art by alex ramos
Philomena van Rijswijk is a poet, novelist and story-writer living in Tasmania. Her most well-known novel, The World as a Clockface, was published by Penguin. Her poems and short stories have been published in collections and literary journals in Australia, Ireland and India. Her work was included in Best Australian Stories 2002 (Black Inc) and Best Australian Poetry 2005 (UQP). Some of her stories have been translated into Hindi and published in Indian literary journals and anthologies. Her poetry collection, Bread of the Lost, was published by Walleah Press in December 2013. Her latest fabulist novel, The Bishop, the Gypsy and the Dancing Bear, addresses the themes of xenophobia and border security.
Hot sun days
when crazed tiles crack under your bare feet
as you head for the stairs
and the buzzing world above;
hot sun days, when every cell of your body is swollen,
blowsy with burning salt and thorns.
Hot, celibate nights
when you whisper under your breath, and
you fall in love with the barely-audible
sound of your own sighs, like sandpaper prayers.
Hot nights, when you press a pillow to your pooling belly,
when you print your face sideways into hot cotton,
when you push your breast upward against a palm,
when you press a nipple to the night's gawping mouth
as though the swarthy child of the night,
sweaty against your breast,
prickling against the crook of an arm,
might root and then suck and suck;
might suck and swallow away
through the hours of being marooned
on this high dune of sleeplessness.
Oh, ragged night, little naked beggar! without a stitch!
making a sweat between my seared skin and his;
falling asleep on me,
only to stir when the tamarisks move,
or the bed shifts its hinges
from a change in the air.
I remember having an infant hung from my breast,
drowsy beside me, caught under an armpit,
while her father and I adhered to each other
in a tight swaddling of brine.
I remember milk climaxing
in cross-eyed arcs of translucent blue,
while the father of my child
filled me with another.
After dousing in the sea,
after being a sluggardly starfish in the sea,
I like to suck the salt from the tips of my marram-grass hair;
I like to peel the clinging wet pelt, taut,
from my skin and, once again,
Once again, become a land animal.
Yet, when the first belly-rumblings of a storm arrive
heavy over the haunches of the panting city,
the greasy sound of the rain sizzling on wet cobbles
draws me out
to guzzle the pizzle of the rain,
and to tip back my head for its cooling chrism.
I stand there, sucking the rain into the tiny mouths of
my clothing, my hair, my hide.
Now, I am a freshwater animal with so many mouths.
The rain is sweet;
it licks me of the salt.
And when the brief storm is over,
I sprawl on my bed, stranded and
mesmerized by the salmon of bushfire smoke
above the clouds.
I listen to my own breath,
and lust for a breeze
to ease my once-again ravenous skin.
Philomena van Rijswijk