Maria Freij is a lecturer at the University of Newcastle and was
awarded her PhD in Creative Writing in 2008. Her work has
appeared in Meanjin, Blue Dog: Australian Poetry, Overland
Magazine, TEXT, The Australian Journal of French Studies, and
other journals and anthologies. She also translates poetry
between English, Swedish, and French and is an assistant
editor of The Mascara Literary Review.
That mountain in the middle of the room
has a flag driven into its summit.
On it, someone wrote home
as if that were actually a word.
We travel the world as if we don't care, as if
we know what we're doing, almost as if
we expect actually to find the spot,
or climb the sheer cliff face.
On our way to the summit
the language gets thinner
the few words so much dead weight.
We whisper to no one at all:
It is not the goal that counts.
It is not the goal that counts.
It is not the goal
And the mountain is surrounded
by a moat of memories, we fall in
head first; most often we sink, but today
we kick ourselves upward and swim.
Today you hold my head
above the surface. Sometimes I think
I can never go swimming
It is curious, really,
how sharp the light is here,
how black the shadows are,
the way the birds shriek at night.
Stranger still, that one stranger
can tell another
by a quick glance
at posture, back, and hands.
Holding our breaths, we wait
for the sun to set, the winds
to change, the memories
to seep into the landscape.
They never fade, only people fade,
and we turn away from the ghosts
we've become. We float,
back to the earth and eyes to the sky.
Seal Rocks Lighthouse
"There are in our existence spots in time..."
We were caught out;
the rain hit
as soon as we reached
The ocean turned
into a watercolour;
the few islets just offshore
faded into powder blue.
In a minute
we were soaked,
our clothes clung
to our bodies.
Steam from the ground,
from the trees; in the distance
we could just make out
the contour of the headlands.
In the photograph
a single raindrop
shoots like a silver bullet
through the air.
The Archipelago of Stockholm, 1990
And as we sat on the edge of the jetty
our spiderlegs suspended
over the water we could not see
but knew was there
we were in a place between
that damp wood we could touch
and that otherness we couldn't.
Sheets of fog blanketed the water;
it is cold in Sweden in the early hours
and summer is too short.
Our bare limbs shivered in the wet air,
but we didn't move, or say a word.
All was quiet; even the dewdrops letting go
of the branches of pines
were caught in the web of mist
and swallowed again by the sea.
And we could have
made out the contours
of the other islands,
but we didn't try.
And so, on that morning,
still wrapped in night,
we were alone in the world.
after Lars Gustafsson
Grandma's pictures are stacked
in shoeboxes, neatly labelled,
tied up with string, piled carefully
on the floor of her closet
as if she knew
she wouldn't be able
to sort them later,
that she wouldn't be able to recall
her husband's face, her sister's.
So on the back of each image,
a brief description:
1932, Halmstad, Vera and I;
1957, Gitti, first day of school.
Amongst all these memories
that aren't mine,
I think of all the images
in my closet; what caption
would make me remember,
when I am ninety, who I was?
Edö, 1992, happy.
Kungsängen, 1997, unhappy.
It is already too late.
There is no way to tell
these selves apart.
The snapshots of a face (mine?),
the shadow over the garden,
the rooftops (my neighbourhood?).
And the images never captured
on camera: the honeysuckle
blossoming in the night,
the glimpse of a falling star
out of the corner of the eye.
All those leftover images
for which there is no shoebox,
Back to Front.