“what breaks without changing doesn't signify”— Alice Fulton, Fables from the Random.




“inspiration” first appeared in Sidewalk


For more poetry from Australia

Melissa Ashley Melissa Ashley

Anatomy of My Hysterical Womb

If you were to peel open one by one the balled fingers of my fist (like taking a dangerous object from the clench of a toddler) a trickle of red down the wrist too / and if the palms of some poets hide knives / torn hearts / others still the juiciest of figs / if you could unlock my tight curled fist

You would find a near-perfect specimen of hysterical womb syndrome (a common nineteenth century female complaint occasionally cured by creative therapies such as the application of “intravaginal insufflations of tobacco smoke” and clitoridectomy. The uterus was thought to be a little wombat-like animal that had the liberty of wandering throughout the female body and causing neuralgic disturbances. . .)

Bald-animal loosed from its connections to pelvic bone / nerves / cervix / blood branches and coiled itself in a knot, travelling up the thorax, ejecting via the mouth as in a disgorged pip or bean. Caught in the palms it's as hard as stone / flexible as rubber. And sticky inside my fingers like ruptured figs or segments of heart.

My errant uterus shrinking after birth like oven-roasted capsicum (another artist's representation of the organ, which included a densely-packed wad of seed, flush right.) While years ago in Borneo witchdoctors strapped foetus-size stones to their waists and scrunched up their faces mimicking birth pain

Executed sympathy dances for first-time mothers. And further back in time Caesarian sections were performed without anaesthetic and the suture poulticed with a decoction of artemesia agrimony betony mallow flowers of pomegranate dried roses sedge and sweet smelling bulrushes steeped in sour black wine

Tracing developmental rock-nubs of the foetal spine; red leaf veins of the circulatory system which ravels and spreads like time-lapse photography or plashing rain a priori to lightning. And the woman shoeless, thrusting her uterine-stone into clouds. Waiting for the strike

Waiting for the flash of quickening; the coagulation of the light of life that soon attaches itself — clinging — to the walls of her thunder-egg womb; concealed in her outstretched fist like a felt-soft jewellery pouch jiggling ruby flesh / diamond bone. Remembering that the shaman's organs became quartz in the dark extremity of his dreaming

The container of her womb as petrii dish incubating the life-producing agent - semen – as it congeals into the child. States the Qur'an for example, human life is created out of a small quantity of sperm that has been poured out. Which can be read as half the world's oldest (Aristotle, Upanishads) and most arrogant error.

Overlooking our ovaries honeycombed with eggs. Drawing our wombs with horns. Telling us it was a small animal that could be called back to its rightful place by balancing on our navels a nutshell containing tincture of horehound honey muscat the cat's fat the warmth of a lit candle


carmine bracket fungi. spongy, like touching fresh
figs or a dead fish eye, but springing back into shape
in a similar manner to the palm-skin of a small child.
risen to nostril level the sounds of a thousand bored
and painted fingernails interacting with myriad hard
surfaces. you study the coral polyps, a carpet of mini
metronomes transplanted from ocean bed and sewn,
like shining sequins, onto epidermi of wood. stirring
in pliant air their bunched hems flip forth and back.
forth and back. or, you conclude, cycling past the
city's disused wharves and docks, these shore flowers
might be giant lungs, cut out the chest cavity of
some defeated titan or goliath. turned inside out
and draped, a salted sausage, over certain kinds
of tree. you notice, strewn on rotting planks of jetty,
five ancient, sleeping lizards, five abandoned ship
anchors, soaking up the sun.

Ariel's Song

that tree has cancer suggests Ginsberg /
levering his eyebrow towards the mass of
buckles and knots / stone-hard /
necrotic-grey / distending the neck of an

the poet is in Bath participating in an
interview for the Paris Review // the great
oak is as close to the bones of Diana's
temple as igniting a cigarette

its taproots clench roman redware and
the broken lips of soapbowls / and oil
decanters bloomed from glass iridescent
as paua-shell / when two thousand years'
collected dust / lifts

in Hanoi a banyan tree in the process of
being hand felled kills three men // the
fragmentation-grenade enclosed in
concentric fists of wood-tissue / dormant
as rock

the project begun when sapling / the laws
of genetics accommodating mock fossil /
knitting banyan fibres and cartilage over
the alien diamond // internalisation is a
thirty summers' deep / bad habit

Ölûdeniz Beach

six phosphorescent sickles / smaller than the
zodiac of nail parings on yr sleeping bag this
morning / lift out over the mountain's thousand foot

a beaker of ocean holds u up
not much here just the submarine cicada hum of
stone grinding against stone / yr ear canals sealed
in brine / yr hair meshed into sticky sardine chunks

yr line of vision includes belly-flopping children / &
six star-trails developing on a time-lapsed polaroid
of sky

the paragliders' ultra-lite canopies like brittle strips
of radius / femur devolving with the accumulating
loss of altitude into invertebrate caterpillars / plump

sun-roasted pebbles print small red disks on yr
bare back & arms / remind u of gypsy crops beside
the highway / of bright apricots maize /

of crisp sunflowers meticulously shovelled &
spread out to dry

while u snack on pistachio nuts like hardened
miniature avocados / tongue the sweat beads of
salt gathered into crevices between each halved
part / & sip coca-cola lite

the cotton-veiled cleaning woman empties yr hotel
room of its bloodied sheets & bins / recalls the
trailer of jersey cows / their red-wine urine / blood
& lumpy manure swept into the street

feels a throb of concern / recognition

further down the beach seriously burnt english
tourists / video-tape the gliders' touch-down on
rectangular canvas nets

fantasise that maybe tomorrow they'll sign up for
the 4wd journey to the eye-brow / launch-pad of
the mountain