Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crashing and circling

A few weeks ago, as I opened my bag up in the train and a pantry moth escaped, I dashed it against my trousers. And so why the regret -- why the pain when, after moving to the door so that I could get out at the next station, I turned back to see it circling the spot that I'd left -- crashing and circling and crashing? All the way walking past the stationary people on the escalator -- all the way in the queue at the exit gates -- pushing through the crowd at the corner of the street so that I might jay walk when I wanted to -- all the way walking into the lift when the lift doors opened and riding in silence to the second top floor, I kept thinking of that circling moth in the empty spot that I'd left, but also trying not to think about it, because who wants to think about one of those tiny pesky moths for hours and hours or even days?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Three seers

Three seers, if you like, or three seekers: the tiny, rectangular old man, possibly newly arrived from a China Southern airbus -- the one who was pushing a trolley of suitcases on the narrow feeder to the ring road when we left the airport behind him; the one whose purple-skinned fingers were pulling at the wires at the back of a burst-apart analogue television in the gutter opposite when we parked; the narrow-faced, white-haired one who, only a week earlier, had blurred one word into another, not from dementia -- or perhaps also that -- as she developed the most beautiful stories of envy and longing from the glass of red wine she had been given at the door.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Today I found that my father, who is still my father, has lost the feel of talking, although he still talks.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Remnants of personal pronouns

When the lesson was over, I told my colleagues in the staffroom that I had just heard from a student about how, when he was in his final year of high school at the end of the Iraqi war (that is, in 2005), the students had killed their teachers. I said that we had been discussing education systems in preparation for the essay topic: compare the education system in your country to the one in Australia, and it was when we had got to the bit in the task that asked them to describe whether the system of the country they'd been born into could be called a formal system or an informal system that the student had told us about the killings. I described to my colleagues, who always liked to hear these kinds of stories, I knew, about the way my student had said that they had first killed the Chemistry teacher, and then all the teachers who taught the senior subjects -- six in all -- and, in more detail: that it was when the Chemistry teacher had stepped forwards in public, as the student put it, that he had been shot. At this point, there was some confusion amongst my colleagues. What had I meant by step forwards, one of them asked. But I found I was unable to answer her, since I hadn't asked the student, and that in fact, as the student had been talking, I'd got the impression of two distinct but incompatible scenarios: one with all of the teachers standing in front of the students, but on a slightly higher platform than their soon-to-be-killers (such as on a wooden stage at the front of a meeting hall), and the other (since the killings had been in public, as the student kept insisting) outside in the dust of the street -- with the kids bringing the teachers right to the edge of the roadway in front of the school, and so putting on some sort of public trial the teachers who, until this moment of apparent freedom after the war, had always been strict, unfriendly and had failed most of them (as my student had said), which had stopped them from being able to go to university (this same student, I told my colleagues, had earlier told us about the brutal way, when he had only been ten years old, a teacher had slammed his face into the blackboard and sunk her teeth into his head because he had leaked, without thinking, the questions of a test to a cousin). I said too that, after the student had told us all this, another Iraqi student in the class had tried to soften the edges of our incredulous questions by saying we should understand that when the first student had said the word kill he didn't mean kill -- definitely he will mean something else, the second student had said, not kill (although the first student, of course, had insisted that everything he'd said was true -- and that he had been living in Baghdad, while the other had not). I even realised then in the classroom as I was listening, I said, that the first student had made it very hard to believe him because the whole time he'd been talking he had been smiling (and almost laughing) -- this compulsive need he had to smile as he talked, which should have made it impossible to believe a single word that he said but, instead, had seemed to make it all the more unavoidable and true, as if it were only a distorted lump of something that it had been been his job to place before us -- his odd and rough but hilarious job. In the staffroom someone, then, had observed that, over the years she had taught, there were always so many stories like these being dropped into classroom discussions about the ordinary, dry and generally predictable and earnest topics that our textbooks suggested -- and that from this she had concluded that most of our students had stories like these to tell but, also, that they only occasionally let them fall -- dropping them into talk about the levels of government, or public health provision -- and either with no emotion at all or otherwise the most odd, foreshortened, glimpse of something that was hard and shrunken, nearly dead. After all, she said, these accounts that are dropped like this are not novels or movies with their arcs of sentiment but only the shards of things -- just broken bits of moments that have been reflected onto the sides of some god-awful fact that we are only given so that the person who tells it might have a chance to relieve themselves of that object (just for a moment), which we are invited to look at but never absorb -- that the feelings in the student about that object had long since escaped or been pressed into a grimace -- and hence all we could do was to suspend what we, as teachers, had been going to say for the time of the student's telling, which always made it so difficult to go on with the lesson afterwards. Of course her saying this about the continuity in the lesson made me recall with no inconsiderable embarrassment that, after the first of the two Iraqi students had said that for the rest of their final year, with the other teachers dead, he and the others had been taught by the junior school teachers, and that none of these junior school teachers had been any good -- the students still failing their exams -- that even at the crumbling end of the Iraqi student's story I had found myself saying something completely inane about the difficult things that all of us carry -- how hard it must to be to bear such memories, I had said as well -- such being the useless clich├ęs I had come out with (as I was thinking, but didn't have the guts tell my colleagues) -- all of this unfelt nonsense about the things we carry (as if our heads had arms). I went on to tell them, though, that in the end all I could do was to move right along to the parts of the task that I needed to cover that day: and consequently how I'd got the students to write down their contrasting points in two columns, so that all we had had to hear that morning might fit into the constraints of the well-planned essay -- that the story about the teachers might be further leached of feeling, stripped of even the remnants of personal pronouns, and shoved in, too, with all the more pre-known material about classrooms that the other students had come up with, and thus become the requisite block of writing that is built on through a chaining of transition markers -- that block of writing that is known to all who teach it as the model essay paragraph: that is, a paragraph with a topic sentence, then ones with supporting evidence, and a concluding statement -- where the concluding statement functions as a link to the paragraph (and argument) that follows it on the next indented line.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

And who can avert their eyes?

I'm sure that the only reason I thought he resembled Prince William was because the news had been everywhere yesterday about the new baby Charlotte -- and who can avert their eyes? -- the prince in the features of the red-hooded, slack-jawed man lying sideways with his tracky-dack legs on the seat across the aisle in the train -- his eyes hardly open, his skin at the jowls knobbled, raw -- his too pink too thin too wet-looking lips hanging open in a crescent that had been rested on its front -- these lips, I've been thinking, which must have been the only feature in common (no matter that I have never seen the prince with his mouth like this), since nothing else of the man was visible -- no hair, no forehead, no ears -- and the skin, which was pale as an expensive plate, was obviously suffering too much from the grease at the rim of the hooding to have ever have been placed alongside in a similar set.

When the ticket inspectors stopped at his seat, it was impossible not to hear how there had been so many people at the barriers at Central asking for money that he hadn't wanted to take out his wallet -- that instead he had walked through the gate for the disabled and prams -- nobody stopping him -- and that it had been important to rest right now because he was going to the gym and he shouldn't overdo it -- to lose some weight -- and as he took out a wallet that was furred on the inside with unreadable receipts -- he had left, he said, his I. D. in a taxi -- one of the inspectors had asked about the gym -- which weights was he doing? -- the circuits? -- was any of it helping? (as if a friend) -- and somehow, like this, he pulled from the hood an address, a name (the spelling) -- by which time the man was saying he was feeling that he might have a heart attack or something.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Glad they had done what they'd done to the garden

Now that the days are greying and cooling despite the heat I've been remembering those times when I've watched from too great a remove, such as when those people ahead of me in the queue at Woolworths had managed to get the woman at the till to tell them about how a lightning strike had cracked straight down into her garden in Woodford the evening before -- and how there had been a terrifying ten or more minutes when she and her husband had thought that their free roaming peacock had died -- the storm was that bad -- but then Matey had come honking through the sheets of rain when they went out looking -- and how her husband had been glad that they had done what they'd done to the garden so they could make the most of the rain -- the folding of her hands as she waited for the people to pay even as they were smiling and nodding. But then she to me: do you have fly buys? And me: no.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

That I had a horror of this burial

When we sorted out the pieces of clothing in the bag we were putting into the charity bin -- it was too late to sort them properly -- too late to do more than check the inevitable, as I'd said -- I saw that our daughter was dumping the gray skirt with the bright red lining that I had worn for my grade three ballet exam -- that and the muslin apron, with its three or four rows of zigzag applique -- two pieces of clothing, or at least dress ups, that our daughter couldn't have fitted into for so many years -- and you said to me, then, as soon as I described what they were, that I could take them out of the bag if I wanted to. But I said no.

As we walked away from the bin, I told you that years ago I had realised, too late, that she had dumped a couple of tiny rubber dolls that my mother had played with before the second world war, and how distressed I had been to realise this -- how it still distresses me -- even now as I write, and for no reason that I can fathom -- but still, all the same, that I had known I should send the skirt and the apron into the chute -- what else was I to do with them? -- that if this part of me had its way, I would be buried under the profusion, under the mountain of useless objects that connected me to my past -- so completely buried I would not be able to move -- that I had a horror of this burial, even as I had a horror of the loss, of the gaping wound from the place where each of these objects had been torn from me, these wounds that will never heal, no matter than it has been years since, unknowingly, I had cast those small rubber dolls into a similar bin.

But, as you had seen, I said, when I had come across the piece of crushed blue velvet that my mother's childless and wheezing childhood friend had given me at the door of my grandmother's place, when they had both been alive -- this piece of useless velvet that I have never known what to do with and that was squeaky to touch, not even very nice -- I had removed it from the bag -- the red lined ballet skirt and apron going into the bin but the velvet staying out and having to be carried home. There being no sense to any of this, I told you -- will I even be glad about what I have done today? -- and you: as you usually do, you said it was up to me.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sweet and innocent, childish colours

As we walked past the colourful coke ad at the bus stop -- the one with the cans ranged in sweet and innocent rows, as she called them -- in sweet and innocent, childish colours -- my friend told me about the woman who had called out for help with the coke can that was stuck in the side of her pram -- this coke can that the woman was having trouble getting out because she had no hands or wrists, and in place of ankles, a metal bar in each of her shoes -- and how it had been the metal bars that my friend had first noticed as she passed the woman who was worrying at the sides of her pram, the dark metal bars of her legs at an angle -- this woman who in that furred way of someone who might have been drunk but perhaps only helpless and annoyed at the allotment of words she'd been given at birth had called out for help in retrieving what turned out to be a half-empty can of coke, and whose baby all the while was lying on its back in the pram, apparently happy. My friend then told me that for the whole day after this she had been unable to forget that she had helped the woman get her can of coke -- her standard coloured can of coke -- and that it had made her sick, for some reason, to think that she had done this -- why should it make her sick -- why on earth? And the only thing my friend had been able to say to the woman at the time, she said, was about the baby: something about it being beautiful. Which it was.