June 2021

Arts & Letters

Melbourne I

By Nam Le
New poetry

The alkyd paint in Rothko’s Black on Maroon series

contains egg, dammar resin. Under UV light

you should see the resins boil. They spring into fire

saying     be strong where you’re strong —

 

Face-smushed on Meyers Place he saw the series again,

instantaneously — across all frequencies —

having floated forty steps without touching ground.

Now he makes out the structure of the stampede:

 

Somewhere, a burst mains. (Because of how
            it sounds.)

Glazed heat on wet concrete. The city is one

great throat: its protest is joy     it chants its song

through true choke, blue choke     breath with
            haemal fret.

 

What the crowd wants, only the crowd can give,

the crowd fears. He feels pressure waves.
            Fluid dynamics.

‘I was just walking down Australia when the blue line

cinched,’ he imagines saying. Cops on horseback,

 

black-helmeted, ballistic-body-armoured. ‘I ran

because everyone else was running. Pushed because

everyone else was pushing.’ Crushed into acrylic

glass, iron godowns, pushed down by big skips

 

onto bluestone kerb. Thinking: that power pole’s slanted.

Those wheelie bins … backyard cricket.
            Tasting concrete dust,

metal dust. The Urdu poem: O Lord, how beautiful

must have been some of the faces trampled in the dust.

 

Untravelling now     roads beneath this road — basalt,

coaching road, gravel, cinder, dirt — remembering Rothko

slashed his wrists. And beneath: the clay body,
            the winning.

He was playing tiggy in childhood streets when the cops

 

digressed him — shunted him up close into hot-mix

asphalt     so photorealistic — full of scratch, warp, hiss —

but also mica dots that outglinted even the glare —

metallized, micro-prismed — of their hi-vis vests.

 

And the wood-backed lacquer paintings his parents,

whom he loved, used to love     inlaid with egg shell.

The sudden gleam of fuchsia on that pigeon’s neck.

The hyoid bone floating in its bath of muscle.

 

They knew, the police: the body was a problem

they could always solve. A matter of flexural

strength, resonance frequency. He thought: feldspar too.

Quartz. All of it and all at once. Resist nothing.

 

But this was his only face and fear began in him.

Someone put their palm against his cheek, shook

their head, which could have meant anything, not seeing

he was now himself a highline     uninsulated

 

surging with raw current     thrilling to behold where

he’d been all along. ‘He’s saying something,’ someone

said but they were wrong, he was past that, ungrounded,

shaping to the shine     sleeper-held     home:

 

Nick and back fence’s out. It’s one hand one bounce.

Car’s out, garage wall’s out, over the fence is out

and you have to get the ball. Roof. All the windows.

Every part — and that means you! — of the bin’s stumps
            — and out.

Nam Le

Nam Le is a writer based in Melbourne.

Cover of The Monthly, June 2021
View Edition

From the front page

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Image via ABC News

A dose of her own medicine

Berejiklian’s request for more Pfizer is galling, but it’s in the national interest to grant it

Still from Titane © Carole Bethuel

Cannes Film Festival 2021 highlights: part two

Provocative Palme d’Or winner ‘Titane’ addresses sexuality, body-horror and gender construction

In light of recent events

How I suffered the mother of all clusterfucks
Image of Sky News host Alan Jones

On the politicisation of lockdowns

How much responsibility does Rupert’s right bear for the spread of the Delta variant?


In This Issue

Image of cover of ‘Real Estate’

Grand designs: ‘Real Estate’

Deborah Levy’s latest ‘living autobiography’ finds her travelling and contemplating home, family and art’s revolutionary potential

Image of Dry Cleaning

More than a feeling: ‘New Long Leg’

The deadpan spoken-word vocals of British post-punk band Dry Cleaning are the mesmeric expression of online consciousness

Cover of ‘Secrets of Happiness’

‘Secrets of Happiness’ by Joan Silber

The American author’s Austenesque latest novel, a collage of short stories, traces the common pursuit of happiness through love and money

Image of Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison

Ignoring the gap

The budget shows that the government is not interested in lifting women out of poverty


More in Arts & Letters

Image of fish traps, Darling River, NSW, 1938

Transforming the national imagination: The ‘Dark Emu’ debate

Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s ‘Farmers or Hunter-gatherers?’ challenges ideas of progress championed by Bruce Pascoe

Still from ‘Nine Days’

Life in isolation: ‘Nine Days’ and ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’

A comedian’s isolated self-examination is more profound than Edson Oda’s confused film about what makes a good life

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

The Properties of Water

Poetry from the late Kate Jennings

Image from ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Like no actor ever: ‘My Name Is Gulpilil’

Molly Reynolds’s beautiful documentary is a fitting tribute to David Gulpilil, at the end of his singular life


More in Poem

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

The Properties of Water

Poetry from the late Kate Jennings

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Broadmeadows

Poetry from the author of ‘The Boat’

Eating from the dictionary

The Usual


Read on

Still from Titane © Carole Bethuel

Cannes Film Festival 2021 highlights: part two

Provocative Palme d’Or winner ‘Titane’ addresses sexuality, body-horror and gender construction

Image of Sky News host Alan Jones

On the politicisation of lockdowns

How much responsibility does Rupert’s right bear for the spread of the Delta variant?

Katie Hopkins. Image via Instagram

Katie Hopkins and libertarianism’s death sentence

The British media personality is the latest libertarian to be mugged by reality

Image of England players lining up during the penalty shoot-out following the UEFA Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium, London. Image © Nick Potts / PA Wire

Football’s coming home

Home truths from the Euro 2020 tournament