Tag Archives: Proscuitto and the Pink

QPF Spotlight #13 – AF Harrold’s Desert(ed) Island Poems

With just a little more than two weeks to go before more than 40 poets descend on the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, the anticipation is splitting my seams. The dashingly bearded AF Harrold is one of the poets who I am dying to see take the QPF stage. To get a glimpse of the poetry that travels with him, I asked him which poems he would take to a Desert(ed) Island. So raise your anchor and let these poems carry you one sleep closer to QPF 2009.


AFH by JenniferWicks


General Introduction

I only give these ten poems on the understanding that if you asked me yesterday or tomorrow they would be ten different poems; that some of them are chosen because I love the poem, some are chosen because I like the poet and have had to plump, half at random, for one among many possible poems from them. Also I felt bound to limit myself to just one poem by any particular poet.

This list could be a hundred long without exhausting the poems I’d want on my island, and at that length I would still curse myself as I remembered such obvious choices which had vanished out of my mind when I made this hasty selection. There is nothing by Marvell, or Donne, or Auden, or MacNeice in here, no work by Stephen Sondheim (which I count as poetry), no novels by Kurt Vonnegut (which are a sort of poetry), nothing from my contemporaries on the performance scene in the UK, where there is much that I admire… so many obvious gaps.


Jenny Kiss’d Me

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
  Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
  Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
  Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
  Jenny kiss’d me.

Leigh Hunt


It’s such a simple lyric, and yet it seems to perfectly capture so many emotions – the weariness of age, the shadowy broad-wings of ‘time’s winged chariot’, combated by the simple warmth of memory, of a specific memory. In the poem there’s no back-story, no elaboration on this moment – maybe it only happened the once, but sometimes there’s enough light in a moment to sustain a heart far into the future. Oh, it’s beautiful, achingly so! Or it’s just a tiny simple lyric – simple enough to be a child’s song, but one written in advancing years raging, in its own way, against the dying light.

I’ll take it to the island with me, if only to remind me when I find I can’t get the coconuts down and my hut keeps blowing away and my sunburn is chaffing (like Woody Allen, ‘I don’t tan, I stroke’), that I too have, to use Hunt as a metaphor, been ‘kiss’d by Jenny’ once or twice. I won’t last long on the island, but life’s not been bad up to now.




There is no one beside thee, and no one above thee,
  Thou standest alone as the nightingale sings!
  And my words which would praise thee are impotent things,
For none can express thee though all should approve thee,
  I love thee so, Dear, that I only can love thee.

Say, what can I do for thee? weary thee, grieve thee?
  Lean on thy shoulder, new burdens to add?
  Weep my tears over thee, making thee sad?
Oh, hold me not – love me not! let me retrieve thee.
  I love thee so, Dear, that I only can leave thee.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


This poem is almost unique in that it is one of the very small number of verses by other people which are lodged inside me head. By the time I went to school poems were no longer learnt by rote, unlike, perhaps, in my parents’ time – and in retrospect I think maybe this is a shame. However burdensome it is as a schoolboy to be made to learn poems, the presence of those words popping up in future years, I suspect, would be a tonic to all sorts of ills. But be that as it may, this poem is lodged in my head for no good reason.

There was a very lovely suede covered book of E.B. Browning in the house I grew up in, over a hundred years old and made beautiful by that soft delicate malleable warm cover. I read it, this old poetry full of thous and thees, with every stanza numbered, and somehow this miserable poem of self-inflicted unrequitability stuck itself like a burr in my brain and twenty years on it’s still there, recitable at any moment.

It’s certainly not her best poem, but it’s the one that that’s going with me to the desert island, because I have no choice about it, and even for its imperfections and self-pitying angsty maudlin nature, it is perfectly crafted, sculpted, formed and I do love it.


Jesus Is Not Just For Christmas

Down in the Bible
some of it’s tribal,
a tooth for a tooth
and eyeball for an eyeball,
some of it’s truth, some of it’s Gospel:
a man with a mission, a mission impospel,
a man with a tan, a man who liked a parable,
cast your seed on to land that is arable,
a stony field and the yield will be tarable.
Born in a manger, born into danger,
don’t take gifts from any old stranger
especially if it’s gold.
Especially if they say you’ve been specially selected
and they’ve found your address by following a star
with a couple of mates who’ve got gifts as well – unusual gifts:
just tell ‘em – ‘Thanks but no ta.’

Did he have a sweet tooth, did he have a sweetheart,
when he was a youth, did he do some street art?
Did he have a dog, was it a disaster,
breaking all its legs and going round in plaster?
Swallowed by the water, following its master,
sinking like a stone, only sinking somewhat faster?

He had his staff, to help him do the walkin’,
he had his staff, to help him with the talkin’.
He had his path, it never had a fork in,
he made a lot of sandwiches and none of them had pork in.
If you had a party he knew how to cater,
he could feed a party with the one potater:
‘Don’t go thanking me, mate, credit the Creator.’
‘The wine’s all gone, son’, ‘Don’t you worry, mater,
let me have that water for a moment, would you, waiter?’

Down in the temple, kicking up a rumpus,
money-lenders wondering, ‘Is he going to thump us?
He don’t like us, is he gonna lump us,
spilling our blood all over our new jumpers?’

Treated like a criminal, flattened in a hymninal,
what the men don’t do, maybe the women’ll

A proper dad, he never really had one.
It’s not on file if the child was a glad one,
no trial – for whatever it was the lad done,
if that’s a Good Friday, I wouldn’t want a bad one.

John Hegley


John is one of the UK’s leading comic poets, though of course saying that sounds like something of a back-handed compliment – through comedy he manages to say serious things, and there’s as much craft and love of the spirit of poetry in his work as there is in any number of more ‘respected’ books on the shelves of our libraries and bookshops.

This poem, especially when you see John sing/speak it live, is an astonishing bit of craftsmanship – the sort of thing that makes me want to give up trying to be funny and just walk away. When I think of the joy he must’ve felt when the line about the sandwiches, for example, appeared – oh, he must’ve known he’d won something when that popped into his head or onto the page – I know that joy, only too rarely. I’m jealous and I’m so very glad this poem exists.

I always loved Jesus Christ Superstar when I was growing up – this does the same (and a different) job, in a space about an hour and half smaller.


The Stolen Orange

When I went out  I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take the orange out and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
There was nothing bright or special in the world

Brian Patten


This is the poem I read at my father’s funeral. I can’t be doing with any of that mawkish ‘He’s just stepped into the next room…’ twaddle, and so I had to pick something different. This summed up what needed to be done, how one could move forward after such a bereavement – by remembering that the world is still bright and special outside.

I count myself fortunate to know Brian Patten a little – having read and loved his work as a teenager, I later on met him out on the circuit and he was always kind when I was starting out. It’s good when you can meet someone you’ve known on the page for a long time and discover that they’re not an arsehole when you meet them. (Of course, I’ve had the other sort of encounter with other heroes too.)

Brian has a wonderful simplicity of writing, generally an aware sort of free verse, that cuts absolutely and astonishingly to the heart of the matter – of the moment, of the emotion, of the loss, of the love. He makes it look so easy, so much of the time.


The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Philip Larkin


Another one who makes it look easy, except where Brian usually opts for free verse, Larkin is usually tightly formal, and yet (although this particular poem is unrhymed) they read smoothly, the end rhymes on the page often vanish in the reading and they become like carefully balanced letters from a misanthropic uncle.

Except, of course, under the misanthropy beats the same heart that beats in all of us, once which is searching to say those words ‘At once true and kind, / Or not untrue and not unkind.’

In this poems those two moments of enjambment (the ‘Killed’ and ‘Unmendably’) are dramatically balanced; the assuming simplicity of the third stanza – no need to try to explain or elaborate on what it is like, this ‘new absence’. It’s lovely, again it’s heartbreaking. And so simple.


To Maeve

You walk unaware
Of the slender gazelle
That moves when you move
And is one with the limbs
That you have.

You live unaware
Of the faint, the unearthly
Echo of hooves
That throughout your white streams
Of clear clay that I love

Are in flight as you turn,
As you stand, as you move,
As you sleep, for the slender
Gazelle never rests
In your ivory grove.

Mervyn Peake


Peake is, of course, better known for his novels and his drawings, but his poems are interesting beasts. Often couched in ‘poetic’ language, there is something awkward and a bit gauche about many of them, but when he allows the simplicity (there’s that word again!) to shine through you end up with something as clear and light as this small piece carved out for his young wife in the mid-thirties.

It makes me think of the Leonard Cohen poem Beneath My Hands with its similar echo of nature – ‘Beneath my hands / your small breasts / are the upturned bellies / of breathing fallen sparrows.’ – written twenty years later. (And allows me to sneak the first stanza of an eleventh poem onto my desert island.)


Putting Down The Cat

The assistant holds her on the table,
the fur hanging limp from her tiny skeleton,
and the veterinarian raises the needle of fluid
which will put the line through her ninth life.

‘Painless,’ he reassures me, ‘like counting
backwards from a hundred,’ but I want to tell him
that our poor cat cannot count at all,
much less to a hundred, much less backwards.

Billy Collins


Collins writes these typically conversational American poems – and does so with such felicity that it sometimes looks like you’re reading a first draft, as if you’re listening to him talk to himself. And usually it works – because that is what you want from any artist, from any actor or comedian, for it to look like this is the first time they’ve said these words, as if you’re the privileged party to be there when they said them, because they won’t be said quite like that again. Even though you know, of course, that they will.

The other great quality that Collins has is of being able to walk with you through a normal situation – making coffee in the morning, or the sad visit to the vet – and leading you down a path of thought that would never have occurred to you, past the fork in the road you never noticed or imagined was there, and without making any single step seem unreal, unlikely or forced. And so you end up with this great lump of sadness expressed perfectly and terribly for this poor cat and what could have been ‘yet another poem about a dead pet’ (God, haven’t we all heard enough of those at open mics – God, haven’t we all written one!) becomes, for once, something worthwhile, and unique.



In the hour before dawn, when the smallest
sounds are amplified by the stillness,
before the first jumbos have skinned the rooftops,
Mandy wakes me again with her moans
from over the way, my early-morning call
for dawn, when the gardens are pungent,
the sycamores flushed with an unreal green.
As I stand by the window, I can see inside
her room, the parquet floor, the legs
of her bed, her curtains blowing, like veils.
In the house next door, Maureen
is drinking her tea in a dressing gown.
She wanders the garden, smelling the roses.
When she sees me standing there, naked
in morning glory, she waves, and slips the robe
from her shoulders, and stands like a wrinkled
Venus risen from her flowery gown,
her old brown body knotted, and faintly erotic
at such an hour. She starts to dance to this early
music, to the grace notes of lovers embracing
at dawn. I stand there and watch, tumescent
and spellbound, one eye on her and one
on the bedroom where Mandy is raising the roof
with her cries, an incantation to love, and Maureen
is stroking a huge, imaginary phallus, entreating me
to join this strange suburban rite, so I move
to the rhythm and blues of my strange neighbours,
and Mandy and I climax like lovers do, together,
and I come from the first-floor window
into the herb garden, and Maureen stands there
laughing, and clapping her hands in the sunshine.

Neil Rollinson


Well, don’t you just want to be there?
I was in a hotel bar, a few years ago, with Neil and John Hegley (see above), after John and I had done a reading at the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District, where Neil was poet-in-residence, and the conversation turned to poetry and poets, and that old chestnut, ‘Who’s your favourite poet?’ Raised its head. Being immersed in the poet whose poem comes next I gave his name, whereas John, who answered after me, with great wisdom side-stepped the question, saying, ‘I don’t have favourite poets, but favourite poems.’ Of course he was right.
For now, this one of Neil’s is a favourite.


Blue Tit On A String Of Peanuts

A cubic inch of some stars
weighs a hundred tons – Blue tit,
who could measure the power
of your tiny spark of energy? Your hair-thin legs
(one north-east, one due west) support
a scrap of volcano, four inches
of hurricane: and, seeing me you make the sound
of a grain of sawdust being sawn
by the minutest of saws.

Norman MacCaig


Such a perfect little sketch – surprising, astonishing in its way.
And yet again, it’s simple, there’s not a wasted word – nine lines, that’s all it needs, thank you. Done.

MacCaig remains as one of my favourite poets just because when looking through his collected poems he scores ‘hits’ with me – poems that I sit up and say ‘Yes!’ about – more often than most other poets I know.


I Live In Great Sorrow

Foweles in the frith,
The fisses in the flod,
And I mon waxe wod:
Mulch sorw I walke with
For beste of bon and blod.

anonymous  later 13th Century


Like the Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, this is another little nugget that is firmly lodged in my brainpan and that is ready to fall out of my mouth at any moment. The literal translation of this bit of Middle English is: Birds in the wood, the fish in the river, and I must go mad: I live in great sorrow because of the best creature living. It’s the blues!

It’s always encouraging and humbling to remember that even 750 years ago, when this language of ours was still turbulently forming, the concerns of the poets writing were more or less just the same as they are today – oh, my baby’s left me (or never even spoken to me in the first place)! People haven’t changed all that much, things don’t change all that much.


About AF Harrold:

A.F. Harrold is a poet and performance poet who does things that aren’t always normal. Having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, Cheltenham and Oxford Literary Festivals, Reading and Leicester Comedy Festivals, Essex and Ledbury Poetry Festivals and been Poet-In-Residence at this 2008’s Glastonbury Festival, he now brings himself to Australia, a place he’s never been before. Very exciting stuff for a poet. Comedy and performance poetry without shouting, rapping, issues or angst, but with a healthy dose of the surreal, the peculiar and the sanitary. Visit www.afharrold.co.uk for stuff, such as a book of poetry (Logic & the Heart), two collections of comic verse (Postcards From The Hedgehog and The Man Who Spent Years In The Bath), and a book of peculiar poems for peculiar children (I Eat Squirrels). What fun?


Catch AF Harrold at QPF 2009:

Friday August 21 – 7:30pm – 10:30pm

A Tangle of Possiblilties: featuring Elizabeth Bachinsky, AF Harrold, Neil Murray & Hinemoana Baker

Tickets now on sale!


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


Sunday August 23 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Proscuitto and the Pink: featuring AF Harrold, Paul Magee & Angela Costi


Sunday August 23 – 3:15pm – 4:15pm

Museum of Brisbane presents – A City Machine: featuring AF Harrold, Elizabeth Bachinsky & Rob Morris


Sunday August 23 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Just Kissed Goodbye: feat. Paul Magee, Janet Jackson, Angela Costi, Jane Williams, Neil Murray, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Geoff Goodfellow, AF Harrold, Hinemoana Baker and the QPF Committee


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com


Filed under Desert(ed) Island Poems

QPF Spotlight #5 – Paul Magee

I am like a child with an advent calendar at the moment, marking off the days until QLD Poetry Festival is here. So to mark this day off in fine style, here is a poem from one of the poets featuring at QPF 2009, Paul Magee.



‘There are three barriers to learning: One is misunderstood words’
the taxi driver told me in response to my job at the university.
His eyes were lightly seared steak, his grin an all-knowing menu.
I thought of the kid who’d seen licence plates as words that speak,
the fantasies that connect the cloud-filled letters on a page,
those insane writers who believe you read what they meant.
‘When your students are reading and they have to re-read, that’s
misunderstood words.’ My ‘But that’s good’ fell on the side
platter. ‘When someone doesn’t understand a word you’ve said that’s
misunderstood words.’ His brain was fried. Barriers Two and Three
seared with somewhat less intensity. During them I looked him
in the words’ mouth, thought what flesh we are in that vision of chops.
We arrived. I took my knowledge from his larder and into the
scholarly fire of the puniversity, ruler of the world by centi
metre, and another centimetre, and another millimetre of mind.
Actually that driver had a doctorate in understanding
but it’s a faculty we rarely apply to get into
in any permanent way, because only animals are so direct.
It’s just that we have verbal sex.  There’ll always be
a hidden y, or an extra x, in Let x=x,
(I par-boiled) as I opened the gate and abandoned all hope
but a grain of salt.


[Reprinted from Blast: Poetry and Other Critical Writings, no.7, March 2008]




About Paul:

Paul Magee studied in Melbourne, Moscow, San Salvador and Sydney. His first book, From Here to Tierra del Fuego, was published by the University of Illinois Press in 2000. It was based on fieldwork in the far South of South America. His first volume of poetry, Cube Root of Book was published by John Leonard Press in 2006. It was shortlisted for the Innovation Award at the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, and highly commended in the Ann Elder and Mary Gilmore Awards. Paul is a Senior Lecturer in Poetry at the University of Canberra.


Catch Paul at QPF 2009:

Saturday August 22 – 11:45am – 12:45pm

Phosphorescence at the Edge: feat. Paul Magee, Jane Williams & Rob Morris


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


Sunday August 23 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Proscuitto and the Pink: feat. Paul Magee, Angela Costi & AF Harrold


Sunday August 23 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Just Kissed Goodbye: feat. Paul Magee, Janet Jackson, Angela Costi, Jane Williams, Neil Murray, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Geoff Goodfellow, AF Harrold, Hinemoana Baker and the QPF Committee


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com


Filed under interviews/artist profiles, poetry & publishing

QPF Spotlight #4 – Angela Costi

There is just over a month until QLD Poetry Festival hits the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, August 21 -23. Angela Costi is one of the many featured artists at QPF 2009 and this time I shine the spotlight on her to find out about the role of spontaneity, influences and the importance of performance.




What is the role of spontaneity in your creative process?

I’d like to think that my creative process is balanced, albeit precariously, between spontaneity and a thought-inspired response. I like responding to my intuition and the spark within. Often this spark leads to igniting a need to write about a certain thing. This may turn into a passionate pursuit as I read books, rummage through the Internet, discuss with friends, take notes and then embark on the poem. This is how the poem, When Ash and Bone Speaks, came about – through a spontaneous urge to know more about the destruction of Pompeii and its people.

Sometimes the actual process of writing involves spontaneity as I find myself beginning a sequence of every day words and thoughts around a particular image, which grows into another wordscape by allowing my senses to flow and my curatorial guard to relax.



Eliot said, “Poets learn to write by being other writers for a while, and then moving onto another one.” Who are the people who have influenced you and who are you reading now?

In my earlier years as a poet, the mid 90s, there were three pivotal ‘poetry camps’ that influenced my momentum.

Firstly, there was an urge to explore poets of my heritage, which is Cypriot-Greek, so I spent days reading Sappho, Homer and trying to understand hexameter poetics. I then proceeded into Modern Greek times with George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos, Constantine Cavafy and Zoe Karelli. And then in 1996, Pi O, an Australian-based poet of Greek descent published 24 Hours, which explored the ‘third language’ as he called it – that which describes the language of migrants in Australia. Reading this pioneering book and hearing Pi O read from it confirmed my direction with those poems of mine that were drawn from my cultural roots.

Secondly, in a second-hand bookshop I bought Eight American Poets: an Anthology, edited by Joel Conarroe. This anthology introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell. I was particularly immersed with Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton to the extent that I made it my goal to read every poem they had ever published.

Thirdly, the Melbourne poetry scene in the mid-to-late 90s had a certain loose group of established poets that were frequently reading, accomplished, inspiring and they were encouraging to emerging poets. Some of these poets were Homer Reith, Kevin Brophy, Myron Lysenko, Lauren Williams, Lyn Boughton, jeltje, Grant Caldwell, Shelton Lea, Ian McBryde and Jordi Albiston. Apart form their own work, these poets introduced me to the poetry that influenced them, including Sharon Olds and Vicki Viidikas.

I’ve just finished reading Poems of Nazim Hikmet which I relished and I am three-quarters of the way through Poet’s Choice by Edward Hirsch, which is a collection of his 130 short essays on poets that have undoubtedly had an impact on him and his poetry. They include better-known poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and those lesser-known gems such as Thomas James (1946-1974), Dorothea Tanning and Kate Daniels. I’m about to embark on The Goose Bath Poems by Janet Frame who is a renowned New Zealand author.



Why perform/read your poetry?

Although my poetry has its first relationship with the page it needs to roll off my tongue like second nature. I love reading poetry that reads beautifully and recites beautifully – and that’s what I strive for with my poetry – a seamless relationship with page and stage (which can be difficult to achieve).

Further, because poetry making is such an ancient practice and given that many cultures began poetry as an oral art form, there is that strong unrelenting practice of applying metre, rhythm, pace, tone… qualities that lend themselves easily to ears and listeners.



I am always interested in the thought processes and practices of writers. Would it be possible for you to share with us your process, in other words, what does Angela Costi do in preparation for writing?

Over the years I have gathered a few rituals, which enable me to enter the writing zone. Often I light a candle. (I grew up in a traditional Greek Orthodox household, where lighting candles was commonplace.) A candle’s flame possibly evokes a sense of company and camaraderie on the journey. I like a quiet place, like an empty house or a library that only allows whispering but then I have used certain music to evoke a mood or a tone of voice. (The music is often without voice or if voice is used it is more like an instrument.) Sometimes I read poetry or I read my notes or I close my eyes to conjure a visual trigger point. From my travels to many parts of the world, I have gathered a large book of postcards and images, which I use to stimulate my imagination.



Finally, where are you looking when you write?

When I am writing at a deeper, unconscious level, I actually see the images, people, space… I am writing about. In a sense, there is no distinction between me and the world I am creating on the page – my eyes are focused inward and so I do not notice that the kettle has boiled, the phone is ringing, the kids have arrived home, and that I am cold.

Other times, I am very much aware of the letter and word patterns I am creating. I like to see the precision of enjambment, the effect of six or four lines to a stanza, the way one word looks as distinct from another.

And sometimes, I look up and notice the flame is still going strong and I return to my words.


About Angela:

Angela Costi is the author of three collections of poetry: Dinted Halos, Prayers for the Wicked and Honey and Salt. Her poems have been widely published, broadcast and produced, including in the US, UK, Greece and across Australia. In 1993 she received a travel award by the National Languages and Literacy Board of Australia to study and undertake an Ancient Greek Drama program in Greece. Since 1993, she has performed her poetry locally, nationally and internationally, including the Melbourne International Arts Festival 1999 and 2005. The Relocated arts project, for which she was the commissioned writer, received the award for innovation and excellence in community, 2002. Recently she returned from Japan, where she was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and Vic Arts to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry, Japan-based Stringraphy Ensemble and an Ancient Chinese musical instrument known as the Sheng.




When Ash and Bone Speaks

My bedroom is Pluto’s new chamber
with no after-thought nor explanation
he unleashed Death, the mauling is beyond pain,
and Pluto spares no pleas for mercy or lenience
with the ruthless pride of an Emperor, he thrust
a fountain of flame which seared throats to silence
― how quickly he changes my room
the four walls melt into something blacker than night
the ceiling cannot be trusted, with hit after hit
of shooting hot rock it heaves in panic
air is corrupt with a smell and taste of sickness
it aims calculated punches at my ribs and fists my lungs
like a gladiator about to slay a wounded cub.

How long have I been lying on this bed of embers
sizzling me softly, lulling me into its burning arms
― long enough to know my baby has turned to stone,
to know my husband lies buried somewhere beneath me,
to hear my mother, father, sisters, brother…
gasp after gasp, cough after cough, breath till no breath
their final release of the one hope to see our little one
suckle my breasts, as odes are sung to its new future
each one takes a turn to cradle, to croon a lullaby
give a promise to protect against everything wicked and bad.


Yesterday, if it was yesterday,
I had my husband’s eager ear
pressed against the full bloom of my belly
insisting he could hear our cherub pattering about
Mama placed a bouquet of sweet wine grapes,
honey figs and caramel dates on my plate
hoping fruit would ease the tender tug and pull of womb
the sun made quiet love to the water in our pool
white butterflies fluttered from flower to leaf
laughter swam easily from our mouths
as we threw a book-full of boys and girls names into the air
I caught the marble smile of Goddess Juno
whispering maternal endearments.

Now I know I was being mocked
basking in delusion, to think I could compare my content
to that of any Goddess, any Priestess, any Sibyl
I should have been aware, alert like the birds, the cats
at the slightest tremor they fled taking their knowledge
I should have looked at that fire breathing cloud and screamed
like the slave girl turning her broom into a weapon
begging then threatening her master to set her free
I should have understood why my insides were pummelled,
Baby knew, my Baby knew, Baby wanted me to say:
Yes, let’s leave!
to the question my family left to me
I became their Fortuna, their one and only chance,
Sweetheart it’s up to you, they said,
all I could think of was the swelling in my tree trunk
legs, the cramps surrounding my spine
the blubbery barge of me hobbling into the frenzy
all I could think about, was me, was only me.
Pluto wants me to feast on dread and terror
before Death takes me, but I am not hungry
I want to feel myself burn into nothing but ash
I want my bones to shrivel into chalk
I want nothing to be left of me at all,
Pluto when you pass me over to Vesuvius
do not make me drink from the River Lethe
I refuse any after-life unless it’s soaked
in the memory of what I have done.


Thousands of years later, my memory returns
distorted by legend, embellished by science,
trapped in fossilised moment and glory
they pick at my bones and those of my baby
pour plaster into my ashen grave, resurrect the shape
of horror as they imagine, how awful for me they cry,
tears fall at my feet, while I stare back with hollow eyes,
they bring bouquets of spring flowers freshly picked
from the fertile fields at the volcano’s base
they bring their children, their elderly parents
I hear them say: Isn’t she a beautiful specimen.



                              In the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius, in Pompeii,
                              the skeletal remains of a young pregnant woman
                              were found, specialist DNA biologists determined
                              she was about to give birth.


Published in Going Down Swinging No. 27 and in the Melbourne Museum’s Exhibition ‘A Day in Pompeii’ Teacher-Student Guide 2009.


Catch Angela at QPF 2009:

Saturday August 22 – 11:45am – 12:45pm

On the Lip of Philosophy: feat. Angela Costi, Angel Kosch & Sophia Nugent-Siegal


Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm

A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray


Sunday August 23 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Proscuitto and the Pink: feat. Angela Costi, AF Harrold & Paul Magee


Sunday August 23 – 7:00pm – 9:00pm

Just Kissed Goodbye: feat. Janet Jackson, Angela Costi, Jane Williams, Neil Murray, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Geoff Goodfellow, Paul Magee, AF Harrold, Hinemoana Baker and the QPF Committee


All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.

For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com

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