we bleed words

until we are read all over

INTERLUDE

One day when it all makes sense, you’ll realise that
you really do have spider hands and a poison-mouth; the one
your mother always said would ruin you, spit venom
onto your skin, the way a knife kisses open wounds. You know
the story begins somewhere here, but it always ends in tangles,
and look – you’re making a mess out of yourself again.
Bad girl. Silly sad, lonely girl. Running around with no socks on,
getting dirt everywhere, DIRT (and it really is dirt); you almost
wanted to call it earth, or soil, or something almost-sweet,
and not as ugly. Nothing is more honest than the ugly.
Here, I’ll give you my ugly. My burnt bread crumbs,
hidden in old shirt pockets, in between loose strands of hair.
Layers upon layers. The night my mother screamed at the thunder,
out on the balcony by herself, under a wolf-moon; howling.
Screamed and screamed, and came back after an hour,
only to say: I’ve been speaking to the clouds, after I asked her
where have you been? And really just thinking, at that moment,
WE ARE ALL INSANE, and beyond insane, and every time
you talk about jumping off the god damn balcony I want to laugh
and swallow the earth until I can feel the thunder in my stomach,
that rumble, that fire, the words that burn. Bad girl, says the man,
lingering in the shadows. Bite my hands off. We don’t want to talk
about the midnight ache. The incessant dogs barking,
the neighbours fucking, the quiet wake of suburban dreams
in the darkness. Her voice nothing but an angled silhouette,
cutting into the silence I created: I don’t think I’m alive sometimes.
Well, I, I don’t think. I don’t think. This house breathes like a drum.
Ba dum, ba dum. She falls back asleep, as I lie awake
hoping to dream about myself, waiting for the hazy night
to settle into my eyes, so I can see my face more clearly.

this is not a poem pt.3

(Note: A song I listen to when I’m standing alone on a crowded train)

Every few months, I feel like I need to sit down and ask myself, how are you? And then I make notes of my own response. As a child, I always thought that this was supposed to be private, that matters of the self concern no one but me, my heart, my being. But I think I mostly feel the need to become aware of myself when I’m surrounded by other people. I think I realise aspects of myself in relation to strangers.

Where to start? I’m studying again, and it’s a home for me, it always has been. Books, linguistics, philosophy, language – where my heart lives. The people here are so hopeful, too. Everyone I meet is rich, young and pretty. We want to be actors, writers, artists. The future is real and tangible and good. But the city fizzles into something distant when I take the long train ride home, back to the streets where everything is quiet again. How can I be in-between places like this? I just keep myself busy so I don’t have to do too much thinking. Maybe all these people are just distractions. There’s this lovely poem by Mary Oliver that goes, “I was so full of energy. I was always running around, looking at this and that. If I stopped the pain was unbearable. If I stopped and thought, maybe the world can’t be saved, the pain was unbearable.” I’m not sure what to make of this sometimes. I worry that something is sleeping inside of me, and I will never know. I worry for my worrying.

Anyway, it’s been cold in Sydney lately. I always lose my voice in this weather. I have coffee with other dreamy souls; soft boys and kind girls who are so confident in their own thoughts and their beliefs. We sit in our tutorial rooms and start every sentence with, I feel, I think, I believe. I don’t know what I know anymore, and there is some sort of a beauty in that. I have realised that I care about what other people think. I like it when they tell me about their lives, where they come from. When they ask me what it’s like in my little suburban town, I tell them it is peaceful. I’m not sure if it really is, or if I’ve just started to find peace in it. The gentle rumble, the white noise. It’s all a blur; my home, my friends, everything. I come home in the late afternoons, and tumble into sleep. What else can I do with myself? I feel like I’m in the middle of some-great-happening, like these moments are all building up towards something that I can’t see yet.

These days, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of illness and sadness and talk of death, and it hurts me in ways that I cannot even comprehend. Oddly, it makes me feel even more grateful for this quiet living. I am thankful that I feel things so deeply. Sad that my sadness will kill me one day. Blessed to know I can read poetry, and weep for beauty. Someone from here wrote me an email a long time ago, and it ended with “good luck to you and your lovely struggle”. I think of that message often. I think of strangers sharing my thoughts, like little window lights in an apartment we all live in. I can’t see you, but I know that you’re there. Washing the dishes. Putting your children to sleep. Carrying on, through this lovely struggle. A weighted gift.

An ode to the softhearted

(Note: It’s been raining a lot here.)

I think we deserve
a soft epilogue, my love.
We are good people
and we’ve suffered enough.

— Nikka Ursula, from “Seventy Years of Sleep #4.”

We who are afraid of our fathers
still wince at the thought
of gentle hands. These softhearted
boys, our brothers. Our kin.

My tongue left sitting in the kitchen sink
on that day when you held my face
in your hands, and I realised that I

have never been scared of you.

Now we drive to the hospital
carrying cheap flowers, and a bag
of old books. I spend my Saturdays
watching you eat, touching the hair
that will be gone soon. The yellow
lights fade from your bedside window
as we watch in silence, but

my god, how
I have loved you
for all these bygone years.

Let me carry this tide.
Let me fight the weary fight.
The embers sleep inside me.
The heartstrings, I pull.

Let me tell you, once more,
how I spent all day crying,
just so I can hear you say
don’t worry, darl, in that voice of yours;
that lazy drawl, the one
that still brings me so much comfort:
I’m not going anywhere.

 

Fragments of conversations between two girls

(Note: All these lines are stolen from real conversations; nothing is made up, only reworded.)

We were angels once, weren’t we? I can’t bear
to watch them suffer anymore.

I know. I know. I had a dream where I was
flying so close to the sky, God
was sleeping in my chest. He spoke to me
in a dead language that only I could understand.

I wish he spoke to me, too. Does he love us?
Does he love me?

You make everyone feel love for you.

How?

I don’t know. You talk about art
like it’s the beginning and end of the world.
I want to kiss you. I want you to feel warm;
that’s love. This burning feeling in my chest,
I think, I think it’s love. Or hope. Hope
for goodness 
in this universe. 

Sometimes I want to write the world
more golden than it really is. Maybe
everything is nothing. Maybe there is
no goodness. But, then –

I catch my own reflection
in the worn-out pages
of a faded book I read once as a child.
I watch the rain slip circles into puddles,
like an open target.

And then you know that there’s goodness
in the universe?

And then I know that we all
come back to each other in the end.
How kind the universe must be, to give us this.
How wonderful, that my soul found yours.

I’d look for your soul in every universe.

I know. I know.

*

Here’s a poem that reminds me of you.
Here’s a poem I wrote
for you.

*

Can we exist somewhere else?
I’m scared of myself. I don’t like this place.
This body, 
this mind of mine. I’m scared.

Me too, friend. Me too.

The Only Song

I sit in a lecture theatre
full of pretty blonde girls, with coffee cups
for handshakes, and a pile of sloppy wet
paperbacks on dusty table tops.

The old white man
is balding. He says, ‘If you are here,
I assume that English is your first language’.

The brown girl next to me licks her lips nervously,
and our eyes meet along this tightrope of silence. Briefly,
hesitation. Then, the small laughter that follows.
For a second, I think:
you are my sister. How did we

end up here? Me, with a bag full of words
to rummage through in the dark. My navigator,
my soul. My words, that are not my words.

My tongue that can only speak like this,
with an accent that my grandmother cannot decipher.
What has happened to my mouth?
What has happened to

my song? Maybe

my first language is the colour
of the sun dripping onto dry leaves. Or even
the touch of my knee against your knee; the low-burning
light that lingers in the air – the light, the light,

the light is my language.

It is my native tongue,
I know it well.
I wake up to a day with no wind,
and I hear the earth move. I hear it calling my name,
the only song.

In another life, there are no words for this.

vignette

(Note: loveliest music written by the sweetest friend)

it rains all morning; a good, autumn rain, and the damp earth leaves the bottom of my shoes flecked with spots of mud. today, i put the flowers in a vase, even though they’re starting to wilt. the petals peel, the smell turns sour. i have a dreamless slumber in the middle of the afternoon, and think, this is a quiet magic. i wonder if i am healing. i wonder if the peonies will crumble tomorrow. my mother runs her fingers through my hair when i tell her that i feel tired. this, a quiet magic. this, a hazy walk through fog; the heavy ghost of sleep i carry with me, or the salt in my mouth. anak, she says. of course we are tired. but what else can we do? what else can we do, but live, and be with the living?

Honey, there’s a switchblade in my hummingbird heart.

It makes a noise that slices through sound waves
swallowing metal, scratching skin.

Oh, the uncertainty
of it all. The wings fluttering
like eyelashes – it all comes back so easily.

The pink glow of the sky coming home
after the long hours
still makes my chest swell.

One day, I will tell you that I am scared of
happiness because of what always follows.
I’ll say: I think the world is ending soon.

I’ll say: I wish I knew how to love you better

but this hummingbird heart
doesn’t know when to quit.
It keeps singing the same old song, like it’s stuck on repeat:
run! –  run! – run! The world is ending soon.

And then to myself,
to the girl I used to be:

I forgive you. You and your silly heart.
Go cry about the clouds erupting.
Run away from this place if you have to.

I’ll climb into myself and say:
I forgive you! The world is ending soon!
I am a body made of knives!