A journalist for more than forty years Sue Joseph began working as an academic, teaching print journalism at the University of Technology Sydney in 1997. As a Senior Lecturer, she taught in journalism and creative writing, particularly creative non-fiction writing. Now as Associate Professor, she holds an Adjunct position at Avondale University, is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of South Australia and is a doctoral supervisor at the University of Sydney and Central Queensland University. She is currently Joint Editor of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics and Special Issues Editor of TEXT Journal of Writing and Writing Courses.

Matryoshka: in utero

They stack on my shelf, woman nestling inside woman. Hiding until unwrapped; undone; opened.  Vivid, multi-coloured and Russian; my ancestry. Peasant jumper dresses drape, diminishing in size.



In utero, she is an idea; a notion; a perhaps. Then she moves, she grows, second by second by minute by minute by hour by hour by day by day by week by week by month.


And arrives into my arms, the notion a truth at 12.10pm on that day in that week of that month.

That year.

Soon after she arrives, the room is full – three offices full, with people watching and touching and speaking, near. Flowers and grapes and chocolates and baby jackets and bootees and picture frames and balloons. Teddy bears and books and candles.

People gather and stay, for hours. And hours. Tag teaming. The noise and laughter and awe and excitement are infectious. The adrenaline courses and the ecstasy of a magical feat – something achieved by millions of women for millions of years – seems all mine.

And then they are gone. Nine hours.

The first moment alone (but not) I look hard at her. And she looks back, hard, staring unseeingly. But surely, seeing.

I feel a chill as she squirms. And struggles; begins to whimper.

Big Ben chimes nine.

I have no idea what to do.

The sudden stillness of the night;

the silence shattered by that clock.

I have no idea what to do.

My trepidation.

And then … I remember this sense like it was yesterday: a long line, a procession of women standing behind me. Toweringly tall and straight and strong, disappearing into the distance, getting smaller but there, definitely there.

For aeons.

I feel them, holding each other, up. Holding me. Up. Blanketing and warming.

Enfolding me, as I enfold her.

I sit up straight in that bed oceans from home, holding her.

I know these women; their cells course through my body.

I know these women; their knowledge pours through my pores. 

I know these women; they dance and dally in my dreams.

I know these women; their shared strength sometimes saves me.

Their laughter buoys me; their sensibilities define me; they travel with me.

All their wisdoms are mine.

And hers.

Are ours.

In utero we imbibe understanding; we learn a universe, our first classroom; we fit like Matryoshka. We weave our magic and conjure life, and we know.

Synaesthetic Submersion

Swimming. You see swimming, instantly. And smile.

A profiled one-eyed goggle and a brain on fire, swirling in water.  

Senses buzzing; dissolving; re-animating.

Swirling. With happiness. Free.

You yearn to swim.

It is winter and too cold to swim in backyard pools; too rough and cold in the ocean; public pools, Covid-slammed-shut. You think about not being able to swim; prevented, caged by the cold; caged by fear of contagion in a public place. A virus that thrives and multiplies in frosty weather, immersing the globe, swarming and submerging continents, overflowing countries and cities and towns and streets and roads and avenues. Flooding through front doors into homes. Inundating families.

Smashing shut what used to be.


You yearn to swim; for spring warmth to heat the waters and hunt the virus down; hound it into summer submission; starve this feasting on the cold.

But now, the cold: icy, callous, uncaring; hard-hearted; chill; unemotional; indifferent.

Apt words match; not surprising coldness is virus nourishment;

nurtures its virulence.

But to swim – to glide through the water; to submerge and block out the sounds above; a muffling, underwater. Merged senses melt; chromatic colours flash, photon-like. It quiets and blurs – a deafening silent clamour of tonal quicksilver molecules. It sounds like violet. It tastes like clear cyan. It feels like red velvet. It smells like blue. It looks like flaxen yellow.

Engulfed by water holding, enfolding you.

You suspend …

… from stress and worry; from feeling or thinking;

from copious demands and tasks; the pressure.

Relief from grief; from loss; from pain in

the calmness down here, under the water.

It roils and churns, soft mould-like, moulding,

possessing you.



When breath is spent you break through the surface and gasp, an assault of shapes and sounds and smells, feelings and the taste of salt or chemical on lips; as your consciousness comes back into focus, one sense leading another:

light into images; waves into sound; air chemicals and skin and

tongue receptors – you see and hear, you smell and touch and taste.

So you swim, hard. Convince yourself you are as sturdy and swift as ever; muscles speeding through water, ever-faster. Agile and lithe and limber and flowing.

You swim to stretch; to extend; to think; to remember; to feel strong.

To be strong. You are strong.

You hope. You wonder. You aspire once again.