Highlights from the West Writers Group
by Iggi Zhou, Bo Svoronos, Shu Shu Zheng and Didem Caia

Container City

by Iggi Zhou 

Welcome to Container City where
another skyscraper is delivered
from a womb incubating indifference,
onto land corrugated and cold.

If the roads are pulmonary veins carrying
old blood back to the drawing board,
then the trample of feet on this tarmac is like
its telltale pulse.

Tram tracks below like fissures,
cracks in the skin, and
black lines herald electric asphyxiation above.

The light-rail sutures

stitch urban belly to suburban

This city is tired, this city aches –

for water, if water
is what cleanses and heals, and asks:

where are the stars and the mountains you promised me?

When the practitioner pierces the fabric of the city,
stimulates its nerve endings,
releasing toxins,
is it a cure for manufactured decay? –

For human landfill among wifi hotspots; tobacco-stained hands,
cuff-linked and manacled,
nails chipped crimson;
for coffee black with milk like sea foam in the shape of a
four-leaf clover?

We sit pretty in French arcades, this end of Collins Street,
forever wishing we were someplace else.
Meanwhile, someplace else,

where rooftops are flat and staircases spiral steel,
Momentum fucks Inertia by the side of the road
and an exodus begins.

Iggi Zhou finds bios difficult due to a tendency to overthink and a penchant for exploring identity politics. She is the maker of Colour Yarns Podcast, a platform which allows her to engage in both those activities, simultaneously.


Before Sunrise

by Bo Svoronos

Before sunrise
I wake with children’s laugher
outside my window
who light fire-crackers
to explode like gunshots in my ear.
The chicken lays an egg
reminding the world she’s small
and someone’s break-fast hurts.
Breeze massages banana leaves
in sudden quiet
a traveling bowl
taps for soup
my ashtray overflows. 

Bo Svoronos works for Footscray Community Arts Centre as Creative Producer; he is an independent producer and cultural practitioner having instigated a variety of festivals, tours and events.


The Wake

by Shu Shu Zheng

Wakes in real life were nothing like the ones in movies. The Mechanic was trying to remember the last wake she had been to before this one. It was a week-long mourning ritual involving monks, incense, a camera crew and so much delicious food. It was her great grandfather’s wake and she was eleven. Photos of him showed him drinking liquor in bowls. He had no teeth, making his cheeks and lips sag. The Mechanic’s mother would threaten, “Do you want to look like your great-grandfather?” when she refused to brush her teeth as a child.

This was now her grandfather’s wake, and again, she couldn’t stop thinking about the food. Only a moment ago, her grandfather’s coffin was thrust into an incinerator. Now, she was eating all this delicious food. Not just eating, but hungry, too. People were laughing, taking photos with relatives they hadn’t seen in a while, and they too marvelled over the food. Apparently, mock meats were delicious.

The Mechanic and her family had planned this overseas trip for months, but a week before they were due to land, they received a call from The Mechanic’s uncle. Her grandfather was in hospital again. He was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, and was doing well enough. The last time The Mechanic saw him, he was taking daily walks, combing his hair and laughing. His lungs had now started to fill up with fluid and he was no longer able to breathe without a machine.

The Mechanic’s grandfather was confined to a bed, tubes sticking out of his arms and throat. He was awake and almost lucid, but he could not eat, drink or talk. He would suck ondried plums to get rid of the metallic taste in his mouth. He was so thin, but his skin was taut and bloated. His room had an unpleasant draft and a sterile smell. You could hear an old woman sobbing down the hall.

Her grandfather reached out for his son as soon as he saw him. Her father smiled and talked with her grandfather through nods, blinks and slurred writing. Her uncle updated everyone on her grandfather’s medical condition. Her grandfather was glad to have all his sons in the same room, but his eyes welled up when he saw his granddaughter.

When The Mechanic was two years old, she lived in a modest flat with her grandparents and mother. Her grandfather worked six days a week. It was custom for workers in the city to head back home for lunch. Her grandfather usually had rice and fish for lunch, but sometimes he would have pippis if they were fresh at the market. When he arrived home, The Mechanic would always take his coat and bag to his room, and ask him if he wanted some water. “What a good child,” he’d say, not knowing The Mechanic was actually rummaging through his bag for his favourite orange sweets. After lunch they would play together with the broken telephone, pretending to be a bank, a relative or a shop, until it was time for him to go back to work.

The Mechanic and her family moved overseas when she turned three so memories like these only existed through tireless storytelling by her mother. Eventually, she convinced herself it was her own memory. She believed she fiercely loved her grandfather, but wondered how much of it was real and how much of it was out of obligation. Did it matter? She wondered.

The Mechanic had just visited her grandfather at the hospital and was back in her hotel room. She was massaging her grandfather’s knees when her uncle instructed her to go home. “You can’t cry in front of him,” he said. “His spirit will not want to move on if he sees you cry. You understand?” She slumped onto her bed and passed out. When she woke up, she found a text message from her mother. “Your grandfather has passed away. Do not come to the hospital. I will be back soon.”

Apparently it was peaceful. The local temple sent monks, nuns and mourners to sit around her grandfather, not quite praying, but muttering words to supposedly ease his spirit into the afterlife. The nurses sat him up. They removed all the tubes from his body and gently slid out the tube in his throat. He closed his eyes, and started muttering the same things the monks were muttering, over and over again, until his lips and chest stopped moving. No one flinched, no one cried, but they had to keep going. They were told by the temple it was rare for people to choose when they wanted to pass on, and the family should feel glad he was able to go on his own terms.

What followed the funeral was not endless grieving but relief. The stress of waiting for death was more exhausting than the death itself. On their way to the airport, The Mechanic’s father sobbed in the car. She had seen him cry before, but not sobbing. She realised it wasn’t so much her grandfather’s death that made her sad. It was the impact his death had on her own father that shattered her more than anything else. Trying to stop his tears, she rummaged through her bag for a tissue, but she found some orange sweets instead.

Shu Shu Zheng writes stories, eats a lot and likes pugs.


A Letter to my Dirty Laundry

by Didem Caia

You’ve been wearing the same jeans for ten days. Sometimes the hours roll into one and you cant remember having washed, dried, folded, ironed, put away any of the ten or so items you wear repetitively. Notice how even though you might be the person to become seduced by jackets and white shirts, boots and rings, you don’t have the capacity to exercise the array of these clothing items on your body, so they sit, untouched, unremembered. Once worn singlets, with red wine memories, late night black tights- grazed and muddied from the grounds you let yourself fall onto.

And then, the slight dark marks on garments that the washing machine forgot. Faded reds from overused detergent, it’s inconsistent see, this process of cleanliness. This descent into dirtiness. And it turns into a medley of over-thinking, you try to stay clean, but you wipe your hands on your clothes still, like a seven year old girl. You remember to do the washing but get the dosage wrong and the jackets still smell like midnight rain, and tobacco that isn’t yours.

You can’t separate yourself from those garments, they are you, the fabrics mold to the geography of your body, they are you. Stained like you.

Yesterday you Googled signs of chaos to remind yourself you were right. You still flinch at slamming doors, a broken dish, a white couch, there are days you yell so loud you’d swear it was someone else’s voice in your throat.

The secrets express themselves in grief clogged saliva
The anger in the pits of your belly that doesn’t bubble, but stays stagnant.
Passions are clogged in the undercurrents
Buried in the rubble Etched in the stone walls of your unsaids
Ancient and immortal like hieroglyphs

Inside your walls are cells, and memories within those cells, some belong to you, some belong to others.

Others who you extended your outstretched palm to.

Others that walk beside you and try to love you with observations about your changing face shape and the scar near your right eye.

Others you’ve sat in parks with.
Ate dinners in bed with
Read poetry with.
Coming in and then out
Being controlled between your extremes of voracious love
And catatonic aloofness
You know what you do.

You draw people in like the intensity of a homemade fire, and cast them out like decayed wood. You’re becoming creative with your goodbyes.
And when someone insists they want to stay, you’ll tell them that they were more disappointing than your own childhood.
Or to be funny.
Send them a prosthetic ear in the mail, with a note that reads, I had to Gogh.
G O G H, Go.

But no-one has insisted yet.

And you tell yourself ‘I told you so’, and reaffirm your shadow belief, that you have a clearly marked exit sign attached to you.

Even you get fed up with your own inconsistencies.
You’d rather call these Spontaneous. . .
Maybe Inconsistent.
But to you, the above aren’t products of flightiness, or lack of depth, but the opposite. They are just a drive to express your ideas about an all-encompassing energy in the confines of this physical world.

And underlying it all is the uniting principle of love, as broken as that is. Expressed in many different ways, but unshakeable and infinite at its core.

But you struggle with these, don’t you?

You see a psychologist because it’s easier to blame others for your problems. You sit in front of a well dressed woman, older than you, trying to make you feel comfortable with her assortment of soft office colors and pictures of her dog next to her degrees. She’s sweet. Her sweetness makes you lose respect for her.

Where is her authority?

Why do the ends of her sentences reach unimaginable highs You find yourself becoming very agitated.
Your voice drops lower than the earth as you answer her in passive tones, and detached logical explanations of why you hate the world.
She forgives you because you’re 20 at this point, and her softly tilted head aims to say “we all know how hard it is to be young”.

In that moment you realize why there are so many caricatures and satires created around therapy. It strikes you as a ridiculous concept. But of course, it’s your negative ego wounds that are responding in this way.

When someone speaks to you too sweetly, you become suspicious.
When someone speaks to you too abruptly, you become hurt.
When someone speaks to you passively, you become agitated.
When someone speaks to you simply, you walk away.

But when no-one speaks to you at all, you are reminded of what loneliness feels like and suddenly all the dirty memories of being left alone in myriad circumstances come rushing back and you throw yourself at whoever or whatever is available.

When you were 10, it was too much Ice-cream and binge watching movies
When you were 13 it was books and diaries and helping look after your baby sister.
When you were 16 it was the computer screen, poetry, late night writing, too many cups of tea, counseling your step dad and fantasizing about the future.
When you were 18 it was obsession with learning, reading plays and talking to strangers.
When you were 20, it was obsessive exercise and meal monitoring and impeccable control over your body, absolute self absorption, possible depression.
When you were 21 you realized how it had never been love, or boys, or sex and that maybe now it might be that.
All these memories come rushing to your mind’s eye and you’re paralyzed in the past, all because someone’s voice was too soft?

There is no separation for you, between clean or dirty, or nice or mean, or yin and yang or light and dark, high and low, etc; etc; etc;. it’s all operating in the same moment, because there is a trinity of time inside of you that consists of past, present and future, which means that as soon as a happy story leaves your mouth, your body automatically counteracts it with a ‘what if’ or a ‘yeah, but’.

Your secrets aren’t secrets, they’re wearable garments, they’re scars in hidden places from glass, and concrete, and wood. They are hard slaps and put downs and rejection.
They are your own revenge in the name of sarcasm, withholding affection and brutal remarks.
They are tossed aside olds, and forgotten feelings, you could write dictionaries trying to describe those feelings.
They are burns that have left faint traces of discolored marks on your skin like chem-trails polluting the sky above. They exist. You make them exist easier by crying the tears of a clown.

There are moments more shameful and slimy than they could ever imagine and you don’t know how to turn that into poetry.

But you’d rather be soft, like the belly of a fish exposed to a knife. Because somewhere in another world, dirty means clean, and sad means happy, and secret means public information and somewhere,

in another world, its ok to carry the unraveling family torments, the drunken stares at the moon, shameful early morning whisky drives trying to reach the end of it all. Because even the screaming, the wailing, the tear pillows, the slammed doors and bruised moments that built prisons in your heart valves,

Are worth being worn.

Didem is a playwright, theatre-maker and speaker, who has had work developed and produced in Melbourne and Sydney. Didem has a Diploma in Theatre Arts from Victoria University, awarded through RPL, a Bachelor of Creative Writing from RMIT with first class honours, A Postgraduate diploma in playwriting from NIDA and a Masters in dramaturgy from the VCA. She has been proudly developed through writers Victoria, Playwrighting Australia and the Melbourne city council. Didem has received career development grants through Australian arts council, the Ian Potter Cultural Trust and Copywright Agency. She currently has two new plays in development.