Stephanie Green publishes short fiction, poetry and travel essays in Australian and international journals. Her most recent book is a collection of prose poems, Breathing in Stormy Seasons (Recent Work Press 2019). Her poetry is included in anthologies such as the Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (Hetherington & Atherton, 2020) and The In/completeness of Human Experience (Prendergast, Strange & Webb, 2020). Her research publications include, ‘Re-mapping Travel Writing’, Special Issue 56, Text Journal (Oct 2019), which she co-edited with Nigel Krauth and Stefan Jatschka, and The Routledge Companion to Australian Literature, edited by Jessica Gildersleeve (2020).

‘Still Life’

Arrayed against darkness, these vestiges shore up what seems to matter as the tide ebbs away. Red fronds of coral, dried sea cabbage, the pink interiors of empty shells, scalloped treasures gleaned from undulating waves that, captured here, can never decay, nor allow us to forget. Gathered from an ocean garden, what passion or justice is recorded in these still remains? Destruction and power are as nothing to this vision that can never betray. In us, you exist as belief in the inner life, the charged possibility of thought. In you, we exist unblooded and unafraid, as if we lounged on silk embroidered chairs, straightening our powdered wigs and ruffled collars while we wait for musicians to come in from the antechamber.

Now the performance is over and only artifice remains. There is no glimpse of fierceness or frailty, no hook tearing through skin and scales, no red upturned crab clawing desperately through the net. With this brief, quiet seizure, how softly we clock the dead passage of time, and cling to the promise of reason amid the clash and fall of failed civilisations. In this moment, earth itself seems an empty pearlescent shell. Here we need not see spilled viscera, nor swallow back against the thick scent of decay as the dying ark runs aground. For what once was fired with fury and desire, still time scours to inanimate civility, leaving us only this one bright reminder.

‘Every Gesture Like Thought’

In my mind’s eye against the bright static of the sea

you’re leaning with the fishing rods against the jetty rail,

long beams riven by salt, wind cradling your hair.

Out to sea, the longed-for horizon under a shadowed sky,

your forearm folding, hand to mouth, as you talk.

Cigarette tucked between third and fourth fingers,

a tiny amber warning flaring and fading with the light,

the smoke on your breath a pale filigree of repeated pulses

spiralling into air against a rose canvas, like thought.

Sometimes when I watch, like this, I see your words,

though I can’t hear you now, charged connections

moving through space, drawn together under your arc. 

Sometimes I think you were a kind of octopus.

By day you sent out elaborate tentacles,

stirring, latching on, gathering in what you saw.

At night you were surreptitious, haunting rock pools,

a hunter, a victim, alert to a troubled world.

For you, there was never a solution to the struggle.

In that sense, you were the realist, and I was too loose,

shifting between the caves and cornices of the ocean.

Placid if left undisturbed, clasping your limbs together,

you were ready to lash out, sensing in myriad directions,

trawling through ruffled seaweed waters in search of prey.

More than once, in those island days, when we hoped for so much,

I wished you could see beyond the violet breakers, 

discern dark matter between sequin grit left by stars.

But all we’ll ever really have is this one moment, a feeling,

as if something important happened neither of us really noticed,

and afterwards knowing we would never come back to this place again.

Griffith University