This is you

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This is non-poem poem. I don’t know anything about poetry technically. I did in year eleven. I knew all about stanzas and beat and all of that crap. I don’t know about it anymore though. And I rarely write it.

For example, I don’t know if I’m allowed to use a comma. How dumb is that? I am unsure of the layout. I changed it around a lot. Not the words, but the layout and how they are spaced.

I absolutely love poetry though. I love reading it. Some of my favourites are Poe, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Andrew Marvell, and Maya Angelou.

So, anyway, here is some poetry that I am deeply uncertain about sharing but, whatever, I’m sharing it anyway. It is the internet afterall. There is no end of awful poetry here. It’ll be one amongst many.

You hold my heart.

Hand down my throat, choking.

You pull it out, view that frantic beating.

You stuff me in the shredder.

I come out as confetti and dance in the air.

You stomp all over me, drive me into the ground.

You tear the eyes from my sockets, poke pinholes through the pupils so no light can get in.

I explode in the dark.

I explode, I explode and still your hands are all over me, in me, tearing me apart.

Brief Book Review: ‘I Am No One You Know’ by Joyce Carol Oates

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These stories have impact- when reading I suggest you wear your seat belt.

The only other short story collections I have enjoyed as much as this are those by Edgar Allen Poe and Kim Edwards’ Secrets Of A Fire King. That said, this collection by Joyce Carol Oates is a stand out winner.

The stories are told with an unnerving conviction. Oates effectively writes the muddled memory and confusion surrounding trauma.

 I Am No One You Know contains nineteen startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varied lives of Americans of our time. In “Fire,” a troubled young wife discovers a rare, radiant happiness in an adulterous relationship. In “Curly Red,” a girl makes a decision to reveal a family secret, and changes her life irrevocably. In “The Girl with the Blackened Eye,” selected for The Best American Mystery Stories 2001, a girl pushed to an even greater extreme of courage and desperation manages to survive her abduction by a serial killer. And in “Three Girls,” two adventuresome NYU undergraduates seal their secret love by following, and protecting, Marilyn Monroe in disguise at Strand Used Books on a snowy evening in 1956.

These vividly rendered portraits of women, men, and children testify to Oates’s compassion for the mysterious and luminous resources of the human spirit.

Oates’ is masterful in building suspense and at leaving her readers yearning for more.  At the end of each story I found myself wanting to yell: “don’t leave me hanging like this!”

The primary theme is “othering”. In all the stories there is some “other, unknowable” person. There is the mentally unstable mother, the sexually threatening uncle, the serial killer, and the borderline man from death row. All these stories are narrated from the POV of a rather bland, normal character and focus on another character that is, in some way or another, taboo.

Recommendation: Everyone must read.

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Code of Silence

“Congratulations!”  Your best friend leaps at you, wrapping you up in a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

You are six weeks along; both excited and nervous at the changes taking place.

“I think I’m having a miscarriage,” you whisper into the phone.

Silence from your best friend as you start to cry.

“Firstly, was my blood test positive?” You ask your doctor.

“Yes,” he smiles. “Your tests indicate you’re almost seven weeks. You’ll be able to see us for the duration of your pregnancy, if you’re planning on going ahead with it.”

“Yes. Yes, I am but I started bleeding last night.”

“It could be nothing,” he assures you.

“But it’s most likely a miscarriage, right?” You ask calmly. You’ve been crying all morning. You can manage a controlled calm now as you sit in this small, white office facing a doctor who isn’t willing to say the words.

“This happens pretty commonly. It could be fine.” He repeats. He prints off a referral for an ultrasound and you thank him. Walking from the clinic you glance down at the doctor’s notes on the mustard-yellow sheet in your hand. “Inevitable miscarriage” the words glare up at you. Inevitable miscarriage? Inevitable.

“The doctor wrote I’m having an inevitable miscarriage.” You tell the person this affects the most, second only to you.

“Are you ok?” he asks.

“No,” why should you lie? “Will you come to the ultrasound with me?”

“No. I’ve got to work.”

Silence.

You go away to visit with family for a few days.

“Ella is pregnant, and so is Rita,” your dad announces during dinner.

“How far along are they?” You ask but what you really mean is; are they safe yet? Are they safe? You feel like screaming.

You go to the ultrasound. As you lie down on the bed the technician performing the scan turns the big screen off. They’ve never done that before. Obviously, you’re not supposed to see this scan.

“So, you took a pregnancy test?” The technician asks.

“I was pregnant,” you answer. “I had a positive blood test.”

She begins performing the scan, muttering something under her breath.

“You’ll need to go to your doctor to have it confirmed but it looks as your doctor said.” She tells you quietly.

You go to the doctor.

“Your results were normal,” he stammers. You can’t help but stare. Normal?

“What did you have the scan for? You got a period?”

Who has a scan because they got a period?

“No. I was pregnant. I had a miscarriage.”

“Yes, uh, they, uh, the results show no foetal matter so…” He trails off.

Silence.

Madame Bovary Book Review

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) had me hooked; line, and sinker. As I began reading I was uncertain as to whether Flaubert had intended it to be humorous, or if I were reading it wrong. However, as I read on, I quickly came to the realisation that was the point of Flaubert’s humour; to be dry, ironic, and subtle.

The key to such humour is that whilst we are being treated to a realistic and objective narration of events, as the narrator is that of third person omniscient, we also see everything through the eyes and thoughts of Flaubert’s clawing, desperate characters. This creates a disparate version of the plot; that of the characters, and that of the omniscient narrator/reader.

Emma Bovary, for example, longs for passion, excitement and wealth. She wants for nothing more than her life to mime that of an opera. Instead, however, the first affair she embarks on, whilst an intoxicating Great Romance, in her mind, is in fact nothing more than a womanizing, selfish man recognizing in Emma weaknesses (her boredom and romantic ideals) that leave her ripe for seduction, and taking advantage of this.

Emma’s second love affair ends when she begs her lover for money, since she has incurred for herself, and her husband, an unpayable debt by living beyond her means. Both Emma’s lovers react with cowardice in the face of her desperation. However, had they attached themselves to her, she would undoubtedly either soon grow bored of them, or else be the ruin of them. Both men grow bored with Emma’s antics and desires; here again Flaubert is ironic, for Emma herself is bored with both her husband and child.

Throughout the novel characters continuously comment on how clever a woman Emma is, yet she isn’t shown to be clever in action or thought in any scene. Rather, she is shown to be self-absorbed, and lacking in any affection for her husband, or her only daughter. She takes lovers, but is unsatisfied, and demanding. She takes out loans to purchase luxurious items, yet takes no satisfaction in them, always wanting more.

Emma’s story ends with her suicide, and even that fails to go as she would have hoped; it’s drawn out, painful, and absent of any tender, tearful farewell from her child. In a final, unflattering scene, at her funeral, her head is hacked at in order for her husband to have a lock of her hair.

He stepped forward himself, scissors in hand. He was shaking so violently that he punctured the skin in several places on the forehead. Finally, bracing himself for the shock, Homais gave two or three big cuts at random, which left white patches in her beautiful black hair. (Flaubert 1857, p. 345)

For the final irony of ironies, Emma, who had dreamt and longed for city life, passionate love, ballroom dances, and wealth, condemns her only child, her legacy, to the life of a penniless orphan, sent to work in a cotton mill.

Flaubert writes Madame Bovary (1857) with such skill and realistic depth that while we laugh at the audacity, and despair at the mistakes, of Emma, we do not dislike her, or any other character. They are too human for the reader’s dislike. After all, most of us share in a hint of Emma, whether it be a desire for more, for wealth, for a passionate love, dazzling talents or a brilliant career. It is in this truth that Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) is an exemplary piece of realist literature; both in character, plot and writing style.

Further Thoughts on the Narrator:

Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) opens with the narrative being told from the first person plural point of view.

We were at preparation, when the headmaster came in, followed by a new boy dressed in ‘civvies’ and a school servant carrying a big desk. Those who were asleep woke up, and everyone got to his feet with an air of being interrupted at work. Motioning for us to sit down, the Head turned to speak to the form-master. (Flaubert 1857, p. 15)

The narration then soon changes to that of third person omniscient, quite seamlessly. It is noticed by the reader, certainly, but not disruptive.

The Beginning Hook:

I was instantly intrigued by Madame Bovary (Flaubert 1857) for one single, stand out reason. The book is titled “Madame Bovary”. The blurb enticingly states “Emma Bovary is beautiful and bored.” And yet, the narration begins with dull Charles Bovary. And then following that, two equally dull Madame Bovary’s; Charles’ mother, and Charles’ first wife, chosen by his mother. The curiosity to see when and how this mysterious other Madame

Bovary would come into the story is what kept me reading. That, and the humour.

On Constructing Reality:

Flaubert’s (1857) construction of reality is so thorough that when Emma, having had her monstrous debts revealed to the town, goes to beg money from the wealthy Guillmen, enters his house and observes “Now this…is the dining room I ought to have.” (p. 223).

The reader laughs out loud and sinks their head in their hands in disbelief. Emma is still (still!) not content with what she has in life. There she is, begging for money, and still she is hungering for more, more, more.

By this reaction from myself, as a reader, I realised I had become entirely sucked into the world crafted by Flaubert. He creates human characters, and describes a world so thoroughly, that the reader forgets that these are not helplessly foolish, fallible neighbours, friends or relatives of theirs, but characters in a book, doing what Flaubert makes them.

Another such scene that reveals, by personal reaction, how successfully real Flaubert has made Madame Bovary (1857) to his audience, is this one:

‘If you’d like to go in now and again,’ he said, ‘that wouldn’t be too ruinous, after all.’ ‘But it’s no use unless you keep it up regularly,’ she replied. And that was how she managed to obtain her husband’s permission to go into Rouen once a week to see her lover. (p. 272)

Favourite Quotes:

“And Emma started laughing, a ghastly, frantic, desperate laugh, fancying she could see the hideous face of the beggar rising up like a nightmare amid the eternal darkness. (Flaubert 1857, p. 337)

At last she sighed. ‘What can be more distressing than to drag out a futile existence like mine? If only our sorrows could be of use to someone, we might find some consolation in the thought of our sacrifice.’ (Flaubert 1857, p. 245)

Notice here, the great detail Flaubert gives, like a camera focusing on a scene, time and place, to draw the moment out and mark it as important, before panning over the rest of the setting:

In summer there was more of its shelving bank to be seen, and the garden walls were uncovered to their base, with several of the steps leading down to the water. The river ran noiselessly, swift, cool to the eye. Tall slender grasses leaned above it in a mass, bent by the force of the current; weeds streamed out in the limpid water like green wigs tossed away. Now and then some fine legged insect alighted on the tip of a reed or crawled over a water-lily leaf. The sunshine darted its rays through the little blue bubbles on the wavelets that kept forming and breaking; old lopped willow-trees gazed at their own grey bark in the water. Beyond, the fields looked empty for miles around. (Flaubert, 1857, p. 107)

Had they nothing else to say to one another? More serious communications were, to be sure, passing between their eyes. As they tried to make conversation, they felt the same languor stealing over them both, as if their whispering voices were being drowned by the deep continuous murmur of their souls. (Flaubert 1857, p. 108)

 

Reference:

Flaubert, G 1857, Madame Bovary, 3rd edn. Penguin Group, Australia.

Followed

There is a gap between the shelf and wall where she stands bent down low and squinting at the books. She drops to her knees and pries one free, turning it over in her hands and, I assume, reading the blurb without so much as glancing at the cover. Here is a real reader-­‐ interested in the description rather than the cover art. A smile tugs at her mouth as she flips the book open and gazes intently at the open pages. I imagine her getting a feel for the writer’s style, a brief sense of the story from whatever random chapter she has discovered. She closes the book and tucks it under her arm before returning to gaze at the shelf. I have to smile. Her actions are as clear as her turning toward me and declaring “Yes. This book is a definite yes”. I glance down at my own book-­‐ a boring thing on psychology. Stuff studying, I think as I continue to watch Book Girl. She stays for ages intently searching the shelf, even pulling a few more books out and reading them at random, before finally heading toward the main desk to check the first book out. I wait a moment before packing up and leaving the library, to wait for her outside.

I lean against a tree outside the building watching a mother push her child past in a pram. The mother is young, and pretty. I meet her eyes and smile warmly. Startled, she blushes and quickens her pace. I shake my head. Some women are so nervous. I bet Book Girl isn’t like that. She appears before me, her dark hair lighter in the sunlight, and her tan pleasing against the white of her denim shorts. She heads toward the station directly across from the library and I follow. She must be local to the suburb-­‐ if she wasn’t wouldn’t she borrow her books from her local library? So she must be. Where is she going by train then? To visit a friend…or a boyfriend? My heart thumps hard as I imagine her in a boys lap. I imagine her soft kisses, the feel of her skin sliding against…mine.

She pays for a ticket and goes to sit on a seat halfway down platform two. I do the same and wait near an elderly couple arguing over how to use the ticket machine. In a matter of minutes the train heading to Flinders St arrives. The old woman starts screeching at her husband that he

forgot the spare change. I laugh quietly to myself. They’re going to miss this train. I am careful to make sure I saunter down to the same carriage as her. The train is practically empty at this time of day so it is easy to choose a seat directly across from her. I pull out my phone and pretend to be absorbed in it whilst flickering my gaze to her at every chance. Should I take a photo? I feel my pulse quicken and my cheeks burn. How could I do it without her noticing? I could just lift the phone higher and take one and she would never know. She might suspect though. She might shift uncomfortably in her seat, maybe even turn away or get up. She starts rummaging in her bag. This is my chance. I hesitate, my phone shaking in my hands, before quickly opening the camera app and snapping a blurry photo. She pulls out the book from the library and I can read the title easily, Cold Comfort Farm. What’s it about? It sounds like one of those spooky thrillers…cold comfort farm. Maybe an old guy has this sick farm where he has sex slaves or something. I like the idea of Book Girl reading something like that. She smiles as she reads and even laughs quietly to herself. What could possibly be so funny about it? It is a Penguin Classics and I have never liked them. They’re the books were forced to read in school, definitely nothing to do with sex slaves. I like that she reads and that books can make her laugh. She is probably one of those intense, thoughtful girls. Those are the best kind, I think. She bites her lip as she reads and reaches up to run her fingers through her hair dozens of times. She probably does that in bed too, the biting her lip thing. I’d bet anything that she’d bite me too. She tilts her head to one side, shifting her hair out of the way, to expose the delicate skin of her neck. A slice of light cuts across her bare throat.

“Now arriving at Dennis”, the voice announces over the speaker.

Book Girl jumps slightly and stuffs the book back into her bag. She gets up quickly only to stand at the doors to wait as the trains pulls to a slow, shuddering stop. I get off close behind her, close enough to smell her and breathe in her delicious scent as deeply as I can. My mouth waters slightly at the smell of her hair-­‐ coconuts and strawberries. I feel myself harden slightly beneath my jeans as her bag brushes across my arm. Now is not the time for that, I tell myself firmly.

Together we leave the station and walk a short way down a main road. Then she makes my breath quicken by turning into an alley. I follow as close behind her as I can, wondering if she is at all spooked by my presence. She hardly seems to have noticed me apart from a brief, distanced smile as we got off the train. Where is she is heading? She walks with purpose, swinging her hips. She even waves at two punk kids with hair dyed bright blue and pink, carrying guitars. They wave back but don’t stop to talk to her. We walk down two more streets, crossing a road and coming to a highway, passing several more kids. They are all unique in a similar way, with their messy, unnaturally dyed hair and black and torn outfits. Many have piercings and walk staring at the ground with their music blaring faintly from oversized headphones as they pass.

“Hi Paul,” she yelps to a tall guy with a pierced brow as we stop at the lights. She inclines her head in his direction, smiling hopefully at him as he lopes past. I glare at him, happy that he doesn’t seem to hear her. He had better not notice her, ever…

The lights turn green and we stroll across the road. Where are we going? We pass a sign that reads Yarra Bend Rd. it’s much quieter than the main road we’ve left behind. As we walk I notice dozens of other kids around and some much older people. Most of them are carrying papers and bags. I suppose that’s why she didn’t get nervous about being followed. She probably thinks I am a student here too. We pass a red bricked fence emblazoned with a large blue and white NMIT sign making a right turn and entering the campus grounds. So, she is a student.

“Hey,” I say and nod at her as we head down a path toward a small cluster of tables and chairs shaded by large umbrellas. She looks at me quizzically for a moment. I’m afraid she won’t say anything back.

“Hey.” She smiles warmly at me “What are you here for?”

“Oh. I’m…um checking it out. Y’know thinking of enrolling here…you?” I stammer. I cringe inwardly as I feel heat sting my cheeks. Hopefully it doesn’t show.

“I’m here for photography.” She answers, lifting a small camera case I hadn’t noticed tucked into her handbag. “What course were you thinking of doing?”

“Something in Psych,” I answer, praying they do that here.

“I didn’t know they did Psych courses here!’ she exclaims. She seems so excited about it and so happy to be talking to me. If only we were somewhere more private. “That must be one of the Higher Ed courses, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I nod. By now we have entered a small, crowded café “Anyway, I gotta go. I hope to see you around…?”

“Sophie,” she finishes for me. “Don’t you want anything? The coffee here is pretty good”

I grin at her eagerness and begin to turn away. What’s the point in just talking in a crowded café? All I know is her name…Sophie and the smell of her hair, and the way she bites her bottom lip, flicking her tongue out slightly as she reads. Hopefully she is intrigued by me. Maybe she will wonder about me all day, and go to sleep with me on her mind? Who knows? I can wait for her at the station later. I can wait for her outside the school. I can even wait for her at the library. After all, she will have to return that book someday.