Is my favourite. Who flies
like a nothing through the night,
who-whoing. Is a feather
duster in leafy corners ring-a-rosy-ing
boles of mice. Twice

you hear him call. Who
is he looking for? You hear
him hoovering over the floor
of the wood. O would you be gold
rings in the driving skull

if you could? Hooded and
vulnerable by the winter suns
owl looks. Is the grain of bark
in the dark. Round beaks are at
work in the pellety nest,

working. Owl is an eye
in the barn. For a hole
in the trunk owl’s blood
is to blame. Black talons in the
petrified fur! Cold walnut hands

on the case of the brain! In the reign
of the chicken owl comes like
a god. Is a goad in
the rain to the pink eyes,
dripping. For a meal in the day

flew, killed, on the moor. Six
mouths are the seed of his
arc in the season. Torn meat
from the sky. Owl lives
by the claws of his brain. On the branch

in the sever of the hand’s
twigs owl is a backward look.
Flown wind in the skin. Fine
Rain in the bones. Owl breaks
Like the day. Am an owl, am an owl.

George MacBeth (1932 – 1992)
Illustration by Hua Tunan 

It’s too cold if anything

There’s a man out there trying to get into his car via the passenger side, but it’s locked. He’s rattling away at the door handle looking puzzled and peering through the window into the car interior.

Now he’s standing looking up and down the road. Then a woman appears, coming from the right at a fast pace and slowing down. She’s wearing everything in blue.

‘Where’d you get to?’

‘Around the corner.’

‘I’ve been waiting.’

‘Rubbish. Here’s the keys.’

There are two people wearing masks at the door but not coming in. Just looking through the glass, their faces side by side and close together. She says,

‘What a beautiful place.’ They do come in. She has beautiful leather shoes and a moss grey cardigan and a pink bag, which she abandons on the floor next to Vintage Classics, and he goes over to Art.

An old couple pass my door, going toward the bakery. She’s laughing the whole time. She can hardly breath for laughing. The sounds fade away, but soon they come back. He’s carrying a loaded cardboard tray. She’s laughing and puffing. She says, ‘

‘Not a day for getting married. Too cold if anything.’

He says, ‘What’s it matter?’

She laughs and laughs and has to hold onto the edge of my window. Then she rights herself and they continue on with linked arms.

Inside, the girl with the soft leather shoes has Dante and seems to be holding her breath.

Clear Night

Clear Night by Charles Wright

Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.

I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.

And the wind says ‘What?’ to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say
‘What?’ to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.

Artwork by Pascal Campion

How we say goodbye

People gather in the shop to talk, and then they leave again. They need to say goodbye to each other.

People gather on the footpath outside and talk about things. Then they need to leave each other again.

People talk on the phone: inside the shop and outside the door; they talk on their mobile phones and need, each time, to end the conversation.

People buy books and talk to me. Then they need to leave and say goodbye to me. It’s such a simple thing. But it isn’t simple – it’s complex, and the ways to bid another person farewell are endless. The ritual of saying goodbye is sculpted with tools as fine as needles in order to fit the situation.

A man outside the shop is pacing with – not an infant – but a phone. The phone is more demanding than any infant – and far less rewarding. The phone is hard and disinterested and alive only through one plastic airway. The man was tense, needing to share information with a listener who was not interested.

‘I’m actually the son of the deceased and – ‘

‘Yes, but that wasn’t done.’

‘It wasn’t done.’

‘Just leave it.’


‘Bye.’ The word ‘bye’ bruising the end of the conversation.

A child leaving behind her mother and three books under one arm. She turns to wave at me and to wave the way children do: the open hand going back and forth rapidly, level with the flower petal face, byyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeee: a ribbon of sound that ends on a note of hope and the child still looking back at me to see if I heard. I did.

Robert who gets to the door and remembers something and comes back and then leaves again, bobbing forward and backward, clutching the door, thinking about Carlos Castaneda, ‘Yes, ok, bye. Yes bye. Ok. Bye. Ha-ha, bye.’

A tradesman on a mobile at the kerb, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Ok mate. Yeahr. See ya. Fuckin idiot.’

Two ladies:

‘Bye Hilary.’

‘Bye my dearest. See you soon.’ And cardigans and pearls meet in a heartfelt.

Young women talking, intense, buttoning up coats and paying for books, ‘Thank you so much, bye‘, and there’s an emphasis on the ‘ye’, a tiny precise uplift in tone and volume to indicate energy because the day is not yet done.

School children in noisy clots on their way to Woolworths, ‘See ya idiot man.’

‘Stuff you Adam.’

And me, telling my mother, ‘Ok, see you later. I’ll see you tonight, mum.’

‘There’s no need to check on me.’

‘I’m not, mum. It’s fine. I’m coming to visit.’

‘Well, don’t if you’re busy.’

‘I’ll see you tonight.’ This phrase, this time, a code for everything said but not said.

Sculpture by Elizabeth Ostrander

A book is more than a verbal structure

“A book is more than a verbal structure or series of verbal structures; it is the dialogue it establishes with its reader and the intonation it imposes upon his voice and the changing and durable images it leaves in his memory. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.”
Jorge Luis Borges
Illustration by Francoise Amadieu

Mum came in and admired my shoes

It’s still raining. Mum came in with a chocolate cake and a bag of lemons, and said, ‘Well those shoes are bright indeed.’

I said I was sick of the rain, and she said a bit of rain doesn’t hurt. Then she went out again and over to Woolworths. It takes her a while to get across the road now. She doesn’t stop at the bakery: she doesn’t agree with their scone recipe.

Outside the door, a couple on pause and examining the window display:

‘I’ve never read that one.’

‘I got sick of it.’

A couple of teenage girls: ‘You never know what you’ll find in here. How good is that?’

There’s a fevered discussion going on about Netflix and Tom Hardy. Everyone is damp from the rain. Outside a horn blast across the road. An old man walking along our side calls out, ‘Ok. Just keep your shirt on, pal.’

An old lady paid for her books with an Apple watch, deft and efficient. Then it’s quiet again.

People pass the window: I hear them: footsteps on wet pavement and black moving shapes against the light. I think about it, what my eyes catch and interpret as a person. How the shapes erupt and then regroup when two people meet and pass each other. Then I see bright pink, a beanie, paper bags, a swinging a dog lead with no dog on the end, cars hissing wetly behind them.

In the afternoon, it becomes so quiet, I can hear the clock ticking on the wall next to me. Every now and again a blast of rain.  

Ian came in for Carol Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. Outside the sun came out brief and hot, and across the road a long line of people are standing in the buzzy sunlight. I go outside with my coffee and lean against the fence.

There are nine people and they need to cross the road. Five have walkers and one man has a walking stick. He is too far away. He’s going the wrong way. A lady yells, ‘Get Pops back.’

A young man jogs down to Pops and manoeuvres him across the road, his arm curved protectively around the old man’s back. Rain again, but the sunlight remains, flicking the air with gold and briefly turning the shower into cascading tiny bubbles of light.

The other people are still lined up on the kerb, all talking to each other as they look first one way, then the other and then pausing again to say something to each other.

A man passes me with coffee, and says, ‘That looks like an event trying to happen.’

But they are off, crossing slowly and all in a line. A ute slows and then stops.

They are nearly to the kerb. They are at the kerb and turning toward the bakery, and I have to go back inside. The sunlight is gone. There’s a couple inside waiting for me and one is saying to the other, ‘That history book there, the big one, you can get that for me.’ And he answers, ‘What on earth you want that for?’ And she says to me, ‘My God, great boots.’


“The thought of these vast stacks of books would drive him mad: the more he read, the less he seemed to know — the greater the number of the books he read, the greater the immense uncountable number of those which he could never read would seem to be…. The thought that other books were waiting for him tore at his heart forever.”

Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River: A Legend of Man’s Hunger in His Youth
Illustration by Megan Berkheiser

The Queen died

We got the news Wednesday, and everyone wanted to talk about it. Or at least mention it. And it was cold and raining again. Christine stopped her gopher at the door and yelled ‘Did you hear?’, and I said I had. She mimicked herself crying and then zoomed on toward the bakery.

Alan had a dilemma with the bakeries: he wanted a pasty and a piece of pavlova and didn’t know which bakery to go to.

‘I don’t want any bakery to see me go into the other bakery.’

‘The Queen has died.’ I said, a bit unnecessarily.

‘Oh God, Sarah will be in a shit now.’

‘She’s bearing up well.’

‘No she won’t. Well I’m going for my pastie. Need a feed.’

But Sarah did bear up well. The Queen had died on her birthday, but she’d already stopped by to tell me that, and to pick up a Sir Alec Guinness biography. She added that the Queen dying on her birthday was an omen of some kind. Robert was here too, disappointed because his order, The Lost Book of Enki, still hadn’t arrived.

He and Sarah stood back to discuss things.

A customer asked me for Mukiwa by Peter Godwin. I didn’t have it. Sarah told Robert that she didn’t hold with that women, Camilla.

Robert said that his family, the Grimshaws, extend directly back to King Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and that one day there would be a reckoning for his execution, which never should have happened.

Sarah looked enthralled.

A couple bought a stack of Ben Elton books.

Liz came in for A Fortunate Life and said, ‘Isn’t it awful about the Queen.’

Sarah said that she didn’t think that Charles was in good health.

Robert said he threw the oracle last night and the cards said that Charles would soon succumb to gout, which got all of them in the end.

Anne came in for her cookbook and for tickets to St Andrews on Sunday. A lady came in and bought The Handmaid’s Tale for her sister in hospital. They said that it was sad about the Queen.

Then Robert had to go and reckon with the bank, who were deliberately trying to erase him from their system.

Sarah went to Woolworths.

Still raining.

Painting by Karin Jurick


“When light shines on a leaf, or a daub of paint, or a lump of butter, it actually causes it to rearrange its electrons, in a process called “transition.” There the electrons are, floating quietly in clouds within their atoms, and suddenly a ray of light shines on them. Imagine a soprano singing a high C and shattering a wineglass, because she catches its natural vibration. Something similar happens with the electrons, if a portion of the light happens to catch their natural vibration. It shoots them to another energy level and that relevant bit of light, that glass-shattering “note,” is used up and absorbed. The rest is reflected out, and our brains read it as “color.”

The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something “being” a color but of it “doing” a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing, the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe – in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the “red” tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance – absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.”

Victoria Finlay, Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Photograph by Polly Castor

At a market in Darwin

My first time in Darwin: like a dream. Heat, light, rain: we breathed it in. It was hard to breathe. Then we had to come home again. Everything was different there.

At Mindil Beach, people were soft and relaxed. The market was busy. There was every kind of food. We couldn’t choose.

My grandson climbed into a tree with a trunk like an office block. Twisted roots hung from gigantic heights like tropical thighs: he scrambled and climbed, and soon two more children joined him, clambering in the heat and the extraordinary light. I wondered out loud: is it an avocado tree? A child answered me seriously: no, it’s not avocado. It’s a lemon tree. The other child said, ‘It’s a tree tree’. I walked the tree’s perimeter. There were empty wine bottles in the sand underneath. The little girls were called to family. My grandson was called down. He came, bouncing through green worlds.

Live music: the singer absorbed and passionate, apologising because she was so happy. She sang with closed eyes, leaning into the heat of the evening. We all sat about on the grass eating. Behind the singer, another performer setting up.

Amongst the market tents, so much food, coffee, soap, jewellery, clothing, my grandson got a small metal hovercraft. Music. The stall holders gossiping in tight warm knots between tents.

‘That’s not what they said last week.’

‘I know mate. It’s bullshit.’

We walked without a plan. I, myself, want to live here. But everywhere I go, I want to live there.

An Uber driver started before I was properly in the car. He said, ‘I’m so sorry madam.’

In the foyer hotel we were offered a complimentary drink. There was cold water, fruit juice, soft drinks, beer, red and white wine. I selected a frosty bottle of white wine and cradled it to the lift. A group in the foyer were about to complain. The wife told her husband he could have a complimentary beer. He subsided.

‘Geoff, do you want a beer?’

‘Well. All right. If there is one. All right then. I will. Why not.’

One morning, we went to a market. Food, coffee, fruit, vegetables, crystals, everything in dense warm quantities. A lady shopping in a bikinis and bare feet and a gentle crocheted shawl against the rain.  And it’s raining.  I saw a mountain of bananas. The stallholder with earphones was dancing delicately behind his stall. I should like to live here.

We stood with coffee. A young woman passed us, talking straight into a video call. I saw briefly on the screen, a face. It was a loud conversation. We only heard her side of it.

‘Have you just woken up?’

‘Who’s that with you?’

‘Did they stay?’

‘Are you sleeping together?’

‘Fuck you Damien.’

It’s so hot here. We’ve been cold for some time in South Australia. From our hotel one morning, it rained and rained. I filmed it on my phone as if the sound of rain was new to me. It isn’t. But intensely hot rain: that is new to me. I want to live here.

Up on the top floor, the hotel sunset bar: open from 3pm and with free canapes for all the guests. We rush up in the lift at 3.30 to try the canapes: square bowls of twisties, cheezels, pretzels, a beetroot dip with no spoon, corn chips, a tray of sweating cheese slices, a bowl of fuzzy lollies. A hot metal bath of saveloys.

People approached the buffet with delight. Some still have their bathers on, fresh and relaxed from the hotel pool.

‘Oh, you’ll like this. These little sausages.’

‘Too right.’

A man piled cheezels into a bowl and added tomato sauce. He carried it over to the pool table and his mates rushed over for the same. A man at a little outside table stacked cheese slices and ate them folded into small squares. A bottle of beer sat cold and ready, happy to wait for the good folded cheese. His companion, in a smart suit, drank red wine, and in front of him, a plate of humble saveloys.

The staff rushed, for they were understaffed. They apologised. They rushed to make it nice for us. Diners kept arriving, gazing rapt at the buffet, piling plates and sitting outside to enjoy the view: this is most of Darwin city and the horizon, a jewel at any time. And then the sun goes down in a blaze of arrogant light, stripping and taking with it any values you’ve held right up to that point.

I sampled the joy of the diners as they passed me with saveloys and corn chips and decided that I too was joyful. A waiter settled margaritas in front of a group of women who clutched each other’s hands, thanking him, and him smiling and rushing for the next order.

My grandson passed me with a bowl of furry lollies, his face a lit lamp. He left the tongs on the floor. Happiness: obviously what we allow.