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Wordless in Tartarstan by Stuart Beedie

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September, 2013.

It was 10:34pm when the train drew into the station at Yekaterinburg, wheezing as it crawled the last meters to platform’s end. Its final exhalation flung dozens of men and women from the high doors of each dust-encrusted carriage, clasping dearly sought cigarettes and bounding for the stalls that had opened in anticipation of their arrival only three minutes earlier.

The cabin was empty as I entered, abandoned in the tumult. Blankets had been drawn over three of the beds – the last, clad in tattered brown leather, was mine. The unmistakable fragrance of smoked herring, sold by the armful on stations hundreds of miles to the east, still clung to the sheets. The side table was strewn with fruit-skins and half-devoured cured meats; a large red sausage balanced on the askew lid of the inevitable jar of pickled cucumbers. I never met a Russian who travelled without pickled cucumbers.

A single bite had been taken from the flank of a tomato, and a pungent shot glass sidled up to an open carton of tropical juice. Seven minutes later, without so much as a demonstrative warning or a blaring horn, the train inhaled, filling its steel lungs once more with dozens of passengers clad in low-slung track pants. The locals are deft students of the railway’s unforgiving scheduling.  Within a minute the great belly of the engine had began to churn, and we recommenced the westward crawl.

Three men tumbled into the cabin mid-chortle, to find me propped up against a laundry bag of fresh sheets in the corner of their cabin, buried beneath the browned pages of Pasternak. Reeking of hastily-stubbed smokes, they didn’t appear so inviting at first glance: a haggard, moon-faced old man with a crown of coiled grey hair and three gold teeth, a young man with a scratchy black bear and low-cut singlet bursting with chest hairs, and a third who wore his unwashed matted hair combed straight down over his forehead, just shy of a pair of dark eyes bulging out from a hollowed face.

“Zdrast.”

“Zdrast.”

“Zdrast.”

“Drast-vuy-tye!” I offered in a well-rehearsed echo, setting down the book to throw in a broad wave of the hand and a toothy grin. Clad in coat and scarf, face swaddled in a poorly-kept ginger beard, I was easily marked as a foreigner whilst travelling in eastern Russia’s early autumn. Only belatedly did I find that fashions had progressed (largely by way of sweat pants) since Dostoevsky dipped his pen to describe the student haunts of nineteenth century St Petersburg. Perplexed but not perturbed, the three men stashing cigarettes and swinging into place on their respective bunks and had questions.

In the wide expanses east of Moscow, foreigners remain a novelty in regional trains and lower class carriages. Days earlier, setting out from Lake Baikal in the forty-strong platzkart compartment, an assembly of curious babushkas, Ukrainian nurses and soused old men fanned out to the adjoining carriages to find me a translator. We happened on a wannabe spiritualist who was interested foremost in discussing the creationist theories of American actor Ben Stein.

This night, four men to a compartment, we made do on our own. As the lights of Yekaterinburg faded from view behind the grime-caked windows, the first question was lobbed. It is always the easiest, safe to jump into without parsing the language to and fro. “Sydney. Australia,” I responded, forefinger directed at by chest. “A-vy?”

Any follow-up sentence heralds an impasse. Over-pronounced place names can only get one so far. The Russian phrases I had mastered, allowing me to apologise profusely, ask directions to the local Kremlin or order up to ten pieces of various foodstuff, were of little use. The trio similarly had half a dozen English words between them a best. We needed to find a better way to communicate.

Fortunately, my new companions were deft hands with props. From the rings on each man’s fourth finger on the right hand we discovered they were married – by my lack of band or gold, that I was not. From the crescents slung around their necks on silver chains we discovered they were Muslims – by my lack of iconography, that I had no god to speak of. Less easily adapted are notions of “it’s complicated” or agnosticism. Best to let them lie.

The men did not begrudge me my absences but powered on, to conjure children from the stale air with height estimates and phantom hugs. To evoke their work they had merely to flash and flex well-honed muscles, built heaving and hauling in the mines east of the Urals. My flexing of fingers and proffered notepads of scrawl in a foreign script did not translate quite so readily. I did not need to ask where the train was taking them, for the nostalgic smiles as they contemplated absent wives and a bevy of children promised enough – home.

The trio were not ethnic Russians at all, but Tartars – descendants of Mongolian and Turkic tribes that were incorporated into the Russian Empire four centuries ago. Bound by an independent history and language, the Volga Tartars that make up the majority population of the province of Tartarstan have ceaselessly pushed for greater autonomy in the decades since the USSR’s collapse. In Europe, the very name, Tartar, was associated with the latin Tartarus – for great primordial pit of the underworld, a reminder of the fear the Great Khan’s hordes once stirred. Three giggling men in comfy red and blue track pants fail to evoke a similar horror.

Rough biographies can be mustered by sign and speech, but solidarity in Russia, even for its Muslim denizens, is only found in the dregs of a bottle of vodka. I would have imagined the recent outlawing of hard liquor on Russia’s passenger trains would prove an impediment; my previous nights in the open dorm of platskart were dry, cowed by the roving eye of the provodnitsa. Yet with the handy security of a door and latch in 2nd class, a bottle ‘concealed’ in a brown paper invariably emerges.

Our elder statesman grasped the vodka’s narrow neck and raised the stained shot glass, which I had viewed with such terror less than half an hour before, to its lip. I rationalized quickly; whatever bacteria could have accrued in that thimble (how much better had it been a thimble!) was liable to be killed by the alcohol. Perhaps that should not have been a comforting thought. Hand to hand the glass went, filled to the brim.

Vodka drinking in Russia is a dialect of three phrases, easy to mimic if not master. In the first motion, the liquor is slammed without sip or ceremony down the open gullet; in the second, the glass is slammed down on the table’s edge; in the third, the victim grunts approval (as if savouring the searing burst, but just as likely stymieing a cough or splutter). A chaser – a mouthful of pickled cucumber or a swig of tropical juice – is optional. A second round, then a third, inevitably follows hard upon. If you are lucky, a man will bear his golden teeth, clasp you by the shoulder and, eye to unblinking eye, deem you too “Ruski”.

I was tasked with hiding the bottle at first, burying the feted drink between tossed sheets as our provodnitsa peered in to strike off tickets. She was young and plump, bearing a jolly grin and sans the cold stare so common in a first spar with the carriage’s no-nonsense manager. There was an altogether different reason to fear her. No sooner had the bottle been drained by we happy four (a feat I’d surveyed with no small satisfaction) than the provodnitsa returned with a wink and a giggle, bearing its successor swaddled in newspaper.

She was no enforcer but an enabler, running a market in contraband from her humble storage locker. Our provodnitsa paid heed to the calls of “Nostrovia!” and cries of carousing only when they began to dry up – returning to offer yet another bottle through the cabin door. With each rat-a-tat-tat, the clandestine prize became a torrent. The Tartars forced down bites between the shots, tearing into the horde of cucumbers and cracking open sunflower seeds with a swift gnashing of molars. They jangled the prospective courses before my eyes; I accepted the seeds, but drew the line at the nibbled sausage and tomato that had bled out on the carriage table. The more fool I.

Alcoholism is so often the harbinger of other vices; it should have been no surprise to see playing cards dancing between my gaunt companion’s nimble fingers, liberated from beneath a mound of sunflower seeds. “Poker?” the youth with dark-ringed eyes ventured. “Da da da!” I implored. On this field of Kings and Clubs we discovered a mutual language ready-made. Even in the central Asian hinterlands, a flush will quash a straight, two twos trumps an ace and a full house calls for celebration.

We had no stakes and no chips, merely pride and chemically inflated egos on the line. The discarded shells of sunflower seeds make for a poor currency substitute. Our contested hands bred hands as we clustered tight around and atop a single bunk, concentration often punctured by roars of rage or triumph. Within the narrow confines of a world between the two of spades and the ace of hearts, we understood all. Ambition would get the better of us – each attempting to teach further variations, only for the game to devolve beyond comprehension, led by impulse rather than understanding and saturated by drink.  But for that single hour, we could have been arrayed about any table in the world.

Intermittently the Tartars would take their leave in pairs or threes with a fistful of cigarettes and a corner-store lighter, to crowd around a window jimmied a few centimeters open and exhale into the fleeing evening air. Quickly earning the familiarity of custom, on each departure one of the trio would offer a cigarette, and I would reluctantly demur. But as the train rollicked on to Kazan, hands passing midnight on the clocks set to both local and Moscow time, afire with vodka and flush with imaginary gambling winnings, one last prospect of communication with my hosts lay open; to join them for a smoke in the cramped confines at the carriage’s end.

I joined the huddle lashed by the thin stream of evening air, cigarette perched between my lips and waiting for the lick of flame. Yet just as I raised the lighter, the old man plucked the butt from my mouth, and threw it out the tiny gap in the open carriage window. It flickered for a second, illuminated by reflection of the carriage lights, and was lost to the darkness.

“Nyet!” he insisted, wagging a forefinger even as his younger companions cackled and the odor of a half dozen smokes clung to his own breath. Drawing the finger across his neck, he imitated the gasp of a garroted man; too late to spare himself the coated lungs, but he would not abide my capitulation. Once more I lacked the words to explain it would not be my first, or distain a belief in slippery slopes. Far better to match a smile, accept his hug, and slur my thanks: “spasiba.”

*

Finally, I could collapse knowing we had communicated, garbled as the words finally became, replaced by flung aces and slammed glasses. The train rolled on through the night, rocking and lurching, inviting one towards deep sleep for a time, then fitful bursts. My body revolted and railed against the evening’s assault, and as I woke to the intermittent morning light spilling between birch trees and into the cabin, I expected to see the trio similarly despondent. Instead, my eyes found them standing attired in broad smiles. They were packed and prepared for their final exhalation from the wheezing train. I could hardly have mustered a roll to the door – they, unmoored, were glad to saunter, back to homes beyond those encrusted cabin windows.

My goodbye was as feeble as my first greeting had been: an over-enunciated word, a half-smile and a broad wave as we parted on the carriage threshold. When my stop came an hour later – Kazan, the once-capital of the old Volga Tartar Khanate – I was spat out onto the gravel of the platform, lurching for a few steps before dreaming of respite. I slumped on a wooden bench, bereft of languages at last. My receding friends would have laughed at my state, yet in the same breath offered me any morsel from their table for relief.

The train did not tarry for long. As the engine churned, and the lungs filled and steel roared against steel, I caught sight of the provodnitsa hanging from the carriage doorway. She began to wave as the train lurched on, borne southward, still beaming. She may even have winked.

*

Stuart is a writer & filmmaker (and occasional legal practitioner) currently living and working in Sydney, Australia. For more of his tasty, tasty words, you can check out his blog here.

Thursday Poems: Faint Music by Robert Hass

A few weeks ago, I enrolled in an online summer poetry course being held by the University of Iowa. Each week involves a different youtube talk by a respected poet, and various exercises and workshops based on said talk. The second week’s presenter was former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass. I had no idea who he was, but his dry wit and razor sharp wisdom really appealed to me, and I thought, ‘I have to get this guy’s books.’

Luckily, I happened across this poem, quite by accident, and now the desire to get his books has become an imperative. It is, in a word, staggering. A poem that tells a story, that has a powerful message, that is rich in situating detail, in placing you beneath the skin of the setting and allowing you to breathe in its atmosphere.

All this, and it’s beautifully composed too. It begins:

Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.

And somehow manages to only get better from there. This is a poem about music (and pain, life, humanity), so I urge you to pay attention to its own internal rhythm, to read it aloud. It renders even the most basic sentences musical, in gentle lifting loops you can catch the first strains of song.

He climbed onto the jumping girder of the bridge,
the bay side, a blue, lucid afternoon.

My favourite part is the ending, which hits like a catapult to the soul, and which I won’t spoil by posting here. I can only urge you to read it in all its majesty.

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In other news, I have a feature non-fiction piece in which I reflect on my grandmother’s dementia and the way my family dealt with it, over at Sajjeling, a nifty, independent site emphasising Arab-Australian narratives. Head on over to check it out. It is by no means my best-written piece; I was more than a little emotional in writing it, and part of me wishes I could go over it now with a red pen, but equally, there’s a truthfulness to that messiness which I would hate to erase.

Also, in the next few days, I’ll be launching a new semi-regular segment, Awesome People, wherein I finally tap into the network of wonderful, amazing individuals I know, and have them feature guest posts here to share a story or anecdote or anything really.

That’s all from me for now, so until next time…

Happy reading, all!

Thursday Poems: Immigrant Picnic by Gregory Djanikian

So, it’s Thursday once again, and I’m here to share my picks from last week. It’s rarely a case of just one poem being chosen, I should say, especially if it’s a short one, we often end up reading a few.

I’m going to cheat a little here, because while my official choice was Immigrant Picnic by Gregory Djanikian, I was too lazy to bring the laptop into my housemate’s room, and instead read from the book I had in my hand, Mark Haddon’s The Talking Horse, The Sad Girl, and the Village Under the Sea, which is an eclectic, odd, and often beautiful collection of poetry.

Since I can’t find those poems online, I’m sharing Djanikian’s poem instead. I love this poem, and the photo at the top, too. It evokes a sense of community and country so palpable you can almost taste it. As the son of migrants – one Turkish, one Lebanese – it really hit me hard. I might be a little biased then, being uniquely positioned to be affected by its message. I’ve lived this poem, after all.

Though immigration is a hugely complex, multifaceted issue affecting multiple generations, crossing thresholds of language and identity, Djanikian handles it with an assured, delicate touch. And a warmth that can only come from love, from deep familiarity, no matter the exasperation of the character in the poem. My favourite line sums up the confusion, the scrambled lines of communication perfectly:

The paper napkins
are fluttering away like lost messages.

And sets up the messy end perfectly, the lack of clarity.

It really is a lovely, affecting poem. If you get even a fraction of what I did from it, it will surely improve your day greatly. Go on, give it a read, and by all means, feel free to share the last excellent poem you came across. I’m always looking for more!

Scrubbed

Recently, I had quite the scare: my laptop shut down, and wouldn’t restart. Cue the horror, the endless waves of fear – yes, I have some major work saved elsewhere, but there’s a whole lot of writing I haven’t bothered to back up that could be lost forever. So, it was in a state of fragile calm that I ended up at the Apple store, not quite daring to hope (lest disappointment crush me).

Thankfully, I managed to save my writing, but the rest of my data was not so lucky. It was all wiped. At first, it was my music that occupied my mind most – or more accurately, the prospect of silence. Music is everything to me; it is the means by which I am able to exist in a languid dream-state throughout the day, to not be caught and hung up on the sounds of the everyday. The harsh cries of birds. The squawks and squeals of children, the braying cries of their parents. The honk of cars, the scream of tires, and hum of engines.

I take them out, these noises, and gently plug music into the gap; it is on chords I walk, it is to rhythmic beats I run. The sense of loss I felt was huge, all those beloved tracks, those writing-playlists. I paid no mind to whatever else was on my computer, the photos, movies, etc. Therein lay my biggest mistake, because it is that which consumes me now. See, I got my laptop back in the end, and didn’t have to spend $1200 on a new one, which is great, but it’s more complicated than that.

I hesitate to anthropomorphise a machine, but I have to say, this is not the same computer I gave in. I feel as though my laptop died, and did not come back. Or more accurately, that the digital self I’ve built over the past four years and imbued in the laptop, was killed. Scrubbed clean. My desktop looks strange, empty. My programs, Word, FinalDraft, sundry others, are gone. Nothing symbolises this emptiness more than Chrome, my favoured web browser.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, it tracks your most visited websites. If I were to type the letter ‘a’, for instance, it would immediately bring up either the ATP website, or AVClub. ‘S’ for Sydney Morning Herald, ‘t’ for Twitter, ‘h’ for Huffington Post, ‘n’ for New York Times. These were paths I’d trodden so often, I needed no more than a letter for Chrome to know where I was going. These busy online woods had roads I’d carefully cleared with repetition. Each place, each platform, had my details saved, my passwords.

It knew me, they knew me – the same way the dour Asian couple who run the local convenience store know me, and what I’ll buy each morning, after a year’s worth of routine – and now, they don’t. I’m a stranger online once again. Put in a letter, it has no clue what I’m doing, or where I’m going. This intangible familiarity is a concern for most people, I know, and I’d have said before this that I’m sympathetic to the many privacy / advertiser-based fears people profess.

Now, however, I’m a little less sure. I never realised just how much comfort I took from the incalculable small changes I’d wrought on my laptop, browser, etc, to personalise it, and the various ways it was all connected to my day-to-day life. I feel a curious lightness, too, however: my browser history has been permanently deleted, my online baggage is gone. Or at least, my connection to it has been interrupted. Enough to give me clarity on something that had become frighteningly comfortable, anyway.

If only there were a real-world equivalency, an ability to scrub old broken friendships, failed relationships, and the various detritus accumulated over years of life. To, at the very least, be temporarily relieved of the burden of memory. The prospect is both terrifying and alluring, and I can’t quite decide which I prefer right now; the familiar, the comfortably clear paths and known quantities, or the totally strange, the thick brambles and unknown. I suspect the answer is both. I want enough familiarity to be comfortable, but not be rote, and enough of the new to keep things interesting, to myself on my toes.

All of which is to say I’ve suddenly been forced to look anew at the way I use this machine, the way it learns of, and accommodates me, like any old friend. How much does your laptop or device know about you? How much have you tweaked it to suit your every peculiarity, your random whim? How many times do you trawl the same web pathways, and how open are you to changing, to casting off your habits and starting again?

One way or the other, all I’ll say is this: save everything you can, kids. At least that way you can pick and choose what to lose when the inevitable upgrade/crash occurs.

Thursday Poems

I meant to post this yesterday, but was overwhelmed by a very busy schedule, so let’s all just pretend it’s still Thursday, okay? Great. Now, my housemate and I have had a standing challenge for the past few months: that every Thursday, we each must find a new great poem to share. ‘New’ here merely means something we haven’t read before.

The purpose of this is twofold. Firstly, it forces us to look further and further afield to find excellent poems, and in the process, discover poets we’d never have otherwise come across. There’s just so much out there we’ve yet to read, and this is a great incentive to range far and wide. Secondly, it keeps us engaged in a field of writing we both love – it ensures we aren’t simply passive in our readership, that we’re both investigative and critical.

It’s also just a fun, lively way to spruik what might be an otherwise ordinary day or night. It’s something I’ve grown to love, and while we’re not zealous in our application of it – sometimes we miss the day, or forget – we always catch up. And if we don’t get to share it because we’re busy, we’ll still have read more poetry during that week than we otherwise would have, and that’s a win in my books.

So I thought it’d be a good idea to start sharing the poems I find on this blog, so that everyone can have a look at what I’ve stumbled into. The last entry, which I’ve read a half-dozen times, and is fast becoming one of my favourite poems ever, is an absolute delight. I’m talking about Bill Manhire’s ‘Hotel Emergencies.’ It’s evocative and powerful, mixing mundane observations with an ever-widening ripple of connected thoughts, taking branches both logical and poetic, and always, always building its rhythm beautifully.

I highly recommend you read it aloud.

You will not regret it!

Still Kickin’

I feel like the title for this post should be ‘A Fresh Start’, but it feels odd to say that considering I’m turning 25, have two degrees, and no job. Just over a week ago, I quit my comfortable, well-paid position at Fox International Channels. Most people would consider that crazy; it’s a good job to have as a young man, a good start on the way to a good life.

This is how people live, and for them, it’s enough. A stable job with good money, a lover or more, then a home to call your own (if you’re lucky). Why the hell would anyone look at that and say, ‘No thanks, I’d rather live in constant uncertainty –  in a crumbling, shifting marketplace of words as likely to cut you as pay you.’ I don’t have an answer.

I don’t have an answer except to say that words are responsible for my life, are what spared me from a life of mediocrity totally unaware of the brilliance of literature suffusing the world. Totally unaware of poetry. I don’t have an answer because it’s not even a choice. It’s a necessity.

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So, I’m free of my 9-5 job, awaiting the results of my visa application to Canada, and generally trying to figure out the next step. It’s not all indolence and daydreaming, either, this decision to quit and focus on my writing. I get up at 9 every day; often earlier, as my body refuses to adjust to a better schedule. I’ve enrolled in an online poetry course being run by the University of Iowa, just to keep myself thinking about poetry in different ways, to expand my reading list.

I’ve also enrolled in a 5-week Picture Book course with the Australian Writers’ Centre, as I’m currently working on a children’s book. Funnily enough, 4.5 years of tertiary level writing studies never covered picture books. It was more than I wanted to pay, but I love this little story, this world I’ve created for kids, and I want to do it justice, so I bit the bullet and signed up. Hopefully I get to tell this inventive, multi-ethnic story, and help increase diversity in our children’s literature.

I also write / edit for two websites, as I’ve mentioned previously, so even before I get to work on my projects, I still have a whole lot on my slate. And no money coming in. Just my savings, and my own dedication to getting something finished before I run out of money, and have to start again.

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Happily, my ‘fresh start’ began on a good note. While the very first day did start out with a rejection for poems submitted three months ago, the next day I found out my poem ‘Mad Like A 12 Year Old Boy’ had been accepted into Carve Magazine’s Premium Edition. Carve publishes both online, and in print. In about a week or so, you’ll also see a non-fiction piece of mine appear on Sajjelingan independently run online magazine dedicated to recording and unravelling Arab-Australian stories.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more freely, updating the blog regularly – including the debut of my Awesome People guest blogs – and hopefully finishing up my picture book. As I carry on with this poetry course, I may also start sharing the experience and knowledge gained there, so stay tuned, y’all.

Definitions

Several weeks ago, I took a trip down to Canberra to stay with a friend and work on a collaborative poetry project.

While I was there, I also wrote this poem ‘Definitions,’ based off a conversation we had which featured the throwaway line, ‘Love is overeating and resentment.’ It got me thinking about that infernal love thing, and I started writing – trying not to think at all, to put down my first instinctual response to the question.

Later, I discovered Telescopic Text, and thought it would be a perfect fit. After some trial and error, this simple electronic poem was the result. Check it out here: Definitions.

Strangely Funny II Anthology Cover

So, a couple months back I found out one of my short stories, “Caryard Jack”, had been accepted into a genre fiction anthology called Strangely Funny II.

And today, I just spotted the cover art:990608_orig

 

 

Which excited me no end, so I thought I’d share it. Being able to write and sell a funny short story about an ancient bisexual necromancer – hell, even just write that sentence – is pretty fucking great, as far as I’m concerned. I can only hope the weirdness continues to bloom, so here’s to writing many more, and increasing diversity in SFF genres :)

Periphery Vision

So, after watching Richard Linklater’s superb Boyhood last night, I left the theatre drowning in nostalgia, and it reminded me of a performance piece I wrote nearly a year ago now. As a would-be performance poet terrified of actually performing, I realised in a few months I’ll be 25, and won’t even be able to share it. Not as it is now anyway. So here it is, in all its earnest messiness. 

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There is a magic in storytelling that reaches out and transforms the world around us. All it takes is a single word, a single story, a singular character that speaks with our voice, and we are forever changed, forever one step to the side and a little askew of everyone else. This is how we sometimes catch expressions flitting across faces; a hint of fear, the glint of a smile, this is how we can see what they’re running from. Of course, it’s different for everyone and we lack the ability to look back on our own, so we turn to other writers, to other poets, and other stories hoping to catch sight of the monster on our heels, of the expression on our faces.

I live in dread of the day that I say, or think or hear the words: I’m too old to read about fairies. Too old for pages with colour, too old for wonder and delight. I know what’ll happen, I’ll look around and ask, where did all the stories go? Then I’ll remember I left them behind that old sock draw in the attic lined with yesterday’s dust, dust that seeps through cracks in wooden panels placed in perfect rows by my grandfather. Some mornings, I look up hoping to catch sight of it sprinkling down, to know that I am still nourished by stories, by what came before.

It’s easy to forget the things that shaped us, easy to get lost in the white roaring rapids of present currents. But there are rips in the everyday, that can pull us under on an idle Tuesday, and there beneath the surface we will find the things we let go of that never let go of us. Like my first dog Princess, that was who she was, pretty and pristine, but we came to call her Houdini because she delighted in outfoxing us all, in careening through the wild and exploring the world. She was a trailblazer, but one day she blazed too far, out of sight, and I never saw her again.

These are the things I lost: my cousin, taken too soon by the streets; my first crush, two houses down, we used to rollerblade by Old Kurrajong Road but her name escapes me now; my mother, to the drugs she can’t beat & the ghosts of men she can’t defeat. I hear them debating sometimes, or maybe that’s just the TV. My neighbour Wally and his daughter who took us to her church youth group even though we were Muslim. We played games in hallowed hallways empty of sermons & it was there I found faith for the first time. Found it, and lost it again, though I’m really not sure when.

I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend. My friends talk about reaching their quarter-life crisis and I think how mindless it is that we arrange milestones as disaster points.

I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend, and I find myself thinking about first times because I don’t have many left: my first breath, heaving between screams, my first sunset, first word, first punch, first kiss, first hurt, first friend, first right, first wrong, first fight, first song, first hug, and of course, first love. That last I appreciate the most, because I didn’t know I had it in me. Thought I’d never have it & having it is indescribable.

Losing it just as much.

My first dream was not a good one – I dreamed my mother burned my hand for receiving a bad letter from school. Of course, I didn’t know what dreams were then, or how cruel they could be. I was just a boy. To me, the line between what’s here, what’s Real and what’s not, was blurred. It still is and I’m thankful now but at the time, when asked why I was afraid to take a letter home, it meant I answered my teacher with a lie. My first lie & first truth, you see

My first dream was my first fear and first punishment all wrapped in one. I learned then and there the measure of sleep, the pain of what’s done, and the value of reality; I count that as my first lesson, first wake-up call. I’m 24 this year, rounding the bend, and I’m still learning this lesson over and over again, in catnaps between classes, in snatching at something better in the cracks between days. Days that stand shoulder to shoulder in blocking the way & locking you in a pattern that never ends.

I remember my first adventure, running through overgrown creeks searching for tadpoles in the wetness, watching the lizards in the weeds. Here in the seeds of yesterday, I remember the first time I swore at God, the first time I cried myself to sleep, the first time I slipped inside someone else – in a book, looking out through someone else’s eyes and discovering magic in pages, realising anew how tragic it is that we live only one life & even that in stages, in carefully segmented roles with clear cut lines about what’s real and what’s not, what’s possible, and what isn’t, what’s bad for you, and good for business, never mind that this addiction is a sickness & what we need is to stop, to take stock of where we’ve been, what we’ve lost, what we’ve seen and where we’ll be next.

Maybe these are all the elements that herald a –I refuse to use the word, to give value to the term ‘crisis’, it just gives you a license to act petty, to act small and mean and life’s too short for those kinds of scenes, it’s best to leave them on the cutting floor and instead compose a narrative that matters. I’m turning 24 this year and rounding the bend, so I thought I oughta take a moment to reflect, to report on this quarter, because there might not be another but if there is, I hope it’s a brother to the first, full of firsts, of beginnings, middles and ends, of growth and change, of struggle, of the familiar and the strange.

These are things that I have lost, people I have betrayed, moments I let go of that I find did not let go of me and for that, I am thankful as I round this bend and for just one moment, see them all extend behind me, my monsters, my fears, in the end, nothing more than memories wanting to be remembered.