Fiona Wright's work has been published journals and anthologies
in Australia, Asia and the USA. Her poems feature in Best
Australian Poems 2008 and 2009 (Black Inc) and the Toilet Doors
Project (2004). In 2007, she was awarded a residency the Tasmania
Writers' Centre. Fiona works as an Editor at Giramondo Publishing
and HEAT Literary Journal
Ho Chi Minh City
Motorbikes dart like a school of startled fish.
Fart petrol fumes, flick through
the strange melody of car horns,
their crisp and tonal language
speaks me out of sleep
The peddlers on the street
hang from their bamboo baskets
of fisty mangosteen and limes.
Toothy cyclo-men slurp soup for breakfast
on their haunches, unperturbed.
of motorbike mirrors
silvers the boulevard and I don't dare
Young men turn callisthenic in the park,
smile as they kick their hackysack towards me.
The older women
sweep between the ordered piles of leaves.
The days roll slow. I buy postcards
of silk-tuniced women, printed
and old propaganda posters
priced in American dollars.
Squid dry on cricked clotheslines,
the telegraph wires are kinked
and knotted as noodles.
The evening breathes through the balconies
where ex-pats share their chilli crab
and chilled cab sav
and tell me stories
of just how they wound up here.
I taste the sting of possibilities, their afterburn.
Each year the road winds a little less,
the clustered coastal towns
to local traffic only,
to long twilights, saltburn
and white ants.
We know each car's trajectory now,
who'll stop just out of Nowra for strawberry milk and petrol,
who detours to the blowhole,
or delays their toilet stop
until the crumbling doughnut shop
on High Street.
What it is that makes tradition out of chance:
The kilo box of stonefruit
that turns our stomachs hard and round
as peach pips overnight,
the stubborn chaos of communal grocery shopping,
the fridge filled with strings of sausages
longer than all our intestines combined.
We stack the beer fridge, stand
windswept on the headland,
feed our ankles to wet sand
as the firstnight waves hiss towards the dark,
inexorable as breath, as earsong.
Imagine spice markets,
when his mother's pantry
held only powdered pepper, salt.
Drinking avocado juice
when the crocodile skin it was pressed from
held no name.
The press of people, the buildings climbing each other's backs
like football players,
when he'd be born
to quarter-acre dreams.
His first time bartering, and badly,
on a box built of porcupine quills.
Each translucent spine
quivered thin and fine
and cold beneath his skin;
the objects placed within it
blurred sepia and liquid
as other worlds.
On his steamer home, years later,
a soldier stole his pack.
In only tropical shorts and darkened legs,
mid- Melbourne winter,
it was this loss he felt
The nervous tread of termites in the sill.
The minute balls of their jaws
spill and spit
gnawing warm wood
like handfuls of popcorn.
Between their tunnelings,
The ancient frangipani overwinters now,
bald and bony,
its thick polyps mottled and arthritic.
Its arms beg yogic for the sky, stream wider
than the shouldering terrace.
Cabled roots beneath the fences,
that hug the outhouse piping
hollowing the soil
by hairs' breadths.
Weeks ago, barely, I bought a cardboard tray
of frangipani blooms,
from a wooden stall unfurled.
Their quick withering, the brown bruising
leprous on the fringes of their skin
a barefoot offering
to the tooth of a god.
My bones grow cold under these high ceilings.
The termites tunnel upwards,
drop their wood dust on my skin.
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