landed on mars.

male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies?
up on a pedestal or down on your knees,
it’s all a male fantasy:
that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out,
or else too weak to do anything about it.
even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy:
pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own,
that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher
peering through the keyhole,
peering through the keyhole in your own head – if nowhere else.
you are a woman with a man inside watching a woman.
you are your own voyeur.

– m.a

countertop dancing.

the world is full of women
who’d tell me i should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. quit working so hard.
get yourself a child
stay home, make sourdough,
scrub the grout in the bathroom walls.
sell something, at a minimum wage,
instead of pulling 11 hours,
emails up to the neck, creatively
naked as a meat sandwich on a male-only butcher tray.
sell gloves, or something.
instead of what i do sell.

i look around here and realise
everyone here would actually understand.
the rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. but they go home
and look at themselves in the mirror, and realise they are
as bewildered as the next person.

some of my enemies
are tired just watching me, watching me
wall myself up
in my own body.
they’d like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.

Look — your feet are tiny, how do you walk?
you are so short, how did you get up there?
you think i’m not a goddess?
i am like a duck in water,
feet scurrying, a flurry, frantic, hidden
but look how i glide.

i am not done yet. i am not yet finished.

if you forget me.

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

. one of my favourites. pablo neruda.

maria cita.

i was a determined child.
inside busy shopping centers my mother would use me to remember where we parked the car,
or make our way back the way we came in
or to find my grandmother who’s fallen a step behind.

my favourite place was the National Bookstore. it was the biggest bookstore in the city.
i loved the colourful spines lined up neatly on the shelves
the quiet, carpeted aisles. the fact that
everyone, upon entry, just shut
the fuck up.

even then, at 8 or 9, my mother would say –
paulina. you have 20 minutes and 20 dollars. spend both wisely.
and saunter off to read Vogue magazines, or look at herself
in the mirror.

i would run to the Young Adult section (i was done with Picture Books at that stage),
grab the thickest books with the most vibrant covers
line them up on the beige, carpet floor
weigh one against the other in my hands, assess thickness
font sizes, the expressions on the characters’ faces on the front cover.

then i would run to mum with two in my hands, knees dimpled with carpet marks –
pull her face down so we could lock eyes –
woman. there’s a Buy One Get The Second for Half Price, ma
so even though i’m over budget, i am saving YOU
– pause –
money in the future.

AND! also,
i’ve given you my left over 6 minutes to decide.

she would snort and laugh,
red lipstick and teeth
tuck my hair behind my ear and buy me both.
we would catwalk to 1001 Ice Cream, get ourselves obscenely large scoops of everything,

buy shiny patent shoes, sing Like A Virgin
giggle mirthlessly in the car
when we drove past the school
that i was meant to be in that day.

five johnson

watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes),
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream will be muffled,
and none of your running will end.

love? be it man. be it woman.
it must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your whole body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the water. to love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

special person,
if I were you I’d pay no attention
to admonitions from me,
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
a word-collaboration.
i do not believe all the words i have said,
except the important ones. i think of you like a young tree
with pasted-on leaves and know you’ll grow
and one day the real green thing will come.

but its a gamble.
i do not have green thumbs, you see.

let go. let go.
oh special person,
i want to break crystal glasses
in celebration,
for you,
for when your old leaves fall off
and you become magnificent.

but who has the patience
or the stomach or the gamble,
to watch a tree grow.

dancing in mud.

youve travelled for miles to sit quietly next to me
in someone else’s vintage couch
both of us damp and cold from today’s angry rain
dripping off our hair and your beautiful linen suit and my borrowed dress.

i have a pack of wet cigarettes,
i have a pack of broken memories.
you bring me expensive gifts
and the promise of a house overlooking the mediterranean sea

i could take the words you pronounce like ancient poetry
wear them like a patchwork apron.
i could stick them in the washer, the drier,
and maybe some of the loss that only i can see
would float off like dirt?
perhaps down the sink i could rinse up the what-ifs.

besides – what a bargain – no expensive phone calls
no lengthy trips on planes in the fog
no lonely stretches of time wondering and wandering
no time-difference and language barriers or
acquiring blessings from a new batch of strangers.
blessing us. blessing us.

am I to bless the lost you,
sitting here with my clumsy soul?
i realise Propaganda time is over.
i sit here on the spike of truth.
no one to blame except the slippery fish of memory
that slides in and out of my brain
no one to hate except the acute feel of my floral dress
brushing my body like a light that has gone out.

it recalls the kiss we invented, tongues like poems,
meeting at 23, returning at 34, inviting, causing a fever of need.
the time lost when you could’ve given me what i needed,
the perfect you, the head to toe –
all to be broken and laid carefully in a waterproof container
and hidden in the darkness under my bed.

i sit here in silence while you ask me in your musical words –
dance life with me. and i think –
i must disembowel this and then set the heart, the legs,
the potential of you,
and ignite, as I was once ignited,
and let it whirl into flame,
reaching the clearing dusk sky
making it dangerous with its red.

found. august, 2009.


Once upon a time, during a windy Melbourne afternoon, a man and a woman arranged to meet in a bar. The bar was indecisive, a Libra perhaps – it was partly underground, half-buried within a monstrous gothic building in the middle of the grey city. The windows were on eye-level with the sidewalk; the view a flurry of woolen ankles and leather shoes.

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ said she. She had black hair and red lips, and eyes that looked weary as though they’d been forced shut for days. ‘But we must,’ said the man, who looked nervous in his seat and his suit. There was a plate of broken-up bread in between them and two glasses of red wine, like a modern day Last Supper for two. It was a late Friday afternoon, and the bar was taking deep breaths in the silence, readying itself for the swarm of after-hours mess.

The man and the woman were afraid of what lay beyond the murder of their so-called love affair. She had just found out that he had slept with an 18-year old brunette bartender on the night of their one-year anniversary. He was interstate for work, and he was saturated with apologies for being away for the occasion. ‘You know I’d rather be there celebrating with you,’ he said on the phone when he called to say Happy Anniversary. ‘I’d give my right toe to be there. I’m just about to head out and have a quiet meal with a mate. I’m so sorry my darling.’ His voice so lovely and warm. ‘I’ll call you tomorrow. I’ll make it up to you when I get back, I promise.’

The girl with the black hair picked him up at the airport the following evening, a little pouty but excited. He arrived like the Sultan of Brunei, tanned and smiling and sparkly-eyed, bearing gifts of jewels, dresses and books she knew she’d never read. She accepted them freely as they were offerings of apology and she thought it rude to reject gifts of any shape or form, especially if they were justified. She did not know then how far this silent apology went.

In fact, there were too many gifts, also too many answers to questions that were hasty and flippant. Too many muffled phone calls and hidden text messages. And an abundance of affection, more so than ever before. She had watched enough movies to see the signs of betrayal and guilt. She was, after all, an imposter-writer and writers are trained to sniff other people’s unwashed lives; study what makes people do what they do. Writers, she thought, embellish all that with poetry, obsess over acts of grief and punishment, how people succumb to temptation, and how they arrive at their decisions.

She was known to be devotedly stubborn, and it was this fanatical perseverance that saved her during that week. She was determined to ignore the heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach, so determined that she booked dinner at a very expensive, very new restaurant she’d been dying to go to – a belated anniversary dinner – and even bought herself a lovely red dress and killer heels to match. She drank too much champagne and it was a lovely, blur of an evening. They toasted and toasted ‘for many more to come.’

The girl with the red lips had asked him that very morning, snakelike and blatant – is there something you should be telling me? It sounded somewhat like a scolding, she could almost see herself standing over him with her hands on her waist, one eyebrow raised, reprimanding his petulance. And it was the realisation that she was right that winded her, and for once she had nothing to say.

His barely audible recounting of events hardly made its way into her ear. It hung in the abyss of phone lines and electricity, like the white dots you see when you close your eyes. She sat cross-legged on her bed, in her empty apartment overlooking the very building they were in now. She sat there in silence, cradling the phone in one hand, her weary, angry heart in the other.

Now here they were, sharing a meal half-underground, attempting to band-aid the damage with red wine. The sound of the thread snapping, the thread that connected them, was ringing loud in her ear. The only thing clear that wintery afternoon was the murkiness of what they would do after. ‘I can’t even look at you right now’, she hissed. ‘You can get it all out of your system if you like, if that would make you feel like a better person.’ The man loosened his tie and emptied his glass in two gulps.

Like everything to do with affairs that end badly within that stretch of time before you find true love, there is a staining that must occur in the human heart. She knew the lesson that had to be learnt, and knew that every woman has to sort through the shit to get to the prize. Which is why she admits the best writing she’d ever done were out of anger, and why she calls Wuthering Heights ‘a romance novel’. And why she studies with piercing concentration the face creams her mother had told her to buy, in the privacy of her immaculately clean bathroom. Lord knows she may have a good decade of shit-sorting ahead of her until she finally gets to The One. We can also go as far as to say, the girl almost feels a tingly sort of pleasure from the drama that begins and ends with heartache. It makes her feel alive, like when you’re laughing so hard your stomach hurts and you’re fighting for breath.

She looked up from the plate of bread and sad-looking dips and out the window, feeling the cold beginning of an ending in the air. The dirty teeth and stained lips after red wine. The punishment for not being beautiful enough. The jumping into the wrong relationships to avoid being alone. This is an inevitable thing, and for her, it began early. ‘No, dear, its just because you fall in love with all the wrong men’, her mother once said, waving her right hand in front of her face, bursting the lazy trail of smoke from the cigarette in her mouth. ‘You follow your heart too much, and not your pretty head.’ And yet the punishment was for something far more obscure than a simple failure to be more beautiful. And the punishment laid the groundwork for what she wanted and what she didn’t ever want, out of men, about herself, out of love. It was a lose and wobbly see-saw of losing and learning.

The girl had the sudden urge to climb up on top of the couch and reach out the window. She wanted to grab an ankle or two, drag the person attached to them through the hole on the wall, and make them sit in this dungeon of a bar bruised and bewildered. She’d pin their arms down, force their jaw towards this man’s face, telling them – look! Look at this creature trying to break my heart.

The man lifted an arm to wave the waiter over for another drink, and she snapped out of it and stood up. She noticed then how his arms were too tight for his suit jacket, how his hair was thinning from the crown. He was staring up at her expectedly, a little surprised and a little scared it seemed, like a puppy left out in the rain. This made her feel sorry for him. He was waiting for a drilling of some sort, a spray of female emotions: public tears, long, loud, painful breaths. She was sure her silence confused him, and it was delicious and annoying at the same time.

She put on her coat and walked away, up the cold flight of stairs and out into the bustling street full of people breaking free from office buildings. She walked past the window of the bar and realised that if they were in a movie, he’d be watching her walk away, in slow motion perhaps, she looking wonderful from behind with the wind through her hair.

Instead, he had looked up and out the window. He watched the flurry of feet, left to right, right to left, trying to get from one place to another.

He had no idea what shoes she was wearing.

begin this way.

you sit there in a disheveled room,
in your home that was once the core of the sun.
there is a draught seeping in through the windows,
and you are chilled to the bone from failure.

fragments of your life is floating in your eyes
the yellow wall is blending into the white sheets
into the wooden side-tables into you
so you stop and chew everything into bite-sized pieces.

you begin this way, then:
this is your hand,
this is the silver ring your mother gave you in Sydney when you were 16,
and you’ve worn it everyday since.

this is a red painting
you bought on a drunken whim with your best friend
at an art fair from an artist who was flirting with the both of you.

this is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever you like.
this is the precipice of your next life.
this is the look of uncertainty.

outside the window
is grey concrete. before that, it was a wooden fence
that was low enough to let summer in.
and beyond that the trees and then the world,
which is round and once had rules and plans and structure
and you get to Point B from Point A
using colours you’re familiar with.

this is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to decipher than I have said.

you are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns. is vibrant,
is alive, is dying at the same time.

you learn the words End, and Hope,
and Heartache and Fear.
you roll each of them around on your tongue and
gag and spit and swallow.

once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can actually re-learn.

the word Hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
the phrase You and I
does a somersault in your mouth

it begins, and it has infinitely many ends.
you and i are ending but separately we are also beginning
and your heartache and my heartache i can now see
like my hand pressed hard against your heart

we look at each other in silence
like two friends who went through war, and
after all the tears there is a tiny upturn of the mouth
because we know we will survive.

this is the world,
which is round and has more colors
than we can see.

this is your hand
a warm stone
i hold between two words.

the feels.

just stop for a second.
stand there, and breathe in all the things
that make you feel in this life.

a good, thunderous laugh
a hidden, suffocating cry
or when both are fused together and your heart is in your mouth
and your mouth is in your heart.

choosing that one human being
to be your person, or standing very still
while someone revolves around the makeup of you.

the relief that washes over you,
or exhaled through your pores, after letting go
of something or someone or some older version of yourself.

tuck these close into the deep corners of your pockets,
the crevices of your spine, the folds behind your knees,
so that you may always stand tall in the belief

that no matter how you wake up tomorrow,
or that noone would ever know –
some sort of magic is a-flicker and breathing

in what’s here, and in what’s now
and in what’s deep inside of you.

a letter written on the back of an uber at 5 am

i am surprised to see
that the city is still going on.
now i am soaring through the streets
as though someone has hit MUTE
and i realise with outstanding clarity
that for the last few months
i’ve been trying to rip my hand
from your hand, the rollercoaster has gone round and round
and i am starting to realise i’ve outstayed my welcome.

yet i have made it this far
as i said i would
and i am on a back of a silent Honda
holding my wallet, my cigarettes
and my house keys
at 5 o’clock on a sunday morning
in october of 2016.

dearest,
although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.
i am frightened that perhaps my sea is very old.
the sea is the face of you and i,
and i am starting to see that it is without miracles
or rage or unusual hope,
grown rough and tired
with incurable age.

still,
look at us try. i look outside the window
at the half-light of Melbourne,
my hands that hang by my knees
my stomach filled with Manhattans
a lifeboat that wears
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf
saying LIFE PRESERVER.

Oh, alright, i say,
i’ll save myself? is that what you mean?