We need that girl

By Vita Forest


While carrying a bag of cat litter through the supermarket

I was startled when three pigeons swooped up

the Jams and Spreads Aisle

Over the Fruit and Veg

And across to the Frozen Food section.

 

Three birds!

In this underground supermarket!

Taking off and flying over the shelves in formation

As if migrating together over rows of tall buildings

All the same height.

 

And I thought

How did they get in?

And I thought

How will they get out?

 

And I thought

We need that girl from school

That wide-eyed uncertain girl

peering sideways, talking hesitantly

But she certainly knew what to do

That time on playground duty when a group of breathless girls

Ran to report

A mynah bird in the classroom!

It couldn’t get out!

 

I advised opening blinds and windows

And carefully herding it toward freedom.

But this girl, this uncertain girl

Marched into the classroom

Swooped down on the anxious mynah

Cradled it in her hands

Walked determinedly outside

And released it.

“Wow!” I thought

(“She has chickens,” I was told.)

 

But today

we need that girl again.

In the underground supermarket

Can someone make the announcement on the loudspeaker please?

She is needed in Aisle 12

Near the Frozen Fruit.

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest

 

This week I have been

WRITING School saga

READING Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (I haven’t seen the mini-series yet, any good?  I will write more about this one soon).

WATCHING

  • Beginners (a gorgeous movie by Mike Mills)
  • Beauty and the Beast with Lucy and her friend (which other “Disney princess” could Emma Watson play but the book-reading Belle?)

HOLDING a class-worth of parent-teacher interviews (see School saga) phew!

MISSING my usual classes at the gym to hold the parent-teacher interviews and therefore

FEELING stiff and stressed.

PICNICKING near the river on Saturday on a rare sunny day.  We have had an extremely wet March, may April be drier…

 

Distracted

By Vita Forest

 

Did he have water?  Had he put sunscreen on?  Was he at least taking a little bit of food?  I was distracted by Max getting ready, Max who had forgotten to take a water bottle on the previous scorching day, that stinker, that heatwave, and had managed by slurping from various taps and bubblers but had come home parched, lips cracked, cheeks red.

I had been distracted by Max, checking his phone, throwing back a glass of milk, checking his phone, cleaning his teeth, checking his phone.  We were leaving early to drop him at the other train station where he was to meet his friends before I went up north for some Zumba with my favourite Latino instructor, the one I scour the timetable for, who I travel for, who brings a smile to my face with his high-energy antics.  But I was distracted by Max, so I slid my feet into my slip-on shoes, the wrong shoes, the unsuitable shoes, but I was distracted.  We got into the car, Max – cap jammed on his head, skateboard jammed by his legs, idly spinning its wheels with his right pointer.

“They’re already there,” he updated me, checking his phone.

These school holidays Max has become a true teenager, preferring his friends to his family, taking his opal card and flying all about the city on trains, buses and boards, following rumours of skate-parks, cheap food and branded shoes.

“Do you remember when I hated teenagers?” he asked as we waited to pass the local roadworks.

I saw him again, hunched in the corner of a bus seat on a ride from Lucca to Barga in Italy, glaring when the aisles suddenly filled with loud local teens, shouting, laughing, full of joy and private jokes, delirious that school had ended for the day, unconcerned with the ears of other passengers like Max, who found them obnoxious and unbelievable.  Their mindless chatter, their supreme confidence, their lack of consideration.

“I hate teenagers,” he had announced, all of eight years old.

“Huh!  Now we are probably like that…” and I could imagine Max’s gang up the back of the bus, shouting over each other, one-upping each other, skateboards flipped up beside their too-large bodies.

I was distracted by watching Max as if through a stranger’s eyes, jumping out of the car at the kerb and sloping up to the traffic lights, waiting for green, then running, running off to meet his friends so they could make the next bus to the beach.  I was remembering how at Pilates the day before, I was chatting to an old acquaintance, catching up on news, when I became aware of a woman standing beside her waiting.  And then was introduced to her daughter, Max’s age, who I remembered as a curly-headed pre-schooler, all grown-up now (or looking that way).

As I lost sight of Max, I turned on the radio and became distracted by the story of a man in Noosa telling an appreciative crowd about his three angels – his adoptive mother, his adoptive grandmother and his birth mother.  How they watched over him when he couldn’t cope and how they led him to meet an unknown brother who was there in the crowd today!  (I blinked away tears – items on Radio National always get me in the guts).

Then I was distracted by Ted Hughes reading his poems at the Adelaide Festival years ago.  The Thought Fox, which we had done at school and Song for a Phallus, which he almost sang, and struck by the violence and brutality and passion of Lovesong.  I was distracted by learning that after the break, he had actually met up with Sylvia to discuss her Ariel poems – they were not new to him at her death.  I was distracted by remembering reading Ariel for the first time in the cool quiet of the library of UNSW, my lecturer warning that “it will be an experience”.  She was right.

And so I sat in the car, listening and thinking, then distractedly turned off the engine when it was time and walked into the gym thinking of Sylvia, Ted, Max, that pre-schooler now woman.  Then I looked down at my feet and gasped – the wrong shoes!  No Zumba today.

 

 

Southerly Buster

By Vita Forest

 

In the pool at dusk

shafts of sun break diagonal

through glitter-edged clouds hunkering in from the west.

I float in the pool and note how

Max swims like he talks

thrashing and splashing

dives designed to disturb the peace

with the biggest amount of bluster.

Lucy examines blue-shelled snails

strolling on slick black rock at water’s edge

peels one off and peers at its secret inside suction system

puts it back and it trundles on.

We burrow our fingers in the soft swaying strands of moss

green and warm from the sun

Alive.

 

The clouds rear over the hills and rain falls hard.

You almost can’t believe the change

The downpour

The ‘steady drum of rain’

Bucketing, pouring, pelting, crashing, smashing,

as I sit safe on the balcony

cocooned in my cage

a cage barred with falling water.

 

Then it’s over.

As quick as it began.

The world smells fresh and green

and I watch a man climb out of his car and

perform a magic trick

whipping off his boardies

in public

under a tucked-in towel

slinging them in the boot and

driving away.

And I wonder

could I manage that manoeuvre?

 

The blue is peering down through the grey again

at the black dog racing along the beach

kicking up clods of yellow sand as it goes.

Gargoyle

By Vita Forest


And Uriel says No, the man over there was not who we were waiting for.  A definitive NO, he was not a sketcher, he was full of rage and swearing and a moment ago, before we arrived, he had been shirtless, not a sensitive arty type, not one for contemplation.  No.  He was NOT part of the group.

Katerina sets up her stool smack in front of her subject.  She doesn’t look for a convenient corner or ledge or wall to lean against.  She doesn’t need a wall at her back to give her power, to give her anonymity, to blend into.  Katerina plants herself right in the middle of the stream, an island the curious will have to circle around it.  She owns it.

Who knew a stool could do that?

I crane up at a stone gargoyle gripping the wall with its six clenched toes.  It could be an owl, a bat, a creature from a nightmare.  Its toes are straining anyway, gripping that wall, about to launch, about to take off.  And a woman from over the sea, from another land, wants to capture me as I capture the gargoyle.  I am trapped on the ground with my sketchbook, mid-sketch, as it is trapped on the wall, about to take flight.  With gestures she makes her request and at my wry nod, comes to stand beside me, to embrace me, to drape her arm around me, as her friend takes the photo (quicker than my sketch), before she too, comes inside the camera’s view finder to stand with me and save the encounter for posterity.  What will they say about this moment?  My friend…  An artist… An Australian…  Will the caption and the tales told last longer than the time it took to take the photo, to construct this story of intimacy and relationship?  Was I like a wild animal momentarily tamed?  How brave to touch the now anaesthetized form of the king of the jungle.

I move to get a fresh perspective, and hear Tomas giving Winona a lesson in perspective.  He tells us that to be expressive, you don’t need to worry too much about perspective.  That’s lucky.  Buildings are hard for me, scare me a little.  I decide to scare myself and sit on the stone floor with the comforting bricks of sandstone at my back and look through an archway to my subject beyond.  My spot is cool and shady but people can and do stroll by, some nonchalantly glancing down at my sketch, surreptitious, furtive, curious without wanting to disturb or invade, playing it cool except for the small girl who peers down, leaning her hands on her knees unabashed and we smile at each other before she runs off, footfalls ringing on stone.

Around us, bells sing and chime.  Up in the tower, someone plays their song and sends it out over the rooftops, over the hills, how far?  The notes tumble and ring against the tiles and the glass and the stone, trickling down to the green green grass, emerald in its brightness, a stage we all face where tourists sprawl before drifting off again, before the heat of the sun becomes too much.

We skulk around the edges, in the shadows, looking in, looking up, looking through, looking past and measuring, recording, watching, the whisper of pencil on paper, the clench of finger muscles, the crick in the neck.  The buildings are at once intimidating and playful, orderly and rambunctious, authoritarian and welcoming.

This is where I came to see my friend’s choir, where I came for a lecture, where Josie Alibrandi raced John Barton in that movie (as Lucy reminded me), where students for years and years meet, and Tomas came in the past with his family on silent Saturdays and abandoned Sundays when they were the only ones around, and this is the place where brides and their entourages visit for the atmospheric backdrops to the beaded and brocaded.  And now we sit, facing in, around the periphery and study and record and express.

We draw.

Worried

By Vita Forest

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It is the end of the calendar year, and in Australia, the end of the school year too.  The last week or so has been filled with lots of “special” and “fun” events.  But these occasions have also been felt as changes to routine and the end of predictable patterns that a lot of children hold dear.  Some children reverted to behaviour that I thought we were past, interesting quirks returned and lots of kids were tired and emotional.  I chatted to some colleagues about it – my class was not unique.

Believe it or not, some kids like school.  They crave the stability, predictability, the safe environment, that for some of them, unfortunately, is only to be found at school.  The idea of long summer holidays, away from their classmates, teachers and school community, fills them with nothing short of dread.

After a particularly exasperating morning, I called a class meeting.

“How is everyone feeling?” I asked, “Hands up if you worried about anything.”

A few hands went up.  Then a few more.

“What are you worried about?”

Then it all came out.

Next year.  What if I’m not with my friends?  Who’ll be in my class?  Who will my teacher be?  Homework!  Naplan! (Is this really what eight year olds should be thinking about?)  What if my teacher doesn’t know about me? (Special chair, special sticker chart, special chats, special expectations).  What if I can’t do the work?  Who are you teaching?  Will we have you again?

I told them teachers were feeling the same way too.  Who will be in my class!  (They laughed at that).  What grade will I be teaching?  And for some – Do I have a job?

Then we remembered how we felt at the beginning of this year and how things have changed since then.  The friends we have made.  The things that seemed so hard that now seem easy.  How if we weren’t with our friends from our last class we could still play with them at lunchtime.  And we still saw our old teachers around the playground.  And we could still talk to them.  And the work wasn’t so hard we couldn’t do it.  And how we all got used to each other and what we needed.

Then we all took a deep breath and felt a little less worried.

 

 

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING

  • Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (a bit of comfort reading…)
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

EATING Tapas with my book buddies

PRACTICING for our secret teacher flash mob…

CELEBRATING our Year 6’s Farewell dinner (in a beautifully decorated hall).  The two school captains cut the huge multi-level cake up on stage under fairy lights like a bride and groom…

MAKING a cushion cover for my niece Pippi to decorate her new reading nook.

VISITING the Finders Keepers Market with my parents

FILLING nine plastic crates with dance costumes

STRIPPING artwork from my classroom walls and sending it home

LAUGHING at my class’s reaction to cassette tapes.  They were so fascinated by those ancient artefacts I found in the back of my storeroom that I distributed them by lucky dip rather than throwing them out. (They needed lessons in how to open the cases however).