CW: poverty and starvation.
A Starving (Wo)Man
hangs by the chain-line grocery
its green banners and bag scanners guarding
tumble-pile fruit by the door
pale market where people go in fugue, buy in fugue, stay in fugue
headphones cinched against glossy pop blare
this starving (wo)man knows the sacredness of fugue
this boygirl knows not to break it.
So boygirl quiets their keening hunger
the call of life lived in The Red
negative signifier right there by (Wo)Man’s head
[[keep that animal knot at least twenty metres
from the automatic doors’ grazed reflex]]
[[You see? even glass and motor are hush hushed here –
the ceremonies of fugue]].
boygirl closes their eyes and counts the underlid shadow blots morphing
s/he considers joining a long and ancient tradition
of quick arcs of the wrist, the pocketed and
But s/he is good.
Knows apple-skin winks aren’t for them
without the requisite capital
reminds theirself by phone, pulling at the red script left of the decimal
tucked under their account number, tries to drag dollar sign
from the flank of one number to the other by fingertip.
There are so many ways
s/he can quell that snakeborn Genesis temptation
to feed the animal that s/he is
phone in hand.
Deference to the bowed head and screen glow.
A new way of enforcing space in its absence
[[the dance of fugue, the monklike inward bend of fugue]].
s/he knows all the quietly agreed upon things, s/he has spent enough time among open-chested breathers with good jobs and big steaks to cook for dinner,
s/he knows the false bravado to adopt for a job interview, the kind of spin to its spool
but these talents are luckless here
so s/he gazes into pooling thing,
put photos of your face on there and get candy heart likes thing.
Little zing just like the chalky real stuff.
Can carry boygirl through the next hour at least.
Chastising their snaking spit with a wrist-swipe s/he
obediently follows scroll-by guides of template shamanism,
of ‘Healing’ beamed into pixelate
‘You have more power than you know!’
Cosmic Bandage Brands singing jingles on cue,
‘You need to take care of yourself.’
s/he diligently does push ups over stomach growls
climbs the psychokinetic steps
to adrenaline rush and home-in-the-skin
stops, adjusts coat under hovering eyes
categories exploding around their kitchen-scissor haircut, or,
most people are either a girl or a boy, and s/he is an outlier in this.
Swing back into phone fugue,
the posts on healing morphing in time with eyeblots:
‘You need to Psychologically spiritually heal as in take up gardening as in understand where and what you are and plant a tree about it as in stop doing this to yourself, as in, your underdog needs to do some
‘Do what you can with what you have!’
Following this drive-by soul magic
they curl foetal and die.
Joining the spiralled bodies peppering the carpark,
the grocery-goers thank them with silent fugue-dance glances.
A gesture for
not interrupting the shopping experience.
the art of starving politely.
Give their listless float
to the sun pummel.
Sunscreen tang makes shoulders glisten
half-moon cream meniscus catching hard white light
wet bodies drip puddles onto poolside and canteen line
thongs squawk their foam heel-flip.
Inside that blue we are all made frictionless.
Encased in cold chemical, wobbling sun crosshatch
kicking off into heavy water catch
pool-cleaner tick-tocking its suction-mouthed jitters along the tiled floor.
I prepare my gasp for the surface.
Curling into cannonball, ready to pounce into air.
I burst through the blue into splash cacophony.
The vacuum whoop of my deep inhale.
About the author
Oliver Rose Brown is a nonbinary transmasculine poet living in Meanjin. Their work has appeared in Bareknuckle Poet, the Tundish Review and URINAL magazine.