Esther Vincent Xueming
Esther Vincent Xueming is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Tiger Moth Review, an eco journal of art and literature. She is also co-editor of two poetry anthologies, Poetry Moves (Ethos Books, 2020) and Little Things (Ethos Books, 2013). Her debut poetry collection, Red Earth, which was a finalist for the Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize 2020 (New York), is forthcoming from Blue Cactus Press (Tacoma, Washington). Her poems have been published online and in print anthologies locally and internationally. A literature educator by profession, she is passionate about the relationships between art, literature and the environment. Follow her on Twitter @EstherVincentXM
A tribute, after William E. Stafford’s “Travelling through the Dark”
The sambar deer in the photograph is folded
onto the street, red cloth over her eyes,
a bead of sweat hanging
from her lips. I see through my screen
how she is still alive, brown torso upright
after the hit, but by the time I read this news
her body is cold, she is no longer breathing,
put to death by a team of experts. A luckless way to go.
The article says she was in great distress.
I imagine the screech and crash, the great impact,
honkings and bright headlights, legs weak
and impotent. The stress of sitting still, waiting
for a dignified end. And though I never
knew her, I want to remember.
Imaginary friend, let me resurrect
your broken body from the dirt and ash.
Let your soul re-enter the world of the living
through this breath, as you rise again
to reclaim the earth with your quiet existence.
Perhaps you will choose to walk calmly
along a secluded road, or chew on grass
in a clearing, your head bowed low, eyelids soft
and content. Why do you share this forest, knowing
we will betray you one day? You do not speak, but look
at me gently, holding my gaze in a deep pool
of endless knowing. You teach me to forget my need
for words and language. You teach me to stay
in this delicate moment: in our eyes, our reflections crossing.
The Blue Mountains
Twenty-one years ago, my parents sold
our four-room apartment so we could travel
south. I remember Sydney, the Opera House,
the Blue Mountains. Dogs furry and big
as grown sheep. The clear mist of mountain air,
the plunging cable ride to the Three Sisters, their stony,
ancient forms standing still and foreboding
in the quiet valley. I told my mother I would retire
there one day. Twenty years later, bushfires would sweep
across the mountains, not discriminating between bird
or tree, insatiable in its taking. Everywhere, fire
and smoke thickening, darkening the sky.
Millions die, their charred bodies lying side
by side on a scorched black earth while I sit unscathed
in front of a screen trying to process my grief.
Of all the photographs, this: a joey hugging
a wire fence, its charcoal face smiling at the camera,
its young leathery body now dusty and crumbling.
What bravery, what foolhardiness, what bliss,
to give death one final grin before the fire came for him too?
Australia is burning, and the mountains of my memory
are turning blue. I think how this poem
could be a leaking hose running out of water
to quench a dry and angry land. But I also think
how it could be brimming, undefeated, full
of life in its last breath before the raging dark.
Lisa Reily is a former literacy consultant, dance director and teacher from Australia. Her poetry has been published in several journals, such as Amaryllis, London Grip, The High Window, Panoplyzine, Channel, HCE Magazine, The Sunlight Press, and The Fenland Reed. You can find Lisa at lisareily.wordpress.com.
a concrete path leads to the scent of lemons,
warm plums from your tree,
sweet tomatoes straight from the sun;
delicate orchids in chipped pots,
their stems flowered with pearl-white shells,
petals splashed with pink;
and your old shoes, covered in damp soil,
for the love of gardening.
there is no sound in your garden,
but I still hear the drag of your slippers
along the old concrete path,
the snap as you pluck a weed on your journey,
and your dog bark as he runs for a ball you’ve thrown,
the crunch of grass under his feet.
your greenhouse no longer hides a huge bird’s nest,
its lime-green leaves transported to my garden,
as promised; now that you are gone.
My Mum, the Wild Indian
A woollen poncho of autumn, squares of gold and orange
and brown; your long horse hair a mane of what you liked to believe
was an ancestry of wild Indian blood; a gallop of freedom
across the yellow desert and into a deep, green jungle,
rich with water and crazy, grey-bearded macaques.
But you never had that freedom.
See-through pink shirts to embarrass your daughter, to get the Oh, Mum, you can’t wear that! you’d grown to love;
the giddy glass of wine and over-the-fence flirtations with neighbours;
men who knew they could never touch a woman like you,
men you said needed their teeth fixed, men with balding heads.
You never got the love you were seeking. And scared of.
Every year, your famous lasagne, brandied orange ice cream
and your prized lemon cheesecake; a feast for the masses, our family
and friends; you in your element as you spread across the table
the work of your generous hands, and throughout your house,
the homely smell of your kitchen in bloom.
But I don’t remember invitations in return.
So you stuffed with love the black stray dog you named Jack,
who arrived with a note: To whoever is feeding our dog, please take him.
So you did. Your old blue cattle dog, your shi tzu-ewok lookalike
and your nasty, little chihuahua, all in your handknitted jumpers;
the latter a bloated, black bowling ball, filled with love and loyalty,
a small beast bound in tight red wool, who bit anyone who came near you;
you finally got what you were looking for: unconditional love at all hours.
Now the satin sheets you bought, which you thought were sexy,
lay crumpled in my washing basket, their perfect sheen covered in dog fur;
your poncho rests clean and folded on your bed, where you often slept lonely,
beside dancing shoes and the ridiculous, sparkling ballroom dress you made,
the one you wore once and meant to wear again, before you got old.
But you never got old.
I lay on your bed, rest my head on your uncovered pillow, and watch
you in your element; on video, your long hair loose at your waist;
a show that was meant to be a surprise for me, and you, giggling like a girl,
rehearsing a dance you would never finish; a performance I would never see.
And I will never get to tell you I understood. That I miss you every day.
But I know now, Mum, that you were a wild Indian.
"nanna's garden" was first published in Words for the Wild.
"My Mum, the Wild Indian" was first published in Magic Oxygen Literary Prize