from the editor's desk

Rose van Son

From Our Archive: 25 Years of Writing from Rose van Son

This week, Westerly are publishing two pieces of writing by WA poet and author Rose van Son (photograph by Bruce Hunt). Anyone that’s familiar with Rose from readings around Perth will be able to hear her voice in this writing: clear, relaxed, and controlled. And the thing is, we published these two works almost twenty-five years apart. ‘The City Square’ was first printed in Westerly 38.3, released in 1993 (you can get that issue free in our digital archive). We’ve published Rose’s work many times since then; her most recent poem to appear in Westerly is ‘Remembering Singapore’ which can be found in issue 62.2.

Rose van Son has worked tirelessly to support other Western Australian writers, particularly through her promotion of Australian haiku poetry, and somehow she finds the time to produce very fine work that we’ve had the pleasure of sharing with our readers. We’re thrilled to be celebrating 25 years of our relationship with Rose van Son. Westerly places great value on our relationships with our writers; whether we’re watching them establish or going from strength to strength, we love to see our writers grow, and we always look forward to receiving their next piece of writing.

Remembering Singapore

she says it reminds her—
dishes so deep, sweet
rigatoni red

I can see them now
she indicates
her hands

stretch wide
her arms…
& I wonder why

her voice disappears
down the phone
line, tuned from high

—a note on a keyboard

how it moves me
this imaginary note

how it echoes
her voice
far away

The City Square

Man on Street Corner
Mother on an Island
Woman in a Shoebox

The Flower Lady stands at the corner of Murray and Barrack Street on Friday afternoons. A pink-patterned scarf tied neatly under her chin shuns a spring wind. Bunches of carnations and

i know you are laughing
you laugh, your mouth closed
your eyes spread all over
your face, i know there is
a woman hiding somewhere

daisies wrap themselves tenderly around her legs. Pencils in a cold wind. Keeping them warm. Out of sight. They stroke bunches of yellow marigolds and cardboard roses. Carefully she wraps them in angel pink folds. Nice touch with tissue paper. Offers them to her customers.

let me out you bastard
you scream. Yesterday you
visited for a moment
yesterday you ate pumpkin
soup, thick with milk
decorated high with crisp
parsley leaves: sharp
a woman is hiding here somewhere

January Heat:

The child cries. In the sultry afternoon sea air the sound interrupts her dreams. Reluctantly she reaches in the basket and presses the distressed body against her cotton dress. The child’s pug-like arms gropes for the comfort of the mother’s cool breast. With deep paper bag breaths she sucks.

Yesterday, you came
why not today?
today stinks, the dead stench
is all over the valley
spread like super
spread evenly
mushroom compost
in a shoebox

The mother smooths the child’s almost bald head, damp from the humid day. From next door: the sound of loud music. Teenagers. All of them old. Their clothes baggy against a tanned skin: the breeze penetrates that empty space claiming it for posterity. Music braces against the heat. Later they meet at the hotel. Later their bikes form a guard of honour. Later.

you are modem machinery
grease thick on your face
i want to spread it thick
thicker, over my hands
my hands are too small
too smooth, made only
of words, the grease drops off

In the spring the city’s commuters delight in the golden smell of brown and yellow Boronia. In the spring its potent perfume – heady – is heard halfway down Murray Street. The Flower Lady’s regulars rush to buy its delicious aroma. They carry it home tucked underarm. Mixed with the tickly smell of deodorant. Safe on the bus.

between the lines
i am hiding can you see me?
ring-a-ring a rosie

Safe against the hotel’s cream-brick piers, a salute to youth and vigour and freedom. Whose freedom?  Get back in your shoebox. The mother slices tomato, lettuce and onion onto a plate. A breeze titillates through the front curtains. The back door is closed against shifting sand and an invasion of quokkas. Yesterday a quokka poked a rat-like head in the back door and frightened the mother. She nearly dropped the child. She thought the quokka was a rat. Last week

the grease drops off
the edge of my short
fat fingers – i can
barely reach the keys
i stretch, i stretch
i slip – my nails
are broken – help me

Last week she heard of another mother who left the island because a rat danced across her kitchen floor. That mother took the morning ferry back to the mainland. This mother is not so stupid. She knows it is best to close the back door to rats and yellow-skinned cockroaches and somehow it makes her feel safe from the music and vigour.

broken edges
yesterday too short
today too long
the man returns tomorrow
maybe, just maybe i’ll
be out. Trying on girdles at Target
eating lamb kebabs at the James
Street Souvlakia bar
where is the Man?

The Boronia is carried home on the bus, tight under armpits. On the bus to Karrinyup or Morley or even Midland. Each spring the bus drivers’ smile. Must be spring, they say, the Boronia is here. We can smell it.  It puts a smile on our faces. They smile.

Where is the man?
i scream
the man returns tomorrow
i will hide right here
in this gap.

One Friday late in October, the Hower Lady is gone from her place at the corner of Murray and Barrack Streets. Instead at her corner stands an icecream cart. Yellow stripes. White. Red. Green. Gelati, Gelati! cries the icecream seller. His voice zig-zags across the intersection. Darts into open doorways. Slips under doors. Gelati! Vieni!! vieni! Men in strained suits rush by in their pinstriped way to the station. Women in worn out heels swing their handbags around the corner as they follow.

i had hi heels once
his hi heels
he called them
he walked with them holding my hand
i rushed behind
trying to keep up
my shoes are
a size too small
they catch in the compost

The child cries again. The mother slices the tomatoes faster, then slices the rolls bought fresh from the bakery that morning when she was fresher. When he was still with her. Before he left on the morning boat. The child cries louder now. Plaintive. Distressed. Her pink arms reach high into the air. Humid. Breezeless. Punching it like a boxer in training; her legs kick in time with the arms and the music.

my hand in his
tight he made sure
the rest of me swum in a shoebox
with a tight fitting lid
let me out! you bastard
where is the man?

Gelati, Gelati, Limone, Strawberry, Chocolaty! shouts the Gelati man from the south of his face. He stands, armed on the corner, arms in the air, and shouts till dusk.

body change
what does it mean?
what do you care?
how do you know?
myself on the inside
is hiding between gaps

Two lovers walk by. They hold hands. They buy a lemon gelati to share. The man packs his van and heads home.

must i wait in this
shopping queue?
the checkout chick is dead
the 1 st customer is dead
the 2nd customer is dead
i am dying here
i wait my turn

The mother puts down the salad knife and wipes her hands on her shorts. The boats sail past the front windows. Yachts with their dinghies attached. Others, cabin cruisers and the like, moored, their owners coming to the island to escape the oppressive January heat of the mainland or the people, or both. The mother had also seen it as an escape from the morning routine drudge and the afternoon peak in temperature.

Headline: Woman in a shoebox
suffocates from heat
yes, you have found me
covered with soft tissue paper
my face in the toe end
my fat legs in the heel.
So? you have found me
What are you going to do now?

Two lovers walk by. They hold hands.

That’s not you
put back the lid
it’s not your turn
i scream something
untouchable in my head
& i wait my turn

Tossing her hair from her face, the mother lifts the child from the basket. There is nowhere to bath the hot face. She dampens a flannel with water from the tap in the bathroom and cools the waving arms and legs till they coo and slow and stop. Then they sleep. Her back aches.

must i wait in this
i am dying like them
Soon i will be dead. a clock on the
wall says when—big hand on 12
little hand on 3.
i crouch out of sight
press hard against cardboard
where is the man?

The following Friday afternoon at the corner of Barrack and Murray Street, the flowers return: roses, carnations, everlastings. The Gelati Man wraps each bunch in pink tissue paper before bowling them to his customers as they rush past his cart towards the station.

you can’t see me
hiding in this shoebox
i’m not coming out
don’t tell the man
i want to scream
‘between the gaps
i wait my turn in the queue

It is the lull of the morning and before lunch. The mother quietly closes the front door and crosses the street to the beach. She wades deep into the water cold against her breasts. Trips over shells and rocks. Splashes the tops of her arms, her face. Her cotton top clings to old milk-laden breasts, separating her from the music. Refreshing her neck, her hair, her breasts. Move along please!

so you have found me
between gaps in stories
where i hide
put on the lid
leave me here with my
thoughts – pile
words all around me
they warm me
i am woman in a shoe box
but where is the man?

Suddenly hungry, the mother crosses the street for lunch.

share this

Join our mailing list