Nathan Curnow lives in Ballarat and writes poetry, plays and short fiction. His work features in Best Australian Poems 2008, 2010 and 2013 (Black Inc) and has won a number of awards including the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize. His book The Ghost Poetry Project (Puncher and Wattmann) was named by Cate Kennedy as a ‘best read’ of 2009 and his most recent collection, RADAR, is available through Walleah Press. As a spoken word performer he has featured at many festivals across the country and been heard widely on ABC, Triple J and Radio NZ.
His website is nathancurnow.weebly.com
Before mum finally accepted chemo,
she served us ‘vegan steak’.
She had tried vitamins and oils,
from pamphlets with
an Eastern perspective.
The clot stared at us
with broccoli eyes,
potato and tofu
the unwilling mortar.
She called it ‘steak’ to make it easier for us.
We ate it to make it easier for her.
what does death look like? is it a triangle?
Our children have started asking us questions about death. We talk with them over
breakfast about Jesus and Heaven, careful to introduce the subjects with the words,
some people think. My natural reaction has been to explain what life is, but that’s
been just as difficult. If someone asked if I was really living could I be sure that I was
and what if there were two moons fighting for the tide?
I sit on the beach and watch my daughters chase the surf into the ocean. The waves
stretch up and they come running back, desperate to save their toes. I wonder if this is
their way of coming to terms with the horizon, how they problem-solve space and
time. Life’s push and pull so unrelenting, they think to treat it like a game.
if the heart is a muscle… can you stretch it?
There are break-rocks at the bottom of the cliffs at the place where the beach ends.
I’ve been staring at them each time I come down but have resisted the urge to visit.
Some people I know can’t sit on a beach until they’ve walked it back and forth. My
friend, Lewis, walks it every night to avoid a second heart bypass.
who collects the dead penguins off the beach?
My eldest daughter and I discover the bodies of six fairy penguins as we walk along
the shore. They are entangled in weed, lying vulnerable to dogs, look like infants
thrown from the wreckage. I tell her that the tide will pick them up and mutter
something of the working moon. I guess some people think: Jesus.
what does radar mean? do all of us have one for home?
Leaving her on the beach, I climb to the top of the break-rocks and notice a small path
beyond. It disappears between the bushes, below pigeons in the cliff face that stare
out at whoever comes. I climb down, and then we both turn back, sometimes we
string out along the sand, as if we calmly have to practice that moment when we’ll
I pack my bag, then you pack it for me, finding room
for the script, a tub of Weeties. You produce booking sheets,
reservations, assure me you’ll check the emails. A week
with the kids isn’t much. Don’t over-thank the actors.
Sell yourself. It’s your play, you’ve worked hard for this.
You stand them in a line on the edge of the tarmac,
then tell them when to wave. Rehearsals are always
painful to watch, and taxiing out in this light
aircraft, I imagine what threatens us. Not the temperament
that comes with a writing career—nerves, forgetfulness,
peculiar obsessions—but the separations we endure
to launch it. Every bland hotel room makes me think
of home. I wonder if that’s how you choose them.
I eat Weeties for dinner, read over the script and wait
to meet the director who’s changed it. I swallow praise
from actors, then dish some out, trying to think
of something honest—you, putting the kids to bed,
texting me goodnight. I flog my new projects, my self-
respect, anything to pay you back. It’s not the burdens
you choose to accept, more the ones you don’t,
the line you maintain between, you’ve done your best,
and jeez, get over it. Somehow by this rehearsing
we carved a writing life, although I never asked
if you wanted one. Never thought it would take off.
You pick me up from the airport, the car full of kids,
we continue this strange becoming. I bore you to tears
with my latest news. You ask if I’ve been writing.
My sincere thanks to Nathan for allowing me to republish these wonderful poems on here.