Poetry Shelf Monday poem: from Amy Brown’s Neon Daze

Excerpt from Neon Daze

 

8th December 2016

 

A friend warned me months ago

that my baby would start to smell

of other people – perfumes, creams,

colognes, sweat – your baby’s head

will press against strangers’ throats

and décolletage, held close and warm.

Sure enough I recognised the musky,

woody scent of our family friend in his hair

and skin yesterday long after she’d left.

Babies are olfactory creatures, happiest

emanating their own or their parents’

odour. We squirt Johnson’s shampoo

under the running tap for the manuka

sweetness it leaves behind his ears.

Now, he is strapped against me and

I am afraid the sunscreen on my chest

will distract from the baked tussock,

sandy fragrance fresh and familiar

as a wave [1], blue and white as the baby’s

eyes. We walk along Ocean Beach towards

Cape Kidnappers, which is only ever a haze

of coast in the distance, past macrocarpas,

painted black in the Dick Frizzell print

on my parents’ bedroom wall. We walk and

the baby’s sleeping cheek sticks to my skin.

 

—————————————————

 

[1] To Wave

To move to and fro, from the Old Norse vagr meaning billowing water. Waves, Robin, look! I told him today, both of us squinting into the glare of the mid-morning horizon, paddling along the edge of the Bass Strait. His right hand lifted and twisted back and forth, to and fro at the breakers.

I am wavering between then and now. This is our third time at Skene’s Creek. The first was the first weekend away with my partner – my first conventional weekend away with any partner. He booked a cabin whose view from the bedroom window was dense and private with eucalypts and which was all sea and sky from the balcony, where I sat typing away at my thesis with a beer while he barbecued us fresh fish. I had about $36 in my bank account then and was both luxuriating in and anxious about the incongruity of this experience. In the spa bath we sucked each other’s toes and played lavishly with the jets. The photos I took were all of us – our feet the same size and sandy, only distinguishable by my red nail polish; him on the swing, a joyful blur of beard and beer.

The second time we came to this beach we stayed at the same cabin, but the weather was miserable. I photographed the food we made and the special bottle of wine we drank and my partner’s back as he walked away from me in his red jacket along the deserted beach. We brought our yoga mats and held postures together while rain hung white in the trees, obscuring the sea. I had just got my period for the twelfth time of hoping it wouldn’t come and was allowing myself to drink the wine, which tasted of nothing. We still didn’t know why I wasn’t getting pregnant, or how to fix it, or how lucky we would be when the weeks of injections started.

This time we are staying in a family’s beach house. I move the bowls of shells and driftwood ornaments to higher ground. My partner blocks the steps from the deck to the wild garden with three chairs. We coax our toddler to not use the length of timber dowel locking the sliding door in place to drum on the glass coffee table. We find empty snail shells, stones of all varieties and point at the sulphur-yellow underside of the wings of the cockatoos, which shriek en masse as they fly. I photograph the baby in the hammock, the baby in the sea, the baby scooping sand into his bucket; his face is always behind a broad-brimmed sunhat patterned with leaves. After seven, when Robin is asleep, we play quiet games of Scrabble and Monopoly at the outdoor table, drinking wine and eating chocolate to keep warm. On every visit I’ve forgotten how cold the beach gets at night and pack inadequately. This time I bring socks but no shoes, and many T-shirts but no heavy jersey. Like an eighteen-month-old I wear socks and sandals and eccentric layers. To warm up after swimming in the sea, we all shower together. I show Robin how I wash my face by closing my eyes and dipping my head under the stream. Nick demonstrates how he washes his face, carefully with a flannel. We both applaud when Robin’s wet eyelashes open and he smiles.

 

 

 

 

9th December 2016

 

There are creases in the back

of my father’s tanned neck, like

Hemingway’s old man. He spends

two hours longer than usual out

in his boat, trying to catch enough

kahawai for our dinner. It is filleted,

barbecued and served with a Persian

marinade from a cookbook I gave

my mother two Christmases ago.

The recipe calls for dried rose petals.

She laid them out in the sun (and

later microwave, to speed the process)

herself, picked from her own garden.

She lets the baby take handfuls

of petals off the aging bunch in

the dining room. He scatters them

romantically across the floorboards.

Later, I find one still clutched, bruised

perfumed and bright as blood in his fist.

 

Amy Brown

 

 

Amy Brown lives in Melbourne, where she teaches literature and philosophy. Her first poetry collection, The Propaganda Poster Girl (Victoria University Press, 2008), was shortlisted for a Montana New Zealand Book Award in 2009. Her next work of poetry, The Odour of Sanctity (Victoria University Press, 2013) was the creative component of a PhD on contemporary epic poetry. Her next book, Neon Daze, will be released by Victoria University Press in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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