Notes on October

Watching the debris accumulate on the plastic-topped table, hungover and she is making me a cheese toastie. Cigarette, Bic lighter, 500 mL water bottle, her phone, my empty glass, her empty glass, her empty cup, mine full of coffee hot and strong, our keys tangled together all serpentine. Kiss on her curly hair, dropped like a passing thought. A passing thank you.

The warmth of the room and his body like a slow golden wave of breathing, sunburnt shoulders twisted. Me, a rigid and awake interloper in the hot loop of his arms. It’s 3 am, 5 am, 6 am, I don’t sleep. Morning flooding through and a thousand bird cries. His possessions come into gentle existence. His dress hat, the one with the feather, grows into the light. Guitar. I didn’t know he played. Very little else. We have nothing in common but our sweat smells mostly the same.

I jump off the jetty. River water closes over my head and lungs. A drowning rush – salt in nose and mouth – shin banging against metal – then the air, and the cold sterilising stars.

Humans do things because they need to or want to, and I ascribe some kind of beauty or magnitude to it. And then they say: no, I was just breathing because I needed to. I was just touching you because I wanted to. It wasn’t his design that the light would come through the window in such a way on our naked selves, leonine and faulty. For him it was just a morning, and our bodies just means to an end.

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Notes on October

things I learnt from a Czechoslovakian folk tale

if you have a secret

tell it to your friend

 

if you cannot tell it to your friend

tell it to your priest

 

if you cannot tell it to your priest

go out into the fields at night

 

dig a hole

put your head in the hole

 

say it 3 times over to the earth

if you’re lucky it’ll grow

 

a dark flower

 

sprung of the black dirt,

the white snow,

 

your red red heart

 

if you’re lucky

it’ll sprout legs

 

and leave your aching head

 

something like new,

something like clean,

 

something like bone

things I learnt from a Czechoslovakian folk tale

Orlando

I’m not here to write a think piece. Or to say anything much, really. Everything that is wise or good or powerful or controversial or hateful or loving that could possibly be said about Orlando has most likely already been said.

I wasn’t there. I wasn’t anywhere near. I was over the other side of the world, in Perth, Western Australia. The most isolated capital city in the world. When I found out it was midnight and I was in bed on my phone in a small allergen-filled dorm room and I was on the mobile app for tumblr because I wanted to make a post about how I’d met this girl, and I liked her, and we’d gone to a museum together, and things were nice and scary and confronting because anxiety disorder plus dating equals internal storm. All that stuff. Things didn’t really work out with her, as it turned out, but that’s irrelevant to this post.

Anyway, there it was. 20 dead. Refreshed the page again, five minutes later. 50 dead. 53 injured.

I forget that coming out is a brave act. I forget that it is a political act. I forget that it is an endless, endless gamble of an act.

Walking home with a university friend after going to the Perth vigil I couldn’t think of much to say. No tears, or anything. I’d deliberately avoided eye contact with her during the vigil itself because I already felt vulnerable enough. Not the wet and shaking kind of vulnerability that can cry its way into catharsis, it was a rawer and a dryer thing. A loss and a fear and an ache stretched thin over my ribs, something that I couldn’t parse into words. I eventually came out with:’it’s not fucking fair’. It wasn’t right but it was all I had. She agreed. She thanked me for coming with her. I said: ‘They were just dancing. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just dancing.’ We bought fries. We ate them in the city centre. We were quiet, and we were not straight, the pair of us, and we were alive.

Jesus Christ! They didn’t leave their homes to die that night! They were just dancing! I don’t know how to live with this knowledge.

Orlando

belated Anzac Day post

4:30 AM. I’m trooping through Kings Park in the ominous cling of before-dawn bushland. The highway’s right there but if I look into the depths of the nature reserve I can imagine I am back home; I can imagine it is the real bush that swallows lives and the space between tiny south-western towns; I can imagine I am six; I can imagine my father is taking me for some ill-advised adventure at an hour of the morning when everything is unreal; an hour that is another universe.

I feel hyperactive. Enthused. On edge. Three hours of sleep. We’re going to the dawn service. Anzac Day. Commemorating dead soldiers. Yeah. My friend tells me not to say anything sarcastic in case we get beaten up by patriots.

I find dawn services beautiful in that they are hypnotic and gentle and sad – just half an hour or so of standing as your legs grow stiff and the sky grows light. Bagpipes make my Scottish DNA a little sentimental. I don’t pay much attention to the wreath-laying, I just stand and knot my hands together and feel my legs lock up. I am there and present as the sun rises. The sky is bruised, the city lies in fog. The harbour a clean, clean mirror.

A lady’s singing the Australian anthem. She gets to the line about ‘boundless plains to share’. My friend and I give each other the Apathetic Leftist Look. Two magpies swoop overhead fighting and for a moment their cries drown out her perfectly formed vowels.

A middle-aged military man’s giving a speech. He’s listing words that describe the ANZACs. ‘Camaraderie. Mateship. Courage.’ The urge to say ‘syphilis’ loud and clear in the measured pause that follows is so real I can hardly suppress it. I keep my mouth shut. I try to get more in the spirit. I don’t know if I’m being overly cynical. Some of these people here are veterans, I should be more respectful. He describes the Gallipoli campaign as a ‘successful failure’ and I’m really confused about what that means. Something is crawling on my neck. I grab at it – it’s a spider. We fight a brief battle on the field that is the palm of my chilly hand. The spider loses. I know I’m not allowed to make a horrified ‘augh’ noise, which I feel is unfair, because the baby near us gets to do that at regular intervals, and it doesn’t have the excuse of an arachnid trying to get cosy.

My friend has chronic sinus issues and being outside in the cold is making her sniffle a lot. A woman who is literally actually crying puts a sympathetic hand on her shoulder and gives her a meaningful, compassionate look. A ‘here we are, us mourning women, weeping for our brave boys’ kind of look. My friend smiles awkwardly in response and shuffles away a little. My other friend, who is Indian, whispers ‘oh my God, I’m the only brown person here for miles’.

Unexpectedly a plane flies over, right down low, and that’s when I finally get a real surge of feeling. But it is animal and raw, not the aching, solemn, thoughtful sentiment they want from us at these services. Not as commercially viable as they’d like. I am simply and cleanly afraid for a second, because I was not expecting that loud swooping roar, that aluminium beast. Our magpie, humanity’s magpie, the straining metal magpie that we made, the one that we can control. Maybe that sudden shock I have is more akin to the real Anzac spirit than anything else. I’m sure they were scared like that. I’m sure their guts twisted.

The real Anzacs. Ancestors. Right. We’re here for our ancestors. I think for a second about my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, who was at Gallipoli and made it through alive. Apparently he was a real cunt to his family after he returned, although that’s not the word anyone’s ever used to describe him. Mum says she remembers him grumpy, definitely not her favourite grandparent. I can’t work up any kind of emotion over this distant and shellshocked man, dead long before I was born.

7 AM. Everything is misted over in greys and browns. Weather’s shit. Walking back, the rain starting to fall and the wet soaking through my shoes, my heart’s heavy. Not because of young dead men from the first World War, or even the abstract concept of young men dead in wars altogether. I’m sad about my personal life – university, dating, little chronic health issues, slightly larger mental health issues, the fact that the nervous energy that got me here on 3 hours of sleep has diminished and now I’m in desperate need of caffeine, that sort of thing. I’m sad about all that, when I’m supposed to be sad about the crushing weight of history. But I cannot access any kind of grief through Anzac. Maybe most of Australia can, and I don’t want to take that away, no matter how much I disagree with the political and commercial use of the Anzac ceremony, and no matter how much I don’t understand the cultural mindset around it.

I think jingoism is dangerous. I think Anzac commemorations encourage jingoism in a modern-day populace that should know better by now. I think people should mourn their grandmother, or great-grandfather, or their uncle who was in Vietnam and came back changed. I think if Anzac Day provides a means for people to perform this mourning amongst other mourners, then that is good and right. I think I have no right to tell my fellow Australians what they should and shouldn’t cling to as a shared ritual. I also think my fellow Australians should consider the fact that perhaps we cling to Anzac as a shared ritual because all of the other myths we have told about the Australian man – the bushman, the brave pioneer, the explorer, the settler, the noble convict – have been reworded by history as the racism- and imperialism-riddled endeavours that they were, and that therefore Anzac is an unproblematic, clean historical event that allows us to lionise and hero-worship the white Australian male again. I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that Anzac Day ceremonies began to take on their modern fervour around the time of the 70s and 80s, which is when revisionist history began to expose bits of Oz culture’s rotten core.

Maybe as an aspiring historian I have had all my natural human emotion sucked out of me through the dry and endless study of the past, and I can’t connect to a legacy or an event any more without thinking ‘but, but, but’. Maybe I’m unconsciously furthering some left-wing agenda and I’m belittling the memory of these poor brave men fighting for Australia (but they weren’t! They weren’t!) in order to get myself some academic credence amongst my fellow pretentious left wing scholars. Maybe I am everything that’s wrong with Australian society today. Maybe I am just looking for something to argue about.

Maybe I just don’t care that much about dead soldiers fighting for a dead Empire.

But if we’re going for sentimentality – I can forgive myself for griping the whole walk back about things that are unrelated to dead men and the metal that ripped through their body. Because before that metal took them away (or the dysentery, or the long miserable deterioration of undiagnosed and untreated PTSD), those men complained about the rain and about their lovers and about their family.  And we have that in common. Them and I, we both know what it is to walk home through the bush, the wet soaking into our shoes. So there’s that.

belated Anzac Day post

medieval lesbians (an extract) (a work in progress) (a nothing)

“Oh, Cecily, and what would your husband say,” Mary said, looking up at the roof and all the space in between. Cecily’s husband was a kind enough man most of the time but he could be cruel when he got jealous. Which happened every night or the other, because Cecily had big dark eyes that tempted men from all over.

“Say to what?” Cecily’s voice was soft and fine like silk. Her family had foreign blood in it, maybe from Spain, maybe Moor, Mary wouldn’t know. She sometimes thought of Cecily like a princess from a far off land, like a woman who would be told about in tales. Cecily spoke a little French, although the noblewomen laughed at her accent. Cecily spoke a lot of things.

“To the fucking.”

Cecily flushed deep. “This is not fucking. This is not the bull and the cow, Mary, we’re not two animals put out to rut. This is.” She breathed out and stretched. If she didn’t have her dress on then Mary would see the dark hair under her arms, the strong tug of muscle that housewives all had. Women were all so capable and hard, except when they got sick after childbirth or in the winter, retching and shivering their way to death. “This is like learning something new. Or the touch of a saint, maybe.” Mary could abide that if she had said it as a joke, a blasphemy perhaps, but there was no humorous pull to Cecily’s mouth, only the flush on her cheeks and neck.

“The saints don’t look like you.” And they never could. The saints were flat pictures that stared into Mary’s soul with their eyes like fish’s eyes. With their stories of being burned and walking miles and miles and miles until their feet split open, and all the strange proud things they did for God. Cecily wasn’t like that. Cecily had shape and roundness. Her eyes a hot dark night. Her hair a black snarl you could get trapped in. Mary wanted hair like Cecily’s – any hair but hers, all limp, shineless, the colour of dishwater. But it was all right because Cecily still seemed to like sitting beside her and talking to her of all the things she wanted to do and all the things she knew about. Teaching her to read. Saying things Mary hardly understood and then things Mary knew very deep in her stomach and bones.

“Well, I think you are a saint, Mary.” Cecily said something in the tongue that the churchmen used, which Mary didn’t want to ask about because she already bothered Cecily enough about enough things. Today at the church service she had tried not to ask Cecily if she could come back with her, knowing the men were needed at the lord’s court. She had waited and stayed silent and bit on the tip of her thumb, and hoped that Cecily would ask first with some cunning excuse. Cecily had not, though, so Mary hated herself and asked. Cecily was so much richer, and knew more words in more languages, and could put them down on paper, and Cecily was no doubt more properly devout than Mary, who was all sweating and unsure and loving when it came to God.

 

medieval lesbians (an extract) (a work in progress) (a nothing)

Whoops

I cough in the forty degree heat, dragging out a cold by getting drunk and smoking and not sleeping.

And her leg is hooked over mine and her body is small and warm. And my blood is half vodka, and my hands are in her hair, and I am sinking into some soft dark place. And earlier that night at a dinner party where I am the youngest by forty years a soft spoken gay man is telling me about how he fought for an AIDS memorial in Perth all through the 90s. And I am so hot on my face and throat as he is telling me this. And I am needing like an animal to be out on the street where it is cold and black and empty, away from this champagne, these walls, this melodic clink of forks, these quiet conversations that would be interesting if I could just get enough air into my lungs to reply. Later, though, my hands are in her hair and we watch the flies crawl quietly on my ceiling, and my breathing finally slows.

And a friend the next morning is telling me how she found her underwear, bloody pad attached, on the floor of the common room and she doesn’t remember taking them off and she doesn’t know if anyone saw and she says: “I want to die.”

And this is that liminal space we occupy: removing our bloody underwear, our heads floating to the ceiling when we are supposed to be making polite conversation with family friends, young women and our entwined legs.

And I am stumbling down Stirling Highway. I’m supposed to be finding my friends. I could take a side street and walk forever until I find the ocean and then I could walk into that. I am alone, clean, floating, made of white fire. Mary puts her cold hand on my burning forehead. Says: “drink some water, child.”

Whoops