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Six Poems

Pikes Peak

Hiking near the timberline at twelve thousand feet
my father mistakes an almost silent stroke for vertigo—
immobilisation that arrives like a tsunami,
the body withdrawing to its furthest reaches,
brain stem stoppered for a paralysing second.
He sits winded in a rubble of rose granite
staring at the infinite regression of quaking aspen,
valley after valley to the horizon,
stunned by his own elevation. Then fear,
comprehension: he has lost the language
for water, aspirin. An icy breeze shearing
off snow, heads of spruce and bristlecone
stretching all the way down to the switchback
roads where motorcycles lean in terminal arcs.
At this height everything grows deformed
by wind and cold—flag trees with a single comb
of greenery down a leeward side,
krummholz pines twisted into pretzel bends,
scratchings of alpine parsley, dwarf clover.
Who knows exactly when it started or was over—
a lightning storm in the skull, its barometer
registering no drop in pressure—then whole zones
denuded like the palms after Castle Bravo—
detonation raising storeys of ocean to the sky.
I gave myself a fright, he says, and shakes his head—
a bull shifting a cloud of horseflies.
Around my father tundra grass is blowing
grain by stunted grain. This is the vista
about which Katharine Lee Bates wrote ‘America
the Beautiful’—the only line of which I ever remember
is O beautiful for pilgrim feet, which to me
means precisely zero. But if I strain I can still see him
sitting dumbfounded in that field of feldspar,
his beautiful pilgrim feet laced into white Reeboks and gym socks
as a sunburst ripples through his brain.
My father is calm as a monk whose long meditation
produces imperceptible shifts
in his physiognomy, and I understand my father
went up the mountain for the same reason
everyone goes up mountains.
He went up the mountain to change.


The transhuman future
arrives for my father
as a matchbox purring in his chest—
battery pack biohacking
his brain, titanium ingot
shrink-wrapped in skin.

A whisp of silver cable
running up his spine is visible
only in silhouette
when he turns his neck—
subcutaneous ripple
threaded to his cortex.

After the surgery
his forehead bears a buckled scar—
a runnel ringing his crown
like the trace of Roman fortifications
on a bald hillside, a ghost yarmulke.

Underneath, a confetti
of microelectrodes receives pulses
from his chest, urging
his neurons: connect.

But the man who always
adored machine logic
resents being programmed.

He blames the box
for each misjudged step:
his faltering, arrhythmic gait,
all signs of rebel code.

He only learns later
about the risks of malware—
his firewall is vulnerable,
any minute his microchip
could be hacked,
he could be made to moonwalk,
sent haywire, surveilled.

They say the server is secure
but there’s no way to be sure.
My father’s face unreadable
stone as he insists
his mind is his and his alone.

The Night Shift

Like hummingbirds attending
to injections of nectar

nurses squeak from room to room
in white sneakers. Buzzers

zip and sting like electric
whipbirds. My mother presses

David Attenborough to her ear—
his voice eases through the plastic

receiver. A caiman floats
in the Pantanal’s scum green,

a crown of orange butterflies
sipping tears from its eye’s skin. Salt

crystals sugaring each wingbeat.
Her chemotherapy drips. Night

cinches its tendrils around
blinking fluorescents—

light that will not die.
My mother drifts in and out

of a sleep that never
settles, but rises and dips

and rises. She’s bone tired. The eye
of the caiman opens and closes—

slick membrane clinging
to never-ending saltlick. It’s unclear

if it feels the infinitesimal weight lift
when each butterfly takes flight.

Vital Signs

Nurses flank my mother like bridesmaids
in lavender gowns and gloves.

One wheels a lavender trash can
beside her bed—coded reliquary

for her toxic body.
Poison pulses above my mother’s head,

a sluggish bladder
coffined in a violet sleeve,

a diaphanous chrysalis
too hazardous to touch.

The clipboard where nurses jot
vitals, urine and bloods

is the colour of the jacaranda tree
blossoming outside

because it is November, season of trampled
purple on the cricket field

behind the hospital where children
bat in match-day whites—

a roasting wind driving ash
and burnt grass into their lungs,

red leather cracking
like dry thunder on willow,

the air everywhere glazed with smoke
from distant fires making themselves known.


My mother and I eat takeout: crispy basil prawn and red duck curry. Last week in his nursing home, my father told my mother he was taking her to Brazil. He’d been thinking about where to go for a long time, he said, and landed on Brazil. Its borders touch ten countries, he said, which is convenient. How long are we going for? my mother asked. At least a year, he said. Will we see the Amazon? my mother asked. Oh yes. And Sarah? my mother asked. She’ll have to come, my father said. I don’t know if she can, my mother said, she has to work. Her work will understand, my father said. I  taste lychee and chilli. My mother sips her wine. We’re going first class, my father said. We’ve been married for fifty years, and you deserve it. Then he burst into tears. My mother spoons curry over coconut rice as she tells me this. The rice is rich and sweet. I just thanked him, she said. I knew he’d forget all about it. But my father didn’t forget. The next day, he said he’d been running the numbers, and he wasn’t sure whether he could afford to go to Brazil first class, but we would definitely go business. And I see it, I see my father at 40,000 feet, I see him craning his neck to look out of the window, I see him flying over Mato Grosso do Sul, I see him flying like a distant god over cerrado savannah and the snaking wetlands of the Pantanal, I see my father touching the corner of his mouth with a linen napkin as the plane begins its descent, its wings flexing, I see the silverwear gleaming in front of him, I see him lifting a cup filled with jaguar’s blood up to the light, how it gleams like wine, I see the raw jaguar’s heart filleted in the finest slivers, carmine red, laid out like a stinking meat flower on the plate in front of him.

The Parachute

All night my father hangs upside down
in the hospital basement
trapped under the huge pulsing bell
of a crystal jellyfish. He is buckled there—
snaps of metal crisscross his thorax, a tangle
of suspension lines skein around his legs.
Ripstop nylon blooms and shrinks above him—
canopy of army green, a fever skin.
He cannot understand how he landed behind enemy lines
in this crawlspace, this jumble of copper pipes
and surplus gear. He moves slow as an insect in agar.
His eyes are blind and shine with effort.
His rig is snagged on some unseen obstacle—
a tree, or the intimation of a tree.
His fatigues he recognises, but the parachute
is his father’s—the one that failed to deploy
when his Hawker Hurricane was shot down
over France, and there’s a plastic strap noosed
around his wrist he can’t undo. He is in for observation,
or is it reconnaissance—the mission keeps moving—
but if he cranes his neck he can glimpse
a keyhole opening in the fabric above his head:
a clear pupil, the apex vent, portal
to a world he might see through to
if only he could reach it, if only he wasn’t
plummeting further with every breath.

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