Matchbox Engineer

Matchbox Engineer

Trying not to burn bridges
but your fingers hiss like flame throwers,
your hair is soaked in metho
and your feet tap
tunes for a bomb.
Trying not to burn bridges
but you watch him drive away
without objections.
Your hair reeks.
Your feet would chase after him
but they’re somewhere beneath a bridge
and an incoming tide.
You are no engineer
and struggle with bridges,
burning or saving.
Due to this lack of training,
your lover leaves you
with a river of grief
to cross.




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Double-Shot Homeless

fish heads edited






Double-Shot Homeless
we’re all on the brink of crazy. we pick
our scabs in the street, ride
caffeine like horses, take
the hand squeeze.
we wet our faces
when nothing can be done, forget
our words, whisper
when the pain hurts our ears. we eat
what little we can – our guts
crammed with pleas
we wish our mothers would rise. we wish
our mothers would rise. we lose
our sons,
breathe other families heading home.

Pleasures grow small,
laughter crawls.
In the morning, rosella petals,
tissue-thin but, nonetheless, pink.

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Please don’t walk in the dark

Please don’t walk in the dark

She buys the wrong aftershave –
florals that hide your natural musk.

She tries your dirty talk. But it sounds
like a talking book for the blind
without the verbs.

You’re working blind, poor thing,
bungling love and loss
without your glasses.

Huntsman keeps a grasshopper in her clutches.
Holding on to him is holding on to death.
You’re meant to eat him. You’re meant to taste.

Frog is fading in the sink.
It’s hard to save something that small
but that’s what your heart’s for.

You wear the new scent
so I will forget you,
so I will look for you and come to a dead end.

I refresh my old scent
so you can find me
and to remind you we’re older than Valentine’s Day.

In a group-devised, stream-of-consciousness poem,
the word that drops from my lips
is ‘lost’.
Countryman tells me, yes, I’m going the right way
but, please, don’t walk in the dark.

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Do we need to test this again?

Do we need to test this again?

Leaves pile by the door. Gecko
scat arrives in threes. The dog
whines when I leave.

I understand exile.
It’s a metre or a month
away from your scent.

The hermit crab drags
a circle through the sand.
And here you are again.

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Super Moon, Super Wet

Back on the homefront, the Super Moon on January 31 coincided with a monsoonal trough. This meant a lot of ocean, a lot of wind, rain, damage and erosion of beaches. The tides were over 8 metres high (a King Tide here is normally 7). It was awe-inspiring.

The end of what we know

Once it starts, it won’t stop –
an advance party cresting
eight metres;
more like a fist-shaking prophecy
than an ocean.

The tide takes liberties
with cliffs and cars and tanks
from a World War.
It strips back camping trips
and nights of gritty sex, dumps
the gossip at someone else’s fence.

The sea on Schoolies:
picking up crabs, vomiting sticks
and plastic mysteries.
Doing speed.
Chewing through the grass.
Asking Mum to fix the damage
at the end.

The heaving sea,
red with the theft of land.
Dirty as a ride in a cop car,
cuffed, hungry, waiting
for the moon to come close.

Borders erode.
Lips reach my neck.
Our fingers conspire to lift the lid
on my wet thirst, my body
collapses against you
like the dunes,
and the waves push through,
ignoring voyeurs.
You were always in charge –
at least, with the moon behind you.

Kidnapped by your lips.
Again, again,
advance/retreat, meet
somewhere between, take,
linger, subside.
The waterways get lost
in each other, bleed into one.

We are one of an animal kind
and I don’t regret a breaking thing.

We’re filthy as roots,
freshly exposed.

We’re dangerous as the moon,
a peeping Tom tonight –
too close for comfort,
too dark to hold.

Ocean cresting the dunes

Ocean cresting the dunes

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Smoking the Mattress

Smoking the Mattress

Buy it –
that double frame and mattress
at the hotel closing sale.

Buy it – he’s mad,
your kind of mad.
Laughter is saving you both
from the real world.

Smoke it – the slept-on mattress.
Work out those dreams:
missed planes, girl with a blue face,
a man who tells his girlfriend,
yes, he fucked her but he never inhaled.

Smoke it –
keep that narrative running.
It’s far from the truth
but let it run to its sticky end
because that’s your job.

Look away from the broken heart
you uncover on the left side. Look away
from the threads about to unravel.

While you’re in there with frankincense,
work on all those feet –
the arrivals, the stories:
that woman with a burnt leg
and a dead son.
Her panic to make check-out by 10 a.m.
as if that really matters –
he’s been gone a year,
a year today.

Do your best with this.
Clear narrative, empty
the mattress. Await
his boots at your door. Sweep
his body from spurs to stars. Find
a set of bewildered eyes.
He’s a cowboy looking for a ride
that will take him home.

He comes with a posse and guns,
and says he’s afraid.
And you buy it
because you love a man brave enough
to admit that.
He delivers a newborn poem
and you take that, too.
You admire a man who reveals
first steps. He draws
a lightning cartoon
and you pay a slice of heart
to laugh and keep laughing for a week.

And then, on the empty mattress,
he lays his head on your womb.
He considers a smoke.
But your scent and talk of death
draw him deeper and deeper,
galloping towards his past
and the mother
who never wanted to leave.




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Wagait Artists Group

In September, the Wagait Artists Group staged their first exhibition/festival featuring the work of Belyuen and Wagait Beach artists. This fine region I live in boasts a combined population of about 500 people, so staging an art exhibition was an achievement. Mind you, I’ve often called this place the Left Bank of Darwin as more and more artists have moved over, fleeing the unaffordable housing situation in town.

During the weekend, I facilitated a poetry workshop that featured free and structured writing exercises. One of the tasks was to respond to the artworks on display. I thought it would be nice to present here some of the poems and the artworks that inspired them. Thanks very much to the 12 participating writers and artists, to the WAGS, Wagait Beach Supermarket and Sue Chaplin for the photographs of the works.


Trust by Ally Richmond

Sandra Thibodeaux responds to Ally Richmond’s Trust



Ships draw water,
hold breath.


Hulls in double time –
spellbound by choice.


Rusty vessels hold hands,
burst their shadows.


Lit like a stage, containers tip
their cast of live people.


History suspended;
the sea turns green.


Poem © Sandra Thibodeaux
Image © Ally Richmond (photography Sue Chaplin)



Undercurrent by Nena Zanos

Undercurrent by Nena Zanos

Meredith Davies responds to Nena Zanos’s Undercurrent


Bags resemble teeth
animated creatures
a suspended army of floating decay.

severed head lies on a bed of bottles
plastic ziplock snapjaw
the dread that lurks beneath.


Poem © Meredith Davies
Image © Nena Zanos (photography Sue Chaplin)


Space Mouse by Mili Eaton

Space Mouse by Mili Eaton

Bry McVicar responds to Mili Eaton’s Space Mouse

Space Mouse
BAM! Space mouse is here.
Arrrrrrrrrrrms up!
Ready for ACTION.

Fizzy crazy space mouse
Hypercolour space house.

ZAP! BAM! Mum – look!
Space mouse is gonna shoot the moon.

Laser POWER!

Turbo charged.


Poem © Bry McVicar
Image © Mili Eaton (photography Sue Chaplin)


Carrot, Corn, Beer by Dave Collins

Carrot, Corn, Beer by Dave Collins

Tara McDonald responds to Dave Collins’s Carrot, Corn, Beer

Carrot, Corn, Beer

Sinking / sucking / slurping
grotesque delicious fresh fruit
metallic tangy zinging
inhale exhale
congestion / constipation
sharp stabbing pain
faint, drowsy mucous
tangled terrified
childhood onion peels
layer upon layer danger – inhale
swamp sludge, citrus candy.


Poem © Tara McDonald
Image © Dave Collins (photography Sue Chaplin)



Barramundi by Anthony Moreen

Barramundi by Anthony Moreen

Dylan Prins responds to Anthony Moreen’s Barramundi


Prize fish displayed
A treasured catch with pride
Mine was this big
And it had a jellyfish inside

She was a strong swimmer and
I speared her in my undies
We’ll surely enjoy for dinner
This blessed Barramundi.


Poem © Dylan Prins
Image © Anthony Moreen (photography Sue Chaplin)


The Very Hungry Bear by Nick Bland

The Very Hungry Bear by Nick Bland

Jeremy Garnett responds to Nick Bland’s The Very Hungry Bear

The Very Hungry Bear

Bruce the bear had had much luck
in gathering up his feast,
hiding where the fish were flung
by his furry fisher foe.

When confronted by said bear,
the evidence in his paws,
speechless he, with mouth much filled,
could only clutch and stare.

This, when painted by speedy hand,
was perfectly placid in kind
but failed to show the brawl that ensued,
bear fur and fish blood combined.


Poem © Jeremy Garnett
Image © Nick Bland (photography Sue Chaplin)


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