salt of the earth, Mykayla Castle

Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

i.

i look, and i cannot see the mountains.
i drive by an unfamiliar patch of world,
the bridge of a song i know by heart
and cannot find the hawkesbury under it.
the sky is a shrivelling orange rind,
white smoke like mould—

wherefrom comes my help?

Here, it is coming in a distant squall of rain.
it opens old testament pages,
gilt edged edition, a southern gale
to drown out the question.
this pillar of fire now cloud,
the salt of our muddy earth slides out
the flooding, doubtful mouth of an
unseen river—

has my foot slipped?

we see it coming, in a distant swarm
we hope it passes over us,
dip hands in alcohol before doorframes like blood.
mark your door, lock it, go nowhere,
see no one, and have faith
in the staff that divides the sea.

have we done this before?

ii.

i fear death on doorknobs,
grow cold if i cough. am i
jumping at shadows, or
what lives in them?
the final enemy delivers me
or just a pizza.

i can’t breathe. this whole year
panic spreading like germs
i can’t breathe, but i hear—
over my own stuttery lungs,
Floyd’s voice— ‘I can’t breathe’.

leave your city, o jericho!
they have their trumpets;
colour film, black and white.
we call for walls to fall,
cry with empty hands,
and cannot breathe as we wait
for news to flood in.
for the toll.

iii.

i found the river i was looking for.
i heard singing on a balcony and
followed it along. i traced my finger
down the heartbeat of frontlines
and handmade masks. i made
shapes from undisturbed clouds
and dough one afternoon.
in the quiet, the ocean came back
into the canals in shoals, and i listened
as the glass house we built gave us
a window into a second chance.
i followed the fingerprints,
the scales fell from my eyes—
the river was where i had left it.

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Luggage, Ann-Maree Irvine

Photo by Richard James on Unsplash

There’s the bag by her side

Tan leather,
Two straps,
The simplest design she could find.
Bursting at the seams
With miscellaneous papers and files,
The importance of which is duly debatable.
Though her determined grip
Would have you believe they hold the meaning of
Life.

I suppose for her
They do.
They represent the
Constant refrain she strives to attain.
Through the
Forty hour weeks
School lunches and
Sleepless nights,

She can have it all.

There are bags under her eyes.

Permanent like a tattoo,
You mightn’t recognise her
If they were to one day
Disappear.
Etched beneath her mascara laden lashes
They hollow her out.
Providing the zombie chic look
Only she is capable of.
Drained.

Their fixity reveals more
Than her concealer can mask.
A half-hearted smile or
Furrowed brow unveils
Newly formed lines,
Resembling those of
Ageing leather.
A weary realisation,

She’s got it all.

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Breathe, Christine Zielinski

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

Breathe the earth
moss soft on bark
radiant.
Breathe the water
running fast
over rock
smoothed to sand.
The tang of salt
lingering
on your tongue,
on your skin,
as it bakes brown
beside the waves.

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my grandmother’s charm bracelet, Ceilidh Newbury

Photo by Sabina on Unspash

my grandmother’s charm bracelet was awarded highly commended in The Quarry – Future Leaders Creative Writing Prize 2020


my inheritance part one
the fourth time we meet it isn’t in person
it’s in my inheritance
a chain that threads little silver pieces of you
i run them cold through my fingers and try
to hold your hand

the hedgehog
the hedgehog is a mother with spines like nails
to protect her children your four stubborn sons
you’re in a new house this third time frail and shrinking
nervous to touch you lest like moth dust i wipe away something important
but in old photos you are fierce

a silver sixpence in her shoe
the end of a rhyme something borrowed
from the british i had to look it up no one could explain this charm
if true your father tucked the coin into your shoe and watched
you limp on blistered heel into your (un)happy future

the lamp
god’s word was a lamp that guided you to start
you lived a little lost your faith forgotten in a box of memories or stuffed
behind the couch cushions of your heart
life was too hard to keep it you saw too much
to believe

the bells
two bells tied as one with a ribbon unbreakable
charms clink like wedding bells chimed
broken not long ago before i knew him and now you follow
finally two bells are one again

the well
wet your lips with the freshly pulled water or
give it back to the earth so new life will bloom
my second time in your house your son is upset
you’ve been working in the garden again last time you
fell so he scolds you like you are a child
you wink at me and smile

the scales
september twenty seven i guess you were a libra
can’t believe i didn’t know that until now
born nineteen thirty-two seems so far away you were witness to a world torn up
became our lady justice keeping balance keeping peace keeping contact
keeping us together
and apart

your bible is locked
away inside you there was too much war
countries cities children cheating husbands chasing women
you snuffed that light
one your sons never lit
no one read the book over your grave but they never would have anyway

the crown
queen of miskin street and newburys reigning from across the seas but
no one believes in monarchy anymore
my first sight you sit royal clasping shaking hands and staring through cataract eyes
maybe i should curtsey but instead i sit and cross my arms and hope
you love me

my inheritance part two
there’s something else in this bag
another inheritance i would pass down if i wanted children
a ring
gold and fragile so small it doesn’t fit my fingers
like that bracelet couldn’t fit your life and i remember now
i don’t know you

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Cherries, Verity Oswin

Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

The trees had been spatchcocked (a violent act) against the trellis.
A wind broken with salt set the orchard a-hum.
The cherries fell plump, desultorily.
The baskets were lashed to our waists.

You were a treble clef— arms curled round the stave.
I was afraid of heights, men— the withered ends
of everything — I found you under a tree eating cherry money.
We were hungry— wanted flesh, sugar— red.

Did I say it was Tasmania, 1996? Did I say we hitch-hiked, pitched
our tent on an oval? That the pegs slid deliciously into the green
island town called Snug? Anagram of sung you said, of guns I said.
You said palindrome— rolled your eyes all the way back in your head.

At noon we woke to the honey thwack of the bat against leather cherry
bruised by those south Tasmanian boys, all clean and white, striped
against the grass peppermint morning, peered out of the flap; middle of the match
cheeks still glazed from the sticky gaze of the miners the night before.

We really were only nineteen.
We really did spend the summer picking cherries.
It turned out our twenties would be like the cherries—
splendid, unapologetic, strung on a wire.

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Learning Curve, Judith Mendoza-White

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

2020 rollercoasters
on twos and zeros insolent with power.
It frets in graphs of lives and deaths,
of fear
in curves that must be flattened,
in figments of plans delayed
to a future hollow with maybes,
betrayed by frozen hours
pulsating with religious or pagan zeal
with gods surprised

by sudden altars
by noise of curse or prayers
by faith unearthed
in spears of anguish or of certainties.

Face shields sometimes do not protect
from the smell of desire,
corners of inertia,
collective phantoms,
public or private headlines.
The silence of the streets
broadcasts fake news of learning and resilience.
Sunless shutters disguise Morlock eyes
on the hunt for plagues suffered and defeated,
playing hide-and-seek between the footnotes
of history lessons never learned.
The bible laughs off parables of bread
shared by hands that will not touch,
hold
or embrace.

The fourth commandment guffaws on the sign
demanding 1.5 between the bodies
and the souls,
it snorts on hostile eyes
fighting for the right to live or die a life
chosen or accepted.

Pink hearts hand-stitched on a mask
come to the rescue of fashions (always absurd—today more so)
drowning and proclaiming urges of strobe lights
nostalgia for present moments
fidgeting inside

a tomorrow that lies in wait
in reticent test tubes
in hopeful phoenix ashes
in wishes riding roguish shooting stars.

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sirius resting, Hayley Ward

Photo by Zachary Olson on Unsplash

characterised by dormancy; this resting quiescence
is not what I’d call a superior learning experience
biologically defined as a phase of not growing
you defend your sustainable course suite slowing

inviting us to lie fallow in a state of passivity while
your dividing methodology defines course viability
you will not be able to answer questions at this stage
but your feedback has not traditionally extended to—

rage, rage

against the dying of the lighthouse keeper
and the dulling of Sirius, our brightest star teacher
no longer will we shine twice as bright as Canopus
while our constellations hinge on your resting paralysis.

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He Disappeared into a Bottle, Alyssa Byrnes

Artwork by Taylor Amy

He Disappeared into a Bottle was awarded 2nd place in The Quarry – Future Leaders Creative Writing Prize 2020


Some used to talk,
obligation building in the throat;
‘How’s John?’
asked for the sake of asking.
Though they knew,
rather, didn’t know.
Lips pursed in the silence,
discomfort clear in shifting eyes,
hopeful for swift response.

Nieces and nephews knowing they
have an uncle, never really known,
never really knowing who he is.
Vague memories slip, of who
they might have recognised,
once,
at Christmas time, around
an old table,
calloused hands around
a bottle
of something or other, unimportant
/quite important/
comfortable in a rough palm,
a cigarette pinched in the other hand,
and ten years later,
the burnt acid scent reminds us of
a lost uncle,
lost man.

But how lost is lost?
There is an overwhelming
loss
but we know where to look,
most days of the week.
But does he? (Feel lost?)
While we search, at a loss
following empty footprints
round and round.

Drowning deep beneath,
a bottle cap, in
government home,
shaky legs and mess
of teeth and muted TV,
flyblown fruit skins
left on almost bare
benchtops
to rot.

Or not, not
intentionally at least.
So, he forgot,
where they go
where he goes.
Where does he go?
Does he know,
as he wanders,
further from home.

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The Years Have Just Flown By, James Fisher

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’
‘Send failed. Message not delivered.’
Is anybody out there? Send help!
Self-help. Helpless. Less of a man. ‘Don’t be a girl.’
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
‘Oh it’s nice, it’s different, it’s unusual.’
Am I pretty or pretty useless? Looks can be deceiving.
‘And for my next trick…’      I’ll pull a skeleton from my closet.
‘Quick while we’re young…’      Put the final nail in my coffin.
Working stiff. Stunned mullet. Fish for dinner on the couch.
On demand streaming, tears down my cheeks, crying but I don’t know why.
The years have just flown by, bygones be bygones, like apples and oranges.

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On the Breaking Down of Leaves, & (Not a) Big Deal, Lauren Forner

Photo credit: Lauren Forner

On the Breaking Down of Leaves

Your tangled intricate lace
more finely-spun
and delicate
as you waste away –
emaciated –
in your attempt to sustain
those around you.

Your fall is soft and noiseless
a sail to a forest floor,
your sacrifice
unnoticed
and your gold skeletal remains
incomparable to
the bright and gaudy blooms
that shoot
from your slow melt into the earth.

Glossy foliage
and scented stamens;
nature’s trumpeted score
to your silent
decomposition.


(Not a) Big Deal

If you scrambled
every moment
to steady yourself
on the ever-moving
mountain summit of the day,
then you too would scoff, sneer,
at a germ –
a string of invisible
complex
unfathomable molecules –
that flit from lung to lung,
dissolving structure and devouring tissue,
because an abstract,
a possible,
a might-be,
a slight chance,
death
doesn’t freeze you like midnight autumn wind
doesn’t gnaw your insides like five-day hunger
doesn’t throb like a swollen eye, hand, cheek,
jaw,
doesn’t drop in your belly like his heavy
footsteps
doesn’t carve a hole out of decades with
needles
blades
pills
ropes.