Leaf

I read between the lines of my heart
While a red leaf floats like whisper upon my lap.
And is there any more clarity than before?
Only more conflict, more questions, more uncertainties.
Nothing like the delicate truth of trees, through time.
Dense, tedious heart, too many layers, too many possibilities.
Tome of inanity, I turn back the cover and close you up.
Leaf, teach me, teach me
To change colour, then just fall.

Morning

At Alexandra Gardens the fog hangs
like drapes from blushing trees.
I walk into its folds. I breathe
in a long time. It smells of
stone, stillness, mystery. It draws
deep into my belly, spreading
the bones. Letting go, I hear them
whisper:
Who was that? in her 
luxurious dress of silk

Threads

Is a connection man-made, like a highway?
Or is it preordained, like
To whom we were born?
Does it only run between us and
Real objects or people?
Things you can hear or see.
I think about the grandfather I'd
Never met whose spunkiness
Courses through my veins.
I think about the imaginary characters
Of my creative fiction that
Lie with me beneath a star-lit sky.
In religion faith is built
Upon the most profound bond ever.
One question leads to another:
Do we remember our former selves
Before this time period, before
Being in this body, on this journey, like a childhood memory,
Like the tail-end of a fitful dream?
Do we remember those we knew and loved
In these early lives?
Is there a spark of recognition when we see them today?
Is there a carry-over of old ties,
Like a relic, like an inheritance?
Come to think of it,
I must have been a forest-dweller
Bound endlessly to trees, and their shining leaves
To flowers
Birds
Ants 
Grass

On Foot in Fitzroy

The two-storey terrace houses
Have been conjoined
At their sides
A long time now
Their arched balconies 
Framing lit windows where
Love mingles with disappointment, and
Anguish dissolves into peace this
Is Fitzroy, Victoria the last trams 
For the day
Roll on here 
Past alleys of street art
Across the pain of the bar's 
Remaining patron
Asleep on the counter

Book review: The Scarlet Letter

“Truth is to power what fire is to wax, that’s why power and truth are mortal enemies,” says Bangambiki Habyarimana, a Rwandan author of the book, Pearls of Eternity.

The book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, is concerned with the relationship between these two adversaries, in whose battle we see inflict untold suffering upon the secrets-bearer when truth is subdued and power dominates, in the same way that freedom is the prize if truth wins.

The Scarlet Letter opens in the summer of 1642 in Boston, and is narrated in a third-person voice some two hundred years later, based upon inherited information. It is a time when the Massachusetts Bay Colony is of severe Puritan character, in which law and religion are indivisible, so that what is construed as sin is a naturally punishable offence. Against this backdrop a married woman, Hester Prynne, conceives a baby out of wedlock. Her sentence is to endure three hours of public ignominy on a scaffold in the heart of the market-place, and then to wear a scarlet letter “A” upon her breast for the rest of her life. Despite intense pressure to declare the name of the child’s father, she remains defiantly resistant.

Standing in the mid-day sun before the critical, grim judgement of the city’s inhabitants, Hester catches sight of her legally-wedded husband watching her from amidst the crowd. Two years ago, Roger Chillingworth, a scholar and physician had sent his beautiful wife from Amsterdam to Massachusetts to establish station, following their decision to emigrate, while he was himself delayed to attend to certain affairs. When he realises the nature of his spouse’s crime, as he enters the town, Roger Chillingworth is sworn to exact revenge — not on the fallen woman, but her accomplice.

Through a dramatic device the physically misshapen intellect unearths that the perpetrator of his wife’s temptation is a young, high revered minister of the parish, Arthur Dimmesdale. But, instead of publishing the sinner’s disgrace, Chillingworth perceives that the real agony of sin for the much-loved Reverend lies in the dread of its discovery.

In elegant, albeit rather dense, prose, Hawthorne describes the inmost condition of each of the four characters: Hester Prynne, (her daughter) Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. The action of the book rests not in incident but in the gradual manifestation of the people in the tale until they become totally transparent. We are asked to regard less of the plot and more of the substance, which skilfully finds semblance with our own most intimate nature under each circumstance.

The narrative crosses seven years, during which we read Hester’s thoughts as a pariah of society, watch little Pearl’s elfish, wayward growth, witness Dimmesdale’s rapidly withering health, under a cocktail of Chillingworth’s medicinal care and insidious psychological torture.

Towards the conclusion of the story, Hawthorne engages in the discourse of whether “hatred and love be not the same thing at the bottom.” He contends that each involves a high degree of heart-knowledge, each renders one party dependent for emotional sustenance upon another, and each leaves the lover/hater desolate by the other’s withdrawal.

At the end, this is a romance, whose form assumes the spontaneity of a flower unfolding from a force within, with a moral significance in which we learn that a sinner — rather than live a life of saintly deeds, or scourge himself — should be true, and openly accept his shame, otherwise be subjected to the power not only of those who take the law into their own hands, but also that in the load of secret guilt within his own heart.

Twenty- twenty

It's Sunday morning, so I go
for a walk on the lockdown streets.
First, down the footpath,
crossing a driveway, where
a black cab waits at the McDonald's window,
blowing white smoke,
a masked face peering out.

Then onto the avenue,
where a glossy sign advertises a mansion
for sale, where potted flowers are hanging
over balustrades, and moss climbs on trunks.
The sun is out but mist brushes against me,
like wool. I look at a yellow-painted house.
There is a wide-screen TV on the nature-strip.

On to Petrie Square and light filters
delicately through a stained-glass mural
where in a sea of blue Virgin Mary is holding infant Jesus.
A rain-drenched copy of Harry Potter
and the Goblet of Fire lies abandoned on the grass.
And at the corner of Alexandra Gardens, a night-globe
blinks off; it is seven o'clock.

The moon in daylight is a pleasure,
even if sometimes I think it is like
aspirin in a glass. I stop
to read a sign beneath a tree: a
bicentennial time capsule to be opened in 2088.
There are several people of colour
in the park today, which makes it cheerful and warm.

Somebody has stuck a red blossom
in the hands of a bronze sculpture
embracing his lover. Elsewhere,
art is serving a long sentence
and visitors are banned.
And so, one has had her constitutional,
and one strolls back,

past Charcoal Grill,
with menus of rump for takeaway
and the music posters now wasted
and the golf shop on its last days.
Two more corners and I am home. There,
my heart is waiting in these pages
by the window at my desk.

Review: A Canary for One

We all know he is a deceptively spare writer — Ernest Hemingway. The famous six-word fiction: For sale, baby shoes, never worn has been largely ascribed to him. And his complete collection of short stories, comprising 71 stout-hearted vignettes, is spread over just 650 pages.

This brevity is never diminutive in substance. It was Hemingway who coined the Iceberg Theory, the idea in which only one-eighth of the iceberg is shown to the reader, while the knowledge of the story that does not make it to the page forms the bulk of the iceberg.

In A Canary for One the bulk of the iceberg is a great unspoken irony that, deliciously revealed only in the last sentence, glows from amidst symbolisms of freedom and prejudice and relationships and reflections.

The tale follows an American male narrator, as he travels on an overnight train across France with his American wife and a fellow American woman-passenger. The middle-aged stranger shows off her caged-canary, which she bought from Palermo for her daughter who, back home in New York, has been nursing a broken heart ever since the mother tore her away from her Swiss boyfriend. “No foreigner can make an American girl a good husband,” the elder-lady is convinced. “Americans make the best husbands.”

Hemingway is a master of the metaphor. It is the instrument that hints at the leviathan beneath the surface. He uses the canary as a figure of speech here not merely for the young, unhappy woman robbed of her liberty to love, but simultaneously for the mother imprisoned in her own biases.

In an ingenious stroke, the author makes the latter vaguely deaf, an expression of an infirmity, if not to her child’s feelings, then to her own coloured views. And, despite an ostensible capacity to hear the bird singing, she is oblivious to what dynamic is reverberating between her companions.

As the train races through the night towards its destination, we realise (on hindsight) that the American couple, too, are trapped in the inexorable passage towards their marital predicament. Throughout the journey, no character is granted any reprieve.

But Hemingway is not interested in reprieves. Even the landscape past which the narrative careens grows more scarred by signs of crises. The story opens with the image of a wholesome house with a garden and tables in the shade, but soon brings us to witness a farmhouse on fire, bedding and things spread in the fields, before we encounter three rail-cars involved in a wreck.

Published in 1927 A Canary for One has been suggested by Hemingway scholars to echo the writer’s own personal life; for it was the same year when his marriage with Hadley Richardson came to an end. The notion this piece had been intended as an irony leads one to believe Hemingway had attributed the matrimonial rupture to himself — a poignant (probably honest) exercise in self-reflection and blame.

Like his other fiction A Canary for One is a substantive work that achieves multitudes through minimalism. Maximalism does not require copiousness; just think about the iceberg under the water.

Theatre review: Homer’s Odyssey

The image of captivity litters Homer’s Odyssey, and is keenly represented in Loucas Loizou’s staging of the Greek mythology, casting himself as Odysseus. The production unfolds within the ruins of an enclosure, its walls exposing crumbling brick and ancient decay, with no door or windows in sight. In this digital event, the camera is fixed throughout the 60-minute piece, so that we become another of his spectators gathering here every night to listen to the King of Ithaca, now an old man, tell the tales of his earlier days.

Interspersing his narrative with a series of (mostly original) songs, sung with the accompaniment of exquisite guitar-playing, Odysseus takes us from before the Trojan War to his eventual return home 20 years later. We all know the plot of this epic lore, but what counts in any adaptation is the emotional veracity exhibited by the actors; and, in this, Loizou excels, as he imagines and lets us into his character’s mind through music and story-telling.

Loizou is a passionate and talented singer-songwriter, who, as a Greek-Cypriot refugee since 1974, has himself a compelling background filled with adversity, resilience, and passion. His smooth, mellifluous voice shapes the inner world of this fabled figure, immersing us in Odysseus’ feelings and thoughts during his legendary adventures.

We encounter with him the harrowing episode with the Cyclopes, his departure from Circe, the amazing tunes of the Sirens; we muse over his seven love-making years with Calypso, recognise the generosity of Athena, and hear how he defeated the suitors vying for Penelope’s hand.

Without visual atmospherics, despite the dilapidated set and Loizu’s flowing-white gown and hair-dress, we miss the sweeping effects of this chronicle, which Loizou describes in contemporary language, with little literary flourish. But, no Odyssey is perfect. And this one is visceral, different, and good. If we have to spend our days captive in our own homes, hardly much else can rival being captivated by Loizou’s melodies that recount this timeless classic.

Theatre review: Shadow Piece-Alt. Shadow Love

Staging a play in which one or more characters is a shadow demands courage and cleverness. Indie artists, Antoinette Tracey and September Barker, take this adventurous route. They present Shadow Piece-Alt. Shadow Love at the Melbourne Fringe Festival as a digital event, taking the audience to the suburbs, rather than bringing the suburbs to the stage.

It is a balmy night. The single-fronted Victorian terrace would be inconspicuous by its familiarity had it not been for the second-storey lights and shadows behind the shades. Its ubiquity fits the universal nature of perceptions, relationships, and identity that are intricately layered here.

A Woman and a Man are having a heated argument, their black solid forms gesticulating wildly against the window coverings. In time, they find even ground and make up and go to bed. Tracey and Barker, themselves playing these parts, imbue the action with a mystic, surreal quality, that blurs the boundary between wakefulness and reverie, impression and reality. Scenes, in which the Woman finds herself interacting with a shadow, or when the Man confronts his partner’s alter-ego in a dream, weave a discombobulating spell.

This slice of life, without a definable plot, is depicted in a circular style. Bookended by the narrative, the work nestles its genesis in the middle act where we see Tracey and Barker conceive the creative concept with a group of friends. The combination of image, movement, sound illustrates the role of atmospherics and light and angle in affecting how the characters see each other, and see themselves, and, indeed, how the audience might in turn see them. Interestingly, because this is a filmed production, the cameraman wields considerable influence on our perspectives.

The drama is well acted, and the chemistry between The Woman and Man is convincing, although its intensity appears to be uneven as the story progresses. The enigma and ambiguity of the piece also makes it feel somewhat half-digested, not helped enough by the choice of music.

Yet, Shadow Piece-Alt. Shadow Love is worth watching, if only to witness Tracey’s nearly-ethereal dance towards the end when her independent Woman explores her relationship with the shadow of Barker’s Piano Man, her relationship with her circumstances, not least with herself.

It’s Like

Words that misunderstand the heart’s native language
The moon in daylight
An invitation that comes in the middle of the night
Loving with intelligence
A fireplace, tropical home
The sucking of a lung ventilator after the heart stops pumping
Into a candy-floss dawning sky columns of smoke billowing
The last chapter nobody reads because the plot is over
A sepia photograph faded beyond recognition
The honesty of the tide that returns all of its drowned
A single light at 3 A.M. on a second-storey room in an inky town
Hours spent at a tombstone
Savouring poetry as a hungry man eats
Wet socks
The rich rainforest, underneath which carcasses are boiling with weeping rocks
Reaching for the cookie-jar
The bait past which a fish swims
The only sound a vase ever makes striking the floor
An immaculate room with no windows or door
A granite blink
An empty chair in a family picture
A universe of falsehood
Unpacking in front of your kids a bag of tins from the centre for free food
A beautiful city that never gets dark
The brilliant stains of agony the sun shoots into the west as it slides off the sea
Wearing lipstick under a ski-mask
A shadow moving across a field without bending a blade of grass
A house, with one room permanently locked