When I was knee high to here
before my legs could do more than crawl,
sugar dipped itself onto my lips and my brain,
and my smile was big enough to fill
the photo all the way up
like the hypnotic wheel of your mind twisting into spirals
after watching a TV marathon non-stop, persisting
in the vain hope that it will be
sweet in the hereafter
when it stops.

That was when I first tasted a Tim Tam:
My first sugar kiss
such bliss
and your flickering mind
wondering how did I miss
until now
raised on bread and water and smiles,
it riles to know they were keeping you
from this.

But without teeth bigger than milk-size,
fun-size me couldn’t ask anyone for an upsize
Couldn’t do more than suck and smile
for the while, this dummy wanting more,
thinking he’d discovered
that really all life’s meaning
was just chocolate-covered.
Somewhere there were secret codes and covenants,
preaching messages only taste buds knew.

They had me hooked and they knew it,
angry Oompa Loompas diving deep and free-basing,
loading up some molten cocoa river proselytizing,
just for me. It meant a decade and more
when only the gods could deliver those glycemic goods,
the mouth-stuffed joy I could clamp down on
and fix my jaw around
a dog with a bone
getting over life’s bittersweet after-blows.

Cause I was hungry,
I was a hungry Tim Tam,
hungry like the wolf preying on the moon,
like an Argonaut on an endless Odyssey.
And damn.
Damn you, Tim Tam.
This is not a complaint
and it isn’t a confessional
where I tell you I was unfaithful
to what I swallowed by the mouthful
even though I played the field fast and loose
and tried them all or enough, sweet and salty,
and not giving enough attention
to the lack of my intention
to get fat, big, large, king-size
because it was all in the eyes.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses
for the little kid who knew nothing but the fact
that if this was going to be how the cookie crumbled
then there was no faith that couldn’t be tumbled
if there were biscuits.


A grammar of taste

The sky speaks.

She (or he, it is still too early to quite decide) is caught up in that hour before morning loses its solitary scent. Ignoring the kitchen’s light switch and working from the ingrained comfort that comes after months in the same place, her mind drifts, loose and roaming, to where the traces of dreams are yet to be fully scrubbed from the eyes’ grimy corners.

From the window of the apartment looking into hers, four flights up and across a slightly nauseous gap she has learned to bear, a camera flash, or a too early glimmer of sun. Or just a lamp flicked on for long enough to confirm the hour is yet small enough for a return to the luxurious coma of sleep, a few more placeless, anaesthetised minutes before facing the day. Sometimes a light is just a light, a trick the mind offers us, rather than a question. Sometimes it is also the hand behind it, reaching outwards and guiding.

Her fingers (and we seem more sure it is a ‘her’, if reading mannerisms and outlines allows us a clue) clutch an orange, bought two days ago, moving slowly over its pores. With a thumb nail, pressure and a little leverage, soon the bittersweet notion of citrus breaks free. She expects this to happen, knows it with a familial reassurance, but smiles a little anyway, content with this tenderness meant for her alone, this moment. It is a singular pleasure, one of very few she’ll permit herself throughout the day. With its stubborn weight of routine, soon the rigid hours will own her again, she will serve them. Soon, she will check off tasks and the hours, meetings and nods and handshakes and a mind knotted up in the daylight life that eats into night, where even then are there few shadows to escape into for their little pleasures.

As she pops a segment into her mouth, this could be her madeleine moment – someone should call her now, coincidentally and early, that they might together appreciate the cool spice and tang of this shared reprieve – but her tastes these days come more from the self-improvement section, not her childhood indulgences. She gave them up, gives them up, in order to keep reaching and floating and moving. Past loves have faded, for the most part, and they say exes are best remembered in their most rancid form, to fan away regret, rather than regurgitated from that confusing emotional pit. She prefers not to let her mind turn down those corridors, though what can she do in those unscheduled absences when the wind rushes in, umbrellas are unfurled from sleeves, and couples link arms to hurry down grey-slopped streets together?

Best to remember that she knows where to draw her mantras and heroes from, now. The commute to work, still by train on a practically gentrified line, is filled with a self-talk of generic phrases congratulating her on upgrading her attitude and wardrobe, reminders and rehearsals about how posture and volume lead to partnership, faint echoes of Mrs Waugh in fourth grade and those constant reminders about “stiffening up your spine, girls” that now seem to be the best-selling creed of bleach-toothed success stories.

She cycles through her morning playlist, much of it at a tempo fast enough to psych you up for an adversarial joust or performing CPR, whichever comes first. Days require you to be versatile, even within the monotony. Chomping at the bit for action, her foot detaches from her thoughts, in a tss tss tss, a nodding blur that almost matches time with the train’s steady rattle, a free and cracking whip of motion and force and elsewhere. Her mind works up a sweat.

Portrait #12: Woman contemplating an orange near daybreak.

She’s caught up with the way the rind slips her little hints of memories, though she doesn’t get to choose which ones. She’ll go there anyway, resting an elbow on the chopping board, and even taken somewhere else she almost notices that the light may have flashed again. It seems she’s tallying up the purchases she’ll need to make, a mental inventory. The necessary maintenance and chores and taking out the trash that will be added to calling her mother for a second time this week. Add extra chocolate to the list, coffee beans, new tumblers. No new tumblers. No more tumblers.

Can’t we get her to focus, even in these empty minutes before the freeway whirs into life, on something other than the here and now?

The sky is watching, or will be watching, speaking in tongues and rays and indecipherable little hints that we ascribe a mind of their own. We must give her a grammar of taste, a way to name the dangling emotions and savour the run-on thoughts as more than a slow stream of juice that wets lips and appetite.

Speaking to an empty room, though, the sky offers nothing this morning. Nothing that will be taken.

But it has time, it will be here tomorrow too.

As she exits, she pockets a fruit for later, and hurries off to join the whirring crowd.

Peeling the rind

Is this how painters try and plunge the world
into line and shade and hesitation
committing themselves to the ineffable,
unerasable and solid flesh, a slow appreciation

that builds a moment piece by pace
with a surer formula than luck?
So the circular becomes impassable
each lush hint seems to duck

behind the moon that captures still
a scene for monumental time
ripe rind, globed fruit more edible,
its egg-white glaze sublime.

Knowing it isn’t art but metaphor,
that life leaps not on nor off the page,
still I’ll hold a single second back
and allow mind’s fruit to age.

Only the Bones (26 June)

Against the slow afternoon currents
a grey-white tangle of dust performs

its stop-motion magic dance
ruled by some unseen hands

who might lend their voice and ways
to soft unspeaking trees and days.

But after all and dusk relaxes
and night becomes more like itself

a tired and empty platter,
an assortment of discarded tastes from

some well-intended feast –
detritus and dregs,

skeleton crew of memory –
only the bones remain in place.

How true untrue, in its way:
we, laughing at some phantom circus,

inhaling near the river bank with tourist’s taste,
a smack, a stare, the view from the bridge

far above: too many and too much of
these unlatched, momentary sights

and sighs that we call flesh
or marrow, believing them so fresh

like salt and spice,
their grit alive against your tongue

these petty, dazzling tyrants,
shapes misremembered or more, invented

of all our swirling yesterdays.

Serpent Stories

We make a dish of serpent stories,
take the taste and repentant
shock, averse to the look:
that twin propeller spinning its thin tongue
one way, then the other.

Like some amuse truth
if you pardon the look,
pink paste piped and waiting for
a trip of the tongue,
(yum yum).

Much more taste it turns out
than a tangled mass of
myth and memory.

Nestling in the silver light,
under the blackened cityscape
back, back where a thousand
dazzling dots and night gusts
outside this blinkered room
and this was real for
who you were then
and this was and is fear
for all of you now.

(These nights deceive us all
even as we recompose them,
even as we invent them.)

A single offering to your past
and future
so salty.

All while the propeller’s tail rotates
and flaps its tempting truth
knowing a reluctant taste
leads onto taste and another bite
will have you leaping back
never realising it breeds
that craving:
more, more.

When nibbling again on that tale
over and over gnawing its root
you find it so smooth,
delightful the way it crackles
on your tongue
soft and sharp without suspicion,
too much like butter
how easily it melts away.

Still more (June 10)

And then you wonder what we are collecting,
all these flash-frozen stills
compiled in one unbound catalogue
filling evermore life’s larder
like canned preserves compressed
into tiny jars and stockpiled
for some eventual consumption
if only to confirm these dotted days
on our single strand were real,
even if we were not,
though we kept adding because.

Just as we might accumulate
a stockpile of friends and followers:
for who is to say when enough is enough
so long as it is easier to take
the measure of our lives numerically
in the weight of numbers,
the movement of masses and
the height of reflections,
for what can be counted must surely count

and so we continue hoarding life
but never loving what we can hold,
inhabiting an uncollected now
instead of the other.

Somehow this seems like a moodier poem than I intended. And yet: if you could see the drafts, the deleted words and phrases – all those “perfect” lines inked and then erased. Seemingly, the voice turned as I was rewriting, in the process of feeling the rhythm and trying to capture a feeling, an attitude. I’m not convinced it’s quite there but, then again, this is really “draft” poetry.
I find that forcing myself to publish makes me go through a different process (as does writing this on computer). I won’t write it all the way through, but might write a few lines/images, play around with them, then come back. Later, when I’m reading it aloud, I try and find a flow and pace that fits – that helps the meaning “sing”. But I don’t find myself (consciously) thinking about where to place a symbol or metaphor, where to alliterate. When I notice it happening, I might revise and see whether I can improve the effect. That, though, is just how I write (at least at this stage in my writing life).