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Poetry | Shell

1.

Life is measured by the people who will miss you
before you are gone. The depreciation of the spirit
starts the moment you withdraw from the fight.
Flesh is not always willing it is not always weak.
My body is revolting against the notion of keeping up appearances,
I buy a black vinyl jacket in the name of art.
The doctor looks me in the eye and asks about intention:
I think about the voices within
the deconstructed house next door
everything exposed to the elements, fenced off
and repossessed. There are demons that ask too much.
I could hang there, rafters and no ceiling, a cliché
waiting to see the sky above as an act of self-love.
Your last breath is still a living breath, the TV told me this.
I am remote but turned on to the fact that you are here,
despite the uneasy division of labour being what it is.

 

2.

I watch you by the shore collecting plastic
as if they are shells and I know it matters –
you are by the right ocean on the wrong beach.
I join you and find a syringe but no needle,
the incomplete cycle of nature. There is a body
by the rocks and it is mine, the sun goes to work
against the odds, finds the spare parts that shine.
You know which birds are protected
which ones our dog can chase, barking madly
at the idea of there being other dogs in this world.
A sea eagle captures the wind’s passing sigh.
There are only retirees at this time of day,
franking credits seem conceptual
if you have emphysema. There is a woman
who grew up here, smoking as she strolls
the beach coughing, lungs holding gravity at bay.
You are often present when the light is not.
I am often missing when there is much to be seen.
There’s no accounting for people.

 

3.

The rock pools here reflect
what we fear to say to each other in bed.
There is tenderness in captured saltwater
my hand runs along wet rock like it’s your back.
When the waves hit the face
of this platform we stand together fully alive,
spray rises into the air’s embrace then dashes
back to land, leaving behind its desire to undress
us. We often swim on dusk when the water
looks shark, as if there is a present danger in diving
underneath our thoughts. You stay in longer than
most, and that is why nothing will ever eat you.
Afterwards we walk the shore in towels trying to translate
the factories non-stop emissions by the parking lot
some part of us high tide, some part of us steel.
The sea is an industry that never ceases.
Shift workers stare out to the deep on breaks.
People often talk with you as if they know you.
People often wait for me to talk.

I found a shell today that you asked me to keep,
so I did.

 

 

‘Shell’ previously appeared in Case Notes (UWAP, 2020).

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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David Stavanger is an Australian poet, performer, cultural producer, editor and lapsed psychologist. His first full-length poetry collection The Special (UQP, 2014) was awarded the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. David co-directed Queensland Poetry Festival (2015–2017) and is a Senior Project Manager at Red Room Poetry. He is the co-editor of Australian Poetry Journal 8.2 Spoken, Rabbit 27 Tense, The Moth (Autumn 2020) and SOLID AIR: Collected Australian & New Zealand Spoken Word (UQP, 2019.) His new collection is Case Notes (UWAP, 2020). David is also sometimes known as Green Room-nominated spoken weird artist Ghostboy. These days he lives between the stage and the page.

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