Cherry on the top

My work meeting finished at 4pm. I still had minutes to type but was also due to meet a friend for dinner and the theatre at 6:30pm on the other side of The Bridge.

Anybody who lives in Sydney knows that trying to get across the Sydney Harbour Bridge by car into the city from 5pm onwards gobbles time. So I made the journey at 4 and typed the minutes here. A lovely way to end the work day.

Shanghai

Tonight

I’m in a city of 14.50 million

(give or take a few, including me)

souls. I know no-one

here. I’m a nano-human, a speck

in the smog. I make myself big

riding the subways with no-one

with light-coloured hair. No-one notices

the gweilo; the ghost-person, I think,

until I step into the deluge at Shanghai

Library, and a dark-haired

girl steps in time beside me,  her umbrella

banishing the rain, her words, my ghostliness

“Where are you going?

Can I take you there?”

image

 

 

 

The Unanswerable Question

Cynthia Jobin, over at  littleoldladywho.net, is one of the finest poets I’ve read. Her poems are exquisitely crafted, evocative, and at times wonderfully mischievous.

A recent poem of Cynthia’s – The Palpable Obscure – is a spine-tingling evocation of the ongoing mystification endured by those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one.  In it, she writes:

Once a day, at least, I stop to wonder
where you are.

Is this puzzlement not at the very heart of the Human Condition?

If my father were alive today, the 27th November 2015, he would be 83. I started this blog mainly as a response to the lingering grief I felt about his dying. And this poem, which I first posted on the 27th November 2010, is about the day he died.

Like Cynthia, I still wonder…

Eternal Mysteries ( a repost)

With the ring back on your finger
you sighed and slipped away
but forever it’s a mystery
where you went that day

Did you see them watching you
and whispering in your ear?
When you took your final journey,
did you know that they were there?

Did you sense that we were not?
No-one can ever know,
yet child-like we still ask ourselves –
that day, where did you go?

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The Reproach of Matilda

She’s there every morning, glaring down at me, when I open my eyes.

“If you’re going nowhere, neither is that extra chin”, she seems to say. “I have limits, you know. If we’re to ever get any closer, you should be out there, not hitting the snooze button repeatedly!”

She’s right, of course, my ideal dress size. I breached her boundaries a long time ago and won’t be fitting back in any time soon, unless I get out there and move. Every single day.

“And cut out the champagne while you’re at it, lardarse.”

By my calculations, transforming Matilda’s reproach into rapprochement is about 720 km away.

Ho hum.

The Matilda Dress

The Matilda Dress

 

 

Hiiumaa

bb-hm2

When the sun turns
away to southern lands
we find ourselves awake
on a strange, familiar shore
where t
hose who’ve gone
before sleep beneath moss
in forest
graves, and wild apples
jump the fences

Across the Baltic Sea
history comes full circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secrets from the Crime Scene – Unsavoury Delights

This year, I avoided the poetry bashing workshops at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and attended a couple of interesting panel talks, one of which—Secrets from the Crime Scene—I reviewed, and I thought I’d share it here.

Crime, it seems, pays handsomely for crime writers, not necessarily in hard cash but in endless material on the peculiar machinations of the criminal psyche. And mid-morning on this glare-bright winter’s day at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival, The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf is packed to the raw, high rafters with an eclectic audience, from school-goers to retirees, dying to know more about what the panel facilitator, Tom Wright, refers to as “life as they imagine it might actually be led away from their fairly safe existences”.

Competing with the hiss of the venue’s overworked espresso machine, the conversation nevertheless flows easily amongst the Secrets from the Crime Scene panel: Kate McClymont, Fairfax investigative journalist, known most recently for He Who Must Be Obeid, an exposé on Sydney businessman Eddie Obeid’s corrupt dealings; Sarah Hopkins, criminal lawyer and fiction-crime author, her most recent novel being This Picture of You; and Michael Robotham, Australian journalist turned successful international crime writer, his latest book being Life or Death.

Kate, with her permanently quizzical left eyebrow, is an expert on the depths of Sydney’s criminal undercurrents, from the murderous mentality of organised crime and bikie gangs to the sociopathic undertow of white-collar crime. The audience roars when she says, “One of the things I really love about Sydney’s criminals is they are so stupid”. And vain: one of her regular informants, who was jailed for abducting Terry Falconer (subsequently murdered), whined to her that the actor portraying him in TV’s Underbelly: Badness “makes me look like a gay porn star”.

Michael says his books “tap into everyday fears” and that he often has to tone “down the truth to make it palatable, because people will not believe it in a book of fiction”, even though “truth always, always proves to be stranger”. Tom remarks on the frequent prescience in Michael’s novels as is exemplified by the story Michael tells of The Wreckage, a novel that was based on the idea “that $250billion of drug cartel money was laundered through major western banks, because during the Global Financial Crisis, banks were so short of funds, they waived all money-laundering laws simply to stay afloat”. The novel was reviewed by an incredulous Joe Nocera, financial writer for The New York Times, who said that no major Western bank would launder money for a drug cartel; it simply wouldn’t happen. With a larrikin air of perpetual amusement, Michael says that now every time there’s a factual report of such events, he sends Joe a tweet: “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so”.

Sarah, who has the demeanour of a meditating monk, rather than someone professionally mired in the mess of criminality and the constipated bureaucracy of social institutions, is more serious than the other panellists, but no less interesting. Through her creative writing, she questions who in our society gets to define what a crime is and the fact that, until recently, “criminal law wouldn’t reach its arm into the home” because “a crime, traditionally, has been about transgressions in the public realm”.  As Tom notes, her books are now very much focused on the notion that “the place where your body and mental health is most likely to be at risk is in the home”, an unsettling thought.

In response to a question from the audience, Sarah says she’s never been threatened by a reader, but Michael’s tells of his stalker and many “angry emails” from Americans who objected to this line in an early novel: “something didn’t quite look right, like seeing Bill Gates in board-shorts or George W. Bush in the White House”. And then there is the intrepid Kate, who has had her fair share of legal action and life-threatening phone calls in the middle of the night.

Crime writing—it’s a dangerous but thrilling life.

bb-swf

Tom Wright, Michael Robotham, Kate McClymont, Sarah Hopkins