Life in a Pop-Up Book

Satin bowerbird, he’s a bulging blue balloon

Cut out of the night sky

Outlined now against the day sky

Weighing steady on that telegraph line


Plastic bowl of salt-powered steam

Cut out of a cauldron

Served on plastic tables by neat men

Beef voices, a language of indestructible egg yolk


Holy Cross, timeless as an ironing board

Cut from the peels of stories

Striving through its stratosphere of birdsongs

On its morning arc through space


Telegraph pole re-strung by clambering good apes

Long cut out of its acreages

Fresh black lines hold it aloft, tugging into blue horizons

As it sleeps back into folklore, in unfashionable lichen coat


Bats big as pelicans, mopping the blue dust stage of night

Offcuts of leather and fruit

From a floor of stars

In Halloween’s rubbery workshop


Will Swan


Heavy Cream

All the colour in Van Eck’s fat world of stained cushions and heaving kitchen shelves was now a hundred times brighter thanks to one big motherfucker of a venomous wasp.  Van Eck toasted the bug with a dirt cheap wine goblet smeared with chop fat and cask wine tannin.  He sucked the fruity lexia back into the far reaches of his mouth, spreading the sweet measure flat against his palette and allowing it to drop down into his salivating glands.  Van Eck surveyed his lounge room.  The sun focused all things into a brilliance that reminded him of kaleidoscopes.  Nail clippings fell into benevolent focus on the grey smeary carpet, beer bottle caps took on the weight of some Bronze Age currency.  Van Eck’s pants were stained with happiness.

The wasp had not returned since saving his relationship but he fancied it might come dangling past his fourth floor balcony sooner or later.  And if it did, he’d pull closed the gauze screen respectfully and let it dangle around outside all it wanted.  As he pawed at his arse cleft, his eyes blurred with recollection and mixed emotions.

Not long ago, Van Eck’s wife had been planning on leaving him.  She’d taken to drinking less and that was a bad enough sign in itself but when he found some new lipstick, unopened, on the frayed cane coffee table, Van Eck experienced a near-explosion in his chest that seemed, to his mind’s eye, as if someone was trying to strangle a faceless frog.  There was a bulge of pain.  Last week, on a reeking hot Friday when the big green bins festered and the block’s laundry dried in ten minutes, Van Eck’s wife had gone out to some sort of show at a theatre restaurant with her colleagues from the council library.  Van Eck had spent the evening trying to wash the taste of adrenalin out of himself with goblets of fruity lexia.  When his wife had returned, he was still horribly anxious but was also too drunk to talk properly, much less articulate his concerns.  He had lain at odd angles watching Terminator with the volume right up, his dead skin padded heels against the dirty wall, and stayed silent until he found the focus to turn off the television and lurch into the bed.

When Van Eck and his wife were first courting, all aspects of their relationship had seemed somehow pre-cut into equal portions, like a frozen pizza from the supermarket.  Perhaps because they were like so many others – their brothers and sisters and neighbours ;  never defined by lust, or violence, or friendship, or ambition.  These aspects might exist in the shared lives around them, but only as folded laundry in plastic laundry baskets, not as flags up flagpoles.  Van Eck and his wife-to-be dumped  themselves all over each other on couches and beds and watched TV – cop shows and game shows – and they did this wherever there happened to be a couch, mainly at their respective family houses. They dumped themselves onto each other in the back of Van Eck’s Datsun and if his future wife’s expression ever changed much on such occasions then Van Eck didn’t notice.  They dumped themselves down upon tables in shopping plaza food courts and ate whatever little choices were available in silence and unity.

Van Eck and his wife never had children and this was of no concern to them.  Van Eck’s wife lived a simpler life than those of her colleagues; she drank more than them, watched more television, and had more money to buy whatever she wanted to eat in supermarkets, food courts and pizzerias.  He favourite pizza style was Meat Lovers’ Special with extra pepperoni.  She sometimes customized supermarket pizzas at home by showering them with hunks of pepperoni herself.  She kept her hands and neck supple with heavy cream and had her hair colour changed every now and again.  She maintained a rustic countenance in an increasingly consumerist world, she was somehow on Country Time, although she lived in cheap flats on a plains suburb among loners, pot dealers and various migrants.  Colleagues could approach Van Eck’s wife, swivelling and weighty at her filing station, and relate the stock stories of their families to her – engagements, pregnancies planned and unplanned, mortgages undertaken – and she’d listen and nod and suck away on a toffee.  Van Eck’s wife was a good old dog.

At some point, though, she’d started behaving differently in bed, on those occasions when she and Van Eck had congress.  She wanted more out of it, she wanted more out of him, and for Van Eck, this was a psychological volcano, stewing away and sloughing off unstable molten streams.  She hadn’t said anything to Van Eck, but she growled lowly and bucked her great squat self against him.  He’d lost sleep over the whole ordeal.  He didn’t know what was expected of him.  So it went, every now and again between two summers, and then she had begun to drink less and go out more.  She never said anything, but she had made small noises of acute disappointment.  Van Eck, never having been open to change, evolution or ideas at any point in his life, now found his housebound days and wine-sodden nights were slapping around in a revolving door of paranoia.

It was the Sunday afternoon after his wife’s outing to the theatre restaurant and Van Eck was lying on the bed listening to a radio song coming out of a parked car somewhere near the block. His wife appeared in the doorway, with a demeanour of preoccupation that segued into a distracted smile.  She was wearing a black slip over tracksuit pants, an indecisive sort of look.  She headed towards him and crawled up on him like a big soft marsupial.  Not long afterwards, she flipped Van Eck over on top of her and Van Eck found himself straining, his bloomers loose and away from his arse cleft. He was cooled by the breeze coming through the bedroom window, the gauze screen ajar. A different car’s radio replaced the one that had cruised away.  Van Eck was numb, as always, with cheap cask wine, but he wasn’t that numb.  He knew that he was piloting an engine of angst and that sooner or later, it would get away from him and splutter off down some sexual highway.  Van Eck felt like crying.

Van Eck saw the shadow of the wasp before he wondered what sort of engine it was that he could actually hear in the bedroom.  He fancied that there was a puppet floating around somewhere to the side of him.  He was huffing, in motion, and the buzz fell into focus like waking up from a boozy dream.  There was a flash of fizzy orange and black and the rotor whirr of wings and then Van Eck felt a belch of icy fear.  His wife continued to mew but he could not tell if she had also seen the wasp.  One word slammed into his brain like a fist to the back of the head; “tiger”.  The engine whine arced around behind him and he sprained his neck trying to follow it.  Then the ‘tiger’ burnt him, as his own insect brain had known that it would.  The wasp clipped Van Eck clear on the arsehole at ten o’clock by way of a radial location.  The stinger found a soft bullseye and the poison bit hard.  Van Eck made a wistful, flippant sound, like a man talking in his sleep.  And then his pupils dilated, his big red face drained into a dry lake of whiteness and Christian Van Eck of Palm Court Units began to thrash forwards and backwards like a steam age machine in death throes.  He didn’t know where to go, he didn’t know what piece of himself to cover.  He felt his slabby back knock the wasp back into the shadowed air of the bedroom, he fancied it felt like a small wooden lucky dip toy.  He thrashed again and his wife howled and barked with urgency.  The wasp got pissed off and it made another jab at the fragrant cauliflower of an arse thrashing before it and again it scored a strike against the inner core, five o’clock this time.  Van Eck wept and assumed that this second sting would kill him.  He thrashed and he wept, his wife barked, and somewhere in the slapping steaming mess, the wasp retreated and found its way out into a baking day of blonde brick walls and clotheslines and green straggly gardens.  It sailed past window sills and potted cactus and power lines like a gasoline-fuelled vigilante and few were any the wiser of its own strange adventures.

By the time the wasp was wreaking havoc elsewhere, or sleeping, or doing whatever it was doing, Van Eck was sobbing into his greasy wino’s pillow.  His wife was silent, flushed, bug-eyed and fey.  She wore a strychnine smile and her world was a delicious one with marshmallow walls and velvet pillowcases.  She recalled a billycart ride she made as a child. She recalled the smell of Dettol . She recalled the songs of Tom Jones and fancied she might even bring Van Eck along to the Tom Jones Tribute Show that was coming to the nearby Leagues Club.

Van Eck’s soul was abandoned to agony and disgrace but the peace would come later, as never before.  He spooned every type of salve available onto the searing arsehole that made him limp and cry like a child for the pity of all existence.   He spooned on out-of-date antiseptics, Dettol, lanolin and even his wife’s heavy cream.  He drank two greasy goblets of fruity lexia in under ten seconds, achieving a spew-burp that nearly started the tears off again.  He lay flat, belly down on the lounge room couch, and stared with hopeful running eyes towards the golf commentators on Wide World of Sports.  When his wife did emerge, transported and even calmer than usual, he remained baleful and oblivious.  Van Eck stayed on that couch for days.

But when he ripped himself off it, Van Eck became aware that his wife wasn’t going anywhere after all.  She was sunnier and so was the light in the unit itself.  She even rubbed the back of his rubbery head as they watched TV together one night.  He knew, or at least he fancied he knew, how to go about things from here on in.  He felt like he had a nice little new colourful toy, like a new cap gun when he was a kid, the sort of cap gun with a strong mechanism that really slammed down on the caps, so that if they didn’t go off, it was because they were duds, not because the gun was underpowered.  He thought he’d keep that one toy in new condition.

And so, while the row of bins fermented among blowflies, while the magpies sat cool and clean in the upper branches around the unit blocks and crows picked at lumps of pepperoni fused onto pizza boxes, Van Eck filled another greasy goblet to a fierce roving wasp. Whereabouts unknown.


Will Swan

Poster of a Vampire Slayer under the Bordello Wall

Or at least of the girl who played her, flashing wide red happy smile

And Revlon red nails at the painted nail station

The prostitutes upstairs are imported and brown and I watch them

Rinse their noodle bowls at a sink stuck up in the fat hard wall

Cool darkness behind them, men waiting like patients and donors

Their loads and anticipation unseen up there

The hairdressers have a motorized device recreating

A spinning barber’s pole

But it is rainbow coloured, not red and white

The African hair palace next door works under its own fragrant oily steam

At a slow sunny pace and the skinny white girls in denim shorts

Clamber in there in a flash of open-faced excitement

How can you not be happy for them

This bun is loaded with pork nuggets from a slippery cauldron and is the

Best and cheapest lunch in town, alive with soy sauce

Copies of a local newspaper, the poor cousin of the better-known circulations

Are slumped around this largely neglected food court

In this part of town that the main plaza has stymied and nobbled

For Lease signs and burn-smeared walls and a general padlocked shanty vibe

But it is where you can buy the best cheap shoes, best cakes and the maddest range

Of imported spices, plus talismans and battered books and cheap haircuts

This local newspaper, it features a mayoral candidate of some crazed sort

Making fists in a backwards baseball cap over his goatee and talking

About making real changes, everyone around this place

Are fearless Vampire Slayers

Will Swan

Creeps & Victims

If the world was a big easy loud cockatoo

She’d be some little shit of pellet-bodied nobody bird

Trying to pick a fight with it

The cockatoo would bob and weave a little

But end up settling atop the same dead flagpole branch

As it always intended to

She takes hasty guises, sometimes piggish and tuned at great volume

Chasing after vamp styles that only the very best can make their own

Only the free and finest tall ones

But she ends up looking like a snouted minion

(Or a grandma found buttered in her adult daughter’s make-up

Angling around in a child’s playpen)

If gaunt, she misreads in herself a gothic aspect

Creates something new with a keyboard and popcorn grammar

Chopping out the story in a larval squirm

Takes photos of herself pulling Queen Elizabeth the Second faces

In front of a bathroom mirror, the toilet like a sidekick

Ghosts of sulphurous toilet sittings glaring in the glass

(And surely ruining the intended effect)

Nostrils rasping in a face as silken as a jellyfish

Blue biro blood caulked in veins beneath paraffin

Looking for awkward groovy scenes

Sniffing out the moths and the fatal blue glow

Intrigue, approval and most of all

A Love Man!

A Love Man to bleat about, skip about, moon about

A Love Man to pose about, moon about, rock about

For kissy-lip snapshots in sugar drunk allotments

A Love Man to get serious about, and by serious

She means stew about, mess about

And also lots of shouting and lying

Lots of seething

Makes her feel special

Sometimes she even gets some pity and

It tastes like lemon juice from a bottle, on chips

And the women she might know

(For staccato sour stints)

Will listen to her woe

Well, her last jockey with his turpentine face

And breath like stank bathwater

Got grin-silly on the smell of a

Little green bottle o’wine

Out came the camera gadgets for some

Homemade horse breaking

She felt important and stupid with him riding up her bunghole

It’s still out there, that clip of savage dislocation

Hiding in itself with balaclavas and thrusts

On that keyboard again now, she tells and retells the story

Sometimes under aliases but the blobs of butter flavour cadence

The online persona – swooning victim, playground whiner

Sterling survivor of Love’s Great Battle, etcetera –

Give her away every time

What she wants is a title belt in Heavyweight Bullshit

But, physically, insomuch as we are aware of the matter

There are no such things

What she’s got is a kid or two or three

(Or a stamped note from the post office to pick one up ASAP)

A daughter who will provide for her the only truly

Foul adversary, where no-one else was interested

The one real adversary she doesn’t want

Or a son she hauls about like a medicine ball

The smile spilling out of that poor kid like stuffing

What she will never understand is that

Almost everyone we’ve ever known in our lives

Can be remembered almost fondly, simply because – or despite

The fact that they were in our finite lives

All as relevant and irrelevant as paddlepop sticks and hamburger salesmen

She thinks it all actually means something






Will Swan

Just Another Swim Toward Dusk

Mated parrots catapulted red

Comet Man and blazing Astro Girl

Across the square tablet of the Olympic-class swimming bucket

Over the encroaching tree line & faraway to fight crime

In afternoons of bubblegum cut in powdered squares and sticks

Of grey fruity sustenance and antique paper packets

Where you’ll also find me in curled plates of dried mud

Cracking dust spores in the wake of my iron scooter, tyres holding up

Shadows long and roving, with Luke Skywalker and Stormtroopers

Held in pockets on country town outskirts

While back in this water, aloft in Midgard where skies slide along each other

In planes of tin

Of smoke

Of Wedgewood China blue, Portuguese blue

Rain pricking up from the roiling silver surface

While Basho plunders along field roads and his rains

Explode in our mouths and puddles


Will Swan