from Issue #3: Poetry by Mira Peck

Photo (CC) grendelkhan @ Flickr

Photo (CC) grendelkhan @ Flickr

*

Halina

She was nine years old and eighty pounds
When the Nazi officer stormed her Poznan home
Barking, Raus, raus, while his men sang
German army songs and carried away her antique bed,
Piano, stamp collection and favourite doll.

At ten years and eighty pounds
She was locked within ghetto walls
In an airless dungeon for sixteen hours each day
Breathing leather tanning fumes
Her skin one spectral sore.

At twelve years and eighty pounds
The cattle train rumbled under her feet
For three days on the way to the Birkenau swamp.
Schnell, schnell, the armed soldiers urged,
Shaving heads, searching mouths and fingers for gold.

At thirteen and eighty pounds
A windowless convoy delivered her to the Baltic Sea.
She watched the Camp Stutthof commandant play
Beyond barbed wire with his toddler and pet dog
Then publically hang young Russian boys.

She was fourteen and eighty pounds
When the guard caught her speaking
And beat her with a whistling oak branch
Until the sand beneath her turned red.

.

Take a look at her smiling face.
Walk through her garden of golden wattles.
Hear the warbling of crimson rosellas.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Mira Peck is an author of poetry and prose that blend her interests in science, art, family and justice. Her inspiration comes from a wide range of experiences, including the fields of chemical engineering, business, music and law; living in Poland, Australia and the USA; and hitch-hiking across Asia and Europe. During her twenty years of creative writing she has edited and published a quarterly newsletter, arranged literary workshops and public readings, and coordinated local critiquing chapters. Her multi-genre collection, Sour Cherry Tree, was published in 2012. She received the annual Goldfinch Prize for prose in 2010 and for poetry in 2011. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children and travels widely.

Contrappasso 4 and Noir: Now available @ Amazon.com

Thanks to everybody who came along to the November 27 Sydney launch of our two new issues of Contrappasso: the regular issue #4 and the special Noir Issue. It was a great night of readings and celebration. Thanks to the Midnight Special bar in Newtown for their hospitality.

Paperback copies of both issues are now for sale at Amazon.com. The ebook versions are forthcoming. Here’s what you’ll find in the new issues:

ISSUE 4

Writings in memory of Seamus Heaney by Iggy McGovern, John Dennison, and Marco Sonzogni.

☻ The Crate-Diggers’ Symposium: in-depth interviews with America’s leading rare music anthologists Ian Nagoski, Jonathan Ward, Marshall Wyatt, & Mike McGonigal.

☻New fiction by Juan Villoro, Clive Sinclair, and Elisabeth Murray.

☻ Poetry by David Howard, Hong Ying, John Leonard, Tegan Jane Schetrumpf, Joe Dolce, Paolo Fabrizio Iacuzzi, Mira Peck, Chris Oakey, Mikhail Yeryomin, Morris Lurie, Rogelio Guedea, Erin Martine Sessions, Floyd Salas, Phillip A. Ellis, Richard Tipping, & Todd Turner.

Edited by Matthew Asprey & Theodore Ell.

*

NOIR ISSUE

A grab-bag of essays, interviews, and classic and new noir poetry. We cover everything from The Maltese Falcon to The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, from Dashiell Hammett to Charles Willeford and Walter Mosley.

☻ Essays by Luc Sante, Lester Goran, Dahlia Schweitzer & Toby Miller, Morris Lurie, Andrew Nette, Mick Counihan, Noel King, and Matthew Asprey.

Poetry by Barry Gifford, Nicholas Christopher, Suzanne Lummis, Jonathan Aaron, Robert Mezey, Chris Oakey, and Floyd Salas.

Interviews with Adrian Wootton, Matthew Moring, and Dennis McMillan.

Edited by Matthew Asprey & Noel King.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Mark O’Connor

Photo (CC) Maxwell Hamilton @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Maxwell Hamilton @ Flickr

*

Diana Spencer (1961-1997)

Trapped and snapped,
cut from twisted tin,
a blowfly on the windscreen
preening its compound lenses.

Nothing to be done. They sewed her back,
packed the cut flesh in ice and flowers.

Not one for white gloves,
kneeling to the young and the dying
while those lanky knees pushed out,
she proved kings were film stars,
then deposed the prince.

TV made it like a death in the family;
anchors maudlinly adding “Diana up-dates”
to pre-recorded game-shows.

The decent, balding would-be-King arrived,
his face the colour of scraped beef,
and claimed his wife from the dead boyfriend.
Dying, she gave back his crown.

It was a young girl’s dream of ceremony
to be so taken up, believing
husbands mean “I love” when they say “I do”.
As he led her into the public’s den
she had leaned so shyly on him,
seeking that ease and devotion
reserved for another.

Even London held off its weather.
A minute’bell tolled each stage of her ride
with tall men like centaurs riding beside her,
spattered with seasonal flowers
canonised as a fallible saint, a flame
strongest when half blown out.

The crowd gave her the gift of its silence,
the sound of lilies striking on tarmac
like one hand clapping on earth;
and snuffled its dreams of her into a million hankies.

At the palace, a weeping wall
of flowers and plastic. Commentators
rich from tickling the public’s itch,
pondered such public decencies; and a priest asked
why folk should worship with lilies a mateless mother,
child-like and adulterous, whose knack was to set
her bruised heart helpless on display.

Round her corpse they wrapped natural ermine
cotton and timber; as if sending her back
to some green Avalon, lake-island, out
of a life lived in the smell of fresh paint.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Mark O’Connor was born in Melbourne in 1945 and graduated from Melbourne University in 1965. He has been the Australian National University’s HC Coombs Fellow and a visiting scholar in its Department of Archaeology and Natural History. His poetry shows special interests in Italy (where he spent some years), in the Barrier Reef, and in other Australian environments. He has published 15 books of verse and is the editor of OUP’s much re-printed Two Centuries of Australian Poetry. He was Australia’s ‘Olympic poet’ for the Sydney 2000 Games, with a fellowship from the Australia Council to ‘report in verse on the Games’. Visit him at www.australianpoet.com

from Issue #3: Poetry by Geoff Page

Photo (CC) Leonard Bentley @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Leonard Bentley @ Flickr

*

Edwardian

Edwardian, let’s say;
his mother losing too much blood
and lingering a week,

his father not re-marrying;
then those first few years with nanny,
followed by the governess,

the boarding school with sleety fields
and Oxford at the end.
‘Eminently eligible’,

the great-aunts used to say —
with ‘nothing of the funny stuff
that finished Oscar Wilde’.

They’d promenade their protegées,
demure, or just a bit more knowing,
but none could hold his eye —

although a few, it’s said,
considered they’d been flirted with.
Years on now, he has his interests

but nothing more demanding;
he’s seen a play by Bernard Shaw
and read a book by Nietzsche.

His Greek these days is fading;
his Latin rather less so:
he smiles at Martial now and then.

He’s done the Grand Tour twice at least
and come back unaffected.
He likes the slump of leather chairs

in which to read The Times,
the club’s small shock of single malt
before its gong for dinner.

His valet, Ferguson, in Chelsea
keeps his rooms in order.
He talks a little with his friends,

the chaps he knew at Balliol,
but hasn’t their ‘get-up-and-go’,
their fever for the Commons,

their hankering for well-bred eyes
or servant girls and modern money.
His father’s in a big stone pile

up there in Worcestershire
with half a dozen dozy servants,
letting whisky take him.

One day, not far off, he’ll need
to sort that business out.
A tribe of J.M. Barrie children

romping through those empty rooms
would once have been an answer
but here inside the club

it’s all a men’s affair:
butlers, waiters, maître d’,
the women off-stage, down below

tending to the cauldrons.
His nanny, rather loved, is dead;
the governess found other work —

or so he’s understood.
She too, it seems, was not for marriage.
The debutantes he once was shown

are mistresses of mansions now
and having their affair or two,
their ‘weekends in the country’,

trying not to say too much
when husbands slip out now and then
with slender explanations.

The world is as it always was,
will bear no alteration,
although, these days, he’s not much asked

to grace their grand salons.
Hard to feign an interest really
in anything so idle.

A faithful tailor in Pall Mall
keeps his measurements exactly
and doesn’t talk of women.

A lawyer for the family,
and rather more uxorious,
attends to the accounts.

‘Misanthrope’ is just a word.
The club is where he’s happiest,
its rituals and order,

the well-worn chairs, the newspapers,
the waiter with a second whisky,
the call to dinner in good time,

the nights back home in bed alone
but somehow less than lonely.
Ferguson is still polite

and has no troubles with his station;
is certain to turn out the lights.
It’s winter now, the warming pan

has done its job again.
He wonders where they can have gone,
those nymphs who vanished from his life,

sweet creatures surplus to requirements.
His mother though remains a sadness.
These last few nights, a dream’s come back…

he’s floating in the amniotic
a day or two before his birth,
stalled in that still-dreaming world

above the birth canal,
the sides of which he’s almost sure
his temples can remember.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Geoff Page has published twenty collections of poetry as well as two novels and five verse novels. He has also won the Grace Leven Prize and the Patrick White Literary Award. His recent books are A Sudden Sentence in the Air: Jazz Poems (Extempore 2011), Coda for Shirley (Interactive Press 2011), Cloudy Nouns (Picaro Press 2012) and 1953 (University of Queensland Press 2013).

from Issue #3: Poetry by Fiona Yardley

Photo (CC) Nikolay Korobko @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Nikolay Korobko @ Flickr

*

Asterion

Contrary to paternal expectations, he treads
gently through the broad underground spaces built to contain him. He
knows them like the tracking veins on the back of his
larger-than-normal, strong left hand —
the more dexterous of the two, four-fingered, more human — its
grimy cracked blackened nails chewed down to the
quick.

He helped to build his own prison, since
none can stand to look at him with anything other than
fear or revulsion — also, more practically, because the
corded muscles of his back and shoulders allowed the work to
go much faster. He takes solace, and refuge, in
puzzles of the mind, in the invisible tracking of geometric
proofs, and in philosophy.

There are several who trod these stone alleys, who
were surprised to encounter such a soft-spoken
bass-baritone, profundus in thought but not in the tenor of his
speech. He only roars when he is hungry, but the
echoes of those sounds of anguish are captured
and reflected, also to his father’s purpose, through
………cochlear horns
………carved by one of his uncles,
………to maintain the trepidation
………of the place amongst the
………crowding heroes and
………trembling maidens.

But when others are sent down to the sprawling maze,
built by the will of Minos using the brawn of his own
body, and his knowledge of recursion; well, he is
so starved for company and conversation that he squeezes
all possible knowledge from them before he
cracks their bones and, with the greatest reluctance, eats the
tenderer parts of their bodies.

He knows he is a monster. But he has a
set of pipes, made from hollow bones, which now and
then he plays; scant orphaned notes swim lost through the
heavy air, dank with rot and neglect, then they amplify
through the stone horns that guard the entry; and, for a while, the
teeming heroes with their lithe muscled bodies and their endless
thoughtless competition, amongst

the shrinking maidens, are struck by mournful thoughts and
wonder which musician, condemned by the king, wanders the
maze in spirit, for they regret his passing and the ending of such
beauty in the world, regret this sad and delicate music, then
curse their fear, which they have penned and call the Minotaur —
for only Asterion remembers his own
given name.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Fiona Yardley is a writer living in Sydney. She has previously had work published in See See MiscellanyHermes and most recently Overland. She has just completed a thesis in English literature on the topic of ethics and unreliability in contemporary fiction. “Asterion” is part of a series of poems she is currently writing based on Grecian myth cycles, reimagining well-known stories and characters and experimenting with perspective, interiority, and motivation. Another poem in this cycle, “Eros, Thanatos: Waiting for Orpheus” was published in Issue 1 of Contrappasso.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Lindsay Tuggle

Photo (CC) Rachel Titiriga @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Rachel Titiriga @ Flickr

*

The Bone House 

In the thralldom of debt
there is said to be honour among thieves,

martyrs, hair-eaters and others
beset by archive fever.

An oracle of sleep preceded
the resurrectionist’s calling.

Against all agonies you push through
shades of bone assuming old faces.

An unrepentant guest
her arrival marked by bells

as in some cavern mourners
choke on mouths of light.

 

There is nothing more seductive
than a ghost

except perhaps the invitation
of an ambiguous wound.

She carried that letter
in her pocket for days,

‘always thought drowning
was such a pretty way to die’

(danger is when
the hand returns).

I don’t remember the rest
but it was given as

an anatomical treatise
on the laughter of

leaves against skin:
elegy for a floating world..

.

It was a relief to no longer be seen
……………………..as hollow.

Her fists curl into organs
as she fumbles through
…………………..the open door.

All the old grievances aglow
with the lucidity of dust.

Shame ruins your taste
for the delights of melancholia.

After the whip comes down
there’s only so much charm

a girl can stand..

.

She was just there
in the asphalt,

a biological gift
………………unmoored.

Behind the trailer
clothed in anaesthetic
………….hisses
an actress with no mouth.

The unblemished girl
in the plaid silk dress

seeks mutiny in
stolen cigarettes
and snowstorms.

.

In my dream
I saw us both unblamed

so, now
we can navigate blind
alleys without enlisting

the kindness of strangers.

*

*

*

The Heretics’ Asylum

Her god never condoned
the murder of horses.

After the killing spree
the local thaumaturge
traced upon her neck
a diagram of bones.

The absent face
regrew, leaving only
a pale scar to border
sleeping limbs.

She will never leave this place—

this appellation
in the eyes of the church,
a mid-stream persuasion toward

the beguiling mechanism
of belief, dressed up for
a core of materialists..

.

Accurate use of the electrical machine
was unusual in their circle.

The physician knows nothing
of angels with proper names.

Reverence is permitted only
toward unseen patients,

an innate distrust of that
which can be embodied
in a creed.

It would be useless
to attempt so minor a feat
as the removal of bones
from the throat.

A residuum of facts exist
surrounding fringe medicine:

the cure by faith as
a demand for marvels.

Her calculated regard
for uncritical adherents
results in a book of wonders,
based on antipathy..

.

My sister could have won this race
if she’d had enough breath.

Years later I utter her name as my own
against the echo of a blank stage.

Beneath this corpulent delirium
doctors see a potential corpse
to which a ghost is loosely attached.

To enter the incubation chamber
you must provoke
the knife, the drug, and the spell.

Sleep with the fourth book
beneath your pillow.

Safety is unkempt seclusion:
a wilderness of paralysis..

.

In the absence of habitual dreaming
she complains of the walls.

Falling is the only certainty.

The evangelist’s call is
a labour of recognition.

The origin of the delusion
was only her own hair.

After the manifestation of clouds
it is no longer a comfort to know
the source of that torment

there is no terror equal to
the particularity of a name.

***

ABOUT THE POET

Lindsay tuggle

Lindsay Tuggle grew up in the Southern United States, and migrated to Australia eleven years ago. She now divides her time between the two countries and is working on a book of elegies.  Lindsay’s poetry has been commissioned by the Red Room Company and published in literary journals such as HEAT, Mascara, and Contrappasso Issue #1.  Her poem “Anamnesis” was awarded second prize in the Val Vallis Award for Poetry.  In 2011, she undertook an Australian Academy of the Humanities Travelling Fellowship. In 2012, she was a John W. Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

from Issue #3: ‘Danville Girl’ by Anthony May

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DANVILLE GIRL by ANTHONY MAY

Bob was sitting on his hands. On a milk crate outside the garage doors, he watched the sun light and warm the shop fronts along Campbell Street in Danville. People came along and opened shops. Some nodded and some kept walking. He smiled at them all. Not a lot was said.

He looked at his shoes, dirty from the long walk. His mother had told him to always buy the best that he could afford. He got them at Shoe-Biz these days. It didn’t matter to him.

He had the impulse to watch things more closely. The dawn unfolding over the town, but it was too late for that. He’d seen the dawn on the road, the town waking up, but it had already woken up and was mostly about its business. He didn’t really care about these things but he did notice that there were no runners. Where he lived the hour after dawn was full of people running and walking their dogs.

Two dogs, a cattle dog and a labrador, walked along the street without owners. He watched them closely and hoped that they would stay away. His mind raced ahead to their crossing the street, sniffing his ankles and legs. Getting too close. Feeling tense and knowing that they would sense that. They walked on without looking at him.

The quiet surprised him. He thought that the noise would rise with the town but things seemed to prepare themselves in a calm and quiet way. Shops opened without alarms going off. Cars rolled by without sounding their horns. People nodded and waved without calling out. He wondered when the noise came, or if it did. He tried to think back to when there had been noise in Campbell Street. He could only think of sharp accidental noises like something being dropped or a car backfiring. He had never thought of the place having such a well-developed sense of decorum. It just seemed like a quiet town.

Back in Brisbane, a few weeks ago, he saw a young man, late teenager, jump feet first at a plate glass window. Two of his friends caught him by the arms and pulled him back but his feet still hit the glass. It wobbled. And it was the noise that he was waiting for. The explosive noise of the glass but it never came. They just went on, drunk, having fun.

Bob closed his eyes for a while. He was tired of thinking. He had been in his thoughts for, he looked at his watch, three hours. He was very tired and wanted to lie down but there was nowhere to lie. Just wait for the garage to open.

After a few minutes he tried to listen to the street but things were too busy now. Earlier he had been able to separate sounds, listen to sounds grow and diminish, place sounds with activities and directions. Now everything was too busy. He moved his hands and rolled his shoulders. He stood up and sat again. His suit felt uncomfortable and he felt out of place.

Twenty minutes later the mechanic arrived driving a sedan. He began his routine of opening the garage, looking over at Bob and smiling.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” Bob said, “I’ve got a breakdown about eight kilometres out of town.”

Bob and the mechanic climbed into the breakdown truck. The mechanic, John, took a large mug of coffee with him. He started the truck and pulled up at the edge of the apron.

“Left or right,” he said. Danville only had one road in and out of the town.

“Right.”

Bob explained how he had tried to get an early start to get back to Brisbane. About eight kilometres from town he had felt a bit peckish and thought about the chocolate biscuits in his backpack in the boot of the car. So he pulled over. He got out, got the biscuits, got back in the driver’s seat and the car wouldn’t start. Nothing. He tried all the things that he knew, checked the connections to the battery, made sure that there was fuel going through the line, all the standard things. Nothing. So he had walked back to town and waited for the garage to open.

“Have you got any left?” John said.

“What?” Bob said.

“The biscuits, have you got any left? I thought they might go well with the coffee.”

Bob felt in his pocket and brought out three chocolate wheatens stuck together in a torn packet.

“That’s cool,” John said. “They all get mixed up inside anyway.”

“Are you from Danville?” Bob asked.

“I am now but I’m from W.A.. Me and Rolf Harris and Greta Scacchi. But they don’t live in Danville, just me.”

“What brought you to Queensland?” Bob said.

“Long story, mate. Too long for this trip. Still it’s a good place to be a mechanic. Shit of a place for anything else but it’s OK for me,” John said.

“Have you always been a mechanic?” Bob said.

“Always. Sometimes I think I was born in motor oil, y’know, like one of those tins of sardines that you open and the little fishes are all covered in olive oil. Well with me it was Valvoline 20/50. Just joking. But I always loved my cars so it was gonna happen. Always,” John said.

John finished the biscuits while Bob looked out at the road for the third time that morning.

“I’ve never connected with cars. I understand how they work, I can fix a few things but there’s always something stopping me getting in there. Don’t know what it is,” Bob said.

“I always loved them. I remember when I turned seventeen and got my licence. I went out and bought two old Morris 1100s. They didn’t work, either of them. Had them on the front lawn in Balcatta. I was going to take them apart and build a working car from the two of them. I thought I was smart. I figured that I could build a car for myself and sell what was left over for parts and make my money back and get a car for free. I was a seventeen year fucking stupid genius,” John said.

“What happened? Did you do it?”

“My mates came over before I got out of bed and they fucked it all up. Started taking everything to bits, losing bits. It was a nightmare. My dad made me take it all to the wreckers. They didn’t want it so it went to the tip. Lost the lot,” John said. “Should have learned then, eh?”

Bob’s Camry came in view and John began to pull over. It was the only car in sight.

John opened the door and popped the bonnet. Bob just stood and watched. He watched from one side and then he walked around to the other. He walked down the road for a while. He was curious but he was a little afraid of the efficiency with which John handled the engine. When he got back, John had the Camry hitched to the back of the truck and was sitting in the cab.

“I can’t fix it here but I have some Toyota parts in the garage and I can get you back to Brisbane,” John said.

“Today?”

“Today.”

“Shit hot,” Bob said.

On the way back Bob began to feel a little less foolish and started to talk again.

“How long have you been in Danville?”

“Ten years come October,” John said. “And five years to go.”

“What do you mean?” Bob said.

“I’m going to retire in five years time. I’ll be fifty and that’s it for me. I’m out of here,” John said.

“Going back to W.A.?”

“No way. I’m going home, buddy, back to Montenegro. Monte-fucking-negro. Most beautiful place on this planet. I’ll be fifty and I’ll be cashed up and I’ll buy a little house and watch the sun come up over the mountains and then watch the same sun go down over the sea at the end of the day. It’s heaven. Ever been there?” John said.

“Never been out of Australia,” Bob said.

“I’ve been three times now. My family comes from there. Jeez, it’s beautiful,” John said. “There’s a little town called Dobrota about 5 kilometres north of Kotor, which is a bigger town, and if you get a house on a rise then you can see over an inlet to the Adriatic. Monte-fucking-negro, mate, it’ll make you cry it’s so beautiful.”

Bob looked out at the flat grey-red dirt.

“Aren’t they fighting and shit over there?” Bob asked.

“That’s over now but then again…it’s never going to be over, really. But nobody beats the Montenegrins. Only people to kick the Turks’ arse. Only country in the Balkans to boot out the Turks, did you know that?” John said.

“No.”

“Well they were. Told the Turk to shove his Ottoman empire up his arse. Monte-fucking-negro. I can’t think about it too much or I just want to go now. It is so beautiful. Still Danville’s OK, been all right to me,” John said.

They pulled into the garage and John checked his parts. He could fix it but it was going to be a busy day and Bob should call back about four-thirty. It was nine-forty seven.

Bob left the garage and walked down Campbell Street. He had his head a little to the side and hanging down. He knew that he would go back to the tea rooms if he stayed in Danville and he didn’t want to. The Danville girl would be there. Last night he’d told her that he would never see her again. He’d said, “The best of friends have to part some times so why not you and I?” She hadn’t replied to that. She didn’t seem to care. That’s why he had to go back to the tea rooms. He couldn’t really believe that she didn’t care.

This morning he walked back down Campbell Street to the tea rooms. If she was there he would see her one last time even though he had said to her last night that he would never see her again. He stopped at the newsagency to buy cigarettes and found that he didn’t have a wallet. He had lost his wallet. He couldn’t buy cigarettes, he couldn’t buy coffee. He couldn’t go in the tea rooms. He felt quite dizzy and was unsure of what to do so he turned and walked back to the garage.

“You back?” John said as he walked into the shade. John was hoisting a ute into the air.

“I need a favour,” Bob said, “can I sit down for a while?”

“Not a problem, Bob, there’s a bench seat over there behind the table. Put the kettle on and I’ll be with you in a minute,” John said.

Bob walked to the back of the shop. There was a low coffee table made from four milk crates and a door, the bench seat of a retired sedan, a couple of stools, an electric jug, tea, coffee, sugar, spoons. It looked welcoming and safe to Bob. He filled the jug and sat down on a stool.

When the jug boiled John wiped his hand on an old rag and came over.

“Coffee, tea? I’ve got English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Russian Caravan, Peppermint, Camomile, Lady Grey, whatever. This is my favourite at present, Moroccan Mint, very nice. There’s milk in the fridge.”

“Lady Grey please,” he said. “Do you ever drink green tea?”

“The Moroccan Mint has a green tea base but I can’t say I notice anything different.”

“You need to try the Japanese green tea. It’s completely different to the Chinese. I’ll send you some when I get back to Brisbane,” Bob said.

“What’s the favour?” John asked.

Bob moved on his stool as John sat down on the bench seat.

“I’ve lost my wallet and I need to hole up somewhere for a couple of hours. So there’s a couple of favours. Can you lend me, say fifty bucks, to get back to Brisbane? You can put it straight on the price of the repairs, I don’t mind.”

“Not a problem, I’ve done that before. This is going to be a company job anyway, right?”

Bob nodded.

“What’s the second favour?”

“I need somewhere to close my eyes and have a rest and I need not to be walking around Campbell Street. Can I stay here for a little while until I go and eat?”

“Not a problem,” John said.

“Oh yes, one more thing, can I ring my office and tell them about the car?” Bob said.

“That’s three favours,” John said.

“Think of the phone call as customer service,” Bob said.

“We aim to please,” John said.

“I met a girl,” Bob said.

“Aren’t you the lucky boy?” John said.

“Not really,” Bob said, “can I tell you about it?”

“Hey, I’m just standing here getting dirty. You can say whatever you like,” John said.

“I came to Danville three days ago. It’s my job. I tour Western Queensland looking for sales, fencing mainly, and then go back to Brisbane with as full an order book as I can manage. The fencing comes out later on trucks. I hate doing this. I didn’t used to. I used to like it, travel, people. I’m just indifferent these days. People are people and I’m sick to death of driving. Most of all I hate my order book. I travel with it locked in the boot of the vehicle. I’m like a secretary to the fucking order book.

“That morning was a short drive from Boulia. I went into the Tea Rooms to have some breakfast. It was almost empty and I sat by the window so that I could look out on the street. I remember I saw some boys who probably should have been in school rolling a 44 gallon drum down the footpath. It made a terrible noise.

“From the moment that she came to my table, the waitress, I began to behave out of character. I flirted with her and she seemed to respond. I tried to look important and she seemed unimpressed. I tried to act compassionate and listen to her but she went quiet on me. Then out of the blue, I just gave her my motel room number. And she wrote it down. Like it was an order for coffee and cake. I left, went to the newsagent and bought cigarettes and a couple of magazines. I went to the motel and waited. I showered, smoked, read. Then I showered again. She came by just after lunch. I did no work for three days but I fell in love with the Danville Girl. I didn’t know myself, man.

“Now this is not me. I am a married man. I love my wife and I love my son. I did not choose for this to happen. But I can’t pretend it didn’t and I can’t stop thinking about her. And them. And it all. I’m stuffed, I can tell you.”

“This is a no-brainer, mate. I fix your car, you drive home, you don’t come back here and you never tell anybody about it again. Live your life, man,” John said.

“I’m in love. I didn’t choose it but I’m in love.”

“Get real. Are you going to wrap it all up in Brisbane for a Danville waitress? I think not. Are you going to come and live in Danville? I think not. You have a choice, mate. Choose the drive home quietly option. Why would anyone fall in love in Danville?” John said.

“Choices and options. Shit. I just don’t see them. Maybe I’m tired. I am tired. Can I get that lie down?” Bob asked.

“There’s a cot in the back, stay as long as you like.”

Bob took off his shoes and settled onto the cot. He was asleep in a couple of minutes and dreaming not long after that. He was on a cycling tour in Kashmir. High in the mountains the weather seemed always slightly damp. Combined with the perspiration from riding, he was wet.

He was wearing the fancy bicycling shirt and the tight shorts and behind him in single file were all the guys from work decked out in the same way. They were impatient and shouting at him to go but he was at an intersection and couldn’t move. The passing road was full of military vehicles, small trucks with soldiers on the back, wagons full of provisions. He couldn’t find a break in the traffic and all the guys were shouting. “Fucking move it, Bob,” “Bob, shift your fucking arse,” “Bob, go, you stupid twat.” He could see the faces of the Indian conscripts looking at him as they went by.

Some shouted, some wanted to change places, some were just blank.

He was thinking about his wife and son at the hotel. He knew that they were waiting in the dining room, sitting at the table. They wouldn’t start eating without him but he couldn’t get there. They looked up at the clock and discussed whether or not he would turn up. His wife would be thinking that the mealtime would be over and that they would get no lunch. His son would be moving knives and forks and spoons around the table playing navies. Fully armed destroyers on a white cotton sea.

The screaming from the guys was getting intense and he knew that his job was on the line. And then there was a break in the convoy. And Emberley from accounts shot past him, and so did Pash from dispatch. And then they all went, in little bunches, spreading across the road, racing to make up time. He waited until it was safe.

On his right he could see a small shrine at the edge of the trees. He knew that he was late. He knew that his family was waiting to eat. He knew that if he didn’t catch up then he would probably lose his job. But he wanted to see the shrine. He thought that it might be something beautiful. So he got off his bike and walked over in his bicycle shoes to look at the shrine.

It was overgrown with creepers and he had to pull them back to see. In the middle of the shrine was a little platform for offerings and he could see something shining there. Something like a piece of coloured glass was reflecting the light that he was allowing to pass through by pulling back the creepers. The vegetation was harsh and had little thorns in it and tore his skin as he tried to free the shrine. He had to kneel to get a grip of the deeper shrubbery and as he did he cut his knee on a sharp stone.

But he did the job. He got it clear and on the small platform in the centre of the shrine was a Casio digital watch with a black plastic strap. He didn’t want to move it but he could see the time and he had missed lunch.

He woke up at the back of the garage and went to wash his face in the grimy sink.

There was an old Brisbane Broncos tee shirt to dry himself. He couldn’t see John in the garage but there was a fifty dollar note on the table under his mug. He took the money and went for a walk along Campbell Street.

It was 1.47 p.m. when he thought of getting something to eat. Campbell Street had a high pavement and as he tried to step into the road to cross it, a black Monaro zipped by and nearly hit him. He jumped back and the car was gone. He looked both ways and crossed to the pub. The front bar was clean with only a few afternoon drinkers. The pool table was around a corner so that kept the bar quiet.

He asked the barmaid if he could get some lunch but she told him that the lunches ended at 1.30 p.m.

“It’s 1.48,” he said.

“That’s right,” she said.

He asked for a beer with a splash of lemonade and a pie. She put a foil-wrapped pie in the microwave and poured him a beer.

“Just a splash?” she said.

“Right,” he said.

The pie was too hot to eat right away so it took him three beers altogether to finish his lunch. He walked out to the DOSA and had a cigarette and then went back and daydreamed at the bar. After a while he could hear the noise of school children in the street and looked out of the door to see them walking around Campbell Street in groups of three and four. Across the street he saw the Post Office so he collected his cigarettes from the bar and went over.

At the public phone he rang his wife. He knew that she would be at work and that his son would be at a friend’s house so he wasn’t surprised to get the machine. He left a message saying that the car had broken down and he would be home tonight or early in the morning. He told them that he loved them and that he would eat before he got home so don’t bother saving anything for him. He thought that they should go away for the weekend but he didn’t tell them that. Then he hung up and walked back to the garage.

“You’re back,” John said.

“I’m back.”

“Your car’s finished and you can escape. Time to go home.”

“Thanks, John,” Bob said.

“Have a cuppa before you go? Lady Grey?”

“Please.”

They sat at the coffee table and Bob lit a cigarette. He pulled an unopened packet of chocolate wheatens from his pocket.

“I’ve got something for you,” Bob said.

John smiled.

“I’ve also got it worked out.”

“Got what worked out?” John said.

“The thing with the Danville girl.”

“You should leave that alone, mate. Just get in your car and drive. That’s what they were made for. Hit that dusty road, brother.”

“I’m going, don’t worry. And I don’t think that I’m coming back but I know what happened now. I know what was going on,” Bob said.

“I don’t know if I want you to tell me. But go on, we’re doing nothing else.”

“It was a nocebo. The whole thing, a nocebo.”

“A what-what-bo?” John said. He put the tea mugs on the table.

“A nocebo,” Bob said. “You know what a placebo is, right? Well a nocebo is the opposite. You give somebody something like plain ordinary water and you tell them it’s poison and they feel sick. The opposite of a placebo. Instead of feeling good they feel bad. And that’s what happened to me.”

“Somebody gave you poison?” John said.

“Nobody gave me anything. I took something, something happened to me, the Danville girl happened to me and I thought it was going to be bad. I thought it was going to fuck me up and so it did fuck me up. When I realised that it was a nocebo, it had no effect. Simple, eh?” Bob said.

“And where did you work this out?”

“In the pub.”

“Figures.”

“No, seriously, I didn’t do anything bad. I just did what anyone would do. But it’s only going to be bad if I let it be bad. It’s a nocebo. Once you know what they are then they don’t work on you any more.”

“I’m not arguing but it seems to me like there might be other points of view on the matter. Like, you’re not going to discuss the no-see-thing with your wife, are you?” John said.

“That would just be letting it go on being a bad thing. Wouldn’t make sense,” Bob said.

They finished their tea and did the paperwork for the car and Bob thanked John and got ready to go.

“You don’t think that Montenegro might be a nocebo, do you?” John said.

“No way, man. You’ve got the real thing.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 ANTHONY MAY teaches Writing and Cultural Studies in the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane. He has published in the fields of popular music, film, literary studies and publishing. He also publishes short fiction. He is currently co-writing a history of pop music since 1945. His interviews with Elmore Leonard appeared in the second issue of Contrappasso.

Header photo (cc) Tamsin Slater @ Flickr

from Issue #3: Poetry by Nicholaos Floratos

Photo (CC) joiseyshowaa @ Flickr

Photo (CC) joiseyshowaa @ Flickr

*

The Child

These days, I am not so old. But you
Are the wraith iced in small laughs and I
Simply will not have you. Your small teeth
Seem to countdown something.

In the old picture you are still small, your little
Bright soul snares the world and
You drag events away from me. In your tiny wake
My love is spent on a smiling wall. You are his first disaster.

And I must scurry under your weight, like the rain.
He turns your horrible vowels into myths and how they rise
Like sweet smoke and how there are no words left in the world
When you are done speaking. You enter and will not leave.

Your shadow will break my bones. You rest
In a small haven of suburban fantasies and revolving seasons
With a mother and a father and a plain white town house.
You occur viciously, without spite perhaps, but with terrible force.

The child occurs.

“He’s adorable.
He looks just like you.
I’d love to meet him.
What’s his name?”

*

The Sum of a Man

Is dominion. I will not
Work, I am fed. I find
Myself when washing his suits.
And all night I have pictured
Tomorrow, being in the same
Bed, wanting nothing. I am
Diaphonous and he
The master of metals, the one
Who pinches my dreams in place.
And all night I have been wanting
To cook him breakfast, the
Fat smell of grease dirtying the air,
The warmth of pans. And he eats.
And so he goes hunting
In the skull grey car and brings home
Plastic, miles and miles of it
While I wave by the door,
Happy, jobless, safe.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Nicholaos Floratos is an undergraduate student at Macquarie University, studying for a Bachelor of Arts with a major in creative writing and cultural studies. Nick is academically and creatively interested in the efficacy of identity and matters of the self. He has Filipino and Greek heritage from his mother and father’s side respectively and has had the odd privilege of being raised in both cultures. He is new to the professional publishing scene, with his first set of publications occurring this year. His poetry is typically inspired by a combination of his personal and student life.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Rebecca Lehmann

Photo (CC) Nomadic Lass @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Nomadic Lass @ Flickr

*

Report to Work at the Usual Hour

One morning, the archways are festooned
with crabapple boughs. One morning,
black paint covers them like shellacked
thunderclouds. What is a surprise?
One morning, all the men wear
sweater vests and extol the virtues
of abstinence. One morning, the women
don color-blocked jumpers and cardigans.
The fresh polish on their toenails
shimmers under fluorescent lights.
Lunch features overcooked beef patties
and a slideshow about the ponies
of Assateague. Their beards congeal
and drip salt water as they ford
the Chincoteague Bay. A stray tabby
preens in an oak outside the presentation
room, where staff watch a power point
that outlines Standard Productivity Outcomes.
The tabby turns away and licks her left dewclaw.
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is required
reading for May, but it is widely
misunderstood, and Dimmesdale becomes
slang for someone who can’t properly
load a toner cartridge. When hammocks
are strung from the rafters for aerial napping,
women stop wearing skirts. No one talks
about after work activities, but rest
assured they involve a television,
a bucket of old nails, and a hunting rifle.
The time for inter-cubicle flirtation,
like all things, must end. One cannot estimate
the value of increased productivity,
of pink noise pumped through the air ducts,
of a desk near a window, the highway
traffic speeding and slowing in time
to the chews and swallows of one’s
afternoon liverwurst sandwich, the colors
of the traffic a blurred rainbow, hurrying away.

*

Sport-Utility Heart

Forget about my sport-utility heart,
its swerve and sway, the shy blush
of its beat, the bleat of red cells pushed
through clapping valves. I slumber
under polyester. That is wrong.
I told you I had the $$$$$$. Well,
forget about my little pitter-pat,
my little this and that, my twenty blue
horizon lines, my acrylic on canvas.
Forget about gestation, the question point,
the knocking horse, the rocking bird,
the barred owl’s sharpened claws.
Some mystic’s vision, and five nickels
on a hardwood floor in Tallahassee.
The summer the carpet bred fleas,
and I forgot about flowers, or the smell
of a stone fence, or the smell of well
water, or the smell of my mother’s
empty perfume spritser, or the smell
of matted leaves in a stray cat’s fur.

 *

Drought

The floorboards of the new house sung in the sunshine, polished—the wood hard as a frozen river. You wanted to walk across the Mississippi where we stopped in Minnesota in January, but I held your arm and said, No—in the middle of the river, the ice is like a magician’s trap door. Still, the pull of the sublime. But because the oil on my fingertips left a special series of whorls, I kept you at my side. The text from a friend asked what the point of narrative was. I couldn’t answer. However, consider this: I stole our landlord’s money and then wrote a lyric vignette about his failing dental practice. In the summer drought, even the corn had dried on the stalk by the time the grasshoppers began their kamikaze assaults on our legs. Then a lamb at the edge of a field—a sheep’s skin in the making—gamboled playfully in the August heat. Like that, the change, the shift in seasons, the forgotten bunch of daisies left in the overgrown grass by a fencepost. And the pumpkin plants died too. Nary the shade of an ash tree could have saved them.

We loaded up a moving truck for the third time in a year and prayed for safe passage across the fly-over states. Somewhere, on the bank of a different river, high plains give themselves over to wind to form a dust storm. Beyond the plains, a wildfire sucks up Oklahoma brush. The National Guard drains several towns and ex-urbs of their denizens. There are rivers in the north, and rivers in the south. Here is a river that’s been dammed to look like a lake. Its waves are the suggestion of water, its center the locus of algae bloom and leech. There is the fire-starter, lighting wads of newspaper and tossing them from the half-opened window of his dually pick-up truck. Upon arrival, we found cockroach droppings on the kitchen floor. Not even the knotted pine walls could keep the vermin at bay. There, the secret passage for the scorpion. Here, here is where we placed our bed. The bamboo blinds rocked just so in the breeze.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Rebecca Lehmann is the author of the poetry collection Between the Crackups (Salt, 2011), which won the Crashaw Prize. Her poems have been published in journals including Tin House, Ploughshares and The Antioch Review. She currently lives in Texas, USA, where she teaches creative writing and literature. For more information, visit www.rebecca-lehmann.com

Farewell, Giorgio Orelli (1921-2013) – Translations from Issue #3, by Marco Sonzogni

Photo © Theodore Ell

Photo © Theodore Ell

Poetry Editor’s note: Contrappasso bids a sad farewell to Giorgio Orelli, who passed away this morning at the age of 92. Below are the five poems of Orelli’s that appeared in Issue 3, translated by Marco Sonzogni. The original Italian version of each poem appears first, followed by its translation in blue. 

*

Quelle farfalle brune,
le più comuni forse del mondo,
immancabili ai nostri picnic
d’agosto quando vagano come stordite dal fiume,
quasi m’hanno sfiorato
sulla collina, zelante drappello
e cauto, che, non più vagando, ha raggiunto
i fiori lilla su gambi lunghi e lì,
perfettamente combaciando le ali,
ognuna su un fiore pareva
suggere il paradiso:

né tu né io quest’anno ci saremmo
ricordati del nostro anniversario
se d’improvviso riaprendosi, prima
di volar via, l’una non avesse,
e l’altra e l’altra, un attimo, mostrato
un 8 limpidissimo, arancione.

(Il collo dell’anitra, 2001)

Those brown butterflies,
the most common in the world perhaps,
guaranteed at our August
picnics, when they wander as if dazed by the river,
they’ve almost touched me
on the hill, a diligent and careful
squad which, no longer wandering, has reached
the tall lilac flowers and there,
joining their wings perfectly,
each one on a flower seemed
to suck on paradise:

this year neither you nor I would have
remembered our anniversary
had not one, and then another and yet another,
shown for a moment, opening
all of a sudden before flying away,
the clearest, orange, 8.

(The Duck’s Neck, 2011)

*

D’autunno

Felinamente in giallo
viscido di salamandra
tra siepe e asfalto: neanche la faccia
gli ho visto al ragazzo che in bici
quasi m’investe allo svolto.
Tanto fitto pioveva e di traverso
che alle vacche vicino al liceo
l’anima s’annegrava:
in gruppo, stralunate,
disprezzavano l’erba,
mute muggivano al cielo.

(Spiracoli, 1989)

In autumn

Catlike in the salamander’s
slimy yellow
between the hedge and the tarmac: I didn’t even
see the face of the boy who
almost ran over me at the bend with his bike.
The rain was hosing down sideways
so much that it darkened the mood of the cows
near the high school:
in groups, dazed,
they forsook the grass,
and lowed miserably at the sky.

(Outlines, 1989)

*

Per Agostino

Per noi silenziosi
e freddi nelle mani che toccano
le canne del fucile chiamerà
la luna il tasso fuori della tana?
Ora sono fuggiti gli scoiattoli
che si rincorrevano a coppie sui pini:
la sera che ascoltiamo le canzoni
spegnersi tra le stalle dove crepita
acre la nostra infanzia,
forse gloriosamente
muore l’estate.
Ai boschi bruni, alle pietre più grige
ci riconosciremmo: anticamente
fedeli come gli occhi degli amici.
E sarà il tempo che le pernici
desteranno col loro canto i pascoli.

(L’ora del tempo, 1962)

For Agostino

As we wait, silent
and our hands cold on the barrel
of the rifle will the moon
bring the badger out of his sett?
Now the squirrels have gone
away in pairs among the pine trees:
the evening when we listen to songs
fades among the stables where our acrid
childhood rustles away,
perhaps the summer ends
gloriously.
In the brown woods, in the greyer stones
we will find ourselves: as in times past
faithful like the eyes of friends.
And it will be the time when the partridges’
calls awaken the pastures.

(The Instant of Time, 1962)

*

Campolungo

Per una costa già cara ai fagiani
giungo dove non ronzano i beati,
su un gran piano venato d’acque appena
rotte, dai margini qua e là
fioriti di piumini come neve.
Una nebbia s’insinua, allontana le vette.
Un’ansia mi caccia.
Mi fermo d’improvviso tra i calcestri
biancheggianti del passo, davanti
a uccelli dal collo di pietra.
.                                                        .Allo sparo
gallinette si levano, dileguano
nella nebbia che ora punge la memoria.

(L’ora del tempo, 1962)

Campolungo

Along a slope already familiar to the pheasants
I come to where the fortunate don’t hang around,
on a wide plain veined by newly emerged
streams, their banks scattered
with flowers like snow-flakes.
Fog creeps in, distances the mountaintops.
An anxiety hunts me.
I stop suddenly among the pale
crushed stones of the pass, in front of
stony-necked birds.
.                                                               .At my shot
the moorhens take flight, disappear
into the fog that now stings my memory.

(The Instant of Time, 1962)

*

Carnevale a Prato Leventina

È questa la Domenica Disfatta,
senza un grido né un volo dagli strani
squarci del cielo.
.                                     .Ma le lepri
sui prati nevicati sono corse
invisibili, restano dell’orgia
silenziosa i discreti disegni.

I ragazzi nascosti nei vecchi
che hanno teste pesanti e lievi gobbe
entrano taciturni nelle case
dopocena: salutano con gesti
rassegnati.
.                         .Li seguo di lontano,
mentre affondano dolci nella neve.

(L’ora del tempo, 1962)

Carnival at Prato Leventina

This is Black Sunday,
no cry nor a flutter in the strange
breaks in the sky.
.                                      .But on the snowy meadows
the hares have run off
unseen, the discreet traces
of their silent orgy linger on.

The young lads now hidden in old men
with heavy heads and bent backs
go home silently
after dinner: they exchange resigned
gestures.
.                     .I follow them from far away,
as they sink softly into the snow.

(The Instant of Time, 1962)

*

ABOUT THE POET AND THE TRANSLATOR

Giorgio Orelli was born in 1921 in Airolo, in the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland. From his debut (Né bianco né viola, 1944) he was regarded as a significant voice among contemporary poets writing in Italian. After attending university at Freiburg, where he was a student of Gianfranco Contini, Orelli taught Italian literature and history at the Scuola Cantonale di Commercio in Bellinzona and lectured at several Swiss and Italian universities. A published short story writer (Un giorno della vita, 1960), literary critic (from Accertamenti verbali in 1978 to La qualità del senso in 2012) and translator, most notably of Goethe’s poetry (Poesie, 1974), Orelli was the author of several collections of poems: L’ora del tempo (1962), a selection of his work from his 20s to his 40s; Sinopie (1977); Spiracoli (1989); Il collo dell’anitra (2001). Orelli’s new book, L’orlo della vita, will be published soon. For his poetry, widely translated into French and German, Orelli received many awards, including the Gran Premio Schiller in Switzerland (1998) and the Premio Bagutta in Italy (2002).

Marco Sonzogni (born in 1971) lives in Wellington, New Zealand. He holds degrees from the University of Pavia (Almo Collegio Borromeo), University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland. He is a widely published and award-winning editor, poet and literary translator, now Senior Lecturer in Italian with the School of Languages and Cultures at Victoria University of Wellington, where is also the Director of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation. His literary translation projects include Swiss-Italian poets (Oliver Scharpf, Alberto Nessi, Pietro De Marchi, Fabiano Alborghetti, Giorgio Orelli), New Zealand poets, and the collected poems of Seamus Heaney (Meridiano). Marco wishes to thank Giorgio Orelli for his kindness and generosity, and Pietro De Marchi and Bob Lowe for their support and contribution.