Christmas eve

bushfire smoke

sits in pits

of lungs flown

far away

the fight

still fluttering

ragged

animal fear

resides

human organs

overlaid

by today’s

hotgreen grass-smell

of primary school T-ball

in Lynden Park

can’t tell sometimes

sweat from tears from dew from bore water from

precious reservoir

can it be spared?

Saved?

Me? I am free

on knees

taller than trees:

to all of thee

Christmas merry x

 

Photo: Claire Doble

Grave Yard

Bushfire moon

an eye prickly with tired

in the night

things expire

by day

the sand’s a ribcage and

there’s always dead things on the beach

is it unusual?

Embarrassed, shy by my

disconnect

I do not know

I’ve been away

it takes a year but

didn’t ask

in case

no one has noticed and

I’m afraid

what that might mean

 

I didn’t set out to write a series of ‘bushfire’ poems but I guess I did and it seems appropriate for this time of year in NSW, Australia as we’re suffering some bad fires at present. Where I am is OK, we are safe, but there’s smoke in the air most days. 

 

Photo: Claire Doble

Spider season

in morning light

things look thin

like weak coffee and skim milk

it’s spring

Thursday

Halloween

snake season, a doorway

in between

with bushfire skies

edged dark, hazy

and the rain is

wrong, lazy

spiders make

no noise at all

this is how

we silence the small

 

Photo: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Two minutes to midnight

The night air is full of the sea
and it pours, thick
through the kitchen flyscreen
as poignant-melancholy music
rises to meet it like a wave
and I contemplate never drinking again

Watch Greta Thunberg on TV
fist-bump Obama and then
make an impassioned plea
her hair grown to Rapunzel length
that means
it’s been at least a year, please let her win

As the rain falls helpless, heavy here
in parched fields beyond
farmers cry drought-tears
and I see broken, unfixed water pipes
beside the train line I’m overwhelmed
by how little we care

 

Image: Pacifica Australis #3 – Tiger Nautilus Shell by Christopher Diaz (sculptures at Killalea). Photo: Claire Doble

The Key

On my sixteenth birthday I was given a key and a choice.

As usual, I turned to my screen for advice. Status update…

16!!! emojis — excited, phew, thinking, spew.

“Short and sweet,” I murmured. Most of my friends were also having birthdays, they’d know what I meant. As responses started clocking up, a chime sounded: email. Huh. Old school.

“Alix?”

“I’m here…  Great update, Callie! You’re so creative. Clever emo’s too,” her warm voice was encouraging and just the right level of impressed. I grinned.

“Can you check that email for me?”

“It’s encrypted. You got the key today…?”

So this was it. The email containing my entire life’s personal data up until now. From the moment I was conceived, I’d been videoed, voice-recorded and monitored through a range of devices that kept me safe, healthy, alive and happy. And now I had a choice. Delete and eradicate all digital traces of my childhood, making me, effectively, a Fresh Citizen. Or save it to GlobalDrive, so it was there to be mined for all the riches it may deliver throughout the rest of my life – clues to my psyche, my long-term health, how I related to others both online and off (the devices were always watching).

If I chose not to delete the data, I laid myself open to a range of dangers. A girl two years above me in school had had her entire biological identity stolen after one poorly-judged transaction with a company selling the World’s Koolest Leggings. Last I heard, she’d had facial surgery, retinal replacements  and a full 10-fingerprint transplant to try to establish herself as a Fresh Citizen. They botched it and now she was only mentioned in hushed terms on the most private of chat groups.

GlobalDrive also meant potential employers, friends or lovers could find out a whooole lot about me and my past: mistakes, illnesses, previous relationships, school and work. Anything would be available to the right person with the right credentials.

But the risk of deleting was a big one too. What if I decided one day I wanted to work for the government or travel internationally? Most Premier-World countries would not let anyone born after 2020 cross their borders without a from-birth digital record. And government jobs, forget it, unless you could send them a podcast of your earliest breath, basically.

Twenty-four hours to decide what to do with 140,160 hours of the most intimate data. Once I’d hit ‘save it would go into the memory banks of GlobalDrive.com, fully encrypted. Even I would not be able to access all of my own data at once unless I could prove just cause – something that would involve a long and expensive court process and numerous appeals.

Twenty-four hours in which I did, however, have free access to everything. Just me and my A.I. … time to get reading

“Alix?”

“Here, as always…”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Oh darling. I’ve known you since you were just a few cells old. I know you always make the right choice!”

“Well, you have to say that. You’re basically my twin sister, in digital format.”

“Not really… a twin wouldn’t remember how you looked when you first came home from the hospital, your face all squished.”

“Right… can I get a visual of that?” I hadn’t been very interested in my own baby pictures before but now they seemed fascinating.

“And you watched me?”

“All day and all night… there’s me in the background, see?”

“Wow.” I felt a rush of warmth as I looked at my tiny self on the screen, then zoomed in on the dinosaur-shaped hub-unit which I used to think Alix “lived in” until I was about five, just visible in the corner.

“And then when you were growing up. Want to see your first steps?”

I nodded and there it was – a cute baby tottering forward. I stared in awe. The pic morphed into a five-year old with static-flyaway pigtails.

“And here’s your first day of school.”

The show continued, it must have been hours. Occasionally I’d ask her to pause or jump back to some point. And I got her to tell me about myself over the years. Some bits I remembered, others were like a dream. Alix’s memory was, naturally, perfect.

“What about that beach holiday we had in… ?”

“Ocean Grove? Here you are.” The shot was of us pulling up to the house, from inside the car, and I suddenly felt apprehensive.

“Oh no,” I muttered.

“That’s right!” Alix continued in her neutral tone. “You had a bit of an incident, didn’t you?”

And it all came back, the way we’d got lost, the hot car, I’d needed to pee and my parents, who had been fighting, told me to hold it, through gritted teeth. And somehow, just as we’d arrived, I was so relieved that… well, it all came flooding out.

A hot wash of shame engulfed me. “Why didn’t you protect me from this?!” I whined at Alix.

“Well,” she began. Was that a new terseness? My loving Alix?

“Well. You have to take the good with the bad, Callie! You’re sixteen now.”

“This is upsetting me, don’t you care?”

“I do care, but these are some of our most intense memories…”

And I knew what was next. “Why are you showing me all this?” I wailed. It hurt, almost physically.

Right. That’s it. Decision made. Delete.

I opened a secure browser and started typing. Birthdate, an iris scan, even a quick DNA check via my keyboard’s bloodprick sensor. Then I typed the key, three separate times, and it was done. Who wanted a government job? Travel was overrated, probably. Now I could get on with my life. Free. With my best friend and confidant by my side.

“Alix?”

“Hello, I’m Alix, and I’ll be your A.I. What’s your name?”

 

My short story The Key first appeared in Maintenant 13: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art, published by Three Rooms Press. 

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

fingernails

In the 3.30am

wake to the lurch of

oh no

drinking again

lacerations and sharp cuts

hatred and harm

half asleep

haven’t

don’t do that any more

old habits

the gut of fear

try to make good

fingernails flayed raw

fault lines begin

deep

where the mouth worries

spoiling each side

it’s raining

and blowing

spinning through grey air

not sure

we’re in Kansas anymore

 

Image: cyclone scene from The Wizard of Oz stolen from https://www.ifc.com/2009/08/movie-tornadoes