Maxine Beneba Clarke

the night before school starts,

                  our swimmer-tans fading,


we cheat, with gozleme,

from the woolworths fridge:


fry it golden, and crispy

on the heavy skillet


with slices of lemon,

       to acid through guilt


add three small fistfuls

of cherry tomatoes:

      quick-picked from the garden,

stunted, but sweet


           ooooh, i like these, says my daughter,

(splint hugging left pinky,

    from a hard fractured catch

at pool volleyball)

              they’re teeny-tiny:

        much lollier than shop ones

              so red-red-shiny


they burst on your tongue


my son’s never liked them,

              and why should we argue?

he pushed aside, quarantined,

with his fork


small terracotta stains

bruise his plate, where they rolled


days ago,

        when rain arrived,



the sky bled water

   the colour of rust


rushing down the drains,

      temporarily dousing


washing plants

and sidewalks





and ash



the night before school starts,

my hands are unsteady:

i slice my finger,

                  and fumble a glass






           what will be left

           of the world,

                     for you kids?


but say

       can you believe it?

       grade four,

                and grade nine!





the morning that school starts,

      my heart’s heavy-tired


summer combusted,


   all ember

                  and flame


brew virus,

      and drone strike,

felled copters from smoke-skies



there seemed almost nowhere

that death did not roam



running eager hands

            over all it ached for:

thin, trembling fingers


    as blond


                 as bone



koalas drank from plastic;

magpies echoed sirens;

kids cowered in the ocean,

              t-shirts snagging on piers



              is your hat in your bag?

cutting sandwich, diagonal

        do you remember where your new classroom is?


and a warm hand in mine,

              that seems smaller, somehow



                           at the school gates, i realise


                                             i am holding my breath

Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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