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“mia council casa es tu council casa” and other poems by Ali Whitelock

i am the sea

			that january.     
			prestwick beach.

		the sea heaves.  swallows herself down 
	like cough syrup in thick slow gulps. we’d sat on this rock 
just two days before, both of us with our backs to the world 
		staring out across and into 
			the thickness. 

		i counted a thousand and one seagulls that day 
	watched them huddle together, balance like storks 
on a single orange leg the other nestled up in the warmth 
	of their soft white bellies as they, with uncharacteristic
		patience, waited for the rain that would surely fall

		and when the wind whipped up, andrew
	jumped from our rock pulled his emerald green kite
from his rucksack tore off down the desolate beach his kite ploughing 
	a trench in the sand behind him, eager for the gust that would
		lift it to where it wanted to be 
			
		and every few seconds he’d turn around 
	and run backwards untangling cords and calling out across
the increasing distance between us, ‘c’mon on ali! c’mon!’  and i heeded
	his call, jumped from our rock and ran as fast as i could
		in jeans frozen stiff as though they’d 
			been pegged on the line 

			in an overnight frost and i shrieked 
		with the gladness of finally being here with him— 
	and no black clouds could ever threaten this day for us.  and he kept on
running and turning, turning and untangling till finally a gust obliged and
	his emerald green kite soared skywards and free—as free as we are 
		ourselves if only we’ll listen.
		
		we’d parked the car just up there by mancini’s 
	snack van, closed for the winter now, its magnum ice-cream posters,
faded and neglected, flap listlessly in the wind and the menu promising 
	hot chips and curry sauce hangs on the outside wall,
		saturated by rains gone by forcing

		words to fade, corners to curl and brown 
	moisture spots to appear in the most unappetising of ways. 
we’d laid our picnic out on this rock, poured tea from our tartan thermos 
	ate buttered rolls, dunked mcvitties chocolate digestives and talked and
		talked till the sun slipped off her shoes, turned out the light 
			and slithered into the black dreams 
				of the irish sea.

			and days later with him already 
		too long gone i am sitting on our rock with my back to the world.  
	the sea heaves still. i watch her swallow the sadness rising 
		in her throat, as broken hearted waves throw themselves 
			at the feet of a shore that really couldn’t 
				care one way or the other.  


Previously published in Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine. Editor Fred Shaw


eventually you will turn fifty

and this will be the day you will lose your mind.
you will produce honey and certain insects 
will be attracted to you 
you will put on a dab of hollywood red lipstick 
this will be the same colour you discovered 
when you were ten in the cardboard mushroom 
carton that doubled as your mother’s make-up box 
and when you emerged from the bathroom wearing 
the lipstick your father told you you looked like a fucking 
whore and it will surprise you that actually
he was wrong 
you will put on a black frock which never 
used to but now clings to the rolls you seem 
to have developed over-night these rolls
will make you appear more womanly and you will not mind this one bit
you will start to take more time over your hair 
buy a pair of earrings in the jewellery shop
that is closing down they will match your lipstick 
and you will look beautiful because your hair 
will fall over one eye and this will make you look sultry 
you will even consider putting on the MAC eyeshadow 
you bought seven years ago and never opened 
it may still be good a man you do not know 
will tell you your earrings make the green 
of your eyes look very nice and you will laugh 
and look away as though you are shy though 
you will hope the lens of his camera is still 
upon you 
you will have spent twenty years with the same partner 
this partner will love you more and better than anyone 
ever could including your own mother who loves you very much 
eventually your earrings and lipstick will cause your partner 
substantial discomfort though he will not say anything 
about it because he will know that turning 
fifty sometimes means that things might change 
and he will know that all he can do is wait to see if anything 
is still standing once the high pressure 
system has moved through and although he is not a buddhist 
he will accept the river of life will sometimes 
burst its banks that water will rise in kitchens 
and the insurers will need to be called in to assess the damage
to the european appliances and you will know something 
inside you is dying now that the tub of fresh double cream 
that has sat happily at 3 degrees in the refrigerator 
of your life is now on the turn you will meet a man 
you did not expect to meet you will want to spend 
many nights with him you will make up many excuses 
as to why you are coming home late you will ask your girlfriend
who is also very good at lying to join you in your dreich den
of dishonesty and she will agree to act as your alibi 
should your partner of twenty years decide 
to call her one night to confirm you are with her 
on the evenings you are not home your partner 
of twenty years will eat dinner on his own 
and he will cling wrap yours so when you come home 
he can microwave it for you so you can have a hot meal
he will know that things are now very different 
and he will know exactly what is different
but he will not say anything about it because 
he will not want to make you feel you cannot behave 
in the way you find you suddenly need to behave
he will notice you are now shaving your legs 
having your bikini line waxed and sometimes 
your nails painted fire engine red and he will not believe 
the outrageous lies you are telling him 
but he will not call you on them and this will 
make you think you are getting away with them 
and even though he is not a buddhist he will 
not show you any rage rather he will love 
you all the more because he will understand 
that you what need right now is love 
and one morning when you will have stuffed 
your liver so full of your own lies that it sits 
swollen like that of a french goose 
he will ask you gently if you want to talk about 
what’s going on and still you will tell him everything 
is fine and keep on with your lies till you are now choking 
on them   
eventually you will be home for dinner less and less 
and your lies will increase more and more 
and one night you will send him a text saying 
you will be back later than usual maybe even the next day
and your lie for this one will be very original and completely 
unbelievable but you are now so addicted 
to your lies like a kid on nothing but smarties and mars bars 
and tob-le-fucking-rones that you just keep right on shovelling 
your refined sugar onto the fire of your truth and your partner 
of twenty years will text you back simply saying ‘OK’
cause he knows you need to go through what you need 
to go through and he will eat dinner alone that night along 
with all the other nights and he will wash the dishes 
and watch the evening news and he will miss that you are not there 
shouting at the telly when the liberals come on and he will 
put the hot water bottle on your side of the bed 
and cling wrap your dinner because he understands 
the importance of a warm bed and a hot meal 
when you finally come home.


Previously published by Beautiful Losers Magazine, Editor Lee Ellis 
& Wakefield Press, Editor Julia Beaven


mia council casa es tu council casa

	i live out of sydney these days it is close 
to the beach though we are not wealthy.  
Some days there are whales other days dolphins 
occasional jellies and never dead babies i like visiting 
the art gallery in the city it takes me one hour 
to drive there i park at the expensive 
multi-storey it is a $10 flat rate on a sunday
after parking i cut through hyde park past the statue 
of robert burns standing alone and too far away 
from scotland we are both foreigners here of the acceptable 
kind. i like the location of the gift shop 
it is right next to the entry which is also the exit
i always go to the gift shop first they have handbags 
made of unshaved cow and earrings like hot air balloons 
and a dimly lit section at the back with mysterious 
art books in thick polythene covers the thickness 
of the polythene indicates their seriousness 
and the price and there is an arsehole in there wearing 
jesus sandals though he bears no resemblance 
to jesus and the arsehole says to a random 
woman (who turns out to be an arsehole too) he took a holiday 
in paris once on the left bank some thirty 
years back when it really was something and if hitler 
was alive today this whole thing with the syrian refugees 
would not be happening and the female arsehole agrees 
then the jesus sandalled arsehole says what’s going 
on over there is nothing but a european invasion 
and the subject of the little boy’s body on bodrum 
beach comes up and i have been there on holidays 
some thirty years back when it really was something 
the hotel was right next door to the doctor’s surgery 
bent black clad women came daily clacked rosary 
beads on milk crates in full view of fat tourists 
bathing topless on hotel loungers ordering 
chips and cokes they did not need from kadir 
the turkish waiter who brought me proper chai 
in a glass and taught me how to say 
‘tomorrow i am going to instanbul’.
After the little boy’s body got washed 
up on the sand australia offered synthetic 
duvets fake chai lattes and empty promises 
to twelve thousand of the five million 
in camps who cry themselves to sleep at night
and i have calculated this on my iPhone and it works
out to be a teardrop in the ocean to the closest 
decimal point australia i have offered 
more hope to more cockatoos more safety 
to kookaburras more gum leaves to koalas
than the crumbs you are flicking 
from your all you can eat buffet 
it is time to feed the birds australia 
tuppence a fucking bag sure what does it cost 
to pipe in a haggis share some tatties and neeps 
raise a glass to their health mia council 
casa es tu council casa australia the world’s
eyes are rolling in your general direction 
and right now you look like some kind of jesus 
sandalled arsehole sitting on the veranda 
of your ocean front property with your deep pockets 
and short arms pretending you don’t even know 
it’s your turn to buy the next round at the bar.

Previously published in Other Terrain Journal, Senior Poetry Editor Anne Casey
& Wakefield Press, Editor Julia Beaven


there is no sound when it snows 

like when you pull your tam o’shanter 
down over your ears and i know this muffled 
silence so well it is there always 
in the forest at the end of our road 
where conifer boughs layered with thick snow sway 
like fat babies just fed their heads 
lolling on the brink of nodding off and the train 
to london whizzes past twice a day punctuating 
the silence with two giant exclamation 
marks triggering tremors causing snow 
to loosen and waltz from boughs with a whispering swoosh 
and there were times i was on that train 
mum would drop me at the station in the village
then race back through the forest 
to wave as my train sped past and as the forest 
approached i’d wave through the window 
though the train went so fast i could never 
quite see her––but i knew that she was there. 
the air is iced and sharp here and i breathe 
it willingly stick my tongue in the air 
catch snowflakes that flit i swallow 
their flesh drink down their blood 
till i am the snowflake the snowflake is me.  
i lived here once. in this icy silence
the place i live now is hot and there are days 
i could weep for the boughs of my forest 
and the north wind that gusts and near blows 
the toorie off my glengarry this hot place i live is australia
the land is dry and cracked here 
much like the skin on the heels of my feet 
that were never like that when i lived in scotland
i’ve got my father’s feet they say heels 
that need softening in the bath for a fortnight 
before you could even begin to take the cheese 
grater to them and only then will the thick skin 
come away crumbly like the mature scottish 
cheddar i’ve never enough money to buy in the supermarket 
things have changed since i came to this hot 
place i’ve forgotten a lot about scotland 
sure that’s what i came here for in the first 
place but i have my reminders all around 
me now indeed as i lay here on my bed 
on this hot january afternoon wilting 
from the searing heat and not a breath 
of air to be had my dog eared copy of antonia 
fraser’s ‘mary queen of scots’ jams my sash 
window open since the cord of the sash snapped 
and sent the upper case hurtling to the sill 
like the guillotines that have taken the french 
heads off more people than i care to remember
and i have my postcard on the wall 
the one of the highland cow my brother 
sent me from his camping trip on skye – 
‘come back ali’ it reads ‘before you forget 
how good this air truly tastes.’ and i read 
that card daily and it too is dog-eared 
for i peel it from the wall each morning 
and stick it back with the same lump of blu 
tac i’ve been using for the last as many years 
i can’t move in this heat 
all i can do is lay here on my now damp cotton 
sheets damp from the sweat i’ve been leaking 
as hot winds torch and burnt dust swirls forcing 
locals into bars with promises of half price 
cocktails served in coconut shells at times 
of day not made for drinking 
i moved into this weatherboard cottage 
with hardly a thing it was the first place 
i’d lived in australia with a garden––i should 
say yard––they call gardens yards down here 
yards make me think of barbed wire fences 
broken concrete slabs and gnashing
guard dogs on choke chains that near sever 
their wind pipes rushing strangers that come too close 
the day i moved in i sat in my new garden 
overgrown with something green and curly
––chokoes the neighbour advised––whatever 
the fuck chokoes are i looked them up ‘native 
to mexico though particularly easy to grow 
in the australian YARD’ and this house 
came with a fish-pond baking in full sun 
naked of algae and the loneliest most bored looking 
goldfish i have ever seen he barely moves 
does not dart nor scoot unlike the darting
scooting goldfish of my youth won at fairgrounds 
knocking the heads off clowns with a coconut
i call this goldfish gordon for no other 
reason than it starts with a g 
sometimes i sit under my chokoe vine 
and stare at him once in a while he swims 
half heartedly from one end of his blistering 
pond to the other humiliated by mosquitoes 
landing on fairy feet pricking the surface 
of his pond there was a time he must have eaten them––
i don’t see him so much as place his lips 
to the surface now all he does is hang 
with all the the weight of the depressed 
man who care barely lift his head 
off the pillow and i get to thinking 
all this gold fish has probably ever
known is life in this simmering pond 
but me i’ve known something different
i’ve seen my frosted breath hang in the stillest
of air and my lips have kissed the chill 
of snow that brings a silence money 
couldn’t buy you so i’ll lay here 
on my damp sheets a wee while longer 
and i’ll dream of scotland and mary 
queen of scots and two-man tents on skye 
where toories are taken in gale force winds 
and goldfish are not boiled alive in some scalding 
pond 
sure this hot country is no place for a goldfish 
this hot country is no place for me.

Previously published by Red Room Company, Editor Kristy Wan
& Wakefield Press, Editor Julia Beaven


and my heart crumples like a coke can

you never ate fusilli nor farfalle nor spaghettini. you did not like all that italian shite. you liked chocolate eclairs penguin biscuits beef with string in gravy and custard with steamed pudding which is like a fruitcake. a long time ago we wished you would die. you loved tractors and bob-cats. a bob-cat is the australian name for a digger. one winter you dug a hole in a field with your bob-cat cut off the electricity supply to the entire village burst the mains water pipe. the water froze children skated on it wayward cars skidded into badgers and lambs born in unseasonal snow. your father was a farmer. he gave you your love of tractors. and potatoes. he skimped on other sorts of love. once you gifted a plough to mum. and a socket set. another time a cement mixer. you smoked and drank. grouse mostly. embassy regals. one time you moved a washing machine for a neighbour. you bought old tractors and renovated them sold them in the classifieds. although you could not spell it you were an entrepreneur. your legs went thin. the nutritionist said all you had to do was drink complan. you used to wash your car a lot. the celebrant at your funeral said you would be on your way to heaven in a gleaming vehicle. nobody laughed. you were not religious. i do not believe in heaven. your brother in canada rings me a lot since you died. he told me you were coeliac. it is unrelated to motor neurone disease. you were seventy fucking two. david bowie sixty nine. alan rickman the same. your adam’s apple stopped moving. i realise i too will stop breathing one day. at your funeral your sort-of-wife asked for donations to the disease you didn’t know you had. i don’t know if anyone donated. nine days before you died i visited you at your pebble dashed house, sat beside you on your tan leather couch, watched upside down chaffinches feed on the bird nuts hanging from the hills hoist in your front garden. a hills hoist is australian. in scotland it is a whirly jig. i have been away too long. you tried to make your way to the bathroom on your zimmer frame. you fell in the hall way. i didn’t know how to get you up. i lay beside you on the carpet. you kept apologising. there was nothing to apologise for. the nutritionist was wrong. you died the tuesday after valentine’s day. valentine’s day was on the friday. stephen hawking had motor neurone disease too. his is different to the kind you had. there are four different kinds. yours was diagnosed the day you died. you were already dead. stephen hawkins liked cosmological stuff and the big bang. you liked tractors. when i think of how much you liked tractors, my heart crumples like a coke can.

 
Previously published in The Neighbourhood Paper (Sydney, Australia), Editor Mark Mordue
& Wakefield Press, Editor Julia Beaven.

 

“mia council casa es tu council casa” and other poems are © Ali Whitelock

Ali Whitelock is a Scottish poet and writer living on the south coast of Sydney with her French chain-smoking husband. Her debut poetry collection and my heart crumples like a coke can has just been released by Wakefield Press, Adelaide, and her memoir, Poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell was launched to critical acclaim in Australia and the UK in 2010. Her poems have appeared in The Moth Magazine, The American Journal of Poetry, Gutter Magazine, NorthWords Now, The Poets’ Republic, The Red Room Company, Beautiful Losers Magazine, Backstory Journal, Other Terrain Journal, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Canberra Times, Bareknuckle Poet, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Glasgow Review of Books, Neighbourhood Paper, The Hunter Writers’ Centre ‘Grieve’ Volume 6 Anthology, The Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine and The University of Wisconsin’s Forty Voices Strong: An Anthology of Contemporary Scottish Poetry. She is currently working on her second poetry collection and her second memoir.

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