earshot, Radio National

 

Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: Three New Poems

brookings in fur

Calling this new collection brookings: the noun, on the basis
that brookings are things that trickle the Overton Window
to the Right by focusing on soft left topics, like Me Too,
Women’s Status and Ecology and Same-Sex Marriage –
even though all these are noble causes – creates some creature
in the mind: soft little Brookings, a pink-nosed squeaker
too gentle for words like Global, War or Money, who
would not know the price of a gun. I feared to describe him,
in case I became trapped, like Jann Harry almost in Peter,
but you are too shrewd to fall in love with fur,
and Jann discarded artful innocence anyway.
In fact, I was at least once Max in her poems, when
I explained that Iran ran the Basra Secret Service,
.                                      and Max
said the same thing to Braid the next day. I may
have been Max at times, and my own George Jeffreys,
or Clare, or any of the others, single voice or pair.
But would I want to become little Brookings?
I see him with small claws. They close on you
and your heart becomes a real physical thing,
with a compulsion to protect him. Let her protect me,
great Spirit of the Universe, my ancestral Durga,
with her many limbs, from all that’s born to narrow
the vision to a bright domestic window. But once now
I will pass small Brookings to you for a hug. He
needs one, as we all do. His eyes are very pure,
he lives by the morning water,
he yearns, like all of us, to climb a tree and stay there,
nothing clear but his headlight-stare. I will give to you
his unforgettable softness: as profound as all live fur,
but you, like me, may never let him go.

‘brookings in fur’ read by Jennifer Maiden (Quemar Press, 2018)

Rope

They threatened and promised so much,
and why when I was contained, numberless,
and posed no threat?
We’ll talk soon of Elbridge Colby.
But I ask you to hold this rope,
as no postmodernist conceit.
My weight will rip inside your armpits
and I’ll sway like a corpse
back and forth on blind depths
too lightless even for black, too deaf
for wet echo. There’ll
be a time when you let go,
in pain beyond a choice. But
the rope is not suicidal. I can fly
here evenly for a time. I will list
some faces of suicides: Grace
or Joan Maas perhaps who at first
thought writing was a brook
to refresh and for respite. But
this is not the end of Childe Roland.
There is one of you, not a mass
in gloating darkness on a mountain.
Have you heard of Elbridge Colby?
We will move from my state,
as I do in truth to survive,
to the personal and worldly.
Tacitly condoned by the New York Times,
Democratic Party, Colby who was ‘Joint
Under Secretary in charge of strategy
and developing the force’, has written
for the Council of Foreign Relations
that the War on Terrorism is gone
and that we will go nuclear again
against Russia and China. The Council
know they can contain anything.
Hold the rope.
I will fall from my state
without numbers without hope
without promise without threat
to the personal and worldly.
We can talk about Elbridge Colby.

 

‘What Did They Do with the Bits?’

Princess Diana woke up in Theme Park Nirvana, drowsy and pretty
next to Mother Teresa and flushed with curiosity. The Park
was closed for repairs but people came, went, happily through
the wide side gate. She and Teresa watched and waved
to them. In life, much as she loved her, she had suspected
at times that Teresa was a star-fucker, but now she knew
that not to be the case: star-fuckers always pick the wrong
people they think stars and Teresa had picked right ones. She
could discuss anything with her, and now was fascinated
with the death of Dodi’s cousin Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi
Consul in Turkey. She explained: ‘Dodi’s mother was the sister
of the Arms Dealer Anan Khashoggi, and Anan was Jamal’s
Uncle. Jamal was involved with a lot of arms and CIA stuff
before he went home to the Washington Post. Why do
you think the CIA didn’t warn him the Saudis would snuff
him at the Consulate?’ She had merry eyes, as if she drew
Teresa’s attention to an enticing chessboard. Or maybe
Monopoly – she’d taught it to Teresa. Teresa said: ‘They
may not have thought the Saudis would be so obvious.
But the Saudis would have been the priority to please
because of the Crown Prince working with Israel against
Iran and everybody wants the Yemen oil…’ Diana
interrupted: ‘But the Crown Prince’s a fruitcake, bumps off
and tortures all his rellies. And the CIA has another
Prince they want to replace him with. And of course
that is meant to embarrass Trump. So poor old Jamal
was strangled and dismembered. The Turks probably
think the U.S. will soften sanctions and that Russia
will support them because the Russians always adore
an opportunity. What did they do with the bits, do you
think, the Saudis?’ Teresa was a bit behind on that story:
‘I thought they found him in a well?’ ‘No, that was phony.
The Turks are drip-feeding the news cycle for concessions.
Now they say he was dissolved in acid, but I don’t know
if the Saudis would do that – they’re into public display,
if only among themselves. The Prince surely
would have wanted the writing-hand for a souvenir.’
Teresa was tuned in to Diana’s relish for lateral facts.
She asked, ‘What music do you think the surgeon
they flew in to cut up the body was listening to?
On the tape apparently he told the team he always
puts on earphones when he is dissecting. I thought
there was a problem for strict sects in liking music?’
‘They’re not all that strict in private, apparently.
The scotch in the royal safes is Johnny Walker.
Dodi can tell you anything about them.’ Teresa
became uneasy. She did not like to think of Diana’s
dying, although Diana would speculate enthusiastically
about it, as on any other thing. She knew, however,
the topic saddened Teresa, and anyway Teresa
had known too much in general of death. Her affection
for Diana was a desert thirst for water. More than distraction,
here the workings of the world were precious breath.

-Jennifer Maiden

 

First published in Rochford Street Review, ‘brookings in fur’, ‘Rope’ and ‘What Did They Do with the Bits?’ will be included in Jennifer Maiden’s forthcoming collection brookings: the noun.


Jennifer Maiden photo Katharine Margot Toohey

Jennifer Maiden, Penrith, N.S.W., 2018. photographer: Katharine Margot Toohey.

Jennifer Maiden was born in Penrith, NSW. She has had 29 books published – 23 poetry collections and 6 novels. She has won 3 Kenneth Slessor Prizes, 2 C. J. Dennis Prizes, overall Victorian Prize for Literature, Harri Jones Prize, Christopher Brennan Award, 2 Melbourne Age Poetry Book of Year, overall Melbourne Age Book of Year, and ALS Gold Medal. She was shortlisted for Griffin International Poetry Prize. In 2018, Quemar Press published her Play With Knives quintet of novels, Appalachian Fall poetry collection and Selected Poems: 1967-2018. Quemar will publish brookings: the noun in 2019.

 

Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: excerpts from Appalachian Fall, Play with Knives: Five, and Selected Poems: 1967-2018
Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: Biographical Note

An excerpt of Jennifer Maiden’s forthcoming collection brookings: the noun is available for download on Quemar Press.

 

Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: excerpts from ‘Appalachian Fall’, ‘Play with Knives: Five’, and ‘Selected Poems: 1967-2018’

Rich Men’s Houses

I have quoted myself once already in a poem,
Uses of Live Odds, that poor men don’t belong
in rich men’s houses. I said it first in an essay,
Death by Persona, about John Forbes. I say
he spent too much time in the houses of those
friends financially better off than he was.
I will tell you how I witnessed the Luna Park
Fire, because I’m thinking bleakly of those
new things I know about it: Lionel Murphy
being friends with the crime boss of Sydney,
Abe Saffron, who is said to have ordered it
so that he could take over the land, a set up
to be approved by the Labour Party. Poor men
are a danger in rich men’s houses. But then
when the fire burned the ghost train, a man
and some children, I was young. I saw it when
I’d had to transfer an opera ticket from my
usual cheap matinees to a sleekly wealthy
First Night of The Girl of The Golden West. It was
the only time I saw Donald Smith sing, his voice
less harsh than the recordings, much more tender
in focus to his soprano, directed only to her,
as if a small fat bald man were ideal lover.
We’ve moved into triplets: I must be nervous.
There was reason to be nervous, but the guess
I had then was only about some fire as such, if
intuitively looking at the exits, fearing smoke.
When it was late and we had left the Opera House,
there was a light reflected in the Harbour
like the shuddering of autumn leaves on tar.
And no one left the pier. One followed their gaze
and saw the flames three times the height of the head,
and clown’s face leer underneath. Next day the dead
were numbered. But I remember the strange tallness
of the pure thick flames, no blackness and no breath
of creeping smoke: all looked intentional.
Someone else there that night was Phil Hammial,
who was a carnival hand. Many of these were out
of work a long time, but he may have been too close
to really see the nature of the beast. I was across
enough water to measure the scope. Poor men
do not belong in rich men’s houses.

-Jennifer Maiden

‘Rich Men’s Houses’ was published in Appalachian Fall (Quemar Press, 2018).

 

Solstice Eve

It was the eve of winter solstice in Australia. Silkie
seemed still safe with the Lithgow Coven, was still eating
bits of the vegan feast they were preparing. In Mt Druitt,
Clare’s mother, Coral, hugged the baby Corbyn closer
and sang to his hair some lullaby in a murmur
like the soft sea at Thirroul outside a window, probably
the sound, Clare thought, in which he was conceived.
She was lulled in a cold armchair with a cup of tea,
which she caressed lingeringly with her fingers,
as it was warmth from her mother, but relieved
that Corbyn like the tea was a conduit now
for the illusive love between them. Perhaps she
was conceived in the same sound, she drowsily
remembered when she was a baby the lullaby
Coral sang next to her cot as much the same noise
as the croonings from the bedroom when her mother
placated one angry husband or another.
.                   Clare’s second-last stepfather
killed himself when she was in prison for her murder
of her younger siblings. George had told her later
using the truth as he did then like a hammer.
But she had never felt she was the cause.
Nor had her mother been the cause of her deaths.
Near her arm there was a square fan-heater, flame effect.
Paper on wire inside turned round, as if the breeze
blew delicate flames on ashes. It also had a mutter
like immortal sea, the room’s noises swirled together
with the midnight wind outside to slow the heart
until the air was beyond time and space. I wonder,
she considered, if this is when and how
I should talk to my mother about jealousy.
Jealousy, too strong for just one object was searing
like an amputation again inside her body,
at some apex of feeling and lack of feeling,
in a skin that was unchosen and imprisoned.
Their gazes relaxed at last in meeting, briefly.
Then they both looked down to concentrate on speech.
Clare said, ‘I don’t know if jealousy is a simple matter.
Do I want to be the baby in your arms, or the you he
trusts and nestles into maybe over there as much
as he does me? If I were only one of you, is that enough
to soothe me? It wasn’t that you didn’t care enough, but
there were always others. You asked me to babysit,
and not go to the movie. I knew at the time you thought
you were helping me to love them, letting me be you,
as if my ego boundaries were too narrow.’ Her mother
said, ‘When you brought up children then they told you
that they learn to love by having responsibility, as if
all the numb ones needed were pet rabbits. I never
thought you did it on purpose.’ The solstice
rain fogged like filmy swaddling on the window.
.             In Coral’s accustomed arms, the baby
stretched away arms-length: bored, fickle or understanding
his mother’s defeated sadness. Glow, from wire and paper,
flickered on him as Clare took him back in keeping.

-Jennifer Maiden

Jennifer Maiden’s ‘Solstice Eve’ was published in Play With Knives: Five: George and Clare, the Malachite and the Diamonds: a novel in prose and verse (Quemar Press, 2018, pp.105-107).

 

Mary Rose

One thing among the many things I love
about Gen Y is that they’re ready to accept
transgender in anything, as if Caitlyn Jenner
was the best fan fiction ever. I’m thinking of Emily Bronte
having baked the bread for her family,
charging over the moors, with a rapturous dog
and a headful of Heathcliff and Cathy. I’m thinking
of the first and one of the best English
novels, Defoe’s Roxana, written in a saucy
female first person: never marry a fool, she says,
ladies, whatever: you must never marry a fool. I’m
thinking of Alfred Hitchcock, after Marnie, eager
to film Barrie’s Mary Rose. He’d seen the play
in England as a boy: in England, where the police
locked him as a child in a cell, to frighten
any trace of crime away, his parents quite okay
with that: Oh, God. The plot of Mary Rose
is that a little girl on a remote Scots island goes
AWOL into mystery, returns the same, but later
visits as young bride with baby, does
the moonlight flit forever, until one
day her grown-up son returns to find
her, by accident: the child-ghost-mother,
perching on his knee: a little ‘ghostie’,
transcending any fear. I think, from memory,
they part again, but everything seems better. He
should have made that movie, despite
studio screams about money. After Marnie,
he was opened like an oyster in the dark. The Hitchcock
blonde, of course, is Hitchcock, hence
his tendency to beat her, but now here
Marnie was allowed an understanding, maybe
relief from retribution: we escape
those hours in the killing cell at last. I’m
thinking of Gen Y with real thanksgiving. When I
was young and used male first person in my
novels, my feminist critics – as if I wasn’t one –
were horrified that I seemed to want to be
a dull man when I was still really such an
interesting real-life woman. Really. Now they’ve
grown old as me, some still seem to disparage
transgender as if they had monopoly
.                            austerely
on anything female, or indeed maybe
on all things that can stop the living body
claiming its other half in any way.  Gen Y
would have no problem with moorbound Emily
in perfect English hymn metre writing ‘There let
thy bleeding branch atone’, or Keats, becoming
Lamia so he could face the autumn, writing ‘You
must be mine to die upon the rack
if I want you’ to an unfazed Fanny Brawne. The psyche
well-expressed splits like an atom. It’s energy
flies wild as the unconfined electrons
of lightning finding home.

-Jennifer Maiden

Mary Rose’ was published in Selected Poems: 1967-2018 (Quemar Press, 2018).


Jennifer Maiden photo Katharine Margot Toohey

Jennifer Maiden, Penrith, N.S.W., 2018. photographer: Katharine Margot Toohey.

Jennifer Maiden was born in Penrith, NSW. She has had 29 books published – 23 poetry collections and 6 novels. She has won 3 Kenneth Slessor Prizes, 2 C. J. Dennis Prizes, overall Victorian Prize for Literature, Harri Jones Prize, Christopher Brennan Award, 2 Melbourne Age Poetry Book of Year, overall Melbourne Age Book of Year, and ALS Gold Medal. She was shortlisted for Griffin International Poetry Prize. In 2018, Quemar Press published her Play With Knives quintet of novels, Appalachian Fall poetry collection and Selected Poems: 1967-2018. Quemar will publish brookings: the noun in 2019.

 

Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: Three New Poems
Featured Writer Jennifer Maiden: Biographical Note

Appalachian Fall, Selected Poems: 1967-2018, and Play With Knives: Five: George and Clare, the Malachite and the Diamonds: a novel in prose and verse are available for purchase from Quemar Press and selected bookshops.

 

Featured Writer Julie Watts: ‘The story of Julian who will never know we loved him’

The story of Julian who will never know we loved him

there’s a drunk on the train spouting Kant

Immanuel Kant
that’s the dude who changed my life.

he lurches up the aisle       woolies bag swinging
off his elbow       slips sideways through space

lands on shrinking laps       apologies       sways
on       Kant changed everything.

the man sitting next to me tries to become
invisible       plugs in his ear phones       climbs

into his computer       but the drunk spies him
and like fate       see-saws towards him

stands by his seat       holding the rail       his
weaving hips       unknotting the tight Sydney night.

ever wonder where your ideas come from?
‘not really.’

he is thrown –       sinks
into the seat opposite       chuckles

takes a swig from his goon cask
and it sways like a pendulum at his elbow.

but where do you get your meaning?
‘from my wife and children.’

again he is thrown –       and flashes a grin
like the sun coming out       its spark

lighting the dark with all its vanished
promise. he leans forward       whispers

that’s a bit old fashioned, man.
‘yeah, I know, but that’s ok with me’

and it’s done – he thrusts his hand across
the divide – friend! I’m Julian, brother

and laughs       opens his phone
a flash on the screen

my son       Jeremiah        named after a prophet
and the curtain falls.

it begins at his forehead       a crumpling
of skin       pulls his mouth into such

a contortion       we have to look away.
the man next to me       unplugs his ear

phones       puts away his computer
and offers up his attention

it’s enough to make a philosopher
weep.

when the police step in at the next station
he has slipped into a narcolepsy of grief

and booze       as they take him away we
say       ‘take care of him’

.            ‘he’s a philosopher’
.            ‘he’s in pain’

‘aren’t they all,’ they mumble.

the train rattles on without him
no Kant       no bursts of light

people get up from their seats
and ask questions about jail cells

his grazed cheek and chipped tooth.
he has gone –

and he’ll never know we loved him
on a late Sydney train last March.

-Julie Watts

 


 

Julie Watts. photograph by Andrew Burns, Imajica Photography, 2017 JPEG

Julie Watts. photograph by Andrew Burns, Imajica Photography (2017)

Julie Watts is a Western Australian writer and Counsellor/ Play Therapist who lives by the coast with her family. She has been published in various journals and anthologies including: Westerly, Cordite, Australian Poetry Anthology, Australian Love Poems 2013, and the Anthology of Contemporary Australian Feminist Poetry. She was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2016 and the prestigious, Montreal International Poetry Prize 2017. Julie won the 2016 Hunters Grieve Project for her poem, ‘Calvary’, and the 2017 Blake Poetry Prize forThe story of Julian who will never know we loved him’. Julie’s debut poetry collection, Honey & Hemlock, was published by Sunline Press in 2013. Her unpublished manuscript of her second book of poetry, Legacy, was recently shortlisted for The Dorothy Hewett Award 2018.

‘The story of Julian who will never know we loved him’ wins the 2017 Blake Poetry Prize.
The judges of the 2017 Blake Poetry Prize said that, “The story of Julian who will never know we loved him is a poem with a strength that fills the void of the different perspectives and understanding of the English language. It is the poem that both learned and unschooled by mainstream Australia, people who read from vastly different cultural mindsets, will share the message of this poem.”

Les Wicks reviews Honey & Hemlock by Julie Watts