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June 2020 — writing+art /painting /poetry /stories /video /music /dance /drawings

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Masthead image is Man wearing gas mask 1950 (2020) by Lee James Shott.

Introductory imagesNighthawks (1942) Edward Hopper; Depopulated Nighthawks at the diner (2012) Dean Rohrer; and an Internet meme (2020) by unknown illustrator.

Alex SKOVRON /poetry /story /art

Alex Skovron was born in Poland, lived briefly in Israel, and emigrated to Australia in 1958, aged nearly ten. His family settled in Sydney, where he grew up and completed his studies. From the early 1970s he worked as an editor for book publishers in Sydney and (after 1980) Melbourne; since the 1990s he has worked as a freelance editor. His poetry has appeared widely in Australia and overseas. The Rearrangement (1988), his first book, won the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore awards and was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Awards; there followed Sleeve Notes (1992), Infinite City: 100 Sonnetinas (1999, shortlisted in the Age Book of the Year and Victorian Premier’s Awards), The Man and the Map (2003), Autographs: 56 poems in prose (2008), and Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems (2014, shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards). Other awards have included the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry, the John Shaw Neilson Poetry Award, and the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize. The numerous public readings he has given include appearances in China, Serbia, India, Ireland, Macedonia, Portugal, and on Norfolk Island. An 80-minute CD in which he reads from his poetry was published in 2019 under the title Towards the Equator. His next collection, Letters from the Periphery, is due in 2021.

Concurrently with his poetry, Alex has intermittently published in prose, including short stories, a novella, and the abovementioned Autographs, which can be read as a book of microstories. The novella, titled The Poet (2005), was joint winner of the FAW Christina Stead Award for a work of fiction and has been translated into Czech. The Attic, a bilingual selection of his poems translated into French, was published by PEN Melbourne in 2013; and Water Music, a bilingual volume of Chinese translations in the Flying Island series (Macau), came out in 2017. Some of his poetry has also been translated into Dutch, Polish, Spanish, Macedonian and German. His collection of short stories, The Man who Took to his Bed, was published in 2017, and a Czech-language edition appeared in 2019. He has collaborated with his Czech translator, Josef Tomáš, on English translations of the twentieth-century Czech poets Jiří Orten and Vladimír Holan.

Concerns that have driven Alex Skovron’s poetry and fiction are many and various: history, language and music; the riddles of time and the allure of memory; philosophy, faith and the quest for self-knowledge; art and the creative impulse; fantasy, eros and the affections. His interest in speculative fiction has played a recurring role in his thinking and his work, as has a lifelong passion for music. As a poet, he enjoys both the disciplines and the aesthetics of formal design and the diverse challenges of freer structures. Integral to his project has been a focus on musicality and the primacy of rhythm. He likes probing the elasticities of syntax, and exploiting the ‘contrapuntal’ layerings available to imagery and meaning via compression, connotation, ambiguity.

Photo: Martin Langford

The man who tried to erase his shadow

by Alex Skovron

Ever watched a man at a tramstop on a windy day, attempting to turn the page of a broadsheet? Not just turn the page, but fold it back and around the rest of his paper and then fold that over again, to leave exposed just the half-page that contains the article he’s interested in. The problem is the wind. To achieve his goal, the man must release the page he has finished, allowing the wind to grab it and lift it for him. All is well until the halfway point, the point when he tries to take control of the fluttering page, to fold it under. The wind won’t let him. The man twists his body this way and that, manoeuvring his vessel of print like a master mariner, trying to fill its sails to just the right measure, to catch just the right angle for the page to settle politely around the back of the paper. Several times he almost manages it, but the wind keeps changing at the last moment, he simply can’t rotate his body into the proper attitude and the page flaps wildly, defiant. The man is not unmindful of the comical aspect of his exertions, but for him it is exasperating. A bit like trying to evade your own shadow. In the end he settles for a very imperfect, untidy folding-back of the page – the kind he regards with contempt whenever someone at home has browsed through his paper with no concern for neatness or alignment.

Look, I might as well come clean. That comment about evading your shadow was not an accidental simile. The newspaper image seemed a good way to introduce what I really want to tell you about – the man who tried not just to evade, but to erase his shadow.

You’ll probably think this is simply an excuse for one of those fashionable little pieces you find in the literary journals. But my story is different because it really happened – yesterday afternoon, in fact. I didn’t want to share it with anyone at first, but this morning on waking I experienced this strange compulsion to get it out of my system. I considered telephoning a friend, and I certainly gave thought to telling my wife; but in the end I decided the best course was to write down what I had seen. Just for myself. Nobody will ever read this (I never show my jottings to anyone, and I’d never dream of publishing them) – though I confess that this knowledge feels both comforting and, well, a tiny bit sad. But then, that’s a feeling I get almost every time I sit down to write. Call it the subterranean rumblings of the ego.

Anyway, what happened is this. Yesterday morning I was alone in my room cradling my third cup of coffee and listening to a James Taylor CD. Lorelei had rung from the office to hurry me up on the Trixy Toys project – she’d received an email from Toronto and the parent company was getting edgy about deadlines, what with the launch of our new range set for October. I don’t know why I bother to remain in this job, I hate writing advertising copy, especially for products I don’t feel passionate about. Well, I do know why: because the money’s so good. And after all, it’s not as though I’m helping promote cigarettes or pornography or guns. Most of our accounts are toy manufacturers, with a scattering of sportswear labels, a newsagency chain and a hardware emporium. It shouldn’t be too difficult to believe in the products I write about, and I guess in a way I do. But you see, there’s no passion: I don’t feel even a shadow of conviction.

So when Lorelei rang I was a little put out, though I assure you that this had nothing to do with Lorelei. Quite the reverse. I’ve had a crush on Lorelei ever since she started with us back in April. I wouldn’t mind describing her to you – maybe I’ll do that next time. No, why not now? My great-aunt Trudi always said – in German, mind you, though it’s been so many years that I don’t recall her exact words – she would often remind me, whenever I was trying to put off some unsavoury chore (this is when I was a boy and great-aunt Trudi lived with us), that the Lord had no time for procrastinators; that when the Day of Judgment arrived, those who had been prompt to do their duty, be it scholastic, professional or military, would be the first to be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven; so one should never shirk responsibilities, but embrace them with passion (there’s that word again, it makes me think of the Trixy Toys commission I’ve been stalling on). As you can see, great-aunt Trudi was a very religious woman, and she had quite an influence on my life at the time. She would have been proud of me, I suppose – a successful copywriter with a bustling firm. On the other hand, maybe with her religious beliefs she would have dismissed advertising as sinful – though surely not in the sort of accounts I handle. I’ll never have the chance to discuss this with her, because she’s been gone a long time. I was thirteen when she died. She was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm as she crossed a busy thoroughfare in the middle of town. She was carrying a steel-tipped umbrella, and the bolt of lightning must have noticed it and homed in with lightning glee. But that’s nonsense, why am I writing like this? Still, she did always have a hell of a time with that umbrella, an enormous thing with a sculpted handle; it would never open properly, and was inclined to blow out on itself at the first sign of a breeze. I have visions (no, I have actual memories) of great-aunt Trudi wrestling with her umbrella in the midst of lashing city gales, trying desperately to stop it from jumping inside out. It brings to mind the man wrestling with his broadsheet, and also the other man, the one who tried to erase his shadow. I’m coming to that. Perhaps Lorelei is the one I should have rung about it.

But I promised to describe her to you. Well, let me start by saying that Lorelei is not exactly beautiful; but she’s unbelievably sensual. At least, I think so. I’d like to tell her this, but I worry that she’ll take it the wrong way. Actually, she’d be taking it the right way, because I really would love to do it with her, as they say (if I may be forgiven such a vulgar expression), but she has a boyfriend and I’ve always made a point of avoiding trouble. My record is spotless. Great-aunt Trudi would be proud of my record, because she was a great believer in spotlessness. She was a fanatical polisher of the furniture, she used to follow visitors around with a duster – but that’s another story. Great-aunt Trudi probably wouldn’t approve of Lorelei, because she didn’t believe in sex before marriage, and I know that Lorelei lives with her boyfriend. He’s some sort of investment broker, and rather handsome. (Mind you, the company he works for sounds a bit shady.) He dropped in at the office once, and I was struck by his clear eyes and mellow diction. For some reason he reminded me of James Taylor. James Taylor is my favourite singer. I love his silky, hypnotic voice, his poetic lyrics, his country calm. I have all of his recordings. I suspect great-aunt Trudi would have approved of James Taylor’s country calm – after all, she was born in the German provinces. Thuringia, I think. Or was it Saxony? Though I really doubt if she would have understood his music. For her, singing ended with Schubert. What would she have made of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Sex Pistols?

But I was telling you about Lorelei. She has this amazing smile, and every time she smiles I nearly fold. She is slightly overweight, it’s true, and maybe her nose is a fraction too snub and her chin a trifle on the weak side. There are those who would call her plain. But whenever she smiles and flashes her two front teeth (with the saucy little gap between them), her cheek crinkles and her eyes light up with the most seductive glimmer, and you know, I feel like sweeping her up in my arms and carrying her off and, well, ravishing her. Sometimes she makes these suggestive little remarks – just to tease me, I suppose – and I try to ignore them. The nearest I ever came to responding to her advances (that’s how I’m tempted to view them, because she’s a bit of a flirt, and she uses too much eye-shadow), the closest I came to any danger was on her last birthday, when I gave her a festive peck on the cheek followed by a brief hug. It was so good to hold her, if just for a moment. She didn’t seem too eager to break away, in fact I even imagined she was pressing herself in towards me a little, so I pulled back. But then I always did have an over-vivid imagination. One day I might tell you a few of my erotic fantasies. One of them involves Lorelei. Great-aunt Trudi would be horrified.

Thinking of great-aunt Trudi in the same breath (can you say that?) makes me wonder if Lorelei is of German extraction too, because her name reminds me of a poem by a famous German – Goethe or Schiller, I think – which great-aunt Trudi taught me all those years ago. I used to know all the words. The poem tells of a legendary siren on the Rhine who lured sailors to their deaths with her beautiful singing. Perhaps I ought to be more careful with my Lorelei. I’ve never heard her sing, but she hums quite tunelessly, mostly when she’s embarrassed about something. Like on her birthday, after I’d rejected her advances.

If that’s what they were. Because I really shouldn’t be concerning myself with Lorelei. After all, I’m a married man; Tessa and I are not unhappy together. We’ve been married for eight years and plan to start a family soon. She can’t wait. Tessa comes from a very large family, she’s one of seven, and aside from her parents, her brothers and sisters and their children (about eighteen of them, all told), there are droves of cousins, uncles and aunts, and they all descend on our house at Christmas and Easter and whenever Tessa has a birthday or nameday. I can barely recognize or identify most of her relatives – to be honest, I still know only a few of the children by name, and I’m hopeless with all the cousins and aunts and uncles. Zio this and Zia that, most of them look the same to me. This annoys Tessa, of course; whenever we argue it’s usually to do with my attitude to her family. She says I don’t try hard enough, accuses me of going silent or escaping into my study when they come to visit. I must confess it’s true, I don’t have much time for her family – and her parents were cold towards me from the start. They would have loved their Teresa to marry a good dark curly-haired Catholic boy, but were saddled instead with this reticent German Protestant complete with blond mop and blue eyes. I must tell you about the marriage ceremony and the function that followed – it makes the wedding-banquet scene in Goodbye, Columbus seem sedate and dignified. No, I’ll leave that for another time, because I really need to describe the incident at the tramstop yesterday, the one with the man and his shadow, that I started to tell you about.

It was the tramstop nearest to the office. Now, trams have always exerted a strange fascination over me. I actually met Tessa on a tram. One of those totally illogical encounters that could easily not have occurred – you know, if the tram hadn’t happened to tarry a moment longer at that stop, if the seat next to me hadn’t happened to fall vacant, if she hadn’t happened to bump me as she sat down laden with awkward parcels – and if the butterfly hadn’t happened to alight on that specific palm-leaf in the steamy Brazilian jungle twenty years earlier … Anyhow, we started to chat about toys, mainly because the parcels she was carrying included a large Christmas selection for her nephews and nieces. And from there, things just seemed to take their ineluctable course. Before I knew it we were going on a date, and then another, and all of a sudden we were getting engaged, and then – never mind, or I’ll get started on the wedding again. Tessa hates it whenever I mention the wedding in the heat of an argument.

Not that we argue a lot. Mostly about her parents and relations. Oh, and sometimes about music as well. Tessa hates my taste in music, and she especially detests James Taylor. I think she has made a point of this just to spite me, she couldn’t have been so opposed to him before we got married because she’d hardly heard any of his songs (the one she knew was ‘Fire and Rain’, a terrific song, sure, but scarcely the key to the man’s artistry). I tried to play her a few of his albums and she listened just to humour me. It didn’t change her mind about James Taylor. She goes for the Carpenters, and Celine Dion, and John Farnham. How is it that I can appreciate her favourites, whereas she can’t bring herself to give my hero the scantiest of fair hearings? Lorelei says she adores James Taylor.

She’s not so keen on rain. I was actually with Lorelei when the incident with the man and his shadow took place. It was cloudy all day yesterday, and I was stuck in a Projects meeting that dragged on well beyond five. As I was leaving a tremendous thunderstorm erupted and the rain came teeming down. Lorelei, who had also been in the meeting, asked if she could share my umbrella as far as the tramstop. Well, I was going home by tram too (a different tram, unluckily), so we pushed off towards the stop together, me wrestling with my umbrella (thinking of great-aunt Trudi, as I always do in a thunderstorm) and Lorelei holding on to me for dear life, her arm locked into my elbow. It struck me that anyone observing us at that instant might think we were husband and wife, and this pleased and excited me. I thought of how disaffected I had become with Tessa, and how romantic it was to be struggling through a thundery downpour with Lorelei humming in my ear. (She really was, too, tunelessly of course.) It was even better than those erotic imaginings I was going to tell you about.

Then abruptly the rain stopped, the thunder receded, the sun broke through – and the spell I had woven with my fantasy was broken. That was when we caught sight of the man at the tramstop. He was tall and thin, and he seemed to be casting about for something – the way you do when you’ve dropped a coin that you know must have fallen close to your feet but you just can’t spot it. No – more the way an infant trapped in a highchair will strain to look outwards and downwards when a toy drops from his tray and he can’t understand where it’s gone. I must admit I don’t have much of a taste for infants. (Tessa senses this, it’s one of the unspoken tensions between us.) Infants have a special talent for throwing their playthings about. Toys are forever slipping out of their fingers, and I can tell you as a copywriter with a bit of research under my belt that some toys are particularly tricky that way. Tricky toys. Tricksy toys. Trixy Toys. That gives me an idea for a new promotional angle – why didn’t I think of it at yesterday’s meeting? But Lorelei was taking down the minutes and I can never concentrate properly when she’s around.

Another thought has just hit me. Is it possible that we both subconsciously planned the way we needed to leave the office at exactly the same time, the way she requested to share my umbrella, the way she hooked herself into my arm as we trudged through the wind and rain? Maybe she’s grown as unhappy with her boyfriend as I have with Tessa, perhaps she wants to have an affair. With me. What was she humming as we struggled towards the tramstop? What was she trying to tell me, in her tuneless, gap-toothed, gorgeous way? Now that I think about it, she did seem a little restless, as if she longed to come out with something, to share something important. But then we reached the tramstop and caught sight of the man who was trying to erase his shadow, and the moment passed. I want to tell you about this man, it was extraordinary to watch, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I will tell you about him, soon. Right now I’m feeling a little agitated, and I need to stop and think things through.

From The Man who Took to his Bed (Puncher & Wattmann, 2017)

Drawings and a painting by Alex Skovron

Left to right, top to bottom: Scandal mill (1996); Vikings & viqueens (1995); Zero won (1996); House full (1996); Forbidden fruit (1996); Haunted house (1995); Knots (1975, acrylic on canvas board).

Gina MERCER /poetry

Gina Mercer enjoys a three-stranded career as writer, teacher, and editor. She has taught creative writing and literature in universities and communities for 35 years. She was Editor of Island from 2006–2010. She has a passion for working with writers as book doula. Gina has performed her poetry in cities and regions throughout Australia as well as Canada and Ireland. Recently she’s collaborated with musicians interweaving their original compositions with her eco-poetry in the performances: ‘Off with the Birds’ and ‘Diving into the Derwent’. She’s been writer-in-residence at Prince Edward Island (Canada), Varuna (NSW), the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre and Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre (WA). She’s published widely in journals, anthologies, and diaries, as well as ten books (poetry, fiction, academic nonfiction). The three most recent books are: The Dictionary of Water, a limited edition poetry collection, Wild Element Press, 2019, wildelement@iinet.net.au; Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone, a poetry collection all about birds, Walleah Press, 2015; and The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss, co-edited with Terry Whitebeach, Ginninderra Press, 2019.

Photo: Gina Mercer with Patrick Kavanagh sculpture, Dublin.

Lee James SHOTT /painting

Lee James Shott was born in Aberdare in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales (UK), and holds an M.A. in Fine Art.

Shott's paintings subjectively capture the contemporary culture of communities throughout South Wales. The work focuses on human interactions and the idiosyncrasies of his daily life, observations of people and their interactions, night-time walks, and commuting by public transport.

Shott paints both landscapes and portraits that are at once psychological and voyeuristic, implying that the viewer is surveying and surveilling his environments and subjects.

The work, seen as a whole, includes portraits with blurred and fragmented features along with figurative images of workers and young people. His landscape paintings often show machinery in the green valleys of South Wales. Each painting is a precise, and precisely ambiguous, moment of life.

Exhibition poster
Exhibition poster
Paintings by Lee James Shott
Abandoned car 2 (2020) Lee James Shott; Abandoned car (2018) Lee James Shott; Elder (2020) Lee James Shott; Hooded man (2020) Lee James Shott; Lake (2019) Lee James Shott; Mother and child 2016 Lee James Shott; Passenger (2020) Lee James Shott; Onlooker (2020) Lee James Shott; Road side (morning) (2017) Lee James Shott; Self portrait (2017) Lee James Shott; Skull (2018) Lee James Shott; Turned head (2017) Lee James Shott; Untitled (Swing) 2016 Lee James Shott; Herron on snapped tree (2018) Lee James Shott; Judge (2019) Lee James Shott; Man wearing gas mask 1950 (2020) Lee James Shott; Untitled (2018) Lee James Shott; Reclining figure (2019) Lee James Shott; Schoolboy (2015) Lee James Shott; Split head (2015) Lee James Shott; Three workers (2018) Lee James Shott; Untitled (cloud) (2018) Lee James Shott; Valley (2019) Lee James Shott.

Steve COX /two biographical stories

Steve Cox is an artist and writer. He has a forty-year exhibition history and his work is held in major public and private collections throughout Australia and internationally. As an arts writer, since 2000, he has contributed articles and reviews, and has conducted interviews with artists, for numerous newspapers, journals and magazines, including The Guardian; VAULT: Australasian Art & Culture; Gay Times, UK; FilmInk.com, amongst others. Cox writes on a range of subjects, including contemporary and historical art; LGBTQI issues; social issues; cinema; contemporary music.

Between 2013–2014, he was the London Arts Editor of NakedButSafe magazine. In 2019 he was on the judging panel for the Young Arts Journalist Award (YAJA). Also in 2019, he was the inaugural Writer in Residence for Brunswick Street Village, an innovative building complex, which espouses green values and arts in the community as a primary concern. During the residency, he produced a collection of fifty poems, on a range of subjects.

The Gestapo comes to Eastbourne

by Steve Cox

Paul Harrison (not his real name) lived at the top of Kings Avenue, my street in Eastbourne, Sussex. The year of this account is 1967 – the fabled Summer of Love – although, at nine years old, I was rather too young to appreciate this germane detail. We both attended St Mary’s Boys’ School. Paul was a plain, freckle-faced boy with auburn hair. His rambling late-Victorian family home was set in a lush, jungly garden that tumbled untidily down an incline; in the centre of this acreage there was a rectangular fish pond in which half a dozen fat orange-and-white koi drifted through the bronze water. There were pieces of statuary set here and there, overgrown with weeds or brambles. At the bottom of the garden was a thicket of young trees which grew up through elderly stone pathways, disrupting and crumbling them into dysfunction. The general neglect of the garden had a magic quality which fascinated me: much later, I read John Ruskin on the importance of allowing implacable Nature to stake its claim over man-made structures – and here was his principle in action. Paul could not really understand my fascination with the garden; his familiarity had led to general disinterest with his own habitat. He was more interested in playing with his plastic toy soldiers in his bedroom, a pastime in which I would increasingly be enjoined, to my chagrin.

Paul lived with his mother – a rather imposing figure with a Roman nose and a French bun. The official story was that his father was ‘away overseas on business’ – but the edgy way he spoke of this betrayed a deeper wound of abandonment. His grandparents also lived in the house, although his grandfather was very rarely seen, as he spent most of his life folded away in a private study room. I liked his grandmother – a small, mousy woman with brown curly hair, who prepared poached eggs and beans on toast for us both whenever we arrived at his house, together, after school.

Paul was a bossy kid who always directed our play. It would be he who set up the little soldiers on his dusty bedroom carpet; it would be he who decided which military campaign we would be reenacting on this or that day. I had no real interest in these games: the activity of rolling pellets of Plasticine into the serried ranks of little men and watching them tumble seemed rather pointless to me and I always hankered for another trek around the leafy world outside his mullioned bedroom windows.

At some point, probably in the summer months, our relationship took a sudden turn into something more grown-up. This was, once again, spearheaded by Paul.

One summer afternoon, in this, our ninth year of life, we were once again in his bedroom, after school. The curtains were drawn across the lead-lighted window against the slant of still-bright sunlight. Motes of dust twirled in the air. The room was hot and stuffy. The door was closed. I could hear Paul’s grandmother washing up in the kitchen.

“Let’s show our willies,” he said, flatly. With that, he unzipped his fly and lowered his trousers. He fished around in his underpants with his fingers and plucked out his penis. It looked identical to mine, although it was beginning to stiffen slightly. I stood up and followed his example, more out of politeness than any real desire to expose myself. Paul reached over and grabbed my little prod. I did the same to him. It didn’t feel very erotic, at least to me. He stood close to me and we noodled our members together for five minutes; then he zipped himself up again and we resumed our places on the carpet, with his plastic battalion.

Some weeks later, I was again ensconced in his room after school. This time he decided we should enact some scene from his imagination, about a British soldier (to be played by me) who had been captured and was now being interrogated by the Gestapo (to be played by him).

“Take your shirt off,” he said, “and I’ll tie you to the door.” I politely complied with the order and meekly removed my white school shirt. He raised my arms, and with his school tie, tightly fastened my wrists to the coat hook that was fixed to the top of his bedroom door. He hadn’t bothered to take down the various jackets and scarves that also hung from the hook, so that my face was now buried in the various fabrics. The next stage of the routine was one which clearly gave him a good deal of pleasure. He suddenly went into character and began speaking to me in the accent of an evil, cartoon Nazi.

The Bully Boy (2015) by Steve Cox.

“Zo! Vee heff been obserffing your movements vor some time, Herr Johnson, yes? Your ections are vell known to us. You vill now tell us ze names off your contacts, yes?” Then he took his dressing gown chord from the end of his bed, doubled it, and swung it smartly across my naked, white back. It stung rather a lot. He swung again. And again.

“You VILL talk!” he demanded, striking me more severely with each lash. His breathing had become heavy and his voice had risen to perform the short, barking orders that punctuated each slashing blow.

“Yes! ...You!...VILL...Talk!” I might have cried out at some point during this ordeal because the timorous voice of Paul’s grandmother could now be heard on the other side of the door on which I was tethered.

“Paul? Paul? … Paul?” she said, “What are you doing, love? What’s going on?” Snapping suddenly out of his starring role, Paul became flustered and threw the dressing gown chord onto the floor, just as his grandmother opened the door, with its unusual cargo, and I was forced to shuffle backwards as it inched forward. Her head peeped into the room and took in the shameful scene. She hurriedly retreated.

“Well, I think it’s time for Steven to go home now,” she said, as she returned to her washing up.

A month or two later, I was again at Paul’s house, this time on a Saturday afternoon. Also present were twins, David and Mark Gold (not their real names). I recall that there was much boisterous running through the garden and the house. After several hours of this, we found ourselves sitting, quiet and exhausted, on the big wooden staircase, in the spacious entrance hall.

“Let’s show our willies,” said Paul, flatly. Immediately, we all stood up and fished out our cocks. I was intrigued to see that the Golds’ were circumcised – the first I had ever seen.

“I dare someone to put a willy in their mouth,” said Paul. There was an eruption of laughter at this preposterous suggestion. “No, I really, really, really dare someone to do it!” Feeling the sudden overwhelming desire to be both shocking and the centre of attention, I volunteered to do this outrageous thing.

“I will,” I said. At this, the boys roared with pleasure.

“Ok, do it with mine,” said Mark Gold. He stood up and once again unzipped his fly. He hitched his trousers down over his haunches and his little acorn was presented. To the hushed excitement of the others I bent forward, opened my mouth and took the thing inside.

“What on earth are you doing?” said Paul’s grandmother, who had appeared quietly at the foot of the stairs. Mark scrabbled to pull up his pants and the other boys stood up and shifted about guiltily. “I think it’s time that Steven went home now.”

Mrs. Bertram's anatomy lesson

by Steve Cox

In 1969, I was eleven years old, and a first-year student at Claremont High School, in Hobart, Tasmania. I had arrived in the state in October, the previous year, when my family had emigrated from England. The move and the resettlement were traumatic for a hypersensitive boy. It took me months to begin to properly ascertain what the teachers and the students were saying to me – although they were speaking their own version of the English language. My own careful speech patterns of precisely modulated, Received English, were routinely ridiculed as being ‘Pommy’, or ‘Poofy’, and therefore, deeply suspect in the country of hardy machismo. I learned to curb my tongue, and to keep my faulty English trap shut. This deeply felt ‘difference’ chimed with my other vaguely-felt discrepancy – a burgeoning, barely recognised, but still bubbling sense of myself as homosexual. I arrived on the scrubby, hard-baked, sun-blasted, school oval, flayed and wide open for the picking. A lamb to the daily slaughter, meek and raw. I was desperate to fit in, yet hopelessly aware that this could never happen under the ancient, time-honoured, normal, regime. I resigned myself to being the annoying stone in the well-worn sandal. But, one day, the drab curtain of the normal regime would be thrown wide open, in a shocking and blunt performance which blew the façade wide open.

John Bertram (not his real name) was a boy in my class. He was a serious, studious boy with a richly freckled face and dark auburn hair, which fell over his forehead in a short fringe. He rather kept to himself, which I thought was an admirable trait. After a few weeks of attending the school I became aware of John Bertram’s tragic burden: his mother.

One afternoon there was a small commotion down at the school’s perimeter fence. A small group of older boys had gathered in the shadows, beneath the pine trees that ringed the boundary. On the other side of the fence, a middle-aged woman stood on the sandy path that ran through the trees. She wore a white, summer blouse and beige slacks. She was unsteady on her feet and it was evident that she was drunk. She kept glancing guiltily up towards the school building. The boys were laughing - it was the kind of ribald laughter that indicated something unseemly. I started to walk down the grassed slope towards the boys. Other boys were following suit, drawn by the dirty chuckles. The woman was John Bertram’s mother, I was later to discover. As I neared the excited group, I saw her lift her blouse up, exposing her bare, white breasts beneath. These were the first breasts that I had seen that were not my mother’s, and the effect was strangely mesmerising. The fact that it was a grown-up who was doing something so bad was strangely exhilarating: it was as if the fabric of the universe had suddenly been torn, and the horrible mechanisms behind it were now nakedly revealed. The boys erupted in laughter, thrilled at such a grotesque transgression. She said something to them, which I did not hear above the noise. She glanced again back to the school building and once more yanked her blouse up over her face: this time she jiggled her shoulders for a few seconds, causing her breasts to judder. The boys shrieked with coarse laughter. The air was also filled with the shrill din of little brown grasshoppers, which flew up out of the long, grey grass around my legs as I continued down the slope towards this mad performance.

And now, poor John Bertram came charging down the hill, past me, his white shirt dazzling in the bright sunshine. Hi face was beet red and I heard his exasperated gasps for breath as he ran towards his pitiable mother. The boys were still laughing at the wretched woman. Bertram reached the fence and called something out to his mother, who looked a little bewildered, suddenly, as if she had been woken from a bad dream. He climbed over the fence and took his mother by the shoulders and led her away from the scene of her horrible drama. The boys, suddenly deprived of the source of their entertainment, now looked at each other rather shame-facedly: their guilt was easier to access now that Mrs Bertram was being ushered away down the road. One of her beige shoes had fallen off as she was led down the little bank, it lay on its side in the grey grass; her son picked it up and gently slid her foot back into it, as she leant on his shoulder. A teacher now appeared up by the school building, and he yelled for all the boys to return to the quadrangle immediately. They began to wander lazily up the hill.

Mrs Bertram (2015) by Steve Cox.

Three days later, at lunchtime, Mrs Bertram once again appeared, drunk, at the perimeter fence. This time, she wore a blue cotton dress, but her routine was almost the same - only this time she raised the garment to reveal her naked pudendum.

Shortly after this, her son took to spending lunchtimes and recesses sitting under the trees by the fence, ready to spirit his mother away from the invasive eyes of his classmates. By the next semester, he had left the school altogether, the shame being far too great to cope with.

Les WICKS /poetry

«Me—what can I say? Poetry has been a core part of my life since I was about 19 with a largish gap in the middle pursuing career and family. At its best, poetry can say things unutterable anywhere else and I’m completely committed to it. I really am now a one trick pony even if the beast is as thin as poetry is. I edit and run workshops which provides a bit of income but is much more rewarding on deeper levels. Most of my publishing work is aimed at getting new audiences rather than “clogging up” pre-existing outlets. Varying approaches, but some extraordinary outcomes in terms of getting poetry in front of people who wouldn’t normally encounter it. As for my own work I feel blessed that I have seen publication in rather a lot of places/countries/languages. I’ve had 14 books out and still love them all despite their attitude problems, the latest being Belief (Flying Islands, 2019). If you buy a copy you’ll make me very happy. I constantly work at bettering my poetry, I don’t share (a surprisingly common) delusion that I am a (grossly unrecognised) International Treasure. Compared to say actors I have occasionally said I am not a Streep or de Niro, but I aspire to be maybe Brian Dennehy. But heard today he has died!’»

Gander

Andy Warhol at Tate Modern

Science communication

The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything | Neil Turok

Theophilus Brown's friends

Taboo words

Gender pronouns — Steven Pinker on politically-motivated campaigns to change and abandon language

UNFURL PLAYLISTS

Internet roulette

🔴

Pascoe https://bit.ly/2WTE3Gr | Zero https://bit.ly/2YXgizP | Shipwrecked https://bit.ly/2YW2bdZ | Ashbery https://bit.ly/35UtSVY | Almanac https://bit.ly/2YOBzM2 | Auden http://bit.ly/3af1wXq | Free https://bit.ly/2YT4vCN | Likeability https://bit.ly/2T4ZoM7 | Koch https://bit.ly/2xPA0lT | Motherhood https://bit.ly/2zoat3O | Cyberstalking https://bit.ly/3cmavHN | Sweetheart https://bit.ly/2SRYm5R | Paradise https://bit.ly/2SSoltX | Marketplace https://bit.ly/3dC2w9T | Useless https://bit.ly/2WZD3Au | America https://bit.ly/2WmLtmo | Doctor https://bit.ly/3bG1zMd | Bach https://bit.ly/3fTelKS | Proust https://bit.ly/2y81dk3 | Syllabus https://bit.ly/2zHBLlJ | Women https://bit.ly/2WB2l9e | Cave https://bit.ly/3fUOcvd | Farrow https://nyti.ms/3cJyjWf | Sex https://bit.ly/36d87kA | Island https://bit.ly/2ZrGPpn | Tennant https://bit.ly/2AOxb5N | Dial-a-poem https://bit.ly/2AJDFmi | Boredom https://bbc.in/3gceN72

Unfurled already

UNFURL is edited, designed, and published by Stephen J. Williams: St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia (June 2020), ‹http://bit.ly/unfurl3›.

A PDF (portable document format) version of UNFURLS can be downloaded from the UNFURL home. These PDFs are a complete screenshot record of the words, images and links in each UNFURL.

(This publication was created on its editor's deathbed. The gin will make him feel better. The tonic may or may not have a restorative effect.)

Created By
Stephen J. Williams
Appreciate

Credits:

Created with additional images by Indira Tjokorda - "untitled image" • Michał Lis - "untitled image" • Simone Daino - "Al Pacino judge you.." • Sam Balye - "A tv fish tank"