Andy Jackson has featured at literary events and arts festivals
in Australia, India, USA and Ireland, and lives in Castlemaine,
Australia. His most recent collection, Music our bodies can't hold
(Hunter Publishers 2017), consists of portrait poems of other
people with Marfan Syndrome. He blogs irregularly at

This house

The steadily disappearing thatch,
the lack of decent insulation � these are the least
of my worries. Ever since
the structure was raised into position,

it's never looked quite right.
In a row of so many conventional buildings,
this leaning, rickety tower — walls askew,
nothing plumb, that weird extension at the back �

how can it stand at all?
Strangers pause outside, unsettled.
Are they cursing the builders for their incompetence
or the architect for his cruel pretensions?

A few hurl pointed objects at the windows.
As a teenager, I dreamt of a painless renovation.
Why has it taken so long
to dawn on me? It makes no sense to hate —

or love — this house. I am
no juvenile cicada or hermit crab,
able to shuck off its shell
to scuttle into another, become inconspicuous.

The lease is for life. I'm stuck with it.
This is the only place
pleasure and distress settle in
and disperse — my body shelters what it can.

A short while after the poetry reading

still feeling perhaps it matters now
holding the memory of it
like a breath, because each one
must give way to the next
be allowed to carry blood as far as it will go

and it isn't difficult to be
the oldest person in the microbrewery
the sort of voice whose order
might disappear in the affable racket
slim volume on an obscure shelf

now if a handshake is simple human complicity
what's a thrust out business card?
a random chiropractor offers me free treatment
for the severe pain I must have
presumably from the look of me

all words are swallowed by the wind
some words deserve it
I am probably a little too polite
poetry is a better place to hold things together
the door keeps opening

dead leaves rush in without purpose
there is no memory, only remembering
no poem without someone else, outside, so
I text the one I love on a dysfunctional phone
savouring her absent touch

order another small beer
wonder why the architecture here assumes
we all want to see how things are made
distressed wood and exposed pipes
but if everything was transparent, well...

Light which acts as a mask
for the model in Joel Peter Witkin's 'Art Deco Lamp, New Mexico' (1986)

Alone and safe, you spread the newspaper across the table. Before you realise you've read them, certain words in an advertisement enter and possess. Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, hermaphrodites, bearded women, people with tails, horns, wings, reversed hands or feet, anyone born without arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, lips. All people with unusually large genitals. All manner of extreme visual perversion. You have tried to not think of yourself as perverted, monstrous or holy. Not a symbol, a weapon, raw material. But it seems the photographer needs you, or your form, if there is a difference. His work is his pilgrimage to become more loving, unselfish. The idea becomes you.

With your good hand, you have already dialled the number. The days before your appointment curve in on themselves, blur out of focus. You rehearse your own voice. One version is self-possessed, with a sarcastic wit. Another, tremulous and conflicted. A third, cool, almost oblivious. They distort around each other. Home loses the sense of itself. The windows are filmed with the city's mechanical air. An animal turns clumsily in the ceiling. Somehow you sleep and dreams clamber through your head, a fist of images, oddly comforting.

Only when you arrive and the equipment is laid out before you, do you realise that there was never any mention of what these sessions would precisely entail. On the table, a tangle of ropes and chains, rusted callipers, rotting fruit, a human skull, barbed wire, a broken clock. He prods and strokes your body with his eyes — especially the soft folds of flesh, the curved arc of your protruding spine. The mask is his suggestion. Your nakedness is yours.

Having a little difficulty breathing, he disappears behind the camera. You're not sure if he's struggling with this, or aroused. He orders you into myriad, difficult positions. It takes a long time for him to be satisfied. In the end, you've hardly said a word, and he has contorted your body into the shape of an ampersand, but connecting with what?

There is only the sound now of something being slid under your door — your sole payment, a print of the photograph. In the scoured image, your face is covered with a white globe — light which acts as a mask, through which you cannot look back at the viewer. You return it to the dark envelope, take up again your quiet life, which is and is not the negative.

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