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