ABOVE WATER CREATIVE WRITING AND ART ANTHOLOGY
Acknowledgement of Country The Above Water 2020 anthology was created across the lands of the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations. We acknowledge that these lands and other lands across so-called Australia were stolen and sovereignty was never ceded. We pay our respects to the True Custodians of these lands and their elders, past and present. We also extend our respects to all First Nations students and staff members in the University of Melbourne community. We encourage you to acknowledge the creative voices and artworks of the First Nations peoples around you, and to remember that this always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
Above Water is the annual creative writing and art competition and anthology produced by the Media and Creative Arts departments of the University of Melbourne Student Union. Above Water is open to all current University of Melbourne students and encourages creatives to submit their work. The editorial team blindly marks all entries and presents a shortlist to external judges. This year, the shortlist was judged by previous finalist Mark Yin, University of Melbourne Student Union Art Director Sandra Bridie, and recent Melbourne novelist Ellena Savage.
ÂŠ2020 University of Melbourne Student Union. Published by the General Secretary of UMSU, Jack Buksh. The copyright of materials published in Above Water remains with the individual writers and artists and shall not be reproduced without their permission. The Creative Arts and Media departments of UMSU reserve the right to republish these works in any format. ISSN 1833-8879
Cover ALICIA DODDY Design Director & Typography BETHANY CHERRY Design Team ROSE GERTSAKIS, YENA KIM, ANYA WONG and KITMAN YEUNG Editorial Team LIV BELL, BETHANY CHERRY, AMBER MEYER, SARAH PETERS, THARIDI WALIMUNIGE, and EMILY WHITE Editorial Assistant LINDSAY WONG Judges SANDRA BRIDIE, ELLENA SAVAGE and MARK YIN Shortlisted Artists JEAN BAULCH, LYNNE BIAN, ALICIA DODDY, OLGA DZIEMIDOWICZ, JENNA GRACE, EMILY LEWIS, RUBY LI, MOHSIN NAZIR, PHUONG NGO, ZEHRA RIZVI, KLESA WILSON and HIEW LI XIN TIMOTHY Shortlisted Writers AMRUTA CHANDE, GEORGIA COOPER, KAIA COSTANZA-VAN DEN BELT, KATHERINE DOHERTY, LARA FIELDING, HANNAH GARVAN, ASHER CHRISTINA HARRINGTON, NICHOLAS KIRKBY, ELYSSIA KOULOURIS, TERESA LIN, NICOLE JIA MOORE, LUCETTE MOULANG, HELENA PANTSIS, POOJA PRESSELY, JACEY QUAH, ANNIE ROSE, TORSTEN STROKIRCH, MEREDITH TYLER, CHARLOTTE WATERS and AMY WORTMANN
WRITING WINNERS AMRUTA CHANDE Eating meat makes you violent
HANNAH GARVAN Sometimes I shave my asshole on first dates ART WINNER
JEAN BAULCH ‘Summer Gum Leaves’ ART RUNNER UP MOHSIN NAZIR ‘The Ocean Refuses No River’
Written 04 HANNAH GARVAN Sometimes I shave my asshole on first dates 06 KATHERINE DOHERTY Burning Bright 12 LUCETTE MOULANG biological girl
Visual 11 SHUYAN (LYNNE) BIAN 16 RUBY LI Fishn’t 19 KLESA WILSON Metamorphosis
14 NICHOLAS KIRKBY the leave-taking
20 OLGA DZIEMIDOWICZ Don’t get lost in the weeds when swimming to the horizon
17 MEREDITH TYLER first-time love
27 JEAN BAULCH Mother
18 ELYSSIA KOULOURIS Residue
30 ZEHRA RIZVI framed
21 AMY WORTMANN towards ataraxy: 24/04/2020
34 PHUONG NGO
22 CHARLOTTE WATERS dreamtalk. 26 JACEY QUAH 06:13. 28 GEORGIA COOPER Homesick 31 LARA FIELDING <epidermal> 32 NICOLE JIA MOORE Migration 36 POOJA PRESSELY Names You Would Call Distant Light Sources 40 POOJA PRESSELY Party Favours 44 TORSTEN STROKIRCH I crave termites on toast 48 ASHER CHRISTINA HARRINGTON Sweets to the sweet 57 AMRUTA CHANDE Eating meat makes you violent 62 KAIA COSTANZA-VAN DEN BELT No Reply: an interactive late-night adventure 68 KATHERINE DOHERTY Your Death (as told by the ecosystem you were, are and will be) 70 TERESA LIN Take me back 73 ANNIE ROSE sweet&sour 76 HELENA PANTSIS Sick
35 PHUONG NGO 37 SHUYAN (LYNNE) BIAN 38 JEAN BAULCH Summer Gum Leaves 41 HIEW LI XIN TIMOTHY New Normal 42 SHUYAN (LYNNE) BIAN 53 OLGA DZIEMIDOWICZ The thoughts inside 54 MOHSIN NAZIR The Ocean Refuses No River 56 ALICIA DODDY Dark Reflection 71 JENNA GRACE Sarakiniko 72 RUBY LI Lion Statue 74 EMILY LEWIS Look Daddy, I’m Just Like You
Sometimes I shave my asshole on first dates Hannah Garvan
Last summer I was in Malta. By ‘last summer’ I mean the last one I was in. Funny how it’s always summer somewhere. When we say ‘last summer’, we really mean ‘last time summer was here’. I was in summer there, last. Those little island dots, under the second ‘e’ of ‘Mediterranean’. You can drive from top to bottom in an hour. East to west in half. Every viewpoint bares the sea. The majestic, endless, brilliant blue, extending as far as Libya, Lebanon, and Spain. It glitters under sun, swells and turns rough in storm. The presence of that aquatic bulk in all directions made me feel detached. Neither here, nor there. I never knew I had such a need to know which continent I was on at any moment. Despite the somewhat overbearing liquid surroundings, hostel bathroom cubicles still warned: ‘WATER SCARCE. TAKE SHORT SHOWERS.’ You can’t bathe in salt. In Malta, last summer (or ‘next’ summer by ‘here’ standards) in a dingy, cramped hostel shower black tiles so you can’t see the filth one hook to hang everything
I shaved my asshole.
As my crimpled, stubby pubes swirled beneath and disappeared, I wondered if My Date would ever witness the fruit of my labour, and if she’d piece together what I had
We’d been chatting for a day or two. I always use Tinder when I’m away. It’s nice to scroll Dykes like I’m not the only one. Expand the radius kilometer by kilometer, pretend they’re invisible amongst the crowds of breeders like me. Nowadays the Rock is inundated with tourists, a new generation of piss drunk Brits to reassert their colonial claim. On the streets of Sliema – the city my Grandpa once called home – you’ll hear every language and accent,
It’s a revolving door of holiday-goers. Sunburnt. Wrapped in towels. Picking up plastic souvenirs in plastic casing in plastic bags that will one day return to the same waters. My Date told me she usually swipes left on tourists: ‘what’s the point?’ I couldn’t tell her. It’s a different kind of solitude, I thought, to be Gay in the ocean of Rainbow Tourism. With none that you know and none that stick. Having been away a month in countries less Gay, I was homesick. Not for any place, but for people like me, a return to belonging. As the hot wind stirred, we met at the bay and I felt the harsh edge of life as a perceived hetero s o f t e n. She asked which end of the country I’d like to see. Nowhere was too far. She found us a beach lined with brightly lit hotels. She said they’d only been built a few years prior. We threw down a blanket and sipped on cold bevs: her shout, then mine. I told her about my quest to find cousins. It wasn’t so hard in a place so small. ‘My ancestors are from Gozo’ I told her. Malta’s island sister, an even tinier place. You can drive from sea to sea in fifteen minutes. Gozo felt alien. Clay-coloured block houses amidst a sun-stained terrain with rats and lizards and trees sprouting yellow claws like soft coral. An elderly Gozitan told me I still had family there, just twenty meters up the road. The third door before the Church of Madonna ‘ta Loreto. It was the Church of my Grandpa’s namesake. I felt an intergenerational sense of homecoming. A connection that felt as phony as it was real. A clarity on the lands my ancestors were from, and not from. Born a settler-coloniser onto Countries I don’t belong, I’ve been dislodged in s
I told My Date how I stood knocking for minutes, awaiting the ghost of my great-grandmother in a younger face. She remarked on the uncommonness of our name and I wondered where My Family was that day
if not home.
The dark waves crashed next to us and soon, onto us, as we slipped in, topless. We kissed and held each other until the swell spat us out, so we clawed onto each other on our sandy blanket instead. The only lights came from those sky-high hotels, a sight my inherited homesickness had never learnt to long for. The sand, suddenly oppressive, demanded we check into one of them. 1AM, no luggage, hand in hand – and still got two single beds. We showered together, then fucked under artificial light. She left, and I slept naked in the remaining bed. Still intact. The next day, she picked me up after work and drove me to the airport. We kissed and said goodbye, and then Malta was a thousand feet underwing and I wondered if I’d ever see her again, and if I could be back on tiny, alien, sun-stained Gozo – would My Family
be at home
by now ?
Katherine Doherty CONTENT WARNING: bushfires, environmental collapse
Wren wakes to a growl in the darkness. She sits up, turns on the flashlight of her phone and shines it around the room. Nothing. There’s nothing there. Just the dusty floorboards of the little house. Boxes, still not fully unpacked. A small window set high in the wall, stars barely visible outside. Slipping out of her room, Wren is careful not to make too much noise. She doesn’t need to try and explain what it is that woke her to her parents. They are practical people–if, recently, a bit odd–and she doesn’t think they would believe that there is a monster in her room. Outside the house is not so much colder than in. It’s old and poorly insulated, a little draughty. She’d barely believed it the first time her father showed her photos – they were leaving their pleasant house in Brisbane for this? Other people dreamed of living in the tropics, and he was dragging them down to cold, wet, dreary Tassie. And as far south as he could find, too. Just near Lune River, which was, to put it bluntly, fucking freezing. “We’re getting ahead of it,” he said. “Lots of people are going to start moving there in the next few decades. Further north is going to be unliveable, and Tassie’s predicted to be pretty safe.” ‘Getting ahead’ of this migration by several decades didn’t strike Wren as the most sensible thing, but her father insisted that they had to move while they still could. “And, anyway, every year the predictions change, with every new report they say it’ll all happen sooner. Why would we wait around and find out? I don’t want to try and sell the house when it’s underwater.” So that was that–they said goodbye to Queensland and bought themselves some cold weather clothes. In preparation for global warming. She sits down in the grass and looks up at the stars. It’s a beautiful place. Once she goes away to uni she’ll enjoy being able to visit. But it’s just so isolated–away from her friends and extended family, and it’s not like she can really meet new people either. Maybe when school starts up again. She’s not looking forward to the commute to and from Dover each day, but it will be a relief to interact with people who aren’t her parents. Here in the darkness, amongst the trees, she could be the last human left on earth. She’s a little nervous. She knows there’s nothing dangerous out here–she’d be in more danger walking down a city street in Brisbane. But still, she feels like something is watching her. She stands up slowly, carefully, glancing around. It’s all in her head. It’s probably all in her head. But she wants to be back inside, tucked up safe in bed, and she is running, covering the short distance back to the door as fast as she can.
In the morning, of course, it all feels distant. She finds her parents in the small, light-filled kitchen–the kettle on, toast in the toaster, fresh eggs from their chickens on the stove. “Are you OK?” Her mother looks concerned. “You look really tired.” “Nah, I’m fine.” Wren doesn’t want to let her parents know that she was wandering around outside by herself, even if there’s no danger here. Her father researched this area extensively. He believes it will be the safest place in the world soon. She remembers him on the computer with all the maps of projections and predictions, showing the changes in temperature, in sea level, in rainfall. Australia was going to be hot and dry, except the places where most people lived, which would be hot and flooded by the rising seas. He tapped on the screen anxiously and turned to her. “You see?” He said. “We can’t just wait around for this. We have to get out,” and there was real panic in his voice, even though the maps on the screen said 2030, 2050, 2100. Years away and yet the look in his eyes was as though he could see it right in front of him. It scared her, truth be told, and she wondered what he meant by get out. Where was there to go? Tasmania, apparently. * Wren goes to let the chickens out one morning and finds that two of them are missing. The rest seem a little shell-shocked, a little jumpier than usual. Something has them spooked. Wren tries to pick one up, a small, friendly Bantam. The hen struggles to get away, clucks frantically and beats her wings until Wren is forced to put her down. “Probably foxes,” her mother says. “Are you sure?” Wren asks. “That it was foxes?” “I don’t know what else it would have been.” Her mum looks thoughtful. “Snakes, maybe? Do Tassie devils kill things? I thought they were just scavengers. I guess it must have been something that could dig under the wire.” Wren checks all around the coop, trying to find where the predator got in, but there is nothing. The wire seems intact, the ground undisturbed. “We must have left them out,” her mum says. “Poor things.” Wren thinks of the growling. The invisible creature that she hears in the dark. Maybe she should talk to a doctor. Does she really think that it could be a ghost? Surely not. * More chickens go missing through the week, and once Wren walks out onto the porch to find a mess of blood and feathers strewn across the wood. She shrieks, despite herself, and runs back inside. A city girl at heart, just living in the bush. Her father cleans up the mess while she stares out a window at the dark trees, and the dirt road leading away from this place. She hears her parents talking, once her dad has buried the remains of the bird in the veggie garden. “What are we going to do?” Her dad sighs. “I have no idea. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem like it’s digging under the wire, so burying it deeper won’t help. And I’ve been careful to make sure they’re all away every night. I can’t figure out how it’s getting them.” “What could it be, do you think?” Her mother asks. There is silence – perhaps a shrug from her dad, or a shake of his head.
The fire warnings surprise her dad, almost enrage him. It hasn’t rained in a long time, which is unusual for this part of the world. The whole point of moving was to escape the droughts and water shortages. Not that they’ve run out yet or anything like that, but ancient trees are catching alight and nothing is how it was supposed to be. His reaction surprises her. Perhaps it shouldn’t. He was so proud of himself for getting them down here, for keeping them safe. He thought his foresight and willingness to act put him ahead of everyone else – thought that because of their sacrifice, they would survive while everyone else burned. Wren isn’t sure they deserve to survive just because they could leave their lives behind and run to Tasmania. It seems unfair, that their ability to change jobs and schools and pay for the move could mean that they are OK, while others remain trapped. But maybe it won’t matter anyway. The forests are drying out and there have already been bushfires in other parts of the state. Everyone is saying it’s because of climate change. Her father obsesses over the weather. He keeps watching the weather reports and sighing as more clear skies are predicted. It was supposed to keep raining down here. * Eventually there are no chickens left. They talk about getting more but it seems a waste of money and time. Wren’s parents are still worried about her – they think she fears whatever killed the chickens, fears it coming back. They tell her it would have just been some small predator that got in through the larger opening around the padlock in the wire door or a space small enough to escape the notice of humans but not a ferret or rat or some other tiny and clever thing. For a time they had wondered if it was a person, lurking in the bush, trying to scare them off. But there is nothing to suggest this save the mystery of the thing, and surely a human would have had to break the padlock to get in. Wren’s parents tell her it is impossible, and she believes them. It wasn’t anything human. She is certain. Something is there, in the corner of her eye, on the edge of her hearing. * Wren is sitting on the back porch, curled up on the old couch, when a movement in the trees catches her eye. She can’t quite see what it is–under the canopy it is already dark, and the understory tangles together in a frenzied mess. But she is sure there is something moving, something long and lithe slipping between the trunks, hidden in shadow. She stands, and squints, trying to see more. But all seems still now–it has disappeared further back into the bush. Quickly and quietly as she can, Wren darts towards the trees. Crossing from their unkempt lawn into the trees feels like she could be moving into another dimension. It is darker, and the dark feels more oppressive, more alive. She chooses her footsteps carefully, trying not to get tangled in a bush or root. It is not so far back to the house that she couldn’t make it with a rolled ankle, but she feels more vulnerable out here. Wren can hear small things skittering through the undergrowth, and birds calling to each other in the trees. Just as humans are settling down for the night, so much out here is waking up and about to start hunting. As she creeps along, dried leaves crunch underfoot. She has no idea how much time passes in there. In the dark and the quiet Wren feels utterly displaced. Everything around her looks as it has for hundreds of years. She is probably lost. She’s not sure she cares. Katherine Doherty 09
The air smells sharply of eucalyptus. But Wren notices something else, too – something out of place in the cool night air, something terrifying. Smoke. Wren looks ahead of her and sees an animal, thin and dog-shaped, a long tail and stripes down its back. It turns and looks at her and she is transfixed but the smoke is thicker now, heavier, and the thylacine vanishes into the dark and the smoke or perhaps it was never there at all and she realises that she has to get out of there. Wren has no idea where home is, but she turns back the way she came. She ducks down low, remembering the old fire safety lessons they all learnt in school and she runs, as best she can, tripping over logs and roots, and her lungs are burning from the exertion and the smoke that she cannot help but inhale. Somewhere there is fire, and she doesn’t know whether it is in front of her or behind – she could be running straight into the flames. It seems impossible that this dark and ancient bushland is burning. It seems a betrayal of the safety they were seeking at down here at the end of the world. They were meant to be OK. She was meant to be OK, but she is getting dizzy and cannot run anymore, she falls to the ground, hard, and up ahead she thinks she can see the lights of the house but perhaps it is just the fire, and somewhere she can hear growling and crackling. The last safe place is burning. There is nowhere left to go, and some part of Wren can’t help but think that they deserve it.
10 Katherine Doherty
Shuyan (Lynne) Bian 11
biological girl Lucette Moulang
my body is warm, a wet cocoon soft and breakable the sweat will roll down my chest and onto yours but yours comes from inside a pill from inside a bottle that you were given permission to take you love the hole in my belly just as much as you resent it and me for bleeding out truths and half-hearted apologies one day we will both be mothers one day I will scrape out your insides like papaya and place our child between your hips whispering gently this is your birthright
the leave-taking Nicholas Kirkby
CONTENT WARNING: Illness
I have burnt the bonds that held me to your breast I have burnt them with the borrowed passage of hands that in darkening motions upon the once-clean moon face ripened the coarse grain of my thoughts and sent fields of malcontent marching to a foreign wind that blew too sweet that
scoured tongue-cracked corridors of granite beneath cities of cotton. but
that is all over
and I will drown this absence with the waters that the distances carry. I will bury the memory of you like I have buried myself these years to keep you near. beneath the torrents of a red spring from a place made high with the slow accretion of these stable sunsets I will look upon the valleys of my spent need and know only that you are gone. I will suffer to know that my land is made
I will drag away the ragged doctor that once limped across my vision with naught but an apple and searching arms and know I have made my roots here and the banded deserts the lands that heap themselves
between the sapling forests like questing fruit.
the map lines will be coiled to their rest. I will grow tired and abandon myself to the northern pond to drink as I have always done and to die like an amateur. the pear blossoms will rot and the fountains murmur. the martyr sun muttering its amber arguments will fall to the pillow of this long land and I will sleep in the pregnant secrecies knowing myself and no other.
‘Fishn’t’ Ruby Li
He hooked me up through my eye, an air-choking, light-blinding cry. Fish out of water!
Peel cherry skin Lay me with fingers stained Coat me in Morning Fresh Leave me to drip dry Dimple my butter lips Spread me onto toast melted Dress me with milk A wanted purity Strain to see Me pouring down the sink Like a left over bottle of champagne from the night before.
‘Metamorphosis’ Klesa Wilson
‘Don’t get lost in the weeds when swimming to the horizon’ Olga Dziemidowicz
towards ataraxy: 24/04/2020 Amy Wortmann
today i discovered a rare treasure: milo with almond milk. it has a softer taste, a reminder of beach sand and marbled mahogany tables, lullaby months when my belly brimmed and the sun smiled back. i have been trying to appreciate the little things in life; like how my neighbour’s voice cascades through the stairwell at dawn, like my pup-py’s distorted woof over whatsapp, like the excitement of unspoken feelings, like the texture of milo with almond milk. i have been cruel to this body, i have wrung sadness from every rag and stuffed pins into every crevice i could, but i’m learning to appreciate again.
dreamtalk. Charlotte Waters
CONTENT WARNING: internalised homophobia
there’s a wall nearby that separates the street from the freeway blankets its sound.
it’s a warm night leonard cohen’s hallelujah swells in my headphones christmas lights mark every second house with bright blue moon eyes. then there’s me walking home cradling memories like marbles. a speck of dirt in the glass of an eye metallic like the words rolling around my gums i like girls.
a long-fingered hand clutches mine / nails split the skin of my knuckles / split through brick paths / white roses / schoolbuildings / my palm presses into hers / holds out until it finds a ridge in the dream / collapses. don’t resist. at the moment of letting go my body falls asleep there’s glass around my eyes wax around the roses. my body roots itself between and underneath bricks / bends towards its source / stay near me / stay alive.
i trace the path to my gate scan the trellis for spiderwebs.
i don’t personally believe in it but i don’t have a problem with those who are.
my hand melts into the air so that there’s no telling where one dream ends and the next begins.
who am i to judge?
sometimes my thoughts eat each other up / it’s a hard job cleaning you out / we have to stay quiet in here / gather up the seeds dropped / four years ago / in the loose soil.
the girl is twice my height and three times as put-together hair cropped clean at the shoulder uniform creaseless.
you’re resisting again.
it starts somewhere in my stomach and rises to my face rolls over the inside of my cheek and sheds its skin betrays itself an oozing nectarine a lazy ball.
a thumb finds the delta of my spine. my ghostsister she’s late says she’s been searching for me in the wells of her dream. she leads me forward nails slacken and drag on my skin leads me into a dimly lit auditorium. a place with friends on either side hands slapping thighs you’re late they’re halfway through the song already you’re here now. 2008. a girl walks up to the lectern. i’m one in rows of ponytails rows of twitching noses touching knees.
a cough skims pebbles across the hall. patches of red and white and maybe a dark bluegreen splatter the insides of my eyelids the colours congeal. i try not to look at her / my eyes seize the wooden floorboards of the stage / a ponytail / a cough / her voice curdles in the lining of my stomach / the floorboards / a ponytail / a soft palm on my shoulder / the long-legged ghostgirl beside me. she tells me to try my hardest to blush really screw up my muscles and work at it only then can the redness let go of me. it’s a game she likes to play game she’s been playing for eight years. i focus on the red on the white roses in between on the webs branching my vision. i draw laughter from the iris of a well.
Charlotte Waters 25
06:13. Jacey Quah
the muted morning light falls like an upturned bird, upon a cityscape stirring from its deepest slumber. you, untethered, venture beyond its mantle, stifled by the white inferno spilling like liquid gold onto the pavement. this was not a regular dayâ€™s commute, yet you are no regular bystander. the click of your heel corrodes the concrete, and the rust tiptoes just close enough to touch you again. beep. donâ€™t forget to touch on. wilting, flourishing, waiting idly. our souls but clusters, old and new.
Jean Baulch 27
Homesick Georgia Cooper
It’s the view out the window of a train, pulling away. The illusion of self-motion; are you moving at all? The rattle white noise, the strangers are cold as your fingers. It’s the bars of light that move across the bedroom wall late at night. A mattress on the floorboards. A rattling in your fingers. Strangers in the rain. It’s catching the bus after dark; you stop by the ocean and watch the lights bobbing on the waves. The sand under your boots rough, fragmented, like your French. Was the shore always this big? An aborted call home, your voice small as the phone rings out; Mama, are you awake? Mattress bobbing on the waves. A train through your bedroom wall. It feels like waking up back home. Disorientated. Caught in the flotsam of a bad dream. Recollection, or something else? Where are you really? It’s the cattle in foreign fields, watching with their eyes rolling, clouds in the grey sky mottled, a patchwork countryside. One city to the next; the cows watch you go. Arrival is just a time-stamped board, the clock ticking over. Another train arrives. Another postcard memory.
Would home really be better?
Postcards shoved into a suitcase, mottled with age.
It’s a dead garden in the rain. Umbrella up. An old couple on a bench. Is the sun shinning somewhere? Back home? The couple leave. You’ve got nowhere to go. Some things don’t translate well. Three in the morning, on the road of your own recollection. Are you awake? Homesickness exists in the little things, brewing in a foreign mug. The tea-stains lining the rim are not your own. It’s the drunk bubbling of someone else’s laughter. A strange skyline. This is not your home.
Zehra Rizvi 30
<epidermal> Lara Fielding
Fill my head with cotton-fluff [‘I already miss you so much’] and kick-fling me to the ground. So that I can Look sideways to where the dampness is. Where the honey-funguses slowly Grow. Look again, now; Look how they are different. Study where the strange flowers grow close by. I wanted to write to you
I’m so tired My heart hurts I don’t know how I don’t want to anymore
Rest in the creek-bed; Ink-moss now Cover up my lips and creep past my name. Close your eyes to Fill me up with creek-cum warm white globs soap and glisten Creep up my edges Outline my spine Frame my outsides Present to them my body; <not mine> I am not there I am resting elsewhere.
Migration Nicole Jia Moore
mum explains that when a human touches a baby bird its mother rejects it; i confess, i walk my smell of tiger balm back to the tree anyway, chopstick in my hair too; i think of bhanu kapil, who writes: it’s exhausting to be a guest in somebody else’s house forever; my mum is a lady of science, so i use her mouth: the universe being infinite there are many chances for our successes; she asks me to stay, then, and it’s possible we make the kitchen smell like nations while birds outside hit us with dreams; there’s many ways it could go; mum asks me to stay, then, and we cry, and avoid the kitchen to sit with the birds; or else i stay, and no one cries and I tell her about being labelled a stranger; i stay, and don’t even speak; just toss a coin and watch it spin up into the sky; after dinner, mum walks me to the spot where gold dips back to us; it’s possible her watch is gold, or else a trick of light; or else she is doing science as in calculating lights’ transit to places a bird has yet to fall; and a woman has yet to settle in motion with a white man she does not love; my present: to shed the feathers and the mother tongue, and wear the name, and kiss my mother, as any daughter does;
Phuong Ngo 34
Phuong Ngo 35
Names You Would Call Distant Light Sources Pooja Pressely
A tear in the sky.
A Taylor Swift song.
A sickle moon.
A past self.
(It leaks into car windows like God’s fingers digging into the cold skin of a teenage neck. You’d call it heaven as a mythological breach of sun). (An exit wound of some kind, a human-shaped remission, a cleft that you could stick a hand through. You’d call it leaving dry flowers on a grave-top). (Or dilating pupils. Or the opening and closing of a heart valve. I will never learn to separate life & machine. You’d call them an artificial system of blinking stars). (A speck of cobalt in silver-white flame. A light thief, made of nicked cartilage, shaped like the gentle part of my mouth. You’d call it an escape route). (I revisit old diaries with surgical knives & mutilate that amnesiac. Every incision is a gaping mouth of light-spill. You’d call her a psychosomatic smoke signal).
Shuyan (Lynne) Bian 37
‘Summer Gum Leaves’ Jean Baulch
Party Favours Pooja Pressely
This is a party, but you dig your nails into my stomach and pull out a dead butterfly. You ask me to empty my lungs into pink balloons and I burn my knees on the living room carpet. Never have I ever lied to my best friend. We watch each other gulp, every confession a slick cyanide seed indenting flesh, and never dare to choke. I could build a sanctuary with these plastic cups, grow daylilies in them. Is this a party or a staring contest? I curl fingers around an insect wing â€” cataclysmic light, empyrean and glistening with dew â€” and use my incisors. I chew. I let the taste latch. I count the cicadas implanting larvae in this burial ground of my body. You forgot about the line down my abdomen, I think. That chasm. Hello? Oh.
Hiew Li Xin Timothy 41
Shuyan (Lynne) Bian 43
I crave termites on toast Torsten Strokirch
CONTENT WARNING: themes of violence and death
I crave termites on toast
I am turning into a numbat. I can tell from the shape my nose is going. And from the stripes showing up down my back. And this bushy tail too. That’s a dead giveaway. I am luckier than some. A numbat is not too far. Some people, like the ones turning into very small insects or very large whales or elephants have much further to go. So I should be grateful for the small mercies. Still, the fur coming up everywhere is itchy. Itchy like the worst rash you’ve ever had. That’s why I’ve got these scabs on my arms. I’m not used to the claws and go to scratch myself and… you get the picture. Even now, nobody has any clue what’s happening. Or why- why it happened to the youngest before anyone else. At first there were a couple of stories about babies being born with weird genetic defects. Like scaly legs or furry backs, or pupils the shape of a cat’s. Then there were those horror stories about the children. Like that preschool in Japan where all the kids turned into rats. All at once too. Fucking nightmare. Oh and that viral video from some American family where the older brother turned into an anaconda and strangled his goat sister to death. I couldn’t watch it. Can’t figure out why anyone would share that stuff either. I deleted all my social media a few weeks ago. The only ones who think they know what’s up are the conspiracy theorists and the nutty doomsday prophets. There’s one guy, nearly all sea lion now, who stands on the corner at St Kilda Junction holding a sign that says REPENT! in big letters. He’s still there shouting every day. Though now you can’t make out the words in the barking. Sometimes I think what happened to Chris, my nephew Chris, was the best way. He’s only 14 so he was done a couple of weeks back. I was there too, over at their place for dinner. Chris went into the kitchen to get some extra cutlery and we all just heard the crash of knives falling on the tiles. When we rushed in we found him lying on the floor all floppy. His bones had gone quick. Jellyfish have no bones. And my sis was screaming at him over and over like “Chris Chris get up Chris!”. I had to cover my ears because they were already getting sensitive by that stage.
But Chris couldn’t hear it. His mind was already mush like his bones were- Jellyfish have no brains either. Afterward his dad and me took him into the bathroom and laid him out in the bathtub like some weird fleshy doll. And then we shut the door so no one had to watch what was left of Chris growing tentacles and losing his face. And sometimes I think it was better for it to happen that way. Because now I lie awake at night listening to the terrible noises coming from all the flats in my building. I know what it is too. It’s all my neighbours lying in their beds screaming as the bones slowly rearrange inside them. Because that bit always happens at night. I know because it happens to me. But I don’t scream much like some others. Numbats are quiet animals; I guess that’s why. All of us here at number sixteen Derwood Street are just so worried about what will happen at the end. You know, when it’s all done and we have to go out as animals and find our way in the world. We’re all so worried because we know that Rod Manning in unit 12 is turning into a lion. I heard him roaring just this morning. He could be waiting out in the foyer or in the communal courtyard when we come out. Fucking hell. If I got eaten by a total lowlife like Rod Manning what would that make me? I was thinking- because of Rod and all the other shit going down here- I was thinking of going camping. Taking a tent and going bush somewhere up north. That way I would be in just the right spot for when I’m finished. Then maybe I’ll be alright. I’ll have to do it soon though because in a few days I won’t be big enough to reach the pedals in my car. I’m feeling crap about leaving old Debbie here of course. But it’s not like I’ll be of any use to her. She’s nearly ninety I think- poor dear. Hasn’t even got the beginnings of whiskers or antennae. Nothing. Just imagine it- living that long only to die because there’s no one left to look after you. She’ll just be sitting there alone at her window gazing out at all the animals running round killing each other in the street and on the footpath. I don’t want her to see me now, but maybe I’ll leave her a note. Tell her to keep the curtains shut.
Torsten Strokirch 47
Sweets to the sweet Asher Christina Harrington CONTENT WARNING: allusions to self-harm
And while they then lived happily The worst was still to come She found one morning after Flowers growing from her arm The scene before swimming class at Billie’s new school was rife with pubescent prudishness. The girls who had not come ready with their bathers beneath their clothes (which was most, given the day was hot and their uniform demanded strict layers) were either lined up in clusters outside the three changeroom cubicles, or else pressed into any available corner with large colourful towels draped over their shoulders as they awkwardly undressed. Billie was not compelled towards such shows of discretion and found them a little silly. She had no more concern over the visibility of her own body than she had interest in anyone else’s. That was until she’d removed her blazer, vest and tie and noticed something rather odd whilst freeing her arms from the long-sleeve buttoned shirt beneath. Sticking out of the skin in the middle her left forearm, where just another fine fair hair should’ve been, was a single miniscule daisy. Billie glanced around, but the other girls were too focussed on remaining hidden to notice anyone else. She slipped her shirt back on and went to speak to the swimming teacher. She meant to ask him about the daisy but got embarrassed. Instead she told him she had her period and couldn’t swim.
Sweets to the Sweet
‘Do you have a note from your mother?’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘Did no one explain the new rule to you?’ ‘No, I’m quite new.’ ‘Oh. Well, too many of you were using the menstruation excuse a little too frequently. Now your mother needs to fill out a form.’ Would a father’s signature not suffice? Billie thought to say. I’m sorry to cause trouble,’ she said instead, ‘but I wasn’t aware, and it’s only just begun.’ Alright, but if you try that excuse again this month, you’ll be doing make-up classes during lunch.’ Billie wandered back into the changerooms and waited by the sinks for everyone to leave. Eventually, only one stray straggler stood before the mirror of the furthest sink from the door, glowering as she scrubbed makeup from her face with paper towels and hand soap. The girl wasn’t someone Billie spoke to, or in fact even really recognised. But her face was sweet enough, albeit impaired by unyielding mascara stains and bloodshot eyes. When it became apparent that her face was as clean as it was going to get with the limited resourses available, the girl stepped back and stared at her reflection, tilting her chin this way and that.
‘Yep,’ she said, possibly to Billie, though she didn’t look at her. ‘Still ugly.’ Billie chuckled at the frankness of the statement, but quickly added, ‘I think you look ‘Sweet is a taste.’ When she was finally alone, Billie stood before the changeroom mirrors and took off her
The daisy was still there, sprouting up from her flesh as if it were the most common thing in the world. The skin around the stem bruised a reddish hue and was tender to touch. She gently pulled at it, but its roots burrowed deep and even a firm tug proved ineffectual. Not to mention shockingly painful. She pressed her lips to the penetrated skin and tasted the blood swelling just below the surface, nourishing the roots of the strange intruder. She thought – though she couldn’t say why – that it would taste sweet. It didn’t. Quickly, she put her shirt back on and went to sit by the pool. The heat of the swimming hall was unbearable, but she resisted rolling up her sleeves. ‘Should I try pull it out?’ In lieu of a mother to asks these things of, she went to her older brother. He looked at the daisy with a frown. ‘Huh,’ he said, and she could see his mind through his eyes, scrambling for a legitimate-sounding response. ‘I don’t think so. It might get all scabby.’ ‘That’s not so bad.’ ‘Yeah, but you’re incapable of leaving scabs alone. It might get infected. And then you’ll have a gross yellowy blotch on your arm.’ ‘I could just wear long-sleeves.’ ‘You could just wear long-sleeves now.’
Asher Harrington 49
By the moon she plucked the stem And licked the weeping bruise But by the dawn it grew again With many more set loose When she woke the next morning there were multiple daisies all along both arms. ‘This is getting ridiculous!’ ‘They’re not so bad,’ her brother assured her. ‘They’re... you know, sweet. They suit you.’ ‘I suppose.’ ‘Just make sure you only wear your long sleeve shirts to school from now on.’ ‘I thought you said they were sweet.’ He shrugged uncomfortably. ‘They are, but ... I don’t know. It just seems sort of... private.’ ‘Maybe I can just trim them.’ When they started growing on her legs, she finally went to her father. He wasn’t much help, but he did write her a note to get out of swimming. Billie sat by the pool and watched the other girls shuffle awkwardly out of the changerooms in their bathing suits. The more conservative (or perhaps just self-conscious) wore towels around their legs until the moment they had to jump into the water. Billie’s eyes searched over their bodies, but none shared her affliction. When the heat of the swimming hall became too overwhelming, she endeavoured to sneak outside through the changerooms. She expected them to be empty, but another fully clothed girl was standing before the mirror of the nearest sink. She was painting her face with makeup – dark heavy lines and smears of vibrant shimmering shadow around her eyes. Billie wouldn’t have called the look “pretty” exactly, certainly not sweet. But it was striking in a most inhumanely lovely kind of way. The girl was in several of Billie’s classes and was always getting in trouble for her face. But she insisted on keeping it. The painted girl looked up at Billie. ‘You were sitting out last week too,’ she said. ‘Can you not swim or something?’ ‘Severely short cycle.’ ‘Ah. I used to use that one before the forms were mandatory. What’s your real problem?’ Billie pulled down her thick tights, revealing the meadow of miniature daisies growing down her legs. ‘Oh wow.’ With scissors did the painted girl Cut right down to the skin Till no more flowers stood on guard And she could be let in When Billie was happy the daisies turned to violets – and not miniscule violets either, as the daisies had had the good grace to be, but rather regular thumb-sized purple things that sprung up from her flesh with leaves and petals wide open and welcoming. They were much more cumbersome to hide and stained her white school shirts terribly. This caused her father no end of grief, though he was deeply uncomfortable remarking on it directly.
Sweets to the Sweet
Billie’s afternoons were spent in the dim golden light of the bedroom of the painted girl. She would snip the stems of Billie’s violets one-by-one, letting them drop onto the purple covers of her bed. One particular snip came too close to the skin and drew a welling drop of blood. The painted girl pressed her lips to the wound. ‘What do I taste like?’ The painted girl looked up at her. ‘Like skin and blood, of course. Metallic, kind of bitter.’ ‘Not sweet?’ ‘Why would you taste sweet?’ Billie shrugged and stared up at the ceiling. ‘I don’t know… Maybe because I heard in a story once that witches live in houses made of sweet things to lure sweeter things inside.’ The painted girl sat up and looked down into Billie’s eyes. ‘Venus fly traps secrete nectar to catch bugs and bugs aren’t sweet. Trust me, I used to eat them all the time when I was a kid.’ ‘That’s disgusting,’ Billie laughed. ‘Do I taste better than bugs at least?’ ‘Better than bugs and sugar.’ Billie wrapped her hand around the hand holding the scissors. ‘Then cut them all and have your fill.’ When she doubted not her love Violets bloomed from skin afire But thorny roses took their place When truth was proved a liar Billie wanted to soak in those golden afternoons forever, but the painted girl wanted more; she wanted to overflow across the day with Billie’s hand in hers. But Billie’s brother didn’t think it was a good idea and Billie’s father didn’t want to hear about it. When the painted girl left her, the violets withered into roses. And though their petals were blood-red and beautiful, their thorny vines wound around her body like snakes, biting anyone who would try to touch her. After a near-fatal attempt to quell the roses with pruning shears, Billie’s father was forced to acknowledge the issue. He took her to the school’s uniform shop to purchase attire broad enough to encompass her pretty parasites. A skirt that would reach her ankles had to be commissioned, but two sewn together for length would do for the time being. Billie stared at herself in the full-length mirror while her father paid. She looked as heavy as she felt. She looked like she was sinking, like she was being pulled down into the ground by the weight of the hidden flowers. On the drive home, her father talked to her. ‘Your mother always hated when I brought her flowers.’ ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have kept bringing her flowers then.’ ‘She just couldn’t appreciate the sentiment. It’s not like flowers are ever intended maliciously… My first wife loved flowers. Now there was a sweet girl—’ A swarm of flowers of every kind burst from Billie’s body and her father lost control of the wheel. In the dim light of their father’s hospital room, her brother hacked away at the gown of flowers tumbling from her body. Eventually his arms grew too weak to go on and Billie was left to gather up the violently plucked creatures alone. Asher Christina Harrington 51
Sweets to the Sweet
Though she was better at hiding it, Billie had always shared her mother’s aversion to receiving flowers. She saw no appeal in the gift of a fresh corpse, whose beauty lingered only to briefly grace the open coffin of a glass vase. What was the sentiment in that? She left the clipped flowers in the empty water jug beside her father’s bed. ‘No note, no excuse,’ the swimming teacher said. Billie stood by the edge of the pool, her new oversized uniform hardly covering the gown of flowers trailing behind her. ‘My father isn’t up to—’ ‘—I’m in no mood for you girls’ excuses today. No note, no excuse. Rules are rules.’ ‘But I’ll drown.’ ‘Don’t be dramatic.’ He moved away to bark instructions at the rest of the class. The painted girl was among them, only her face was unmade – save for a few unyielding stains – and would not meet Billie’s eyes. Billie watched her and the other girls splash around and tried to remember what it was like to feel that thick greenish water against her almost naked skin. She no longer knew what it was to be naked. She removed her oversized clothes then and there, by the side of the pool, but still she was not naked. She was covered. She was heavy. She was falling. A girl drowning in flowers Took her flowers to the water And the water took her flowers But they would not let her go Suddenly Billie’s head broke the surface of the pool and she gasped for air. When her eyes could see again, she saw the painted girl. ‘Let go,’ Billie begged her through coughs. ‘They’ll drag you down too.’ But then Billie saw the rest of her classmates. They were all bobbing in the water around her, their many hands holding her up. ‘It’s alright, Billie,’ the painted girl whispered. ‘Look.’ Though she looked upon her body And knew not what was to come For now she lay with dandelions Safely in the ladies’ arms
52 Asher Christina Harrington
‘The thoughts inside’ Olga Dziemidowicz
‘The Ocean Refuses No River’ Mohsin Nazir
‘Dark Reflection’ Alicia Doddy
Amruta Chande CONTENT WARNING: ethnic cleansing Why are you sending me self-love quotes? Tag a friend who understands that we are made of stardust. You want me to get a $250 reiki healing from a White woman like you did? I bathed in the waters of the Ganga when I came out of the womb. I am healed. I used to love hippies. I write like a hippie. What is structure anyway? Let us indulge in this individualism capitalism bathes us in. Acting class: You hear a lulled roar as the waves, as if in slow motion, approach the white sand and gently dissolve into it. The sky fades into the sea. The horizon line is a glint of gold in front of you; left to right, infinite. All around you it forms a circle of light. You are the only person here. Golden beams stream out from the boundary between the sky and the sea. One goes right through your solar plexus chakra. It nourishes you like a pool of afternoon light on limestone. You stretch your arms and fall onto your side, languorous, like a sleeping cat in the sun. #blacklivesmatter 2020 woke us up. Post a black square and you’re woke. Post a I will never understand but I stand square and you’re woke. We evolved though: This is a movement not a moment. *** Do you remember you used to sing this all the time? Running around the house like ‘mere khwabon mein jo aaye…’ When did I start resenting Bollywood? When did I start resenting my culture? The other night, over a video chat, my uncle showed us some videos of five-year-old-me. For some reason, I could never stop dancing and putting on a show and charging at people with a cricket bat in my hand. So naturally someone told my parents to give me a shante which translates as to quieten, to bring peace. It is a ritual involving my horoscope and a cow. I was never the same since. I stopped singing Bollywood songs and dancing with Nach Baliye contestants. My parents and I migrated to Australia. Assimilation is a bitch. *** 57
My White friend always used to say that she felt bored and bourgeois. This was before I really knew the meaning of bourgeois. I used to always ask her: Do you feel guilt ever? Like I always feel guilty for doing an arts degree. I wish I knew art and literature and could talk about it at fancy dinner parties. I just can’t talk like them. Even after going to Europe. I don’t know. She could never give me the answer I needed. Instead, we romanticised and created fictions of people and places. Conjuring dreams and fantasies was my role as a Neptune-dominant soul. Hmm… Reading Kerouac in Paris was a vibe though. What is this universe but a lot of waves And a craving desire is a wave Belonging to a wave in a world of waves *** Someone once told me that all art must have a degree of narcissism. All artists are necessarily narcissistic. I hated her for a long time after that. I hated how she said ‘necessarily narcissistic’. It sounded so refined and cool it sent a shiver down my spine. I should have read Murakami earlier: Pure art exists only in slave-owning societies. The Greeks had slaves to till their fields, prepare their meal, and row their galleys while they lay about on sun-splashed Mediterranean beaches, composing poems and grappling with mathematical equations. *** People talk about how the first time they travelled alone, they realised how big the world was. And how easy it really is to experience different ways of living. I get that feeling when I’m in someone else’s house awake at 3am. I imagine myself in all the places where I was awake at 3am. I’m in that London hostel room which smells like beer with seven strangers; the combination of body heat and cigarette smoke sends droplets of sweat along my neck and back. I’m on the concrete floor of a terrace in the Indian summer where I see a couple of Gods in a golden chariot shooting through the night. I’m in that arctic tent in the Cathedral Ranges where everyone huddled close in their sleeping bags dreaming of the midnight bonfire and mulled wine. I exist in all those places at the same time. Those places, those people and those stories exist in me all at the same time. That’s when I realise how big the world is. ***
Eating meat makes you violent
I was speaking with my mum about the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. I wanted to know what her opinion of the 2002 Gujarat riots was since that’s our home state. Scholars say that these riots were a form of ‘ethnic cleansing’ - Hindus ridding their Hindustan of Muslims - and that government officials, including the current prime minister Narendra Modi, and other people in power were complicit in the riots’ organisation. My mum said that ordinary people were afraid. She said that ordinary people do not want to get involved in these sorts of things. She said that she knew some Maratha boys in her neighbourhood who were into that sort of thing. You know what they’re like. Those types of people. They are still Hindu but different to us. Gunda-type. They ate meat. Are you calling them gangsters because they ate meat? Brahmins believe that eating meat makes you violent. Brahmins believe that craving chicken is inextricably linked to your radicalisation. Here is where I get my hippie streak from. Both hippies and Brahmins don’t want to talk about their own privilege and complicity in a hierarchical political system which benefits them only because it oppresses everyone else. Pacifism is a privilege. *** India’s hypocrisy runs deep. We will celebrate the Maratha empire which dominated India in the 18th century and ended Mughal rule. We made a big-budget commercial hit film about Tanahji, the ‘unsung hero’ of the Maratha people which antagonised the Mughal emperor, and Islam. But, the Mughal emperor was hot. Are the countless Hindu-Muslim terrorism love-stories Bollywood produces just a fetish of a dangerous, forbidden love? Places too like Kashmir and Kerala are fetishised and represented as exotic, wild and sublime nirvanas while their people are erased or misrepresented to sell the state’s definition of terrorist. Your nostalgia of that college trip where you saw lush, green forests and small hillside stations for the first time is beautiful but mum do you know that there is a strong communist presence in Kerala? The song from Roja you sang in first year university which made you a sensation is the sweetest song I’ve ever heard but know that Kashmiri ‘militants’ aren’t ‘terrorists’ like the film tells you. India is occupying Kashmir. Kashmir was never ours. Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden writes: If a Kashmiri Muslim throws a stone, he is called a terrorist. If a UP Brahmin kills eight police officers, he is called a gangster. ***
Amruta Chande 59
I get this feeling sometimes when I’m lying on the red cobblestones in my backyard and I see water that’s collected on the moss-ridden plastic of the pergola: this feeling of being parched, and completely dried up on the inside that I could just fill myself up with water and become it. I want fresh river water surrounded by massive banyan trees that have hanging roots from which ghosts swing upside down while someone’s grandmother sits by the bank rubbing sugar and spice into slices of ripe mango. It’s the feeling of my mum’s stories of youth. It’s the feeling of her song. Mehek jaauun main aaj to aise Phool bagiyaa mein meheke hai jaise Baadalon ki main odhoon chunariyaa Jhoom jaauun main banke bawariyaa Apni choti mein bandh luun duniyaa May I be fragrant today like A garden of flowers May I be enveloped by a cloak of clouds May I dance freely and become a Bawariya May I weave the world into my braids The Bawariya are a nomadic tribe who live scattered in the forests of Northern India. Although the word has come to mean mad and wild today, it is not an insult but rather a form of reverence and affection for those in touch with their instinctual natures and passions. It is how we might call artists and children a little mad and wild - with love. Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the myth of La Loba. La Loba is an old woman who sifts through mountains and dry river beds to collect and preserve the bones of that which is in danger of being lost to the world. She especially likes wolf bones. Once she assembles the skeleton of a wolf, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing. When she is sure, she stands above the skeleton and sings till the wolf comes back to life. To sing means to use soul-voice. It means to say on the breath the truth of one’s power and need, to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration. So, somehow I ended up attempting to explain this feeling when my White friend’s mother asked about my Europe trip. She immediately diagnosed it as homesickness. She said it in such a matter-of-fact way. I suppose it would be easy to identify ‘homesickness’ for people who have lived in the same suburb for generations. But then, they can’t be poetic about it. *** Anyway, I think Bollywood is the reason I am single. Assimilation is still a bitch though. I still wish I’d sat a little longer with my grandmother on the verandah that afternoon as she braided her long silver hair and told me stories of rain. She told me how in the monsoon season, the rivers fill up the dams whose ‘gates’ then need to be opened to release the water so that it doesn’t overflow and submerge the entire city. But when this water is released, streets and homes flood.
Eating meat makes you violent
I still be asking God to show his face, as Chance says. And, I still love that acting class. It was where a boy first serenaded me. Clairvoyants and spiritualists have said to me: You are like the Nightwalker in Princess Mononoke. There is a quiet confidence about you. You are a serious person. You sound like a Kardashian. As my Marxist mate would say: When? When did I ask? He was the second boy who serenaded me. But thatâ€™s just typical Gemini. Tag a friend who understands that three is a holy number.
Amruta Chande 61
Kaia Costanza-van den Belt CONTENT WARNING: body horror
You wake up sweating. You were supposed to reply. But you wouldn’t know what to say, and it’s 2am. You’ll get to it in the morning. Close your laptop. Blink away sleep– it’s 2am. Again. You can’t get comfortable, can’t fall asleep. Is there something you’ve forgotten? A knock – no, a scrabble. It could have been the trees, but you pruned them. And there is something desperate in that scratching, the physical equivalent of a scream without breath, executed with brisk efficiency. It will only take five minutes to answer. Do you? Yes – You creep along the hallway. None of the lights work. Neither does the heat. The only thing keeping you warm is rage at your university’s refusal to lower tuition in a pandemic. You feel your heart pounding as you remember how much Duncan Maskell makes in a year. You freeze. At the window is an unremarkable face. It evades description as anything besides “average”. The face of medical studies and job interviews. The face you forget as soon as you look away on the tram. The face of a nondescript white man. In a suit. It smiles like unseasoned tofu stuck to the pan on one side, and raw on the other. It holds out a hand. Through the closed door. The hand doesn’t feel like mist; it’s dry and chapped, like files jammed into a cabinet in 1963, too important to throw out but too useless to digitise. It holds out a subject experience survey. Frozen in place, you feel compelled to answer it. Do you even remember taking Chemistry 1? The tofu smile widens. No – You pull the covers up. It’s your only hope of keeping out the cold that’s been working like a parasite into the furniture, the air, your bones. It doesn’t work. The knocking continues with polite control. You count. Scratch-knock. Whispers find you through the walls, surfing the damp. Committed to building-Identify immediate issues-As effectively as possible. Scratch-knock. Most students took the time to provide feedback. A sheet of paper slides under your bedroom door. A campus sustainability survey. At the bottom: Please consider the environment before printing this email. You try to breathe. The scratching continues. You fill out the survey.
Please rank these sustainability issues in importance, from most to least. Your heart pounds: they expect you to decide between climate action, indigenous land rights, and water management. They really don’t see the connections, you realise. You can’t put down this travesty. They’re asking for advice on how to get more students recycling. This is what the administration think is important. They still invest in fossil fuels. We’re all screwed. You fill out the form. You finish the survey and go to the kitchen. There is nothing here except the lonely glow of false security: the fridge light. In times of crisis, we go to the kitchen. You find a snack. It only qualifies as a snack because it is 2am. Peanut butter and garlic on a cracker. Plain spaghetti sautéed in tepid promotional kombucha. Olives dipped in yeast. You feel like Remy in that scene in Ratatouille where he combines a berry with cheese. Iconic. You contemplate becoming a chef. The fridge strains from being open. Something in its mechanisms clicks. You close the fridge. The clicking continues. It isn’t coming from the fridge. This is not a horror movie - you know better than to turn around slowly. You spin fast, like a spy. But you are not a spy and you trip on the ledge that separates your kitchen floor from all the things that are not kitchen floors. Your heart beats faster. So does the clicking. The windows show nothing but cabinets and your face. And fingernails. Somebody else’s fingernails. You wipe yeast from the corners of your mouth, crouching behind the counter. The fingernails turn, inviting you to come outside. Do you? Yes – There are more fingernails now, crowding out the night. They form a euphonic chatter. You smash a window with the kombucha bottle and climb through the glass. The fingernails catch you. Keratin folds around your body, clicking. Shards of glass and nails dig into your flesh. You laugh. It’s warmer than your apartment. The clicking becomes a uniform buzz. Then, a voice.
No Reply: an interactive late-night adventure
“I was just wondering”, they say. You see nothing but fingernails, twisted and grubby. “If you had a chance to look at the proposal I sent though...” You stop laughing. “I’d love to get your thoughts” You recognise that voice. The president of the Succulent Appreciation Society. July 2018. You were elected onto the committee of your favourite club. You received an email. A grant proposal, for a club succulent planting trip to Bendigo. You never responded. “I’d love to get your thoughts.” The voice changes. It’s your semester one creative writing partner, asking for feedback on his poem. About his crush. He posted it on Unimelb Love Letters later. But you never replied, even then, to tell him how much it sucked. “I’d love…” Your dad asking for feedback on a speech about residential apiary bylaws. The fresher you adopted, hesitantly sending a draft of their screenplay. “Your thoughts. Your thoughts. Your thoughts.” A thousand voices combine like pickles and yogurt. “Why do you guard your thoughts so? Don’t you realise the mind is nothing but a bunch of chemicals sloshing against one another, sparks of electricity as fleeting and inconsequential as static on a duvet? Or are you some kind of immaterialist?” The fingernails don’t know you’re secretly into Cartesian Dualism. They don’t care. They reach into your mind or your brain depending on your philosophy… but no philosophy can describe the feeling of fingernails scraping with chalkboard dissonance the inside of whatever contains every thought you have ever had, sloughing them off and leaving only dry, fluttering emptiness, like a brick wall where posters used to be. “I’d love to get your thoughts.” You get another snack. No – You press your back against the cupboards under the sink, slinking away from the fingernails. They are everywhere, drumming in unison like an army of thunderstorms. The glass shakes. You breathe. Something drips into your mouth. It tastes like expired raisins. Look up. Nothing. Because the liquid has slithered past you. It’s becoming something, just over your left shoulder. Forgetting your horror movie training, you look. Slowly. A figure towers over you, all glistening globules, like a melted car made of rotten spinach. A smiling spectre of customer service, three metres tall, and grinning. Its eyes glow like black holes in its squelching forehead. “Save up to 90%,” it says brightly. You scramble, reaching for anything. “Most popular recipes this week!” The edges of the smile extend steadily. “Compression socks, now in colours!” Its voice is hemmed with sun-bleached desperation.
Kaia Costanza-van den Belt 65
“MEMBERS EXCLUSIVE!” Only a being who knows something of being human could have learned that kind of despair. You stare into those empty eyes, reaching for something to say in reply, or at least a spatula- it might make you feel in control. This is why kitchens are good in a crisis. You remember too late - you don’t own a spatula. The luminous globoid has expanded to fill the kitchen, growing more mouths than you can count. Each one chants updates, offers FREE meals, screams “HOT DEALS!!!” As shadows close in, the fragment caught in your oesophagus squirms. It needs to escape, to tell you about half price pizza sauce. Summoning your last ounce of training, you shout, “UNSUBSCRIBE!” One mouth disappears. “Unsubscribe,” you say. “Unsubscribe unsubscribe unsubscribe.” By the time the mouths are gone, “unsubscribe” has lost all meaning and you decide it’s time for another snack. It is past 3am and there is no going back. Only one thing matters: the fistful of ice cream, parmesan, and mayonnaise you are about to consume. Until you see her. A small child, waiting patiently on the other side of the counter, her head in her arms. You take a step back, then reach into the jar of mayonnaise and lick your hand like a jumbo lollipop. “That’s disgusting,” says the child. “I’m not the one letting my vertebrae dangle on the floor,” you reply. “Do not chastise the Spirits of Unanswered Emails, when you have created so many of us.” “I’ll check my emails tomorrow!” “Oh, you’ll check them. We are here for those you checked and forgot. The unanswered, the unread, the unloved.” Her silky voice twists into something dusty, the voice of thousands of unsent drafts, unread promotions, unanswered questions. It rasps like a rusty rake buried under three autumns of leaves at the edge of a ghost town. “WE ARE HERE TO FOLLOW UP.” “Do you remember your friend from that philosophy class?” She asks, her voice cheerful again. “You never told her weather you think free will matters, or whether you wanted to get lunch sometime.” You could never think of a good answer, the right answer, the answer that would convey that you not only belonged in a philosophy class but were worth sending philosophy emails. “I did want to.” “She’ll never know that.” The jar of mayonnaise is half empty; you pour a bag of chocolate chips in. “What about that nice kid from queer ball?” The child continues. “The one who doesn’t use Facebook because of their involvement in… what was it?” “I don’t remember; something involving ‘liberation’.” “It doesn’t matter - you never cared enough to respond.”
No Reply: an interactive late-night adventure
“I never got…” “It went to spam. Burner account.” “How was I supposed to know?” “Always check your spam. That’s just common sense for dating hacker types or stockpiling emergency food.” You stare at the empty mayonnaise jar in your hands. When you look up, the child is gone. Rancid sardine tins line the kitchen floor. You pick one up to lick the last drops of oil. It’s cold to the touch – cold like something that has not only died but forgotten how to live, having been exiled to space or cryogenically frozen in a cult pact. You drop the tin; oil splashes over your toes. You shiver. There’s a sudden draught. It knows about your drafts… Is there something you’ve forgotten? The smell of rotting roses fills the air, spreading across your tongue like the slick tingle of a petrol station. Something under your skin is telling you to go outside. Do you? Yes – You rush out, full of overconfidence and mayonnaise. You almost forget to perceive the writhing mass in the sky. Nothing about it can be described. Something in the back of your mind says, “tentacles”. Something else, much louder, says, “ARGHHH”. The sky removes inanimate objects from the far end of the humanity scale and places them firmly in the middle. It could be described as Lovecraftian but won’t be; that guy was an asshole. You feel a promise of empty comfort held out to you, like a weighted blanket made of ice. The sky lowers conspiratorially. You listen. No – You sprint to your bed, stopping to swallow a tablespoon of salt. You pull up the covers and hold your phone out, like an exorcist. Quiet. You sit up and bang your head on the ceiling. Your bed is suspended in darkness. Tendrils of viscous smoke stream through cracks in your window, seep through the carpet, and muffle your phone. They hiss and whisper like terrible ASMR. As you struggle to hear the cloying, slithering sibilance of their words, you realise... they all start the same. You listen. Tendrils squirm into your ears and imagination. You can’t tell the difference; you renounce Cartesian Dualism. You find a potato chip in your pocket. Eat it. Forget how to taste. The darkness forms a world of its own, brushing your skin like flowers in a graveyard, whispering a new reality. A supercilious voice, drenched in honey and fetid terror, speaks directly into your mind: --- IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES --Kaia Costanza-van den Belt 67
(as told by the ecosystem you were, are and will be) Katherine Doherty
CONTENT WARNING: environmental collapse
It’s not as though you were ever really human. You were always we were always you were always us. The bacteria that begin the process of decomposition lived within you the whole time, alongside fungi, viruses, archaea. More of us than you, when it comes down to it. If we are counting compared to the cells in your body, you are less than half human. People don’t like thinking about this. The idea that in death they will become even less themselves – that perhaps they will stay alive, but not human – is horrifying to them. Many would rather their bodies burned into ash than be absorbed into the fleshy, slimy, living world. Even though the burning pollutes the air, heats the planet. Even though the scattered ash poisons the ground. It is the stuff of so many human nightmares, life after death on inhuman terms. Turned, transformed, become other. And yet it is the fate of every living thing in the more-than-human world, and the only way that life may continue. You are the result of death and non-human lives, bound in a skin you think your own. Even those who are returned to the earth are injected with chemicals and encased in treated wood. Sealed off, processes slowed, that others may imagine they are still entirely and truly and boundedly the being they once thought themselves to be. Protected from the flies and scavengers, the process of decomposition slowed in the formaldehyde and dark, they retain their shape for longer. Not forever, though. Your cells, those few parts that you believed truly your own, betray you almost immediately. They self-digest, breaking down the walls keeping them ‘apart’ from everything else. The fluid inside leaks out, and the bacteria begin feeding, multiplying, and converting. The liquids and solids of your cells become gas, pressing at your skin. Once the only meaningful boundary between yourself and the world, your skin tears and you are laid open, mingling with the morethan-human. If you are not sealed away, you become a home for insects, to shelter and feast. Surely there is something beautiful about the life that thrives in the flesh that served you so well, for which you no longer have any use. Dark liquid will begin to seep out of and pool around you. If you are one of the few who reaches this stage still lying above the earth, the grass around you will die, joining you in decomposition. The remains of your recent life are too rich. But next year the patch will bloom vibrant and fertile, new shoots made up of you and the grass and a million other lives that ended in this place. You will feed future generations of grazing animals, and they will feed your children, and the children of more-than-human others. Eventually you will be eaten down to a skeleton. That will break down too, over time, of course. But in that time you will live and die and live again, never as what you once conceived of as yourself, but as the collective you always were.
Take me back Teresa Lin
there is a saying in my tongue, 千里之行，始於足下. we took our first step decades ago, in a leap across the pacific, to fulfill the promise of a better land. but in this land, history cares not for us or our knotted destinies, roads left half-trodden an aftertaste - the vague reverberations of memories observed, light years away. but now I want you to take me back to when I was sleeping under the whir of the electric fan. its slow and sesquipedalian hum spelling out the seasons syllable by syllable. ren sheng ru qi, qi ru ren sheng. whilst you played the blues of an aging soul tracing the groves on our hands. Take me back to when your hands would guide me in the grinding of ink. And the words I breathed out spun stories larger than our lifespans combined together even if the journey lasts a lifetime, take me back. let us trace the stars along the way, plotting out points of reference for our return as constellations of unity.
‘Sarakiniko’ Jenna Grace
‘Lion Statue’ Ruby Li
sweet&sour Annie Rose
CONTENT WARNING: disordered eating i reach down my throat as though i can pull out acid that burns every step and every breath to plant there instead marigolds daffodils lilacs in the crumbling lining of my stomach i’m torn between two extremes where either there is sense to the nonsensical rhythm pounding and vibrating in my marrow or there is nothing but cracked ribs steaming acid on my tongue a gnawing to open my mouth and swallow seeds for them to burrow into my bloodstream honeysuckle baby’s breath forget-me-nots make things bloom in places i burnt to nothing my mother once told me how hollow trees stay standing after their insides have rotted to nothing she said each day was a losing battle but this war—won—with daisy chains chrysanthemums pansies roses and a sweet sour desperation to hold on
‘Look Daddy, I’m Just Like You’ Emily Lewis
CONTENT WARNING: violent sex and murder
Man wakes up with a pounding headache, not unlike the pounding of his old wife’s head against the damned wooden bedhead; he’s more regular in the sack than he is on the shitter and they’ve got the stains to prove it. Scuffs mark the wall where the board knocks; it’s her head against the timber; she’s the one always going, never coming, like a one-way battering ram. Yet he’s the one with a lump at the back of his head—from a bruise or his lopsided skull—and he wakes up rubbing it with his face in a twist. He can’t see what it is; he’s got hair like the front lawn he doesn’t mow in the hopes that it’ll just die; he drops his lit cigarette on the grass every evening, just tryna scorch the life out of the relentless fucking green, then he yanks his dick out to hose the open flame. He’s got sickly yellow piss, but he’s afraid it’s doing the lawn more good than harm. That’s how you get full lemons, he remembers. Now he thinks about it, his mouth’s all sour to smell and salty to taste, like he’s bitten down on a piece of metal, and he thinks a filling’s come loose. So he sticks a finger to the back of his throat, pushes at the underside of his molars and smacks his lips around the grime under his fingernails. The cavities are full, mercury and all, and he figures he must’ve done something stupid last night. He’s prone to heavy drinking, always binging and passing out. Always has a bottle of beer or two with dinner, maybe something stronger if the wife’s feeling especially talkative. She’s more of a wino herself, stains her teeth—makes her look shaky with her lipstick. That explains the headache and the feeling of death inside his stomach, he expects. His brain’s a rot; the beer’s corroded his insides. You can see it in the grey of his skin. He’s sure they went through at least three bottles of wine last night ‘tween the pair of them, but the wife’s up early; usually he’s up first. She’s got the tolerance of a sunken rat—out in one glass usually, but today she’s downstairs kicking pots and thrashing pans; she doesn’t even hear him come in—her ear’s jammed against the phone. He’s in the bed, she spits into the receiver, I don’t have the strength to drop him by, her voice turns green, he’s too fuckin’ heavy. Her hair’s slicked back and she’s fully dressed. Very unlike her. Suppose she’s got some important meeting today, but he swore it was Sunday. She doesn’t work weekends. Her back’s to him, phone wedged ‘tween her neck and her shoulder, and she’s rummaging through the freezer; looks like she’s making room for something. He picks a scab at the back of his head. Fuck. A finger dips into the shallow cavern of his carved out skull. He winces. A knife occupies the length of the bench; one of those electric ones used to cut through entire dead animals after a hunt—it’s big as hell too. Dried blood mars his fingernails. His finger hits the head of something hard and metal. There’s a hole in his head halfway deep. Figure I’ll cut him into pieces; keep him in the freezer for a while. Realisation hits him like a beer bottle over the head, and it mirrors the heaviness of his already pulsing migraine. Man falls to his knees at the sound of his wife’s voice. Didn’t take much, just a bullet to the head. Ah. His vision turns blurry. He’s a heavy fucking sleeper. 77
We would like to once again thank the people that have helped bring this anthology together, starting with those who have been with us from the beginning. Lindsay Wong, the editorial assistant, mediated all of the entries that we received, ensuring the Editorial Team could create the shortlist. Lindsay is an essential part of our team and we are grateful for her every step. The Above Water design team Rose Gertsakis, Yena Kim, Wong and Kitman Yeung were working tirelessly behind the on the promotion and presentation of this publication. can not express the awe we felt working with such talented
Anya scenes Words artists.
Further, we would like to again thank our judges, Ellena, Mark and Sandra for the time and energy they put into judging the shortlist during a global pandemic. Your voices and appreciation of each of these pieces make us feel blessed. We would also like to thank Alicia Doddy for their submission ‘Dark Reflection’, which was used as the cover for this year’s anthology. With over 300 entries, the 16th year of Above Water was swimming in student talent. The team would like to thank each and every person who took the time to submit to this year’s competition. Creativity is something that cannot be judged, only collated. We would also like to acknowledge what a difficult year this has been. May this collection of creativity and communication bring you luck in your own creative endeavours. Thank you.
Above Water is the annual creative writing and art competition and anthology produced by the Media and Creative Arts departments of the Univ...