Australian and New Zealand Speculative Poetry
edited by Tim Jones
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • Tim JonesIf this is the future … • Helen Rickerby
Born Inside Weather • Les Wicks
Another Wow! Signal • Stephen Oliver
then our mother flew unassisted • Raewyn Alexander
Before Science Stepped In • Rod Usher
Rapunzel • Mary Victoria
Bordertown • Grant Stone
A whimper after the bang • Emily Manger
Man in a wingsuit • Chris Lynch
Mechwarrior Sonnet • Toby Davidson
Radio Wave Propagation in the Roman Warm Period • Catherine Fitchett
Nocturne • Peter Friend
mind sings of mer • Sandi Sartorelli
Yayoi Kusama goes to Iceland • Janis Freegard
In the third poem I am being killed by a water lizard • Cy Mathews
Don’t Shoot the Robot • David Reiter
The Trouble With Time Machines • Alicia Ponder
Extermiknit • Laurice Gilbert
Dhiy uvenjing goest • Tom Clark
Aliens • Joe Dolce
If this is the future …
We are preparing to go on a long journey
or, in two days’ time we will enter
a biodome, go into hibernation, fall into a wormhole
There is so much to do, but the moment hangs
in the air, suspended animation
Perhaps we will be frozen
for five hundred years
find ourselves, unblinking
in a time we cannot recognise
where people don’t even use words anymore
communicating instead with movement
scent and intuition
Where there is no sky, or no earth
and every open space is a perfect sphere
you are going to the hospital
and I am waiting for you
and then you’ll come home
and we’ll wait together
Born Inside Weather
As Juliet is putting heart to pasture
tiny things of bark & radiance
ride plump drops down from old-growth canopy.
Stitched across the teaming sky
wings, like fragile rusted spokes
off some arcane bicycle—
not so much flight
as a scramble over motes.
A conspiracy of commonwealth, their landing is a feat
beside applause of wood louse.
The magic work is laughable & laughing—
minute fingers pin mist to the forest's skin,
moisture poured back
out of the earth.
Still damp from a shower of weak forgotten,
life is wrapped in life beyond its comprehension
These small potencies
beside blasts of parrot green/
the comic nibbled hours of potoroo, pademelon.
Fey things sing beneath the bedlam of roots
& play by metal roads.
food & shelter—
they live the maps of life
like clouds reflected on a lake—
berserk in a puzzle of fish.
Across water, engraved concentric waves—indigent.
teased with barbs of lightning;
the truces of dusk.
By night, glamoured eyes glow red
as passing wombats rock their careless homes
of fallen branch & hand-curled leaf.
Place the rainbows’ eggs
in a frosted mound of darkness,
sleep in the warm of their next life’s down.
If there are no myths
we must invent them—
breathless now, on our knees.
Another Wow! Signal
How wonderful it would be if we could
truly feel saved from
anywhere, out there
that, listening intently, past the Fear-Boundary,
the Unlearned-Lessons Zone, through lesions
of compounded time guided by our
calendar of invention, from concept-to-conquest.
“Oh night that was my guide”
that on a quiet, uneventful desert hour,
darkening into dawn (no falsehood) you hear it,
on your watch alone, revelation, much like the first time
we heard the whale’s transports, truly caught
and recorded; we listened, we heard,
and a belief was born, a hope realized, made memory.
And there it was,
regular and regulated, punching its way through
the constellation Sagittarius. Another Wow! Signal.
Until now, a desolation of stars and a hardness
of light. The silence between broken at last on one
narrowband energy spike.
The Wow! Signal was a strong radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry R Ehman on August 15, 1977, while working on a SETI Project at The Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University.First published in Stephen Oliver’s chapbook Apocrapha (Cold Hub Press, 2010).
then our mother flew unassisted
lifted from the sunny porch and floated
impressionist blues and pinks made our mother smile
enough to zoom into outer space so she could say she'd been
discovered who'd married whom to cause the Milky Way
since Mum likes family trees in the garden of her mind
her hair bright green some days and full of blossoms
tiny gardeners trim the most rampant tendrils
away from her face so we see she's not flying too fast
within speed limits and properly clad in case she sees someone
a long banner behind her wished us something happy
a slogan picked up from airwaves and satellites
at times spacemen ask after her and some phone late
aliens landed with a message she'd written—directions
to the house for Mum’s birthday this year by the pond
where the sky in reflection changed colours and sang
forgiveness blue and pink any time of day or clouds know
to obscure the best forgotten and leave a view wide as our gaze
while our mother dips her wings and heads for an island summer
Before Science Stepped In
Before science stepped in with its fancy footwork
A raw youth, I'd scan nights for a shooting star
Crooning like Como to catch one and pocket it
Could it really do the magic? Unhook a girl's bra?
Ha! They're not stars, mere fragments of comet
Arcs of burnout in the black canopies of June
Older now, sadder, I leave science to the boffins
Rave on about breasts to an understanding moon.
Rapunzel, let down your hair!
Each careful tress a mark of grace: two chains of gold
to hold your head in place.
What a pretty prisoner.
Your tower is unshakable—the winds and hours cannot
reach so high
to weather life into your movements.
You are as wooden as the Virgin in your corner icon
(but not as sweet).
You keep the world outside
and dust the window with the same attention
as you check your features, in the mirror, every morning,
to make sure they still exist.
And if a stray hair escapes your vigilance
(as more and more will do, as time goes on)
you smooth it back, with a dab of genteel saliva.
Well Rapunzel, my dear
that prince of yours had best be coming soon.
Your tower is high, but the years are piling higher.
Perfection hasn’t saved you from the tax collector;
the world below invented what they call democracy,
and cut the electricity.
They can’t take away the tower—that is yours to keep
But no one gives a damn about a damsel in distress,
and braids went out of fashion years ago.
And if, one day, you can no longer tame
the mass of silver hairs that slips between your fingers—
If the skin on your white arms, no longer plump,
sags and wrinkles with ungrateful age—
If on that day, you look into the mirror
and find you have become the witch, your mother—
Then, Rapunzel, will you leave your tower
and walk the free earth once again?
the little things
you notice first
the hand that shakes you welcome
far too smooth
teeth far too white
only the weekend
nods all round
a ride into to the town that's what
the only shake of buildings
for a hundred maybe miles
dust off your boots and head
for drink the bar last
painted in the eighties
one for the road you say
the road goes ever onwards love the barmaid says and winks
the ice air in the clinic
hits your lungs like punching water
the only staff a nurse
the doctor safe away in India
slaps keys to check the payment
and to wake the scalpel bot
one in last week she says
wanted full mod unicorn
in on two legs out on four
you shake your head
nah just the usual
they don't know
up in Sydney
what they're missing
and she shrugs
still more for us hey
at the station a familiar face
the wind lifts your sundress
just a little
he flicks his smoke across the tracks
A whimper after the bang
Tenderness scorched from the planet
but she's got it, baby
strong as the cockroach and faded as a fable
she chews preserved meat open-mouthed
and when she declares
around the pride of survival
that she used to be a vegetarian
you can almost see
eyelashes gentle as tattered lace
but in the arctic solitude of a crumpled climate
she slings that shotgun over her shoulder
like christmas morning
lukewarm sunlight chokes the doorway
each day a cavernous fairytale
and remnants sit
collecting bitter laughter in cracked mugs
unlike the rest
she doesn't assemble the toxic ornaments
of when when meant more than then
she can stare for hours
wears vigilance like lingerie
the shivering horizon is abashed by her bleak gaze
she's a much better shot than you
you remember the first time
you felt the kick of the revolver
back then, there was plenty of clean water
but when the snarling finally stopped
you stood ankle-deep in a wave of deafening thirst
thirst for her voice
telling you you should have used the other bullet.
Man in a wingsuit
Shuttle doors open to the light
of Africa: this is the moment to be
a fly on fishing line, cast out—
quicksilver flash on vast brown-blue ….
Disconnect from the mothership:
in the slow dark slack of weight
and friction, attend to the flicker
of electronic digits, heart rate
50 bpm and falling, the breath
loud in the suit, the whole body
uncoiled, loose like a dragon.
Lean and swoop to kiss
the curvature of Earth, say
goodbye to the mind—
I cannot know how old I am or how the others died.
There were saints and there were battles. Only a robot survived.
Wall-to-wall static shreds my com’s discordant tones.
If I die will my robot walk these sands alone?
I am not the controller. We caught, we crushed, we stared.
Now I lie the last mechwarrior of the unknown dead.
Our fates are fused, its last reserves of life support are mine
pumped from this titanic open palm into my spine.
Raised above a cockpit head, four studded talons gleam
like obelisks for lost directions through the swirling steam.
Blue, grey, crimson, white, transparent dark,
a branch on every lightswitch catches circuitries of stars.
Just as this could be a park bench of an ancient city street
sacrificed to the sun and living. The saints would weep.
Radio Wave Propagation in the Roman Warm Period
Quintus Fabius grows tropical palms
at his villa near Herculaneum.
In the ground, sacred ibises imported from
feed on the abundant life of the ponds—
Fish, water snails, small insects,
and frogs which Quintus collects for experiments
into electricity, although
he does not
call it that. He builds a primitive radio set,
sends his nephew to take
ship for Spain
to test the strength of the signal
under varying atmospheric conditions.
The hot weather brings thunderstorms.
Small earthquakes rock the villa.
is intermittent. Fire in the sky
disrupts ionospheric propagation. Ash
rains down, burying Quintus and his fields
in an unexcavated area on the
of Pompeii. The nephew is unable to report
the abrupt cessation of the
due to an exceptionally strong storm
which sinks the ship. Thus all traces
of Quintus Fabius's work have been erased
from the historic record.
My lover's skin is white as teeth.
Sunburn is no idle phrase, but
a death threat,
she says, flaunting her scarred shoulder
where, two centuries ago,
a flash of sunset glittered from glass
and seared her forever.
My lover holds me tight
on the streets, in the night
clubs where we meet our friends and mock
the normal life I once knew.
Every shadow seems to hide
a madman with a wooden stake,
a zealot armed with crucifix,
a café serving garlic bread,
she says, with only half a smile.
No one will hurt you, I tell her.
I'll love you ’til you die,
and kisses my neck,
and kisses me goodnight.
mind sings of mer
waist wading in ocean,
standing in salt sea sultry
sea of land-lost water
for an undetermined time undine,
until your thighs are undone,
no longer feel they are attached
to the leg things with strange bending
knees, calves, ankles and toe filaments.
Numb—your skin has been immersed
for so long a sea-thyme and weed,
forgotten is the lapping caress
of ocean water, slapdash crash
of crested wet. Pacified, your limbs
surrender to endless tidal mirimiri,
heedless of feeling and senses they fuse
and slowly lose the shape
of twofulness, so you
no longer know legs,
just a salt scale long tail.
When the children see they run inside
and tell their mum they have seen
a mer, made you were,
of waist wading in ocean….
Yayoi Kusama goes to Iceland
it’s quiet on the surface of the moon
all is bathed in quicksilver
I’ve been rowing through these pineapples
for years now
and it’s cold here, cold
yet magma churns below
from time to time a squat voice lifts
not quite human
chanting words that can’t be
understood with the mind
but must be heard
by the liver
this is troll country
their sound is basalt and lava (bah-mm-bah)
the land’s uneasy
the sun begins its long descent
and a narrow mist surfaces
oh, this limitless travel
I am grounded, rocked
In the third poem I am being killed by a water lizard
Then the door opens. It is the man
from the next page. I put down the lizard
and it ambles off into its hole. I greet
the man: “Hello!” We go outside
onto the balcony and look up at
the sky, in the middle of which floats
a single disc-shaped cloud. The man points
at it, then I point
at it, then he turns and points towards
the horizon, where far away are visible
three men with soft, sad bodies sitting at a table eating
a little dead rowboat with forks and spoons. One
man stands up and holds up a sign for us to see. “At
the far end of this continent” the sign reads, “there is nothing but
a single streetlamp.” He puts the sign down and the men
recede into the dis
tance, they disappear. The man shakes
my hand and walks next door into the fourth poem,
where he is killed by a
Don’t Shoot the Robot
I was under instructions:
sift the sand for water
find a narrative
in the canals
But the sand played dead
and the rocks gave me the cold shoulder
It didn’t help calling them
by Greek names
a dead Greek tells no lies
unless he writes for a living
What is this fascination we have
with ricocheting our inertia
Here, the Valles Marineris
is a Ground Zero wider than America’s
marble arias, a litany of bin ladens
OK. Water may have sculpted these
while the Earth cooled—there,
does that make you feel any better?
But your science flies at half-mast,
and your doubts are showing.
Carl = Carl SaganThis poem will appear in David Reiter's forthcoming collection My Planets (IP, October 2011).
The Trouble With Time Machines
Turns out time machines are easy;
all you need is
number eight wire,
and a particle accelerator.
every sad physicist
who goes to the
trouble of inventing one,
unlocks their past,
improving upon the original
until there is no need for a time machine
in the first place.
Turns out time machines are not so easy;
all those redundant devices
are proving an enormous hazard,
as we unlock
the metaphysical chains that bind
the many parallel universes,
using mathematical theorems that will turn your head inside out
(in several dimensions),
because universes are rather fragile, and
blowing just one
I am knitting a Dalek.
I used to knit cakes, but
after chocolate cake
and assorted bead-strewn muffins
it was time for a change.
As the Dalek takes shape
on four needles, in tan and grey wool,
it’s hard to believe this creature
was once a childhood nightmare–
a cold-blooded (cold-oiled?) killer
with its bathroom plunger arm
and that Stephen Hawking voice commanding:
The only possibility of escape
was finding a staircase;
not easy in a virtual universe
which appeared to be profoundly
My Dalek will be soft and squishy, but
will include in the stuffing
a small typewritten command,
in the manner of a Golem:
“Be a friend to humans.”
Just in case.
Dhiy uvenjing goest
Iiy ii woz not ikspendubul
naur mii liif naur mii liif.
You wood taer uwai miiy inusens
fizing throu dhiy aer un aroew
and un aroestriik you wood.
Therdliy ii doent undestand
hao sutc u mutikyoulusli pripaerd kanvus
bikaim soe tatud and taanisht
dyouring dhu proeses uv teling you dhis.
Naur mii liif douw ii noe
wii you maik mie tou goe daon
intou dhu greenu paastcuz tou wondu with
dhu saifkept flok wen iiy am not
ov feerfool miind aur tendu bodiy.
If man iz fiiv dhen iiy am zeeroew
aur infinutiy u wonduru
hou nevu yet lost dhe wai not
fu wont uv brijez lets saiy
oevu parudoksez wautuz
but nau hou klaimz freedom az her riit.
Rimemburing dhis wee step intou
noewing aur raadhur aul daatu floewing
tou dhe kungklouzhen dhat u stauriy
iz undewaiy iz bigining gadhring faus
shaiking ofev dhu mos uv wintumiind
and ikstending wooded limz
aot intou krisp spring mauningaer.
Aa! Seven went aot
but maur aulwaiz ritern
tou pai dhaer dyouz fu dhaiy
in trouth aa divudendz
ukrouwing tou mii liif az youw
az aroez in ruvers dhat you wood touw
and standz uv sutc spindli timbu
groew on groew on dhaer routs unferl.
Dhe stauriy its longgu nao
maur kompleks bii dint uv dheez numbuz
groewing with intent
and within tents dhaer plots kumpaond
toumoroew u striik ferst liit
dhail noe not wot haz struk
bifaur dhai touw aar umung dhe routs
feeding youw and standing liif
iz maur kompleks stil.
The aliens have grown together
years in the small container
have caused them to turn to each other
in their yearning
fine silky white roots
braid together they drink
as one feed as one but
are two distinct creatures
if one should fail before the other
the other may survive
but if you try to separate them
too roughly both
will surely die
sometimes gentle shaking
can free lives like this
roots release their grip
delicate white nerves
suddenly pulling loose
when we were torn apart
I said time to die now
one might say I’ve mostly recovered
but often in the dark
the scar aches
where our skins joined
when I breathed deeply inside you
and you slept wrapped all around me
and we were but one creature.