By pauline


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it is as though she was melted
carefully down for you 32 years ago
and recreated to fit the broken pieces
or yet-to-be filled spaces of you.

she has always been there, my darling.
i realise now she is, in fact, exquisite.
my intricacies you once found fascinating
have all been momentary.

i was a bright red brush stroke on your canvas.
hair rising like smoke from the car window
snacks in your glove compartment, coconuts,
plans, work, medical bills, display suites and expensive finishes.

she is more than that.
she is your have to have,
the selfless part of you, the freedom to my restraint,
the non-judgemental, the early-mornings. she is all harmony.

she sees spain as a place of adventure and future.
i see it as nostalgia and tipsy siestas, old art.
she will place wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
will volunteer time that i never have,
provide you with honey-coloured children
all done by the grace of the sun and not a test in sight.

saturday morning i woke
from a night of restless sleep,
from angry selfishness, a night of comparison, a valium.
i lifted my face up to the warmth of the morning sun
and gave you back your heart.

i give you permission –
for the fuse inside her, throbbing,
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
who is hungry for all of you.

she is so clear and singular
she is the sum of yourself and your dream.
climb her like a monument, step after step.
she is solid. she is all you.

begin this way.

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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.

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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

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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.

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.

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

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

i go you go, my dear.

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when two people make a vow to each other,
on wet grass and on soft hay and with rain that form round beads
on our hair and the shoulders of suit jackets and on the tips of our noses –
that is important, my dear.

when your tears mix with the rain on your eyelashes
and your hair starts sticking out of your head, and your toes curl into themselves
that is incredibly important, you see?
because you will never see again the way she looked at him whilst she said important words
and the way he squeezed her hand real tight,
and we all disappeared, like a needle to balloon –
blop! pop! pop!
and it was just him and it was just her,
on that beautiful, drizzling hill.

when someone asks how you are, and deep within your belly
you hear a little sigh stir deep in the wool-blanket of happiness,
allow yourself to lean in and feel honesty gurgle in your throat.
if your friend is good, and if she is wise,
she’ll see the small bubbles of truth float out of your mouth
and bounce softly across the ceiling, twinkling against the fairy-lights.
she will look up, and squint, and read them all,
and she will nod, and understand.

its ok to fall for things, you see.
inanimate objects set them up, love sets them up,
too much punch sets them up.
its ok to run around in the rain with someone you’ve just met,
do headstands, absolutely no questions have coffee right here, right at this very minute.
be angry when you’re hungry, sigh loudly inappropriately,
feel a heavy peace during loss.
sing, i say,
and dance, for goodness sake,
like absolutely everyone you know is watching.

week ten.

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at least you and i
had a lovely walk along the beach.

you felt how hot the sand was underneath my city toes
you smelt how different the air was in that part of the world
and you saw how much people wanted you.

you little bean,
our strange fruit and vegetable seedling
how you fought with what you were given
(or did you fight at all?)

i died seven times in those two days.
all the people trying to see how you were –
through my veins, through my skin, through my legs, through maths, through computers,
through a make-shift floorlamp that wouldn’t bend the way he wanted it to.

and when you left, there was a sudden emptiness
like popping a balloon – so present and whole,
then pain, then numbness, then air.

my mother’s words whispered fiercely in my ear
as she clutched my head against her womb.

there were no instructions for after.
at the start there were trees.
folders upon folders of paperwork, and books, and letters, and forms.
your last chapter was printed on a double sided A4 page
and silent messages that said ‘it happens to everyone’.

you, the never acquired
the never developed, the never photographed.
the silent grief because noone wants a public one.

so quietly i bury your shoes in the dark of my closet
i bury your socks in the mess of the spare room
i give you flowers when i clutch my heart
so it doesn’t leak out from my mouth from dying

an eight time, a ninth time, a tenth.
i only give ten to the world.
i only gave ten to the world.

when we’re alone, i give you everything.


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the moment when, after many years
of hard work and many tubs of expensive face cream,
you stand in the centre of your room,
apartment, house, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and exclaim, It’s OK now. I’m OK.

its at the same moment when all unwritten letters
thunder down from the sky above you,
the unsung birthday songs play in loop,
the bike you’ve never ridden, the boys who were never warned.
the air moves back from you like a wave,
bits of him on the shore like bones and shells.

no, they whisper. almost, but not quite.
every year an extra candle is lit
and there you are proclaiming confidence.
you made a joke last night, and your husband laughed,
open-mouthed and loose,
and you saw the wrinkling in the corners of his quiet, brown eyes.

and in a flash, you wonder what your father’s face looks like now
tobacco-brown skin and old, and you realise
you may never actually be OK. at least,
when you remember.

but for now, you’re doing your best.


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i am tired of being a woman.
Tired of my mouth and my temperamental breasts
tired of ovaries with expiration dates
tired of all the shoes and all the expensive lotions.

tired of having to prove that you are, truly, one
tired of the proving, and approving, and improving.
tired of ageing and having to do it all with grace.
the battle to be stronger, smarter, more polished version.

(but, wait – be careful:
not too strong for that’s too manly
not too polished you’d break like glass.
not too smart, because – just quietly –
noone likes a woman with too much ambition).

there are men who sit at my table,
circled around a bowl i offer up.
when i speak its like driving on ice,
determined, unfaltering, with care and nervous precision.

at nights I feast on tiger balm and eye-drops
basking in the romantic glow of my screen.
your pay cheque clears, its double than mine,
and you laugh, your mouth full, while dining with your children.

I am tired of my lips, and hair and my thighs
tired of questions why I am still empty
tired of too much emotion, or showing not enough
I am tired, and i am tired

of being a woman.

9, maybe 10.

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the doorbell’s ringing. Valentino and Rudolf start yapping like maniacs, shrill and murderous by the door.  my eyes fling wide open, blinking as fast as my heart and I have no idea why. i’m 9, maybe 10. and its so early in the morning, its still dark.

there’s a sudden stillness in the air, a sticky silence and it drapes itself on top of my head, on my body, on the shadows in the room like a wet woolen blanket. this must be that calm people talk about, the moment before a storm.

mum slides my bedroom door open. a sliver of yellow light slashes my wall then disappears as she slides the door shut. she tells me to get out of bed. i feel clothes gently thrown at me from the closet, the soft thud of my Barbie backpack, jumper, my shoes. I hear voices outside my door, the words abrupt and solemn. the dogs are hurriedly shut up in the kitchen, ‘shush’ hisses my step-father. shush.  

‘Can she bring her Gameboy?’ mum asks the dark, her voice flat near my ear. ‘Yes ma’am’ the door replies. ‘but we’ll need to take it away when we get there.’ my mother opens the curtains wide, and I see the white moon-halo of her head against the window. she takes a deep breath,’get dressed Paulina,’ and leaves.

i get up from bed and through the crack of the door, there’s a woman and a man. and my step-dad – bleary eyed and edgy. she’s in a drab grey suit, tight pony tail, pulled back so fierce her face seems stretched. he’s in a uniform of some sort, dark blue jumper, tough leather shoes, kind eyes. he nods when i walk out of my room, and everybody turns.

suddenly i’m the child, i’m the smallest person here. i am in the middle of something, or the start, and i dont know which exactly. everyone’s a stranger – and i panic, mum – where is she? I see her coming out of the bathroom, carrying an overnight bag in one hand and her cheeks are damp. i want to tell her she’s forgotten to wipe her face properly. no lipstick, she holds out her hand to me. i think – something’s very wrong. she’s leaving the house with no lipstick on.

there’s a white van with bars on the windows. we get into the back, sit on benches that face each other. my mother’s rosary beads are swinging between her knees and mine. mum is gripping onto the beads so tight the tips of her fingers are white. ‘play with your gameboy, paulina’ she whispers. ‘dont look outside’. i need to pee, i say to her in my head. i squeeze my legs, and play tetris.

when we stop, we go into an office with metal doors and white, fluorescent lights which make me feel ill. the lady takes me into the bathroom – all metal sinks, white linoleum floors, the smell of disinfectant fresh and arid. she leads me into a cubicle and nods at it, closes the door behind me. i can see her feet behind the door, the boxy leather shoes, and i shut my eyes because it won’t come. i think of mum waiting outside on her own – she might leave without me – and i go in a hurry.

in another room, there’s a white backdrop and a camera on a tripod directly in front of it. i get told to stand on the black X on the floor, and look at the camera. front, turn to your right, turn to your left. mum barks my name when i start to smile. mum has her turn, but she wont look up. i look at her and realise, she’s so small, my mama. im nearly as tall as her. why isnt she wearing any lipstick?

then there’s black ink on fingers, water offered in plastic cups. and then a phone call, when i see my mother cry.

i cling to her waist, watch her twirl the cord around and around her finger. i feel her convulse against the plastic booth, with words scratched into it – love hearts and names, dates and swear words. i can see children playing outside one door, throwing a ball around, and washing hanging on wires behind them. mum is holding onto to the phone, she had put a tissue on the handle, and now she takes it off and uses it to blow her nose. she looks up occasionally, when a person walks past. she’s speaking to my step-dad, repeating words – ‘i dont know, i dont know, i dont know’.

this is the moment when the world i knew took on a different colour. a light was turned on, like a long row of white fluorescent tubes, flickering with an electric hum. i think this was when i went from 10, to 20.

i feel hate rising up my neck, thick, thick.

i do not speak.

Tomorrow, a wife.

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This is the key to it.
This is the key to everything.

Two last names, one lifetime.
Tomorrow I get another, and its by choice this time.
And the key to that is this:

Here i am thinking of all the loves
the wistful sighs, the mates of souls.
Only later did it become something real.

It is not a choice to love or be loved.
All of that happens by nature like the gust of wind,
a cough, a flower leaning towards the sun.

But it’s to love and be loved by choice
that make us humans. I chose you
and you chose me, and that is the simple

key to this.
Our acceptance to love and hold no one else

No one else, but each other.