• Brook Emery


It’s when the plane takes off


It’s when the plane takes off, climbs, banks sluggishly

against the wind—below, the steel and terracotta suburbs,

the dense green canopy of national park and,

seemingly immobile, the blue-grey river’s length

splitting land from land, and then the indented coast,

blue waves flopping on scoops of sand – that white light

bounces off the sea to swamp the moment in sudden glare.

The engine’s like a vacuum cleaner in another room.




‘The sea is a useless teacher,’ I’ve just read, as are light,

rain, wind, those birds whirling in patterns sensible

only to themselves. Fish learn and can remember, monkeys laugh

and misbehave, elephants weep, and I sit strapped-in

listening to time, and time past, to the things I’ve said and done.

Someone shouted, ‘Shark!’ There was a flurry for the shore

and my younger, slower sister was left behind. I did swim back.

She was brave. But there was a trembling in her voice.




Every sound that’s ever been may still exist,

muffled ghosts shuffling from street to street,

ear to ear, huddled in doorways or drifting one by one

into the noise of time, the reverberating putt-putt-putt

of a motorbike struggling up the hill, lorikeets screeching

from one grevillea to the next, the changing pitch

of something coming near and drawing far away,

memory’s evidence wavering in an interrupted breeze.




What’s the job of memory? To re-invent ourselves

or apprehend the invention as it stands, to run away

or run towards the heart? I’m older than my parents

ever were, have children twice as old

as I was when my mother died, and still I wonder

what it is I’ve learned and what I should remember.

Light years, sound years, the senses marking out intensity,

warm air, cold air, wind that makes the scintillating stars.




When I was ten and my brother eight I buried him

up to his neck in our backyard. He was already

painted red from his ankles to his chin. It’s funny now,

but why did I do it then and how did I persuade him

to comply? My father chased me down the street

with a potstick in his hand. Later I lost my brother

at the Easter Show and wandered home alone.

I hear my father’s voice. See the confusion in his eyes.




Eyes give meaning to night and day, bless both

the hunter and the hunted. And ears? Ears gather,

all the noises that have meaning. Must screams be first,

or the strangled cries of making love, a stutter,

a whisper, exhalation that is felt as much as heard.

The skin has ears, antennae. ‘Little Deuce Coupe’

is playing in the background and I am caught, my hand

on the bikinied breast of a girl I’d never see again.




The trace of a sensation, the echo of a feeling, latency,

suspension, the rustle outside your tent, the rising wind

that wakes you from deep within the night, yourself

calling to yourself across the years – that awkward face,

the frown and scrunched-up eyes, ears that make you

look a little like Prince Charles. What might you say

to your older, wiser self? The fears are still the same.

I am the rememberer now but how am I remembered?




When my son popped up from beneath tight-fisted foam

his first words were , ‘I’m alive, I’m alive.’ His twin sister

whom I’d pushed into the face of an earlier wave before I turned

and failed to grab my son – I couldn’t hold him – was paddling now

with a group of surfers three times her size and trying not to cry.

God help them, they were only six. I lied to my mother

just days before she died. She didn’t speak, only closed her eyes.

An unvoiced sentence hovers now. His startled cry. Her surprise.




‘Reality is a sound,’ Anne Carson wrote, we must tune in.

I think she’s right, though the reverse is more simply true.

This light-weight guilt is carried on the wind, along with doubt,

longing, nothing more than dust, clouds, rain, squall after squall,

as if wind intended to drag the whole Antarctic north,

reflective sounds, ricochets of light, the sharpened syllables of ice.

My ears are turning blue, my eyes are streaming.

What I can’t comprehend is more potent than the merely understood.





In the photograph


In the photograph we’re standing in a line, arms around each other’s backs,

           unforced smiles playing on every face, a golden time,



a delinquency; we’re lucky to have had it, we all agree, like a motion that’s been

           carried unexamined. No, like the sun rising unimpeded from the sea,



no, like a line of naughty boys caught out. We haven’t really talked this

           through. It’s as if it’s all out there in the darkening light beyond the

           window pane,



hidden behind the smiles captured so very long ago, and what they conjure back to

           life, the approximations



of what might have been or really might have happened now that ‘really’ has so

           little currency. The five of us,



and a convenience store called ‘Memory’ or the word ‘Forgotten’ scribbled in

           the margin of a book, the long procession here



or back there then: a broken set of stepping stones. We haven’t changed or if we

           have the other us is living too. The ginger hair, the freckles, the wicked

           laugh, the shadows stretching from our feet, the jokes, the pranks,



running down the street pursued, the dressing downs and dressing up, the

           shuttlecock, the boogie boards, the trips away. To be ourselves



we were each other. What might pretence, ‘pre-tend’ mean? To care before you

           care? The moment before a tendency becomes apparent, something



from the Latin, ‘to stretch forth, put forward’? When we’ve peeled away the

           retrospection, this stretching forward, stretching back



is still spelt ‘home’ and something in us will not decline. There’s no inscription on

           the back. I don’t think there’s any need.