It is Tuesday and I am dreaming that I live inside the trashcan on your Apple MacBook screen. Bottom right. Lid slightly ajar. My head popping up at intervals, not to offer you advice, but to ask you why you left me. You have three reasons but I can’t hear what they are. The trashcan graphic is too solid and the sound waves ricochet off the crenellations. Facets. Indentations. You have to type your responses and drag them to me so I can read them. I wait for you in the trashcan. I wait for your mouse to lift me up and make me an icon. I want to be a square pink button with a harp sound when you click on me. I want to shimmer and pulse so you recognise me. I want you to constantly press on me. Double click. (Is there are triple or quadruple click?) I want your mouse to slide over me as I sit. Patiently. Singing Kumbayah and toasting pink marshmallows. Listening for you. You never let anyone else use your computer. No foreign fingers have ever touched the keys so I feel safe. I am only yours. I am the only trashcan you have ever used. I wonder if you have ever been unfaithful. If you have used other computers when I am sleeping. If you prefer other trashcans to mine. I worry every day that you will go to ‘Empty Trash’ and I will disappear.
You outline the vein of biro between my toes with your tongue. Swirling around my second toe. Wormish. Nipping the tough skin on the ball of my foot, your ear pressing against my warm ankle. I think for a moment just how much I want you to take me ice skating. Just because I like the word “rink.” Just so you can lace my white boots and hold my hand as I scream white puffs of air. Narnian Merry-go-round. But you will never take me ice skating. We only ever go to Smorgy’s, The Ramada Inn, or the Laundrette in Buckley Street – the one with the big tumble dryer for doonas. I initial your earlobe with my saliva. Nuzzling your carotid pulse with the tip of my nose. You tug on the ends of my hair, your pointy hip bones burrowing into me. Urging me to reach for my blue biro. I scrawl the first sentence of Rebecca on your back. You guess it’s Du Maurier by the time I get to the capital “M” for Manderley. You take the biro from me and press the nib into the freckled pits behind my knees. I ask you to press harder. Pleading with you to write your words in my plasma. Clear, sticky, cherry-tinted words. “For a long time I used to go to bed early.” I smile. My skin singing. I want you to continue, to cover me in Proust. But you get impatient and paw at my thighs. I always preferred yo-yos to madeleines anyway so I snatch the pen from you and draw a stave down your backbone. Curly treble clef beneath your jutting shoulder blades. I colour in the crotchets but semibreves have always been my favourite. You guess it is La Wally from the fourth bar. And somehow you know it is connected to my desire for ice skating. Snow. Avalanche. Stalactites and stalagmites. Once you told me an obsession with white could only lead to sickness or marriage. And you said that neither of those were appealing. Neither of them could bind you to me. I search for my mohair beanie under the bed. The one with the big pom-pom my nana knitted for me. As I search, you brand me with the overture to “Crazy for You” and I pretend I am a bass as you stroke my hips. For a moment you become the pointy stand that rests on the polished floorboards, supporting the bass. And then you are tired of games. So tired you refuse to list all the songs that have “Lucy” in the title on the soles of my feet. I try to scrawl all the characters from John Fowles’ oeuvre down your right arm but you are already packing the sheets into the laundry basket. You toss me my figure skating magazine while we dress. In silence. We leave the washing in the machine while we go to Smorgy’s. Halfway through a bite of cheesy toast I blurt out, “Nicholas Urfe.” You pick up your fork and scratch “Sarah Woodruff” into my palm. Maybe tomorrow I will ask you to take me ice skating. Maybe tomorrow after you have written your blockbuster on my eyelids.
William Carlos Williams was a genius. And he has my lover’s initials. Or rather my lover has his initials. I often eat the plums that were in the fridge. But I don’t expect to be forgiven. Not everything depends upon that. Or the wheelbarrow of promises that still lies at the bottom of his heart. That’s just a vain hope. My lover likes plums. The ones with the tough skins and the scarlet flesh. Not the yellow. We like the same food. Except for chops. I won’t eat lambs to the slaughter. Once I was called a “goo-goo-eyed” vegetarian. Which basically means I won’t eat anything cute. With big imploring eyes. Because it would be almost like me eating myself. Baby cows are cute. Pigs are cute. And lambs are definitely cute. Even mutton dressed as lamb. So they are all out. But I eat chicken and fish and sometimes beef. If it isn’t veal. He lived on a farm once. So he hates sheep. He tells me that sheep are the stupidest animals ever. They deserve to be eaten. He even tells me the story about how sheep follow each other in straight lines and that the earth becomes shiny and solid beneath their feet. And he and his brothers would ride along their little tracks. On their bikes. Red bikes. Like that wheelbarrow in his faulty heart. One day he might even grow me some plums so that I can pick them and put them in our fridge. I want a red Smeg 473L fridge. I want my whole kitchen to be red. He draws the line at a red fridge. He has never heard of Smeg. Smeagol. Smaug, the dragon. He doesn't believe in the nuance of sound. He doesn’t understand the importance of a big, red, expensive fridge. He thinks they are just for keeping things cold. Like plums.
I collect nymphets. Like butterflies. Carefully arranging them on the page and impaling them with a pin. I catch them in my net. It isn’t hard. I stroke their angel hair and search for their wings. Just because it helps me remember. My mistakes. My heartaches. Infanta Defunta clearing the haze. I specifically collect my predecessors. Damsel flies. Fireflies. Gad flies. After I find the ghosts of Humbert’s past, I find their latest conquests. I was once one of them. They are perhaps me. I watch them become me. I wait to hear the clinking of the chains. To see my doorknob morph into a grotesque face. But it doesn’t happen. I think about tying a handkerchief around my jaw or putting a candle snuffer on my head to extinguish the light but instead I collect nymphets. To pass the time. There are no ghosts of Humbert’s past, present and future. No shrouded Humbert beckons me towards my grave. Bah Humbert!
I straddle you in the deep blue of the cold afternoon with a fairy bread sandwich in my right hand and your gold wrist watch in my left. You like me to wear my mauve mohair earmuffs. But I like to hear you rasp. Against the hollow of my neck. Sometimes I sip sarsaparilla through a twisty straw. But you say it’s vulgar and you hate the smell. It reminds you of some cough medicine you had as a child. Thick syrup. Like treacle on your tongue. So I only drink it in bed when I want to irritate you. Fairy bread doesn’t bother you so much. Provided that I chew it softly. You like the way the candy bleeds rainbows onto the bread. I like the way the bread reminds me of rainbow pillowcases at my mother’s house. The watch ticks in my palm; think metronomes and mechanical heartbeats. The fairy bread has become multi-coloured mush in my mouth. You have twenty-five seconds left. I hear you rasp and I arch into you. I arch so much that I can no longer swallow. I arch so much that my head floods with transparent purple flecks. And I think about rasps and raspberries. And the way you stain my mouth scarlet. You buy me punnets of raspberries because you like the way I leave pink streaks across your skin. I prefer fairy bread and sarsaparilla. You refuse to let peanut butter even cross my mind. The rasping stops. Your hand on the back of my neck is suddenly heavy and moist. I try to move but you grasp my hips and grind them one last time against yours. I swallow my fairy bread and put the watch back on your wrist. When you can, you release me. Your fingerprints own me for a time. Until I make another fairy bread sandwich.
for Gerty was womanly wise and knew that a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. Her griddlecakes done to a golden-brown hue and queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess had won golden opinions from all.
- James Joyce, Ulysses 
Dedicate. Dessicate. Desecrate. I have always been afraid of being buried alive in coconut. Or drowning in magenta. Husk. Husky. Hussy. I like to eat popcorn with strawberry milk. And ambiguities on toast. Travelling at night. I wear alphagetti soup and thigh boots. Or integrity in the small of my back. You always tell me that I occupy some cramped alleyway in your aorta. I want to be your lungs. A cramped aorta is not enough. Why can’t I have your entire left ventricle? I eat pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and rain. Spattering. Splattering. Smattering. I feel like an adverb, not really needed, just adding to the verb. Or a lollipop sticking to a personal adjective. Or perhaps a possessive pronoun in my kitchen. You want to kiss me in mango yoghurt. Your icecream fingers playing with Barbie Doll hair. Scissors. Schism. Scission. You reach for my rhinestone-studded skin, tracing the throbbing turquoise veins with silver. But I am too grave. To write the title page.
Names are important. Daphne Du Maurier knew that. Names are identifiers. Signifiers. Indicators. Of something more. Names say something about you before anyone has even seen you. Names make you attached. Even if you aren’t so attached to your own name. You connect. Like a dog collar and leash. Dog tags. Names are important. Holly Golightly knew that when she refused to give her cat a name. When she let the cat out in the rain. Like Hemingway. John Proctor wouldn’t sign his name but Arthur Miller signed his on a marriage licence to Marilyn Monroe. Not her real name. First born children are supposed to like their names more than others do. I have grown into my name. It sounds English. It sounds Victorian. I should have been Jane Austen’s sister. Although I would have enjoyed being a Brontë more. If I were American I would be a Dickinson. Names decide your personality. All Brittanys are dumb. All Jameses are arrogant. All Isabelles are difficult. All Hughs are cute. Claire is not a fat girl’s name. Despite what The Breakfast Club tells you. There are many derivatives of my name. But not as many as Avdotya in Crime and Punishment. I used to hate my name but now I tolerate it. I like it more when he calls me Bobbin. His human bobbin. I have a collection of wooden bobbins from Lowell and a blue dress from Mill City Clothing. I belong in Massachusetts twirling myself in his sheets. Rotation. Revolution. Spinning ginny. Ginnie to his Riddell
Reflection: Humour in Poetry: In Praise of the Light Touch
In a poetic culture that is often seen to take itself too seriously, humorous poetry is frequently exiled to the margins. Indeed, as Christina Pugh argues, “Some would say the humorous poem has simply fallen off the map… We equate humour with entertainment and are more likely to seek it in Curb Your Enthusiasm than in a book of poems” (2006: 228). Perhaps because of this connection, humorous poetry has been identified as something of an oxymoron, lacking in serious political or philosophical content. However, Rachel Trousdale posits that “Humor is a rare means to intimacy in the poet’s world, a form of communication at once private and public…” (2012: 121). In this way, humorous poetry can capture and disclose the politicisation of the poet’s private space by voicing the otherwise unvoiced. For women, humour can provide an opportunity to critique dominant culture by “disrupting and asserting authority and often, [provides] a means by which women poets discuss social and sexual mores” (Darlington, 2009: 330). This is significant, given that the vast amount of contemporary scholarship on poetry and humour focuses on American male poets. Indeed, while some articles such as Tenaya Darlington’s “Funny grrrls: Humor and Contemporary Women Poets” focus on Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Anne Waldman and Harryette Mullen, it is unsurprising that male poets such as Philip Larkin, John Ashbery, Billy Collins, Kenneth Koch and even Frank O’Hara have most often been identified as “comedians of spirit” (2009: 330). Therefore, humour in my prose poetry is about the reclamation of space and spirit of comedy for women. As Arielle Greenberg said of Barbara Guest’s poetry, “Levity is a feminist strategy; it serves as an undoing of the dominant order in both poetics and the culture at large” (2001: 111). The prose poetry in this selection is concerned with exposing sexual inequalities and critiquing Australian hegemony by deploying various forms of humour from meta-poetics to the comedy of place.
While humour can be defined as something that is fun or amusing, it can also reference something much darker, such as l’humeur noir. André Breton’s Anthology of Black Humor, the first of its kind, was intended to “showcase…the Surrealist conception of humor” according to his translator, Mark Polizzoti (1997: v). The prose poems in this selection are often surreal and use a kind of gallows humour to discuss death and abandonment. Indeed, these prose poems showcase a series of different approaches to humour, making use of the surreal, the meta-poetic and wordplay to explore the stereotyping of women and to ultimately engage with concepts of female sexuality. Pugh identifies the meta-poetic as “the moments in which we look to the poetic tradition with hilarious results. Such poems depend on prior knowledge of an antecedent poem, as in Kenneth Koch’s infamous  riff on William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is Just to Say’” (2006: 330). Indeed, my prose poem, “Plum(b)”, uses this Williams’ poem and others from his oeuvre as intertexts, while in “Butterfly Hunter,” Lolita and Scrooge collide. Further, “White Noise” references Du Maurier and Fowles, among many other writers, in a sexual incarnation of a Pillow Book. These prose poems forge links with an antecedent piece of literature or poem to humorously re-interpret and self-reflexively critique the experience of women writing. As Pugh argues, “Humorous poetry is more than a side dish on Ben Jonson’s supper table. Its dependence on…the intelligent voraciousness of wit, humorous poetry can make us laugh while reminding us what poetry is uniquely suited to do” (2006: 231).
Breton, André (ed.) (1940). Anthology of Black Humor, tr. Mark Polizzotti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1997).
Darlington, Tenaya (2009). ‘Funny grrls: Humor and Contemporary Women Poets,’ Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, Vol. 22, no.3, pp. 329-340.
Greenberg, Arielle (2001). ‘A Sublime Sort of Exercise: Levity and the Poetry of Barbara Guest,’ Women’s Studies: An Inter-disciplinary Journal, Vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 111-121.
Pugh, Christina (2006). ‘Humor Anxiety,’ Poetry, Vol 189, no. 12, pp. 228-231.
Trousdale, Rachel (2012). ‘”Humor Saves Steps”: Laughter and Humanity in Marianne Moore,’ Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 121-138.
Cassandra Atherton is an award-winning writer and scholar. She has been awarded a 2015/2016 Harvard Visiting Scholar’s position in English and was a Visiting Fellow at Sophia University, Tokyo in 2014. Amongst her eight published books, the recent volumes of poetry are Trace [with illustrations by Phil Day] (Braidwood: Finlay Lloyd Publishers, 2015), Pegs (Canberra: I.P.S.I. Authorised Theft, 2015) and Exhumed (Wollongong: Grand Parade Poets, 2015). Apart from editing special issues of such journals as Axon: Creative Explorations, Mascara Literary Review, Rabbit: a Journal for Non-Fiction Poetry, Cordite Poetry Review, and Eleksographia, she is the current poetry editor of Westerly Magazine and was a judge of the Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Award in 2014. She was invited to judge the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Prize for Poetry in 2015 and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for Poetry in 2015 and 2016. She is a recipient of a Creative Victoria VicArts grant to collaborate on a graphic verse novel. Her website is www.cassandra-atherton.com
The poems selected by the author originally appeared in:
Geoff Page (ed.), Best Australian Poems (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2014 & 2015); New Orleans Review, November 2013, at: http://www.neworleansreview.org/anonymous/ ; Linda Godfrey & Bronwyn Mehan (ed.), Flashing the Square: Microfiction and Prose Poems (Sydney: Spineless Wonders, 2014); Linda Godfrey & Ali Jane Smith (ed.), Writing to the Edge: Prose Poems and Microfiction (Sydney: Spineless Wonders, 2014); Cassandra Atherton,Trace [with artist Phil Day] (Braidwood: Finlay Lloyd Publishing, 2014); and Cassandra Atherton, Exhumed (Wollongong: Grand Parade Poets, 2015).
All poems are reproduced with permission of the author and Grand Parade Poets: http://grandparadepoets.com/.