It’s World Poetry Day, and it’s snowing in New York, so I thought I would take some time to reflect on the stunning madness that has been the month of March.
I am swimming in a dream, both a boy and a man. The boy is watching Home Alone 2. The boy is watching snowy New York and dreaming of the day he might get to experience it. The man is in an apartment in Brooklyn, watching white flurries fall out the window, and flexing his aching feet against the floorboards, part-regretting the cold soaking they got earlier from the reality of snow, part-loving it. This is one dimension of the dream, but not all of it. The rest is simple: I am here as a poet.
The other day, as I walked along the river with a friend–another poet–I received word my book These Wild Houses had been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Last night I learned I am also on the shortlist for the Red Room Poetry Fellowship. I waver often between cynicism and deep joy. I’ve been shortlisted for eight prizes now, six for individual works, two for my book. You don’t receive any money for being shortlisted, only an intangible extra amount of recognition, which fades quickly, remaining only as bio-fodder. I want to shout about it and I want to laugh.
It feels strange, in the aftermath, to wear not-winning something as a badge of pride. Still, I was born and raised in Liverpool, NSW and so, to receive even this small nod from my home state feels precious. Four of the six shortlisted poets are poets of colour, and this, more than anything else, moves me toward joy. I can only hope this is a sign of lasting change taking place. Another good thing that came about this month: the Sydney Writers Festival program was just announced, and I am taking part in it for the first time, in a number of events.
This is the final week of my stay in the US. I’ve been here for nearly three months, and three months away from the woman I love feels like an eternity. Prior to our connection, I hadn’t ever fully believed in love. I certainly had never experienced it. It, too, was a strange dream. Now I find myself completely unprepared for its reality, the need, ever-present, to be in her company, to hear her breathing (snoring, blessed) as I sleep and wake, to feel her warmth near mine, to be immersed in our togetherness. Trying to bridge the distance of the ocean is like trying to fly a paper plane across the Grand Canyon, an exercise in extraordinary cruelty, asking the air for an impossibility. Always the absence waits.
We have strategies: we text, we Snapchat, we Skype, we write letters, we have movie dates watching Netflix together. In this way we pop into each other’s day, simulate presence in flurries of self. It might even have worked, if we didn’t already know the totality of love when we’re in each other’s arms. Now, insha’allah, we are only days away from knowing it again, having to tear away the tiny false dreams we’ve worn and confront the hurt being apart caused. I am days away from returning to Australia, to the house I grew up in, my aunty’s housing commission in Casula, where memories choke every minute. Here is another strangeness: being ‘successful’ in my career while technically living again where I started. I am days away from another flight where I will have to confront again my father’s death.
Each time I’ve gone into the sky since he passed away last year I shake, and I weep, and I feel his hands around my heart, his big beautiful hands, and the pain of it is beyond any language I know.
People think I have been avoiding flying because of my phobia, my fear of heights, but this is only part of the truth. I’m not ready to see him again or to know that grieving touch. I have some distractions between now and the inevitable: a feature reading at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a reading in Brooklyn with two poets I admire, Mahogany L. Browne and R. A. Villanueva. I can focus on that for now, and the anticipation of seeing my love when I get home. Everything between those glittering lights I close my eyes to, the same way you do, reader.
Outside snow is still falling like a dream. Honestly, it’s beautiful.