Big cat in the city

By Vita Forest

A giant cat lounging on the grass beneath the jacaranda trees, the train clattering over the elevated tracks behind it.

I’ve been pacing up and down, forward and back, looking at the tiger from every angle, judging the view and judging the heat of the sun, the amount of shade, the location of seats and weighing up whether I will be able to sit there and draw comfortably.  But I want to focus on the tiger’s head, I want to look right into its eyes, so I choose this place, beneath this tree in front of the MCA on the lawn.  The ground is slightly damp, so I look in my backpack and find a scarf.  I drizzle it into a puddle of fabric and it falls from my hand in layers and layers, a spiral on the damp grass.  I sit cross-legged on my fabric seat in the shade of the tree and look across at the tiger.

I remember Quentin’s sketch of this same cat, his use of watercolour, how he caught the vibrant golden yellow.  But I have not brought my paints today.  I will have to catch it another way.  I rummage through my pencil case and find my graphite pencil, 6B – capable of the darkest blacks at the press of my fingers.  I decide to use that.

I map out the figure on my page, lightly drawing in the bulk of the body, the angle of the head.  The tiger’s toes are often obscured by children bouncing on its limbs (before its keeper in an official high-vis vest tells them off) and adults stepping boldly between the tiger’s paws to smile at a camera, to catch the encounter forever, though they have hardly stopped to look, hardly paused to stare up into the eyes of the tiger.

I stroke its face with my pencil and it seems to like that, it rocks back and forth as if dancing, as if moving in time to the clashing cymbals accompanying the lion dancing somewhere out of sight in The Rocks.  Its eyes emerge on my paper, its stripes, the shadows that I notice when the sun bursts through the clouds in a brilliant dazzle.  Is it watching me from those deep streaked eyes, or is it looking over my head to the ferries, or across the bay to the pink gridded pig snuffling beneath the sails of the Opera House?

Does it welcome the rain that splatters my paper, that sends us all running and huddling for a few brief minutes beneath the deep overhand at the entrance to the MCA, that leaves watercolour fireworks, a happy accident amongst Lara’s bright sketch of fighting cockerels?  Perhaps it is a longed-for respite, those fat drops that pit its tight yellow skin, that staccato drumming across its shoulders.

The rain stops as quickly as it starts and I return to stand beneath the shade beneath the tree, the ground too wet to sit on now.  I cradle my sketchbook in my arm and continue to breathe life into the outline on my page.  It’s strange what your mind notices in these moments – the colours of the tiger’s stripes are also found in the carriages and doors of the trains that streak beneath the Cahill Expressway and onto Circular Quay.

And after I have met up with the other sketchers, after we have admired each other’s work and told our stories and taken our photos and said our farewells, after I have caught the train home and made a cup of tea and lain down to rest on the couch, one of my own cats, my Isaboe, casually walks along the length of my body before settling, purring, like a sphinx on my chest, weight on her forelegs, in a pose that mirrors that of the big cat in the city.

See the train in the background?

 

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Things of my table

By Vita Forest

Things on my table

  1. Three scarlet pomegranates in a blue pottery bowl.
  2. A streaky white resin bowl containing shells from various sea-side holidays, mostly pale.
  3. A stack of four water colour palettes that screw together to form a pleasing shallow cylinder.
  4. A tall vase of luscious pink and cream peonies.
  5. A hexagonal glass jar half-filled with water.
  6. Two writing notebooks and sharp HB pencil.
  7. A 6B graphite pencil, solid lead sharpened with a knife, pewter-coloured shards flaking off to form a point.
  8. My sketchbook and a wad of thick, textured water colour paper.
  9. Two cats, alternating between napping and eyeing the bobbing heads of the peonies, aliens from The World Outside.
  10. A finished sketch of those pomegranates in their blue bowl.

There’s a poem in that

By Vita Forest

There’s a poem in

The way we hate vegemite

And the way others don’t

The excuses she makes for missing

every single meeting

The vibrating cat that sits perched on my lap

Like a humming loaf

The scarlet red of the flowers on the coral tree and

the way they fall apart if you remove them from the tree

The smiling girl in the photo who just last week

tried to kill herself

The rock that you step over on the path

In the shape of a heart

The shriek as we leap the channel surging back to the sea

And land heavy-heeled in the retreating water

The light patter of rain

On the hood of my new black raincoat

The bowl full of  shells

That sits in the middle of the table.

Poems

everywhere.

Tai-chi and Tennis rackets

By Vita Forest

Leap from the bed

Roll up the blinds

Release the felines into the day

 

Opening shutters and children’s doors

Shadowed by jogging cats

Tails held high

 

While crossing the drawbridge with my daughter

We stop at the scratch! scratch!

from the place where the moat would be

If we had one

 

Instead, a brush turkey in the garden bed

Sorting twigs and leaves and straw

Raking claws, giving me pause

On the way to the garage

 

Rousing the engine

rolling up the drive

Hovering, humming, hanging for my son

He tears down the path

 

Barefoot in Winter

Carrying bag and shoes and

That navy jacket he just will not wear in the flat

To save it from the white fur of the cat

The bane of his existence.

 

We roll through streets

Talking music and homework and dance and

plans for the weekend

 

Toes are pressed into shoes

Arms are threaded into jackets

Pockets are checked for keys and phones and

I plan the evening meal

In my head.

 

They leap out at the station

And I wish for a red light

So I might stop a moment

At the railway

 

Long enough to see

The elderly couple

in tracksuits and fleecy vests

Dancing

 

As they practise

Tai chi with tennis rackets

Balls tossed over shoulders

caught again in unison

 

Swinging back and forth

Again and again

On the well-oiled tracks

Of their knees.

Holiday at home

By Vita Forest

With the children spending some time with their father, and myself still feeling rather worn out from the year that has passed, I recently spent a very good day doing really not much at all and feeling a whole lot better for it.  My day included:

  • Sleeping in then making a gourmet breakfast for one.  This included hot sourdough toast (which the butter melted into), a handful of spinach and rocket leaves drizzled over with Persian feta and olive oil and  a fried egg whose yolk broke and ran over the top of it all, orange juice made from a real orange and, of course, lashings of tea!
  • Reading, reading and more reading.  Finishing one book and immediately picking up another from the pile gathered from the local library from my To Read list.
  • Reading sitting at the table, reading lying on the sofa, reading lying on the booth seat with a cool, refreshing breeze brushing into the room through the open windows.
  • Later, much later, later than you would ordinarily expect to have lunch, I tied my favourite apron around my waist (a thick olive-green drill affair with pockets for any tools I might need – nothing dainty about it) and layered up, in my lovely Marimekko bowl of just the right size and proportions: segments of oranges with the skin removed, slivers of green kiwi fruit, slices of white nectarine with its blushing scarlet skin intact, the luscious contents of two passionfruit, three lychees which I broke apart with my thumbnails, nectar dripping over my hands and into the bowl as I tore the opalescent fruit away from the smooth brown seed inside and the gorgeous jewel-like seeds of a pomegranate falling over it all, as I held half a pomegranate cupped in my hand and whacked it with the back of a spoon, watching the seeds and juice splatter into the bowl below.
  • Occasionally the cats would chase each other across the mountain ranges of the furniture.  Brief bursts of scrambling, skittering and sliding before relapsing into their more usual tranquil resting that added to the atmosphere of peace and contentment.
  • Later again, I drove to the beach and plunged beneath the surface of the water, waking up every cell in my body in the salt water.
  • Later again I watched a few episodes of my latest crush on SBS On Demand and then went to sleep at a decent hour.

It doesn’t take much to have a deliciously decadent delightful day.  And that is what holidays are really about.

Mobile Tales 10: in which Christabel is charmed by a singing stone

By  Vita Forest

Like the reliable sailor she was, Christabel kept a close watch on all the goings-on in her part of the ocean from her post on the Good Ship Possession anchored in the ceiling.

On this particular day, she peered through her spy glass over the starboard side of the galleon and trained the instrument down into the ocean.  She was following the progress of a large grey stone travelling from a continental shelf in The Lounge Room to its new resting place on the murky floor of The Tabletop.  The stone was about the size of a block of parmesan cheese with rounded edges and a growth of silver barnacles on its upper side.  It sat solidly on the ocean floor, sending ripples over the surface of The Tabletop.


She was not the only one whose interest had been piqued by this stone.  The great white whale had followed the procession of the stone and had leapt up onto the The Tabletop to inspect the new arrival.  The stone was sniffed and nuzzled and found to be quite satisfactory.  It lay there, sturdily on the ocean floor, settling into the sand.


The light was shining in from the northern windows and sending drifting shafts down to the deep part of the ocean.  It was afternoon.  The whale lost interest in the stone and leap from The Tabletop again to gaze out the window at the World Beyond and enjoy the warmth of the sun’s caress on her soft white skin.  Christabel did the same – lost interest in the stone that is, there was no point looking at a stone when one could look at a whale.


But suddenly, the attention of both Christabel and the whale was drawn back to the stone by a most surprising occurrence.  The stone starting singing.  Christabel stood for a moment in amazement, listening to the notes of a – what was it?  surely a piano? which drifted up, spiralling on the eddies of the water until it seemed to wash over the bow of the Good Ship Possession itself.  Christabel not only heard it but felt it too.

It was quite extraordinary.

She closed the spy glass and it put it back in its holder and held onto the wooden side of the ship with both paws.

Yes!  It was true – she could feel the singing.  Christabel closed her eyes and felt the reverberations travel into her paws, up her legs, all the way to her scalp.  How the fur stood up on the back of her neck!  How the notes danced off the end of her tail!  She stood for a few moments, listening and feeling.  Feeling and listening.  The deep resonance of the low notes.  The sharp percussive spike of a high one.  She was being washed over in sound.

Eventually, when her whole body had been loosened and calmed with all the cricks and the aches and the pains erased, Christabel opened her eyes again and took a deep breath.  The piano music continued to sing up from the stone, filling the water, filling the air, filling the galleon.  In her peaceful state, she took out her spyglass once more and trained it down onto the stone.  The white whale was entwined about it, its eyes closed in a state of bliss as the waves of sound fell over its spine.


How marvellous, thought Christabel.  How mysterious.

And she closed up her spyglass and lay down on the deck of the galleon and listened and felt the music soar up through the water, through the creaking wooden boards of the galleon and into her very bones.

 

Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.