The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Ali Whitelock

for a while the darkness was all we could stand


there were days i’d find thomas in the pantry
lights off sobbing against the wall. for a while the darkness
was all we could stand. at night we ladled more than spooned
his cold knees nestled into the soft backs of mine the sadness
in his bones whispering to the sadness in mine when we hugged i burrowed
into him as though i were trying to wear him, as though i were trying
to dress myself in the three piece suit of him and once i was safely
in behind the small shirt buttons of him, when all of me was inside
the dark of the smallest russian doll of him, i could assess the damage
to our hearts––the weakening of our walls, the blocks
in our valves, the reluctance in our millimetres
of mercury.
            eventually we moved the contents
of our two hearts into one, it just made life simpler
still it was hard to find a place to put our two of everything––
the cordless kettles of our loss the six slice toasters
of our woe, the breville juicers from under the sinks
of our misery we spent months decluttering––stream-
fucking-lining buying space-saving storage thingies
from ikea pushing the sideboard of our grief from
one end of our sardined
hearts to the



Ali Whitelock

i didn’t think I would die like this


years out here with no-one except
the fawny kangaroos that come by
their joeys poking out their pouches
looking for food, the cheek of them when the orange
sun that’s roared all day starts to fade
and the pink dusk rolls in and brings
a coolness money couldn’t buy you.
                                                  i sit here on my veranda
                                                  from dawn to dusk
watch the early morning sun rise up from the other
side of the world quivering in the heat waves that
tell me it’s going to be another scorcher––
this is australia after all. mid morning sun’s the worst
unforgiving rays barge through my lace iron fence
branding the backs of my hands and arms leaving
me brown and patterned like a hennaed
indian bride.

we laughed when we first saw this place
a first settler’s cottage with its very own
flag pole standing to attention in the neglected
front yard––its once white paint now grey
and flaking with a tattered australian flag
fluttering half heartedly, half mast.
we took the flag down when we moved
in––always said we’d grow honeysuckle
up the pole but we never did
                                                  just like we talked about
                                                  heading back to scotland
                                                  and france to what little roots
                                                  we had but we never
                                                  did that either.

we spent our days on this deck––him chain
smoking himself to death, me drinking
myself the same way and i can tell you every
groove and every knot in every plank. he used
to creosote them trying to preserve
them from the searing heat. he was already
blind by then but it didn’t stop him feeling
his way the length of the wood with his brush
loaded up with too much creosote, christ,
he was useless at it i can still see
the planks he missed and the rage
i felt at him having missed them.
                                      the outrage of the untreated
                                      planks that had felt so justified
back then and my planks are worse
neglected now, they’ve dried out completely
and how could they not? sure i haven’t the mind
for preserving them now. not at this time in my life
when all i’ve left in me is the energy to get
from my bed to my beloved deck. and i know
it’s daft but i can still feel him here beside
me rocking away in that bloody chair
of his that squeaked and groaned every
time he tipped it forwards to flick his fag
ash into the still neglected
front yard.
                                       we left sydney fourteen years ago
                                       groaned in unison as we drove past
the massive bill board on victoria road
with the commonwealth bank ad
showcasing the grey haired couple towing
a caravan happy and fucking smiling
with the caption commanding us all to
‘really start living,’ now that we’ve retired.
and people asked us, but what are you going to DO
in your retirement? as if it were for doing
things in. they just stared blankly
when we announced we had no plans to
                                                  travel round australia
                                                  climb mount everest
jump out of a fucking plane take a tour
of the great sandy desert on a harley
davidson with a side car.
                                                  people fear death
they fill their lives with stuff
as if staying busy might somehow
allow them to outrun it. i stopped
fearing death a long time ago.
i myself am ready for it now
                                                  my arms are open
                                                  wide i will welcome
                                                  it like a long lost
this dilapidated cottage was all
we could afford. sydney had bled
us dry, we had no choice but to move
out here to the middle of fucking
nowhere––a township they call it––
a few shitty houses, a pub, the lucky
harbour chinese, a milk bar that
doubles as a post office where
you can pay your bills send
a fax or buy a stamp
                                                  if you’re still in the mood
                                                  for staying in touch
no internet to speak of, though there’s talk
of them cabling soon, but we don’t hold
our breaths. until then our lives remain
facebook-less, mind you they always were.
and there’s a supermarket––i use
the term loosely––from another
time maybe even the time of the first settlers
judging by the thickness of the dust
on the cornflakes, the canned
dog food that sits incongruously
alongside the tampons, the basket
of marked down out-of-date pine nuts
and star anise that tell the story of owners
alone in their desire for change.

                                                  thomas found it easier
                                                  to settle here than me,
                                                  well his heart is kinder than mine––listen
to me, talking about him as if he’s still here.
it’s been four years already. and i think of him every
day especially when the breeze that comes
in the night blows his rocking chair forward
and the bloody thing creaks and groans
as if he were still in it. people tell me
i’ll get over the sadness, that time’s
a great healer, that life goes fucking on
but i don’t want my memories of him
to fade, to forget the shape of his nose
the long black curls of his lashes, the shadow
of his akubra across his brow as he rocked
himself to sleep on that bloody rocking
chair of his.
                                                  i miss everything about
                                                  him. jesus christ, i even
                                                  miss the smell of his gitanes.

                                                  and we did our best
                                                  to be good australians
we really did. ate the char sui beef
and the chicken in black bean sauce
once a week at the lucky harbour chinese
christ, we even drank the house red
in there and believe me that wasn’t
easy and as we ate i’d have to avert
my gaze from the tropical fish tank
in the window. five motionless fish mourning
the loss of family and friends. a crumpled
poster of the ocean stuck to the back
of the tank attempting to fool the fish
they’re still in their turquoise ocean.

                                                  people ask
if i’d go back now and live out my final days
in scotland or france but i tell them no. i won't
go now and leave my thomas buried alone
here in this red parched land.
                                                  so i’ll die here in australia too.
                                                  what’s good enough for my thomas
                                                  is good enough for me.




ALI WHITELOCK is a Scottish poet who currently lives in Australia, though her heart still aches for the brooding Scottish skies.  Her poems have been published in a variety of magazines and journals and her memoir, ’poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell’ was published in 2009 to critical acclaim.  Her forthcoming poetry collection, ‘and my heart crumples like a coke can’ is due for release in 2018.



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