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Published in The Island Review, October 2015 (link to full text)
All the way along the road are the trees. Manuka. Always the manuka, reasserting its original dominance. This is not the fringe of urban settlement. This is within sight of the very heart of New Zealand’s biggest city, as proven by the volumes of traffic that pass me. But we are reminded ever and again that we are newcomers here, that the trees and birds owned this place before our ancestors came or the builders with their clever kitset houses in the latest models for each era of architecture. In every direction there is forest canopy, blanketing the rumpled hillscape, obscuring the marks of civilisation. The manuka swallows our roofs and we are at ease in the clattering greenery, for the land has been good to us.
Coloured scraps, broken toys, jagged edges, refracted light tumble around life’s kaleidoscope, never the same pattern twice. Everything is there: memories, desires, tender hopes and evil laughter, old clothes and cat hair and shreds torn from photos, dreams and losses and strawberry sandwiches, and words.I am fire. I am rock. An endless tangle of words that sometimes make sense. I’m failure—because there’s nothing I ever tried that didn’t fail at first. But I wasn’t finished yet.Words. In many hues and tones. Words from books, words from screens, words from inside the head. Words read many times, and other words considered but never grasped enough to speak out. Things said, things I wanted to say, and things I’ll say one day.I am iron and satin and sand and wind. I am the sea, loyal to the end. I want to blow your mind with tales spun—tales of deep-seated otherness. If I take you into my heart, don’t expect to leave.Here’s the eyepiece. Spin it around; shake up the substance; see what’s in there for your eyes alone today. Because no one will ever see it again like you do right now.I’m a workaholic, sometimes. I’m a notebook fiend. I see everything, remember everything, and if we pass in the street I’ll see you before you see me so I can avoid you if I want to.There goes a big piece of “I-miss-my-dad”. It stings the eyes, but I tell myself that’s only the smell of burnt toast. And over there, a couple of TV starships and a blue time machine shaped like a phone box.I am ice and flame and dreams and storms. I am full of bizarre worlds. I am sensual. I’m an engineer of journeys in the mind, an artist gripping nightmares for your entertainment.Glowing hazes pass by the viewscreen—signs of treasured friends who cast light into dark places. Now and then a whole book floats by, and I want to grab it and say, “Read this. Its author understands.”I find myself in books I did not write. I’m positivity. I’ve got the DIY gene. And if there’s a cool how-to that can be learned, I want to do it. Impossible is not an option.Bits and pieces cross paths in the kaleidoscope, sparking ideas like a runaway Delorean meeting its fateful power surge. From here, we can go anywhere. We can’t follow all the tracks imagination gives us at moments like this, so sometimes we stand, bewildered, amidst the tossing pieces of life that alternately crowd in, pull apart, light up, colour the world, and threaten to drown.I am bushwalks and wild honey. I’m the call of a tui or the chitter of a fantail following unexpectedly. I’d be your best friend, if you’d be a friend to me. I’m a house full of people, I’m the feast on the table, the mess left after a party.Kaleidoscope. A hodge-podge of so many different things, crammed with conflicting interests and driving forces, soft and sharp, dazzling or dim, deep in sleep and extrasensorily aware. Tonight it’s a passionate rugby game to cheer at, a song from the 80’s, a recalcitrant colleague, a future journey, and a procrastination problem that sees me finally sitting down to write this at one in the morning.I am broken, but stronger than ever. I’ve been discarded, but picked myself up. Been chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated, spat out, and set on my feet. I’ve done wrong, but time is forgiving. I’ve been torn from my homeland and returned. I’ve walked the great deserts—the Sahara, and the deeper one of life. I’ve loved, and lost, and loved again, but differently. I’m wired to the world. I am too broad for a ten year old suit, but too fragile to sing. I can float away on music that has no words. I invent planets for fun.It may be a mess in here, but if pages were mirrors—and they are, really, aren’t they?—you’d see a repeating pattern that somehow makes sense of the crazy mix, and might even please the beholder’s eye.Come on in.
Long Distance Friends
(First published in The Mayo Review, Spring 2015)
Shall I tell you what it is like to have friends in other places?
We share so much of a common soul, yet live so far away. In my case, in another country, half a world distant, my jungle shores, your Midwest corn or Southern heat or European je-ne-sais-quoi. We have spoken often yet, frequently, we’ve never met. I’ve read the writings that let me into your mind, stories all the richer for knowing the person who wove them.
I sit in my attic overlooking the sea and read your words, peer at your pixellated face on the screen, try and fail to speak of the scope of my life. Here, I’ll put a fisheye lens on my webcam. Can you see the whole world now? Forever we are running into limits, but here I am tucked up in bed, reading your books, sifting your thoughts.
I wander my beaches in a winter wind and wonder, will you ever join me here? What will you think of it all—will it live up to the hype, will it be as you thought it might? Perhaps it’ll be a different thing altogether, with you in it.
There have been chat sessions, video calls, and emails back and forth. Social media banalities, glimpses in painstakingly chosen images, random statements, discussions. It all counts in varying degrees to make a friend out of a far-off stranger.
Shall I tell you how it is to visit one long known thusly?
There is the clash and hubbub of arrival, a bus terminal or airport maybe, a first formal meeting. We keep distance carefully. We are familiar, but how will this work in person?
In the first days we discover mannerisms and personality that could never transmit digitally. We laugh, nervous to begin with, then more easily. We play games, and walk, cook and eat shared meals, shop and dine a little. This, then, is your life—with me strangely in it for a little while.
We bespeak the writing. Passions rise as yes, you know exactly what I mean, and I you. Giggling, golden, over something fresh that happens when we’re in the same room. Learning to interpret nuances of expressions too subtle for the internet.
The corn is your ocean, swaying in the wind, rippling over gentle hills in long waves. Oh, land—beautiful, but not my own. Straight roads and flat places and signs in mileage and odd-to-me driving rules, peculiar naming words, everything custom order, and many other things I’ve never experienced before. I pack it all into my head. I’ll write about it later.
Your windows are all vertical, your screen doors are glass, your house is coated in…plastic? Your food is often strange to me; you speak foreign words in an accent that, sadly too often, I have been taught to mock. I must be extra careful what I eat in the Land of the Free, because processed foods too often have ingredients best avoided and even what seems good may have something undesirable in it. Also because buffets are cheap and my eyes can get the better of my stomach.
I become more comfortable with all these things as time goes by, day by shining day. But I have a home too, a home that misses me very much, where the waves cry out to my muse in their sunshine-tinkly-sparkly voice or their thunderous-stormy-bass voice, or with no voice at all except for the hushing of the wind. That is my water, and it wants me back.
Shall I tell you how it is to go home?
Sadness crests like a tsunami just out of sight. One more departure. One more teardrop seaglass gem for my collection of ephemeral jewellery. I won’t really be gone, not with all the connecting we do almost every single day. We’ll talk richer now for having breathed the same air awhile.
Oh, we’ll still laugh at the differences, tangle over dialects and varying grammars, poke at cultural references, recall with fondness the times of shoulder-to-shoulderness. We’ll make wild plans to travel again, to meet in even stranger places. Make and shake and break like shards in the winds of fate. Will we ever even meet again? I’ll walk my beach and think, you could be here. You could.
Then, beyond all of these strangenesses we find we are the same; then the human spirit connects across cultural divides, across language barriers, across distance (I have stepped in your earth now); then we can read each other like a book. Then I know what you are thinking even when you are in pixels on a bad connection that is good in all the ways that count. That makes all the partings bearable and pays me back in full for the lack of you in the constant now.
Published in The Island Review, April 2015 (link to full text)
"I stand where the road meets its end. The mudflat at my feet extends to a deceptively distant wall of trees over on the northern shoreline of the estuary. The horizontal canopies of manuka hover over their waving trunks, mixed with taller, straighter breeds stepping down the almost-vertical incline, fringed with mangroves at the creek’s edge."
Published in Decades Review, January 2015 (< link to publication; I'm on page 29 of the PDF)
"Flashes of recognition from someone else’s life. You. Me. Human. Alive. Writing. Those should all be synonyms. We write, therefore we are. We write, we read, therefore we touch. Bump. Without hands or shoulders or any physical part, we collide, slump to the floor, and eye each other. I know you, I say. Will you know me?"
Another long, hard day is over, and it’s time to turn in. But my mind turns to you and your words, and I cannot rest yet. I must take your soul to bed, must ravish your thoughts there among my satin pillows and half-read novels—yours is the book I must choose, for you make me want to write.
A mere page of your prose and I am bursting with it myself. Whether mine is any good, that remains to be seen. The echoes of your being force words to flow, rivers of shining text to drown out all the drudgery of translation, wash away the pharmaceutical sponsoring and the diesel injectors and the résumés I have had to push through my brain, sentence by sentence.
See, I work with words all the time, one way or another, learning new terms, exploring new areas, except that some are mind-soaring expansions of the spirit while others, the kind I get paid more for, tend to be rather dull in nature. But I can’t complain, because the good side of writing is my life, and the other makes it possible. A balance? No, not at all. This, the real writing, rushes in upon me at the most inopportune moments, and I am glad to follow its draw at any time even if it impinges on all the things I should be doing. Good thing I’m my own boss.
I picked up your book, then had no other choice but to write. Found myself inside your personhood and had to exert my own. I intrude, I invade—but you did invite me to, asked me to come inside your bones which you bared for all the world. My answer must be in the same ferociously personal vein.
Surely this is my ultimate reason for reading and writing—to discover new kin whose human experience is enough like my own that the interchange can change me forever.With your words you hold out a fragile flower of friendship on upturned palm. I reach out, touch a quivering petal. I must be careful with this treasure—for such it is, and well I know it.
Bump. Did you feel that? It was my virtual self bumping up against yours. Bump. Ooh, a little closer that time. Are you okay with where this is going? Far be it from me to scare anyone away; I know I’ve done that sometimes, desperately.
Bump. That thing you wrote there. Bump. I heard what you said. You dropped the veil for a moment and I saw your naked soul. I weep for you. Your words, they stir something within me. Scratch the surface of what might be. Those things you describe, I have lived them too, except not.
Flashes of recognition from someone else’s life. You. Me. Human. Alive. Writing. Those should all be synonyms. We write, therefore we are. We write, we read, therefore we touch. Bump. Without hands or shoulders or any physical part, we collide, slump to the floor, and eye each other. I know you, I say. Will you know me?
Pen to paper. Fingers to keyboard. Click send. Bump. I’ve arrived. Did you feel it? Did you feel anything at all? Do I have to come over there and beat you around the head with my force of being? No. That’s just raggin’. I know you felt it. You couldn’t not. The real question is, will we let these encounters continue to shape us? I hope we all say yes.
Crash. Whoops, did we take that too fast? Nose to nose, forehead to forehead, locked in a stare, a hongi, a sharing of breath and spirit as the Maori say. Can’t go back now. We’ve breathed each other in.
If the impact is much harder, our brains will merge, Siamese twins joined at the head, one kindred soul, two different-coloured pairs of eyes. And the only way to get comfortable will be to lie on a grassy hill and peer at the shapes in the clouds. We’ll happily ignore the surgeons suggesting they cut us apart.
We’re not there yet. But the momentum is building; we’ll soon have the speed to do it. How far do I go with this relentless shredding of the walls around my inner self?
I wield the demolition ball and crow with delight.
Published in The Milo Review, September 2014. (< link to full text)"...Verdant all year round, a thousand shades of green, a thousand kinds of leaf. A thousand birds to sing my path. The forest is an anomaly perched among suburbs and swimming-pools, a larger-than-life park of untouched nature, as this whole land was before the cities came."