Inconvenient Numbers

The video is a slightly shortened version of the following poem.

When a tower falls elsewhere, the ash settles in my city.

I study how heavy the air becomes. I try to make peace with war; instead I learn lessons in rupture. What it means to not know.
How to be okay with not knowing.
How to search for answers through the past.

In the year 1978 —
          soft brown shoulder-length curls
          big eyes and a milky complexion —

my mother is ten years old when a nun at her convent dies.
She is buried in a black cloak.
          With school closed for the day,
          death comes wrapped in a caravan of joys.

When my grandfather tells her God listens to the prayers of children,
she prays for a nun to die every night
so she can stay home from school.

In the winter of 2001,
          I am ten years old.

The city my mother once knew sits on an altered map.
The planes have changed direction —
the high-rises my grandfather built
          have crumbled into debris.
          The clouded smoke that stood around New York
                    has long dissipated into Lahore, and Islamabad, and Karachi,
                    all across the playgrounds of my mothers childhood,
                    into the sanctity of my grandparents home.

A generation later,
I have no need for wishing stars —
bomb threats become routine and keep me home from school.

Back in 1978 my mother would spend her nights stargazing:
          It used to be so quiet, she tells me.

But in 2012
God watches over a different city —
          the drum of dulled heartbeats shines brighter than the most vibrant skies,
          the night is girdled with funeral processions
          and there is a faint rumbling over the mountains targeted as terrorist bases where civilians live.
                    Their screams are a backdrop melody,
                    a ripple in an ocean full of water:

we are told to ignore the white noise.
          Their bodies become sites of target practice —
          blindfolded and bound
                    they are dropped to the ground like lines of dominoes
                    They are torched into embers without warning
                              and the night burns,
                              somewhere a cricket chirps,
                              and still,
                              it is a hollowed silence.

In a few years when the numbers are tallied
          and the ash cloud dissipates,
the dead will be statistics on charts we will study when regret won’t matter anymore.

          In the year 1978 my mother did not know
          when you wish death upon someone else
          you begin to write your own eulogy
                    you are asking God
                              to turn your gardens into battlefields
                              to bury your nation
                              as you watch your city’s skin wither into ash —

ash skin is not a prayer that ever falls onto a wishing star from the lips of those who have something to lose.
          My mother didn’t know how much she had to lose once.

Now no matter how hard she tries she cannot take back her wish
          or bury it beneath a black cloak —
                    black cloaks cannot hold the scars of our sins:

                    our mistakes become unholy
                    when we choose to hide them.

So listen to the white noise;
                    it is the sound of a people burning,
                              torched by those who never realised
                                        a wish once made can never be undone.

Zainab Syed (Western Australia / Pakistan)



If I had a child
I would tell them
Hold your stars in your hands
You never know when someone may tear away your sky

Remilekun (Fiji)
First published on the author's website


On seeing Kiama

When I reach the first glimmer of the sea
my heart sings.
Is it my sea-faring DNA welling up
or the sheer beauty of the day?

Gone from my head are concrete bollards,
road work and forty miles an hour,
cyclists pedestrians police cars,
watch for the cameras

I slow to savor the glisten, the gliding swell
the furling white, the tiny figures
surfing the lift with boards
in salt wind.

Let the road ragers toot, P-platers
overtake     This is my own moment
I am halfway home
looking at the sea.

Jennifer Dickerson (New South Wales)


for a moon

what tiny wants
to put here
for a moon

Jackson (Western Australia)
Written with the Magnetic Poetry Kit


The Bride Who Became Frightened When She Saw Life Opened

After a painting by Frida Kahlo

She hasn’t read a book in seven years
he doesn’t like the light on
if she gets in before him     he says nothing
she could read all night
but the thing is     he’s in bed by nine
every night     every night she has
something to do     she folds their washing
in three piles on the kitchen bench and once
he’s passing through     and it’s on his way
so     she asks him to take one pile
the kids’ clothes     put them on the bed
that’s all she asks     he wouldn’t have to open
a cupboard or a drawer
but he refuses     another time
she’s peeling potatoes and stacking dishes
and showing Sonya how to tie a shoelace
in a double-knot     she asks him to take the rubbish
out     but he says no     why should he?
she’s closer to the door and she says
for the first time ever     about anybody
I hate you     to the window
as if she’s talking to herself     or talking
about the weather and she goes back
to peeling the potatoes.

Gayelene Carbis (Victoria)

Previously published in MUSE — Canberra Arts Magazine


Jet Ski Ride

Eventually, I rode a jet ski.
I waited for the cacophony to clear,
left behind by speed
and a surge of freedom

but my thoughts churned
on their usual continuum.
I revved the engine harder,
felt the jolt, the smack of waves,

though that made me worry
about fish swimming below.
Would they bite on my toes?
Would my sunglasses fall off?

sink to the bay's sandy depths?
I imagined angry fish
swimming off in sunglasses.
And then there was the need

to ride around in circles —
figures of eight at best —
the man on the beach running
in zigzags, wildly gesturing,

and so, still, I was trapped
in tight arcs of monotony.
A pure, straight line to the horizon
and I'd be caught, eventually.

Jane Frank (Queensland)


Roman Catholic section, Karrakatta Cemetery

rows of Celtic crosses
stand tall for

small brass plaques on concrete kerbs recall
           Mothers and Sisters

Rita Tognini (Western Australia)


Always madness at the door
Unmedicated schizophrenics
Rambling to mirror images
Muttering rhetoric and racism
Denying their mental illness
Saying the CIA and NBN are analyzing their brainwaves
Saying there are messages for them in X-Press
Saying the whole planet is controlled by the Masons
Convinced that their medication is poison
Convinced they speak to God

But these are God's children
And we must love them no matter how irritating they may be
In tribal societies they would be shaman
With one foot in the realm of Spirit and one foot in reality
Hearing voices of the dead and interpreting them for the tribe
Speaking in poetry
Mystifying and incandescent

We used to fill them full of anti-psychotics and sit them in corners
Increasingly now they roam free
Sometimes inspiring, sometimes annoying
Sometimes dangerous to themselves or others
But they make the world a more interesting place

Timothy Parkin (Western Australia)