Being a neighbour is fraught at any time, but in a time when suburbs, states and families are being isolated from one another, it is even harder. As an Australian, being part of an island nation has much impact on how we view our own place in the world, and in this time of reminding myself continually that “no man is an island”, I have turned to this theme for the third and final installment in my video poem series, “And who is my neighbour?”
It’s been a delight to collaborate with Asher Graieg-Morrison who has supplied music for each of these films. Check out his rich and textured work here.
I wrote this poem yesterday for the third installment in a series of videos about being a neighbour. As I wrote, I was contemplating the prospect of my Melbourne suburb being the next to go into lockdown. Little did I know that today the whole city would be put back into lockdown. So I’m posting the poem today, as my city prepares for six more weeks inside. I look forward to sharing the film with you when it’s finished. Stay safe.
Curtains are borders between me and the street. Next door is an unseen checkpoint away; Other postcodes have police blockades And I count the days until my home is the same.
By the bay we watch Numbers, statistics, localities named. Quiet suburb whispers its fears. No scapegoat to name, only
The innate mistrust of the island state That says, "I choose who comes here." How did this come here? What conspiracy brings us cheek to cheek
With the airborne griefs that plague all humankind, save us? This happens Only on TVs, never in 3d Where it reaches out with power to grab.
And does it console to know that, Somewhere, over oceans, others suffer Far worse than us? Hardly. I must view you up close to take comfort in your distance.
When I open curtains, my neighbour crosses street, Crosses seas, to land at my doorstep, breathing, "It's coming; you're next. The only place left Is our father's house, and we must share."
At the sink he perches atop his two-stepped seat to watch a morning routine that's utter prose for me, discovery for him: how I wet the shaving brush, lather soap, then smooth the jawline of my beard, and how I brush my teeth without protest, without needing to eat the toothpaste with each brush. And then how I open the mirrored cabinet and take my pill-cutter, split Escitalopram in two, and scoop water into my mouth to swallow. "What will you swallow, Dad?" How to answer? "Medicine," I say, "to help the chemicals in my brain." "Maybe," he says, "when I am bigger, I will take some medicine too." Oh my love. "I hope not," is all I can say, "because then you won't have the sickness I have." And as talk turns to other two-year-old things, my father heart churns with the weight of this, while pandemic and cabin fever test the power of the pills, the rage of being Dad drives the nerves that splash water on my morning face.
It’s been a big month here. The month started with the digital launch of Les Feuilles Mortes and since then I’ve been busy making videos based around the poems, including an exciting collaboration with musicians Young Weather and Asher Graieg-Morrison. You can see the two video collaborations here. And the latest is that the book is now available in paperback, which means a more affordable edition that sends a larger percentage of the price to TEAR Australia. If you’ve been meaning to buy a copy but haven’t had the chance, you now have three formats to choose from: digital, hardback and paperback. Check it out in the Lulu store, and if you like what you read, please consider writing a review at Lulu to help other people hear about it.
Strange to be flourishing so far afield; its home is equatorial, tropical, not here, among suburban paddocks, with a straight line down to Antarctica. Yet, while silver birch weeps and quince decks boggy ground with its midwinter yellow, this Malaysian friend greets me with loud, audacious pink, asserting its brilliant right to exist, here, far from home: fruitless, pointless, its only purpose to be, to glory, and beautifully so.
Can I sit attentive to the voice of many waters and yet move, serve, respond?
Can I act, responsive to a world of burning rubble and yet listen, stop and breathe?
Full of many things, I forget to choose the better part. Caught in mindless bustle, I catch eternity in the friction that grinds to a hault. O bless the failure that drives me kneeward. Bless the gravel that stirs up my knees to stretch and rise.
If you have not yet read or bought your copy of Les Feuilles Mortes, you can get a taster of the collection in this free ebook, featuring some poems from Les Feuilles Mortes as well as some old poems and some brand new ones.
You can also check out the short film I made to accompany the book, a collage of poem readings from the booklaunch set to music from Asher Graieg-Morrison and Dustin Ragland’s Young Weather. Thanks to Ashlea Ephraums, Oliver Coleman and Kris Guilford for the poem readings. You can find each of these poems and a handful of others in the ebook.
And if you like what you find here, you can get a digital copy of Les Feuilles Morteshere for just $10, and a physical (hardback) copy here for $40. Paperback copies available soon, and all proceeds from any format going directly to TEAR Australia’s work with COVID-19.