by Philip Larkin
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
by Philip Larkin
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Melbourne went into a hard lockdown. Restrictions included a curfew between 8pm and 5am, a requirement to stay within a 5km radius of your home unless you were a worker with a permit to be outside of that radius, and you could only leave your home for one hour per day for exercise and one hour for errands such as grocery shopping.
Children had to stay at home and return to remote learning, parents had to work from home if possible, retail and hospitality venues closed and there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.
It has been eleven weeks, and from today, restrictions will ease a little. Because unlike Europe, our State government took extreme action. Difficult action, yes. Action with consequences for business, for workers, and for mental health. Absolutely.
Lockdown has not been easy. I don’t pretend that it has. But the alternative, tens of thousands of cases per day, is incomprehensible.
And now, as we ease slowly into a covid-normal summer, everything is waiting for us.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
Fate, Federal Court, Moon
by Anne Carson
The fate of the earth. The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of Faisal. The fate of the court where Faisal will plead his case. The fate of the court’s bias. Every court has a bias. It sifts to the surface gradually. The fate of whomever we drink to after court. The fate of that branch of mathematics that deals with ‘dead-end depth’. The fate of Yemen where Faisal will probably never return. The fate of the engineering job Faisal had in Yemen before the events in question. The fate of the ‘simple random walk’ and its difference from the ‘homesick random walk’, concepts from a mathematics textbook I read once about dead-end depth. The fate of Montreal where Faisal lives now. The fate of his family, the ones still alive, back in Yemen and the fate of the bridal couple, still alive, whose wedding was the target of the drone pilot (a mistake). The fate of the others, not still alive (a mistake). The fate of the moon that rose over us as we drove through the mountains of Pennsylvania to be present at Faisal’s day in court. The fate of the silveriness of the moon that no words can ever describe. The fate of the bright sleepless night. The fate of our phones, which we decide to take to the courthouse at 9 a.m. and relinquish at the door. The fate of two guys doing a job interview in the cafeteria where we stop for coffee on the way to courtroom 31. Been around the block, says one guy. Army does the billing, says the other guy. The fate of so many men in suits and ties. The fate of being lost in marble corridors. The fate of being much too early at courtroom 31. The fate of the knot of lawyers who surround Faisal as he enters in a new suit. The fate of congratulating him on his new suit. The fate of his smile. His smile is great. The fate of the numerous clerks who pour glasses of water for the judges and generally fuss around. The fate of the appellant whose case precedes Faisal’s, which concerns a warrant ‘so lacking in probable cause’ that [something to do with ‘Garcia’] [something to do with gangs and ‘a constitutional path’]. The fate of the pearls worn by Judge Dillard, who sits on the far right of the bench, which curve like teeth below her actual teeth. The fate of straining to hear what Faisal’s lawyer, with his back to us, says to the judges. The fate of him perhaps saying that the government is asking the court to refrain from judging, asking the court to step back without knowing what it is stepping back from. The fate of proportionality, a matter of context. The fate of what is or is not a political question. The fate of the precedent called ‘al Shifa’, with which everyone seems familiar. The fate of a publicly acknowledged programme of targeting people who might be a danger to us. The fate of inscrutable acronyms. The fate of me totally losing the thread of the argument as we distinguish ‘merits’ from ‘standing’. The fate of what Faisal is seeking, which is now given as ‘declaratory relief’ (new phrase to me). The fate of ‘plaintiffs who have no chance of being harmed in the future due to being deceased’, a wording that gives pause. The fate of how all this may depend on her pearls, her teeth. The fate of the sentence, ‘We are really sorry, we made a mistake,’ which Judge Dillard utters in a hypothetical context but still it’s good to hear. The fate of the government lawyer who is blonde and talks too fast, using ‘jurisdictional’ many times and adding ‘as the relief sought is unavailable’. The fate of wondering why it is unavailable to say, ‘Sorry’. The fate of Judge Dillard’s invitation to the government lawyer to tell the plaintiff how he might ‘exhaust all administrative avenues of redress’, as the government claims he should have done before bringing this case. ‘Where would he go?’ Judge Dillard asks with apparent honest curiosity. ‘If you were he, where would you go?’ The fate of our bewildered conversation afterwards about why she said this, whose side she is on, what she expects Faisal’s lawyers to do with it now. The fate of the tuna sandwiches eaten with Faisal while debating this. The fate of his quietness while others talk. The fate of his smile, which seems to invite the soul, centuries ago. Serving tea, let’s say, to guests. The moon above them. Joy. The fate of disinterestedness, of joy, of what would Kant say, of not understanding what kind of thing the law is anyway, for example in its similarity to mathematics, for they both pretend to perfect objectivity but objectivity is a matter of wording and words can be, well, a mistake. The fate of the many thoughts that go on in Faisal when he is quiet, or the few thoughts, how would I know? The fate of the deep sea diver that he resembles, isolated, adrift. The fate of him back in his kitchen in Montreal next week or next year, sitting on a chair or standing at the window, the moon by then perhaps a thin cry, perhaps gone. The fate of simplicity, of randomness, of homesickness, of dead ends, of souls. Who can say how silvery it was? Where would he go? Sorry?
Published in the London Review of Books
Vol. 39 No. 6 · 16 March 2017
I was once given this poem as the introduction to a writing exercise. Write or re-write a paragraph of your work-in-progress beginning every sentence with the fate, our tutor said. Notice how commencing with these words changes the way you shape your story. Notice what impact fate has on your narrative.
I do not like fate. I refuse fate. I want to scream at fate to fuck off.
I do not want to think about the fate of the earth, the fate of me. I especially do not want to think about the fate of you.
I do not like fate having an impact on my narrative.
And yet. Here we are.
The fate of me. The fate of you. The fate of the hospital where you are having your chemo. The fate of the doctors. The fate of the nurses. The fate of the specialists who are administering your treatment. The fate of the apartment in our COVID capital. The fate of the foundation that’s provided our accommodation. The fate of my psychologist who keeps asking “are you eating?” but how could I be eating? The fate of the words intensive protocol, neurotoxicity, and treatment related complications. The fate of having to learn another medical language in the middle of a pandemic after already learning the language of the pandemic. The fate of how all of this depends on limited evidence.
And so, I say.
Fuck fate. Fate will not shape my story. Or yours.
The Room of Ancient Keys
by Elena Mikhalkova
Grandma once gave me a tip:
During difficult times,
you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future,
not even what might happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Take off the dust.
Write a letter.
Make some soup.
Do you see?
You are moving forward step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Get some rest.
Take another step.
Then another one.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow
bigger and bigger.
And time will come
when you can think about the future
I sleep with lights on
Always afraid of the dark
But I’ll follow you
Many years ago, I took my then-boyfriend to the zoo for his birthday. It wasn’t just the zoo though. It was Roar and Snore, an overnight behind-the-scenes zoo experience. The Sydney skyline twinkled on the other side of the bay. Our evening began with crocodiles and crudites, as we shared a few drinks with the rest of the group who’d also committed their night to glamping in the middle of winter, while zookeepers paraded a series of small reptiles around us.
There was a night safari tour of the nocturnal animals including the big cats but my favourite part of the weekend was the private giraffe feeding, early the next morning before the zoo opened. I lined up, took the carrot the zookeeper gave me, and waited my turn.
I was so excited it was all I could do not to squeal. I have loved giraffes for as long as I can remember; when I was seven, I wrote a story about having a pet giraffe named Joe. As I approached the stall, the giraffe stretched his neck down to where I stood and wound his long purple tongue around the carrot I was holding.
Wait, what? Purple?!
Well, blue-ish purple.
I was 32 when I learned that giraffes have purple tongues (and no-one really knows why), a fact which still brings me exquisite joy today.
And so when a friend shared this poem with me a few years ago, it went immediately into my list of favourites. Bryony Littlefair uses the imagery of a giraffe beautifully and beguilingly as a euphemism for happiness but I also know that true happiness is feeding a giraffe.
by Bryony Littlefair
When you feel better from this — and you will — it will be quiet and unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will be the slow clearing of static from the radio. It will be a film set when the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. When you feel better, it will be like walking barefoot on cool, smooth planks of wood, still damp from last night’s rain. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops dripping. The moment a map finally starts to make sense. When you feel better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy, have handlebars. When you feel better, you will not always be happy, but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
When my step-daughter turned 21 last year, I wrote this poem in her guest book as well as a personal note; the world is at least half terrible — I said in a part of it echoing Maggie’s line — which means it’s also half good. Your job is to make your world beautiful.
We are in the middle of an uprising right now and what we see are people who tired but are still trying to make our world beautiful. Black lives matter.
COVID-19 has increased our connection via the internet; zoom catch-ups and social media interactions. The death of George Floyd has tipped a breaking point and challenged the systems of white supremacy in a way not seen on a world wide scale before. More and more people are vocal; black lives matter.
There have been civil rights protests in the USA for years, taking different forms. But the urgent request from Black people to be treated as equal, as though their lives matter, has gone largely ignored by the white population who benefit from the systems that were set up by whites to favour whites.
In Australia, we have a similar issue. And if we don’t resolve it now, we will still be experiencing the same dysfunction and loss of Aboriginal lives from police brutality and inequality in healthcare in another 200 years. We need to pay attention to what has been brought to our attention over and over again. We need to listen, we need to understand and we need to act. We need a treaty. Black lives matter.
If you want to know more about what that means, please check out the following site.
It’s a weird time to be a human. The death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the continued fight against racism. Then we get zombie fires. Murder hornets. And a virus that has gripped the world. People are arguing about the ferocity of it, the origins of it, the meaning of it. But while we argue, the virus continues its course, infecting whomever it comes into contact with.
Australia has had relatively restrictive lock-downs, many of which have eased in recent weeks but with the easing, we’ve seen a rise in infections, particularly in my home state of Victoria. Travel bans that have been in place for months were rolled back at the beginning of June. At the same time those restrictions eased, so too, did the number of people allowed to congregate in people’s homes. It’s this family gathering that has seen infections spike, soaring back into double digits within the state.
This seems low when compared with somewhere like the United States of America, or the United Kingdom, or Europe but when you consider that until a couple of weeks ago, national infections were in single digits, it’s a worrying rise. As a result, last Sunday night, the Victorian government reduced the number of people allowed to gather in a single home from twenty back to five.
Chronic health issues and an autoimmune condition mean I have a moderate – high level of risk of complications should I become infected. I’ve been living in a bubble since March and have no real interest in leaving it. But it’s G’s birthday today and I had insisted he not revoke the week of annual leave he’d booked in November last year. It’s not our normal overseas holiday but it’s a much-needed break from work.
So we’ll make the most of it while we can and I’ll go back into isolation on Sunday. It’s his birthday today but I’m the one celebrating because on this day my favourite person in the world was born. Happy Birthday, lover!
A friend I haven’t heard from in a while got in touch today. Our contact is sporadic but consistent. I have loved him in all the ways it’s possible to love someone over the last 21 years. I love him still. He’s had a rough month; a sliver of the hard news, his cat passed away in his arms a few weeks ago.
I once wrote a poem about her. Or about him. Or about us. Whatever it was about, it was called:
His cat is whoring herself
out to anyone
with a warm lap.
She chews on a belt loop
and looks up
when prodded to stop.
She sighs, stands, turns around and
returns to sleep.
It is surreal
or perhaps just
to think that life could be
She wakes again
murmurs and bathes
without leaving my lap.
Circa September 2010
Sleep, baby Piper. You were loved. You will be missed.
And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost.
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.