Ana Maria Gomides: ‘Cantar’

Ana Maria Gomides reading ‘Cantar’

When I write from Narrm or Birraranga where sovereignty was never ceded, I do so as an uninvited guest, a settler. My own Blackness and Indigeneity doesn’t change this fact. So, I offer my respects to the elders of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, past, present and emerging—on whose unceded land this piece was written—and to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander folks encountering my work.

CW: This story contains mentions of suicide and mental illnesses.

Five-year-old me is scowling at whoever took the photo, fazendo um bico worthy of an Oscar. The left side of my face is twice its size, with three big blots of raw flesh exposed, purple bruises already forming under my eyes. While they were freakishly large back then, in the picture they are tiny and puffy from all the crying—the rapid swelling swallowing all my features like quicksand.

Mamãe is sitting to my right, tending to my wounds. Her mouth is wide open, all of her teeth on display, eyes watery with glee. She’s laughing.

The photo itself is ‘90s-terrible. You can see the ceiling but not our feet, and the flash’s turned our brown skin nearly paper-white. The camera was always loaded with film in case something deemed worthy of recording happened.

“Dalila! João Pedro! Pega a máquina!”

We rarely actually found the thing in time, and I’m not sure who decided this particular moment should be immortalised, but the photo exists.

I can hear my mãe’s laughter when I look at it, as well as that fucking Gonzaguinha song she’d suddenly bellow out in the most morbid of occasions.

“Viverrr, e não ter a vergonha de ser feliz-

Her voice is far from angelic, but it was the words that infuriated me. What exactly were we supposed to be so unashamedly happy about?

“Mãa-ãaaae! Paa-raa!” I’d beg.

As a kid, o bico would come out whenever I looked at the picture. The little recollection I have of the accident is absolutely cinematic. Watching a bush of purple flowers go by as my face dragged on the asphalt in slow motion. The sound of my own guttural screaming. A handsome stranger delivering me to our front door in his arms.

Needless to say, I was quite the dramatic child—perhaps a side effect of growing up watching too many novelas. But I got hurt pretty bad that night, so why was my mãe laughing?

*

If I was a dramatic child, it was nothing compared to the emotional monster I became once I hit puberty. At the peak of my teen angst, Mamãe decided it was time to recruit professional help. The GP waved away my symptoms lazily. A sixteen-year-old girl with feelings she couldn’t control?

“Must be all the hormones.”

He sent us off with a script for the pill, reassuring my apprehensive mãe that it would take care of my mood swings.

No matter the emotion, I was always more prone to crying than anything else. Grades below an A+? Crying. An unrequited crush? Crying. Terrible haircuts (and they were always terrible)? Crying. Insomnia, fights with friends, first kisses, brand new pimples, A Walk to Remember featuring the incomparable Mandy Moore? Crying, crying, crying.

My mother’s response? Laughter, then,

“Viverrrr, e não ter a vergonha de ser feliz-”

*

After my first suicide attempt, I learned that being dramatic had little to do with novelas or hormones. Turns out it was a whole lot of trauma. Trauma that my brain had been trying to bury deep down in its secret chambers in an attempt to protect me.

The more I remembered, the worse the symptoms became. I couldn’t sleep until I could do nothing but sleep. I became afraid of people and, eventually, of the outside world. The mere idea of leaving my tiny apartment sent me into fits of panic. Though I began remembering things from my past, I’d lose whole chunks of my day to day life. I was losing control of the things my mind and body did. So, at nineteen, I tried to die.

Mamãe was eerily quiet that day. I couldn’t speak through the plastic tube in my mouth, so I tried to will her into singing that fucking Gonzaguinha song that used to make me so angry I’d cry, by doing so in my head.

Viver-

 I wanted so badly for the sound of her laughter to break through the repetitive beeping of the hospital machines.

I must’ve written thousands of words about my mãe’s laughter since then—there’s no sound in the world more beautiful to me. It’s loud, uninhibited, contagious, delicious.

She didn’t laugh or sing when it happened again when I was twenty-two. Or when I was twenty-four. She didn’t laugh or sing when it happened again four months ago.  

*

My irmã also used to get upset looking at the photo. Uncaptured was Mamãe’s immediate shock reaction. Dalila and the downstairs neighbour used to give us little sisters dinky rides on their bikes, even though—or maybe because—they were explicitly told not to. I was on the handlebars of Marcela’s bicycle when the thing decided to fool the laws of physics by stopping and turning itself upside down. Bike on top of Marcela, Marcela on top of me.

 When the handsome stranger delivered us to the door, apparently our mãe took Dalila into the kitchen, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, hard.

“Eu não falei!? Eu não falei!?”

Mamãe doesn’t like looking at the photo either, ashamed at the recollection of that brief moment of mild violence towards her filha.  

But she still does it, the laughing and singing in the most morbid of occasions. Like, when she asks me how I am over the phone, even though she knows I’m having a rough time. Mamãe will catch her own insensitivity and laugh.

“Horrivel né!” she’ll say. Then she bellows out the song.

I don’t protest anymore. You see, it was only recently that I listened to the words that follow those two lines. I’ve come to understand that—though her voice is far from angelic—my mãe’s singing is a prayer. 

*

When I was a kid, I started getting these sharp pains in my heart that made it very difficult to breathe. The only way to inhale was to make my tiny hands into fists and press them down hard against my concave chest. After thoroughly examining me, Mamãe’s cardiologist friend concluded,

“Não é nada sério, só ansiedade mesmo.” It was the first time I heard those words being used to describe me.

My mãe, of course, laughed, threw her hands up in the air and said,

“Ansiedade? Mas ela tem oito anos de idade! Ansiosa com o que?”

The irony that she was a psychologist who spent much of her time treating children doesn’t escape me. I think she was just relieved that there was nothing physically wrong with me.

Nothing serious. Just anxiety.

Twenty years later and I still hear those words constantly—from general practitioners, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, cardiologists, physiotherapists, teachers, friends, family, complete strangers, gynaecologists, social workers, ICU doctors, urologists, dentists, ultrasound technicians-

Every year or so, I get a new fancy word or acronym to go with it. I’m pretty much just collecting DSM definitions at this point—so many diagnoses.

*

I do cry less these days, thanks to the cocktail of antidepressants, mood stabilisers and tranquilisers they’ve got me on.

It’s an uncomfortable, achy feeling, not being able to cry. Kind of like being constipated. I can feel it there, stuck in the back of my face for days at a time. The chest pains never went away either, so I still have to curl my hands into fists, press them down hard where my heart is, just so I can breathe.

And because I can’t cry, like my mãe, I try to laugh. Loudly, unashamedly.

Every once in a while, I even catch myself bellowing out our prayer.

Viver
E não ter a vergonha de ser feliz
Cantar e cantar e cantar
A beleza de ser um eterno aprendiz
Ah, meu Deus, eu sei (eu sei)
Que a vida devia ser bem melhor e será
Mas isso não impede que eu repita
É bonita, é bonita, e é bonita

Glossary (new page)


Ana Maria Gomides is an Afro-Brasileira goddess, a chronically ill warrior princess, a queer icon, and a low key bruxa, so watch yourself. She was blessed by the ancestors with the perfect booty, but was once described as “dancing like a Brown girl who grew up with no friends.” Moral of the story being, you can’t have it all.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Ana Maria Gomides: ‘Cantar’ Glossary

cantar: to sing

fazendo um bico: making a beak, a colloquial expression for pouting.

Mamãe: affectionate term for mother.

“Pega a máquina!”: “Get the camera!”

mãe: mother

“Viverrr, e não ter a vergonha de ser feliz-”: “To live, and not be ashamed of being happy-”

“Paa-raa!”: “Stop!”

novelas: the equivalent of soap operas in Brasil, but far more dramatic and therefore better.

irmã: sister

“Eu não falei!?”: “Didn’t I tell you!?”

filha: daughter

“Horrivel né!?”: “Horrible, right!?”

“Não é nada sério, só ansiedade mesmo,”: “It’s nothing serious, just anxiety,”

“Ansiedade? Mas ela tem oito anos de idade! Ansiosa com o que?”: “Anxiety? But she’s eight years old! Anxious about what?”

Viver
E não ter a vergonha de ser feliz
Cantar e cantar e cantar
A beleza de ser um eterno aprendiz

To live
And not be ashamed of being happy
To sing and to sing and to sing
The beauty of being an eternal student
Ah, meu Deus, eu sei (eu sei)
Que a vida devia ser bem melhor e será
Mas isso não impede que eu repita
É bonita, é bonita e é bonita

My God, I know (I know)
That life should be much better and it will be
But this doesn’t stop me from repeating
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful

Coco Huang: ‘Tongueless’

Coco Huang reading ‘Tongueless’

My first tongue I ate myself,

swallowed with 苦泪 

when I said the sky was green, not b(绿)

and they laughed first, then kicked

 

the moon

has bruises too, 你看 – 

one from hair too short for braids

two from eyes like slits in dough

–and yet it glows,

多么美丽


if only I were as brave

if only I were as pretty

 

new tongues grow like duckweed

innocuous leaves buoyant, while

sucking roots sip from the deep


how sweetly他 slips to “he”     | 我 slips to “me”

 

no thanks to my poor gardening

I speak with a stump,

blunt-axed syllabic swings

inflected with self-loathing


why should I speak, when

silence sounds wiser?
.


.


.


eins, zwei, drei

in the silence, I sow and reap

ein Zweig wächst dabei

I coax new tongues to speak

io posso, voglio, devo

but borrowing bears bitter fruit

 

my tongue is a stranger

a stranger in each tongue; 

wǒ zì jǐ yě bù míng bái


Glossary and Transliterations

Chinese

苦泪 – kǔ lèi: bitter tears
绿 – lǜ: green
你看 – nǐ kàn: look
多么美丽 – duō me měi lì: how beautiful it is
– tā: he
– wǒ: I/me
wǒ zì jǐ yě bù míng bái – I don’t understand (it) myself

German

eins, zwei, drei: one, two three
ein Zweig wächst dabei: a branch grows (meanwhile)

Italian

io posso, voglio, devo – I can, I want to, I must


Coco X. Huang is a Chinese-Australian writer, musician and scientist. She enjoys reading and writing experimental fiction and poetry and her work has most recently appeared in The Lifted Brow, ARNA, and Hermes. She was a participant in the Citizen Writes Project 2019 and received a 2020 Faber Writing Academy Scholarship. She tweets @cocoxhuang.

Marina Sano Litchfield: ‘Three’

Marina Sano Litchfield reading ‘Three’

I know the evergreen comfort of warm humidity
A white Christmas and rolling a decorative snowman
A cold July, brisk ocean winds whipping by

Aussie Aussie Aussie オイオイ,
オイでMerlion へ、
I want to show you my childhood

Don’t feed the macaques
What’s a kangaroo warning?
Wave as the neighbourhood kids march by

Two by two, two by two
ランドセルと黄色い帽子
みんな手繋ぐ

Parliament casts out dual citizens
I grip my passports tightly, protect
My equatorial home

It’s her birthday
I hope it’s better for you
She babbles happily

고모


Glossary

オイオイ: phonetic “oi oi” [Japanese]
オイでMerlion へ、: (roughly) to the Merlion [Japanese + English]
** オイで : is a pun on the Japanese ‘come here’ (oide)
ランドセルと黄色い帽子: school backpacks and yellow hats [Japanese]
みんな手繋ぐ: everyone hold hands [Japanese]
고모: aunty (on the brother’s side) [Korean]

Pronunciation guide
オイオイ: phonetic “oi oi” [Japanese]
オイでMerlion へ、: oide Merlion e [Japanese + English]
ランドセルと黄色い帽子: randoseru to kiiroi boushi
みんな手繋ぐ: minna te tsunagu
고모: gomo


Marina Sano Litchfield is a Japanese and Australian writer. Raised in Singapore, she moved to Melbourne when entering university. Her writing reflects ideas of being in-between cultures and people, with a passion to expand the range of experiences that we see represented in print and the media.

Gabriella Munoz: ‘Madre Migrante’

Gabriella Munoz reading ‘Madre Migrante’

Migrant mother
sola no estás
el espíritu de las madres migrantes que lo hicieron antes te acompaña

Their worn-out hands hold yours
when you push the pram until he sleeps
and your legs hurt
They hold your back when you feel faint
because they’ve singled out your child
{otra vez}

Migrant mother
your womb will heal again
It will grow another child
y tus hijos crecerán sanos
{sin miedo}

But the heartache for your country won’t disappear,
it will steady your course

Cuando crezcas mijo
Remember your mother
Sin su madre, sin su tía
Sin su abuela, sin su hermana
Sola
Speak her language
Eat her food
Embrace her on Sundays
When she looks at the horizon looking for her mother’s arms
And their warmth
And how she longs for you to be held by that woman
she has told you about

Migrant mother
no estás sola
los domingos ellas
look at the horizon too
They feel your pain
y tu preocupación
por ver a tus hijos así
{sin abuelos, sin pasado entero, sin domingos familiares}

Migrant mother
the healing balm that Sunday’s dusk brings
comes from migrant mothers’ tears
and their strength

Juntas

Solas

Cansadas

Hermanas

Migrantes

Madres

Enteras


 

Glossary
Sola (‘so.la ): alone
Espíritu (ɛs.pi.ˈɾi.tu): soul, the non-physical part of the person
Madres (ˈma.ðɾes̬): mothers
Migrantes (mi.ˈɣɾãn̪.tes): migrant
Hijos (ˈi.xos): children
Crecerán (kre ‘θe ran): will grow
Miedo (‘mje ðo): fear
Mijo (‘mi xo): similar to kiddo, an endearing term that combines the words “mi” (my) and “hijo” (son). Female: mija.
Sin (‘sim): without
Tia (‘tja): aunt
Abuela (a ‘βwe la): grandmother
Hermana (er’ma na): sister
Ellas ( ‘e λas): they
Tu (tw): yours
Pasado (pa ‘sa ðo): past
Entero (eN ‘te ro): whole, unbroken
Juntas (‘xuN tas): together
Cansadas ( kan ‘sa ðas): tired, fatigued
Domingos (do ‘miŋ gos): Sundays
Familiares (fa mi ‘lja res): family (used as an adjective, family Sundays)
Abuelos (a ‘βwe los): grandparents


Gabriella Munoz is Mexican-Australian writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her work has been published in Mascara Literary Review, Eureka Street, Djed Press, The Victorian Writer and many other places. She’s a 2019 Hot Desk Fellow and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Nadia Rhook: ‘a father tongue’

Nadia Rhook reading ‘a father tongue’

on father’s day we go
to the local Italian restaurant

surrounded by families, mineral water,
and gorgonzola gnocci we speculate

will you be fluent en Español, nuestra niño? hay no

I try to ask you this in Castellano but I
don’t remember the word for ‘fluid’

perfectamente? fluido?

you tell me in the language of love and invasion and uncertainty you’re
not sure if that’s the right word. it’s not familiar. flu – ee – do

the promise of the tongue’s invisible labour, the mind’s reach for the meanings folded
away somewhere in the frontal lobe, that crinkly squishy place between mouth and memory

spreading now, like breath, to fill the space between bites we begin to argue over who’ll
do the work, and make promises in the language of a law and invasion and certainty

I will learn new lullabies, arrorró mi niño, arrorró mi
amor, arrorró pedazo de mi corazón

and you? will unfurl your mother
tongue para tener una lengua nueva


Glossary (new page)


Nadia Rhook is a white settler historian, educator, and poet, currently lecturing history at the University of Western Australia, on Whadjuk Noongar land.  Her background in ESL teaching has inspired much of her historical work on the politics of language, including the 2016 heritage exhibition ‘Moving Tongues : language and migration in 1890s Melbourne’. Her poems appear in various publications, and her first poetry monograph, ‘boots’, is forthcoming with UWAP in February 2020.

Nadia Rhook: ‘a father tongue’ Glossary

Pronunication guide :

Castellano -> Cas-te-sha-no

Spanish-English Translations :

en Español, nuestra nino? hay no: in Spanish, our baby? or not

arrorró mi niño/ arrorró mi amor/ arrorró pedazo de mi corazón: hush-a-bye my baby/ hush-a-bye my love/hush-a-bye oh piece of my heart

para tener una lengua neuva: to father a new tongue ( with feminine adjective and noun ) or to have a new tongue  ( literal translation )

Hessom Razavi: Pantoum – ‘First Date, First تعارف’

Hessom Razavi reading Pantoum – ‘First Date, First تعارف’

A table set, wobbles chocked with smiles,
courtesy a floral rug over shyness,
yearning liquid and stirring like umber chai
tapped from the قول قول of the samovar.

Her courtesy a لوری rug over innocence
as basmati arrives, white-gold with saffron,
tap-tap of rain outside, قول قول of a samovar,
appetites fleshy as kebabs, butter dripping

on basmati, saffroned, jeweled with barberries
and plump tomato skirts, grilled red-black,
appetites long as skewers, butter dripped,
slipped between glances and crunchy lavash.

Along plump tomato skirts charred red-black
comes تعارف: her polite decline, a moment
in between glances and crunchy lavash
when she excuses herself to the ladies’.

Enter تعارف, her polite decline, a moment’s
absence that leaves him alone with two meals;
her return from the ladies’ met with excuses,
two empty platters and his sheepish grin.

An absence, a lone man and a swiped meal;
outside, spring rains sweep in, flush laneways,
rinse two empty plates, his sheepish grin and her
polite smile a لوری throw over hollow bowels.

Spring rains sweep the village, fill the lanes
and tulip fields, downpour sweet enough
for تعارف  to forgive rumbling bowels,
for fondness to float up in the canals.

Tulip fields shake, drenched enough to ripple
in circles around the kebab house,
their fondness afloat in flooded canals,
valley ululating with tongues of red tulips.


Glossary

قول قول – ghul-ghul: bubbling, simmering (onomatopoeic).
لوری – Lori: from or pertaining to Lorestan Province; renowned for its tulip fields.
تعارف – ta’arof: complex form of Persian civility; can involve denying one’s real will, in deference to others; occasional source of unspoken desires, misunderstandings and comedy.


Hessom Razavi is a doctor and writer, born in Iran in 1976.  He was raised in Tehran and Karachi, speaking Farsi and Urdu, before migrating to the UK and then Australia.

His publication credits include Australian Poetry Journal, Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, Newcastle Poetry Prize and Best Australian Poems 2016.  In 2019 Hessom received the inaugural Behrouz Boochani Fellowship from Australian Book Review and the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness.

Lesh Karan: ‘Our Mango Tree’

Lesh Karan reading ‘Our Mango Tree’

My maan, baap, bhaee and bahan, and I crammed under the double bed that belonged to my sister and me. We had dragged blankets and pillows with us to buffer the concrete floor. Outside gale-force winds were howling and whirling at unfathomable speeds. Inside we tried to be louder with our cyclical chanting of Hare Rama, entreating a greater force to intercede.

After what seemed like ghante, but actually were minutes, the winds died down. We crawled out to assess the aftermath. Standing in an eerie vacuum, my dil paused for an indeterminable period, while my presence fled into yaadash.

The tree’s trunk fits snugly into our three-kid hug. My siblings and I climb her almost daily. We sit in her lap – like that of goddess Shakti’s – and dangle off her limbs.

Each season, she is endowed and generous with her gifts, which we appreciate whether unripe or juicy.  The unripe ones we peel and slice into batons with a paring knife, and toss with mirch and namak, salivating with anticipation. We pick baltee-fuls, too, and sit with mum, halving, pitting and drying the fruit in the tropical sun, to be spiced and salted into mum’s infamous achaar.

The ripe aam we pluck and smoosh into our mouths. The pulp decorates our cheeks and chins, while the russ dribbles down our wrists into the nooks of our elbows. We use our daant to clamp onto the skin that we peeled off with our ungaliyaan – then pull at it, teeth scraping off the filaments.

Our tree bears more phal than our greed can handle. A bounty remains, turning blush-golden and juicy over weeks, some with dark spots on their skin, which join if we don’t get to them fast enough. We can never get to all the pukka ones in time, but risk julaab trying.

When we are not on the tree, we are under her. Her branches spread vast, partially shading our tin ghar and almost all our front yard. My father, a mechanical engineer, built his fishing boat with his haath in the cool of her shadow. He laboured over months, sanding the hull and applying fibreglass with slow, rhythmic strokes, like an extended pooja asking for her protection when he’s at sea.

Of her one-hundred-plus years on the planet, hamaare aam ka ped lived with us for five. In January 1985 she withstood cyclone Eric but was spliced lengthways by cyclone Nigel three days later.  

To this day I believe our tree heard our incantations as she descended towards the house and came to lie on either side, protecting her parivaar in the cradle of her halves.


Glossary

maan, baap, bhaee and bahan: mother, father, brother and sister
Hare Rama: Hindu chant/prayer
ghante: hours
dil: heart
yaadash: remembering / memory
Shakti: a Hindu goddess; shakti also means power
mirch: chilli
namak: salt
baltee: bucket
achaar: pickle
aam: mango
russ: juice/nectar
daant: teeth
ungaliyaan: fingers
phal: fruit
pukka: ripe
julaab: diarrhoea
ghar: house
haath: hands
pooja: prayer
hamaare aam ka ped: our mango tree
parivaar: family


Lesh Karan was born in Fiji, has Indian genes and lives in Melbourne. She has worked as a pharmacist, medical writer and digital content specialist, but fancies herself as a creative writer and poet. Lesh wrote her first poem in May 2018. Her poetry has been published in the Australian Multilingual Writing Project and Cordite Poetry Review.

 

Felicity Yiran Smith: ‘Winter’

Felicity Yiran Smith reading ‘Winter’

那年的冬天,
My bird died.
My first death,
虽那么微不足道.
I buried her tiny frame under the snow,
the barren trees vigil in the garden.

春天的石榴花格外灿烂.

Sometimes,
我依然惦记着
the clear and green sound of
那只鸟的歌谣.
So I cup blossoms in cold hands,
剥去冬天的泪痕,
Listen,
天下的一切都
叽叽喳喳的唱出
their thirst for summer.


Glossary and Transliteration

那年的冬天 (na nian de dong tian): that year’s winter
虽那么微不足道 (sui na me wei bu zu dao): even though it was so insignificant
春天的石榴花格外灿烂 (chun tian de shi liu hua ge wai can lan): the pomegranate flowers in spring were especially brilliant
我依然惦记着 (wo yi ran dian ji zhe): I still reminisce about
那只鸟的歌谣 (na zhi niao de ge yao): that bird’s song
剥去冬天的泪痕 (bo qu dong tian de lei hen): peel away winter’s tear tracks
天下的一切都 (tian xia de yi qie dou): everything under the sky all
叽叽喳喳的唱出 (ji ji zha zha de chang chu): noisily sing out


Felicity Yiran Smith is a current student of Creative Writing and Ancient History at the University of Melbourne. Born to an Australian father and Chinese mother, she enjoys writing in both languages as part of exploring her racial identity.