lemon tree

 

by Sarah Cirillo

 

This piece was awarded first place in the 2022 Swinburne Sudden Writing Competition.

 

The lemon tree stretches its arms out wide, boughs heaving with fruit. Underneath, there is a graveyard of rotting lemons, sickly sweet and buzzing with flies, and I gag as I reach under her. All the ripest lemons are there, but all the thorns are there too. They await my bare arms, ready to tear at my skin­­­­­­­­. I think it’s her revenge for taking her fruit. She works so hard and then she gets pissed on by Dad and Nonno. It’s good for the lemons, they both say. Men and their bloody dicks, Mum says.

Lemons are my favourite. People hate them because they’re bitter, but if you dip them in sugar they taste like lollies. Nonno taught me that. We cut them into small wedges, drenching them in the tiny granules. We grin as we eat them, and sticky lemon juice drips down my chin and onto the floor.

Nonno’s house has a huge lemon tree. We always climb up to the highest lemons, fighting to get the best ones. We play for hours, sometimes hopping over to the fig tree. She’s even bigger than the lemon tree, with twisted limbs bearing budding, milky fruit. I wonder if she gets pissed on, too.

It’s summertime and lemons hang like a lady’s jewels. Knobbed branches are marred with wrinkles, grotesque knots twisting this way and that, just like Nonno’s hands. Dad is the same, leather on bone, stubbled like the pricks on the lemon tree. They work hard, Mum says as we watch Dad and Nonno pruning the lemon tree. To the bone. Her branches fall to the ground uselessly, decorating the graveyard beneath her. I wonder if she knows she’s treated like nothing. She bears her fruit like she bears her soul, and all she gets back are broken limbs and piss.

Mum calls me over to help her make dinner. Salt dribbles onto my lips and I lick it away, turning to Mum as she sets out the cotoletta. She stands over the bench, back bent, like the trunk of my lemon tree, only Mum doesn’t get pissed on – we just take fruit, leaving her bare.

Today, Nonno taught my cousin to piss on the lemon tree. Men and their dicks, I think. He’s thirteen, and at lunchtime his friends play scopa and yell about the girls they want to fuck. They probably piss on their lemon trees too.

 

 

Photo by Angélica Echeverry on Unsplash.

 

i still haven’t got my breath back

A prose poem of “found fragments”, compiled by Julia Prendergast in homage to Swinburne student readings: ‘Tell me’ / Sudden Writing Spoken Word Event, 13 April 2022.

 

I don’t understand you and I don’t wish to

She wanted to paint him… her brush swelled with paint

…wet paint in sunlight

Yet here I am… both the abductor and the abductee

I was finally made of stardust

Into the void… my reflection is nothing

Squirm and struggle

The glimmering thin sense of the 21st century

Then there were the books – there were the books

Give me a second to think… when I’m thinking I walk… when I’m stressed, I run…

I’ve lied…

If I date you… how did you get that scar on your elbow?

Tell me all of it. Tell me your 3am feelings.

Your sister – the nice troubled one…

I don’t ever want to leave this room

It was cold and we were chest to chest. Rocks and twigs.

I sobbed as bits of me were dragged under water

An invitation to intertwine hands – for so long I had to wait for you to return

Watch me walk – I’m not moving anymore

The leaves make a different sound when they’re dry… That crackling skittering sound

I’m not in a cave, though sometimes I wish that I was… That’s what happens in what you think is your world… I live down, down below

The boys tumbled out of the sea

She looks back at the road and thinks very briefly of her own blood

More important than any of those, it’s her favourite sound… she taught me to find beauty in the mundane

The most important thing for us was honesty and communication

You baffle me.

 

Photo by Noah Black on Unsplash.

journey to the end of the line

 

by Jarryd Worland 

 

Studying at uni has afforded me the luxury of working-class travel on Melbourne’s suburban rail network. Growing up within arm’s reach of both school and the shops (thanks to access to a personal taxi service: my parents), I’ve never had to rely on public transport. There were only a few exceptions – occasional trips to the city for Dad’s Christmas work parties, or visiting the aquarium, zoo or museum with my family.

Due to Swinburne University’s Hawthorn campus surrounding Glenferrie Station and living on the wrong end of the Monash Freeway, ‘train-ing’ to uni every day seemed like the obvious choice – especially with a concession Myki. As of January 2022, my round-trip to uni consists of two 90-minute walks followed by the bus and train, costing just $4.60. Early on, I discovered a second advantage: if I’m already paying under $5 every day to go to uni, why don’t I use my Myki to explore Greater Melbourne for, essentially, free?

Over my six years at Swinburne, I’ve grasped the opportunity to take a train towards the end of every electrified line, just to explore and see what’s there. From the forested Hurstbridge and Belgrave stations to beachside Sandringham and Williamstown stations, Melbourne’s diverse landscape and towns are readily accessible by public transport with each line hosting its own distinct charms. It was always a pleasure to take an afternoon to explore and see what was there.

In my most recent adventure, I spent a cool, summer day travelling to the end of all 15 electrified train lines in Melbourne – within 24 hours. I followed a planned route that had me span Metro Trains, SmartBuses, local buses, trams, and even a V/Line train, accompanied with a little bit of walking (and some running!).

With my recently acquired knowledge of each end-of-line station, I have put together some ideas for your next cheap, daily excursion:

Hurstbridge Station

The leafy, Northern suburb of Hurstbrdige. It’s a quiet place filled with farmland and a park that has a Veteran’s monument. You can find a shopping strip along the main street selling refreshments, but I would call this the ideal space to read a book – or the latest edition of swine magazine!

journey to the end of the line    journey to the end of the line

Lilydale Station

Lilydale Station has recently been rebuilt as part of the Level Crossing Removal Project, and it stands out from the surrounds. The old station building is currently being refurbished as part of the new station forecourt. In the meantime, you can check out the local shops that surround Maroondah Highway, or if you’re feeling adventurous, go on a long walk along the rail trails and creek trails that take you to the surrounding Yarra Valley destinations like Healesville, Coldstream, and the Dandenong Ranges.

journey to the end of the line    journey to the end of the line

Sandringham Station

They don’t make beaches like these ones: a small trot down from the cliff face to the water, before you reach what feels like a secluded space for a swim. Even if you’re not a fan of sand, you can walk or cycle along the coastal shared path connecting Webb Dock into the city, all the way down to Parkdale. Just make sure to keep an eye on the path while you’re fawning over the view!

journey to the end of the line   journey to the end of the line

Williamstown Station

A station home to the serenity of the shores of Port Phillip Bay, you can smell the salty sea breeze and feel the cool winds from the nearby ocean. While it’s not the best place for a swim, watching the view on the grass of Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park is ideal for meditation and relaxation. You’re welcome to bring along a picnic basket or take a short walk to the nearby botanical gardens and embrace the Australian past time of fish and chips by the sea, watching the ships go by.

journey to the end of the line

Glen Waverley Station

The heart of multi-cultural shopping and cuisine, at least for an end-of-line station! You won’t be disappointed by the countless options for food and drink. To top it off, The Glen Shopping Centre is nearby for your shopping needs, and on the other side, Village Cinemas Century City for your screen entertainment.

journey to the end of the line  journey to the end of the line

Have you got a favourite destination, a train ride away? Or, perhaps you are inspired to find your own spot on Melbourne’s train network? If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take the challenge up yourself and see how far you can go in 24 hours? Or, go and check out the regional destinations Victoria has to offer via V/Line.

Follow Jarryd Worland on Instagram @_pokekid_ or Twitter @JarrydWorland for more adventures.

 

 

Photography by Jarryd Worland. Feature image by Pat Whelen on unsplash.

language

 

by Aisha Noorani 

 

Language, perhaps, is not merely the endless attachment of letters to letters, and words to words. Perhaps, it is all and everything that can evoke something in you and me, or I and we. Perhaps, words allow the enslaved to be free,

the differences to finally agree,

the blind to see,

the hurt to be healed slowly,

the lost to find life’s precious key,

the silenced to witness an answer to their plea,

the friends to disagree,

the minds to develop progressively,

the hearts to flutter and flee,

the unjust to hear the final decree,

the broken to not be,

the people to live liberally,

and all that happens with the letters a to z.

 

 

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on unsplash.

dear sister

 

by Zoe Sorenson

 

Your plants are still here.

I guess that’s kinda obvious

since you couldn’t really fit multiple potted plants

(or stupid kid-brothers)

in the one duffel bag you packed when

you decided to leave forever.

 

Still, you loved them so much.

I kinda figured that, if anything, you’d

come back for them.

I don’t understand how you could

leave them behind.

 

You gave so much of yourself to

the things you loved—

your attention and care

became their own kind of magic.

Now would be a really good time

for you to use those superpowers of yours

to reappear

and the plants can be happy again.

 

It’s only been a little while since you left,

but already they’re starting to wilt.

I don’t know if it’s ’cause of

the time that’s passed,

or if they somehow know that you’re gone.

Maybe they’re just

grieving in the way they know best.

 

I’ve tried so hard to help.

I’ve tried so hard to keep alive

the one thing left of you.

But nothing I do is enough and

I’m going to lose them just like

I lost you so please

just come home. I need you

to fix it like you always do.

 

Your flowers miss you.

I miss you.

I want my big sister back.

 

 

 

Image by Yulia YasBe on shuttertsock.

an unfortunate introduction

by Shawnee Neal

 

My supervisor’s voice was barely audible over the sound of my heartbeat thumping in my ears. It was the first time we were having a group meeting to discuss our work over Zoom and I was so full of adrenaline that I could hardly concentrate. I scanned the faces of the four other interns on the screen, searching for any sign that they were feeling the same way, but they seemed to be collected and hanging onto our supervisor’s every word.

‘Shawnee, you’re up first,’ my supervisor said, snapping me out of my daze.

The glare reflecting in her thick, black glasses mirrored the image of my work on the screen. She pushed her hair back over her shoulder and quickly introduced my article.

‘Okay, so this article is called 5 things I’ve learnt in therapy that I wish I’d known sooner. Let’s workshop this together.’

I could feel my heart beat faster and my cheeks flush as she scrolled down the page. I was familiar with the uneasy feeling of having your work critiqued in public from my past experiences workshopping at university, but I’d worked so hard writing and editing this article, so I really believed in it.

‘This is wrong’, my supervisor snapped as she started reading. The other interns sat in silence anticipating her comments. ‘Disclaimers, trigger warnings and helplines should always go at the end of an article.’

Immediately taken aback, I opened my mouth to argue that disclaimers and trigger warnings should always appear before content. However, I felt it would be disrespectful to correct our supervisor, so I held my tongue and wrote the feedback down.

‘This opening line is too soft. I need the sexiest, juiciest parts at the top to draw the reader in… this, too, this whole first section can probably be reduced to one line.’

For the next half an hour, she continued dissecting the piece line by line and repeating the words ‘too soft’, ‘unnecessary’, ‘clunky’ and ‘long-winded’. With every word she said, I felt myself getting smaller and more embarrassed. Eventually I could barely lift my eyes from my notebook to the screen.

I continued to sit in silence as she worked her way through the document, nodding and smiling when I felt like I should.

‘Yeah, look, I see what you’re trying to do here,’ my supervisor said, ‘but it needs to be more nitty-gritty and real. I want to know why you go to therapy. I want to know what anxiety and depression is like for you—like, when you say you’ve had an anxiety attack, what thoughts go through your head? You know? I think you could get rid of a third of—this… fluff—and just focus on the hard-hitting stuff.’

‘Thank you.’ I said, forcing a smile and wiping my sweat-soaked palms on my trousers.

‘And everyone, just as a head’s up, please don’t send me the first drafts of anything. I want to see your third, fourth, or maybe even fifth draft to give feedback on. Otherwise, it’ll just be a waste of everyone’s time. Okay?’

My stomach sank deeper with every word, knowing that this wasn’t my first draft– it was my fourth.

‘Thank you,’ I said, again. And with that, she moved on.

When the Zoom call finished, I sat in silence for a while and stared numbly at my frozen reflection on the empty, black screen in front of me. I took some time to breathe and centre myself before I tried to move. Eventually, I closed my laptop and dragged myself to the kitchen where Mum was sitting at the dining table.

‘Oh, honey,’ Mum said as soon as she saw me. ‘What happened?’

I sat down beside her and hugged my knees to my chest. She rose from her chair and enclosed me in her arms as I told her everything.

‘That’s so wrong,’ she said as I let out another slow breath. ‘You can’t ask a person to write about something that they’re not comfortable with—and you shouldn’t have to write it.’

‘But maybe this will give you a thicker skin when it comes to your writing.’ Mum offered after another moment. Despite still feeling the sting of my supervisor’s words, I knew Mum was right.

‘Tell you what,’ Mum said, ‘how ‘bout you take a break and I’ll make you a coffee.’ I thanked her as she flicked on the kettle.

I pushed my chair out from the table, sulked back to my room, and opened my laptop. There was still a weight on my chest as I opened my article, but I inhaled deeply and got to work. Finding motivation amongst the vulnerability was difficult, but I had made a commitment to this program, and I was determined to honour it. Taking some of my supervisor’s feedback onboard, I cut the word count down by a third and considered the parts of the article I’d like to elaborate on.

I soon realised how uncomfortable I was with discussing the darkest parts of my mental illnesses, let alone writing about them. My mind drifted back to a memory of my psychologist asking me to write down my thought spirals in a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exercise. I remembered thinking how silly and irrational my thoughts seemed when they were on paper, but I continued with the exercise. When I showed them to my therapist, she laughed at one of my notes, saying ‘Why would you think that?’. At the time, I laughed it off, but her reaction had felt like a pin in my heart. I realised the comments from my supervisor had hurt me in the same way.

***

The weeks that followed were challenging, and I found that I didn’t have the energy to revisit the article. I couldn’t bring myself to write it, as something always held me back, so I let it be, and turned my attention to something new. I worked on an article for a university assignment, and deciding I had nothing to lose, I submitted it for consideration for publication at a literary journal.

I was still sitting in front of my laptop when I got an email from one of the other interns I had been working with. There was no message, just a link to an article online. I began reading.

The article stated that the publication we were interning for had been using unpaid writing interns to create most of the pieces for their social media pages, online publications, and magazines—often without crediting the author. A lot of the former interns’ experiences described in the article mirrored my own. Similarly to the interns before us, we were expected to write outside of our allocated work hours and despite how it seemed when we applied, it was unlikely that we would be employed once the internship program finished.

After reading the article, I felt strangely relieved. It finally made sense to me why I had hesitated to write my article—it had been my intuition telling me something was awry, and subsequently I decided to leave the program. I found some comfort knowing that this was not the norm for internships, and that there are programs out there that are amazing and truly value their interns. However, knowing that mine was no longer a company that I could support, I opened my email and began typing my letter of resignation.

Just as I was about to close my laptop, I received an email notification—it was from the literary journal that I had submitted my second article to. The familiar sensation of hearing my heartbeat thumping in my ears returned, as I held my breath and clicked on the email.

Dear Shawnee, it is my pleasure to inform you that we have accepted your piece for inclusion…

I cupped my hand over my mouth. I had just quit my first role in the literary industry, and astonishingly, another opportunity arose almost instantly. I couldn’t believe it.

Once again, I was sitting in front of my laptop feeling overwhelmed, but this time it was with pure joy.

Image by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels.