The red earth graze

on your chin

makes your tilted face

round like the world

An iceberg tooth

incites my lip

as if I were set adrift

colliding, capsized, lost

(tethered nevertheless)

in your unforgiving latitudes 

Brow cool

and fever dry

as any 

brazen templed sunset

 I suppose I must be the yellow dog moon

with my lopsided grin

bridled on a half-mouthed horizon

changing my mind

(and back again)

a creep closer and dark

with each circumnavigation 


when you gently

bite my face

I start to die again

Higher Ground

During the floods

We imagined higher ground

How it wassailed us with promised grandeur 

The way wandering philosophers proffer

Stark and mountainous vagaries

That none can ever reach

Except Tensing and Hillary

And the small fawn sparrow

They startled on the crest

When the waters failed to recede

We thought of broader bridges

Crossing vast, immodest swathes

To new and celebratory shores

Isolated but still standing

A wary freeway pass

Animals stymied in their crossing

Despite the crocodile trawl

Of ripples veering from unknown objects

The rent teeth gnawing

An opaque surface

Muck and slick and indolent

As if this ark were of a sudden

A peaceable place

Like in the idylls of latter day saints 

Lambs and lions in repose

Trees garlanded with garbage wreaths

All those broken toys

Subarus, consoles, drowned kites fluttering

Fish in sublimation

Half caught in the turbulence of unexpected freedom

Dead blank star smashed screens

Mired in neon vacancies and silt

Offered up to the entrails of monsters 

From which they were once made

Red as dawn’s blear warning

In hope

Of water’s gone

Transparent as the newly swollen day

A Poem Not Writ Whilst Dreaming

This is not the poem I wrote while sleeping

Where you wore a mask of summer’s wind bent trees

Of indecision crookèd on your face

Mouthing words no-one hears or reads 

A dew from the parasol of your lips

As if the season were uncertain

The sky quite sunless (neither low nor high)

Irregardless of my hand by hand ascension

A lady’s plaits are worn rope 

Anchored, twined

Lashed about 

Through the day’s fraught folly

All departed ships of laughter

Behind the mollusc of your hand

Far from eider seas

Pillars deliberately leaning

The skull white dome caved in

Never once and never to return

Unwind thread by thread

See how they arc and sleek

As a storm field’s horses

Oil to calm and myrrh to laud

Fine scissors with those scaled

Bird-limbed handles

The stalk beak wading

Through frayed ends

Turning with an alchemist’s consideration

A gull lorn, restless cry

Flax to falling silver

MacBeth & Augelemono

You made pyjama soup
Lemon, eggs, basmati
In a witchy broil
Sleeve dipped thrice for auguries
The way Macbeth’s crones crowed
A particularly unpleasant hunger
Soft as eyes, and sour sweet
In transit
A spot of black
Against, slick-bright
An unknown planet
A veined eye still watching
Toast mostly blacked and cut
In strips thin as a walking forest
Smeared on your lips
The glistered, noisome mask
Of any revenger’s tragedy
The battle almost done
Just dregs and crumbs
Of midnight’s salt & pepper folly

When I Was A Dog

For the reassurance of your face
Jaw thrust forward, a monstering
Marionetted palsy
Of strings and pinions
Inexpertly manipulated
I met you once
In another world
Ate a stale biscuit
Threw it up again
The sky in soot and butter
Curlicues and approbations
When I was a dog, for a while
Glass house, all lies, no windows
Barked at the moon
At her silver mockery 
Barked again, in the dark 
When she was gone
Stars like tears 
The poet said
But I was just a dog
Alone and
Not done howling

Bacon & Eggs (A revenger’s opera)

I broke two eggs

In that soft, one handed crush

You taught, a thumbnail for a spur

Hooked with the slight compression

That misshapes a world

Put them back together

Admittedly in somewhat different shape

All transparency gone

To a gleam made obtuse

As slippy, opaque destiny 

Butchered to order

The sign read 

(Hand drawn with

a crabbed and aching wrist)

On the corner of Argyle & Ross

The facade poisonous in dermatitis flakes

The dirty lead-white, scabrous underneath

Burst blisters watching, mouthing

How they hunger, how they weep

Cleaver raised, and falling like a curtain

A sizzle

As if the sea insisted

Something missing 

When you turned off

The waxy flame

A dead thickness

In the nose, on the tongue

An old world

Of stones and moss

Where the fat, not quite rendered

Wears a misbegotten smile

I thought of you

There is
As much light
In a glass of rain

As the work
Of flowers’ basking faces

The strayed mischance 
Slanting by
The boards’ sopranino-clef

I thought of you
Left the glass
Drained to the pale silt
Of passing Sunday afternoons
On the ledge
Almost unseen
The way a drop
On a broad green leaf
Swole to a cyst

Pours away

A swan passing
With that complex
Treble-clef insistence
Of her bent-necked attention

Veils and shrouds
Are almost the same
In the way they hide your mouth

Broke from reverie
With the kind of equine start
That warily insists
Hand inadvertently flickering
Against unseen adumbrations 

That slight, eroded horizon

Fell to winter’s shards
The blood drops leaching 
From lax fingers, raised to lips

The warm, silent taste

Too bright to dismay
Another shallow sunrise

Dead Wallaby Sunrise

While you

relentlessly shop

To sate your triskelion god

With small household accoutrements 

Paring knives,  cup hooks, sealing wax

I go out at night 

Howled when black dog ate 

The yellow biscuit moon 

Swole the colour 

Of fog blown traffic lights 

Threw it up again

Poisoned tongue and aquamarine 

Ruby where the tyres

Flayed the skin

Drove on hard to the point

Where all white lines disappear 

In oblivion’s sunrise

I will myself to sing (sub voce)

My brute euphonies 

Eagle, crow hop, hung on a string

The day spills out entrails

Almost, (not quite)

Hungry again

Death & Camellias

The fence buckles

By a camellia’s weight

A cloying honeysuckle breath

Calls wilted petals falling

As if long drought surceased

In a tea cup’s avalanche

Jawbones prow the earth

A grimace clowned and sidelong 

As if this were once a circus tent

Not a marshalling yard

Where brays anxious met

The impelling silence

Of hammers and serrations

When the earth uproots

In trenchant cascades

The ivy hideous, shivering

A wave, bent on the fulcrum’s back

In upheaval’s raw display

I wonder what pretty monsters

From desiccate honeycombs

In husk pale efflorations

From the secret earth, arise

The Stories We Don’t Tell


Let’s start at 4.13, a woman with a strong, Scandinavian face and big 60s hair stares out woodenly from a dark, grained, three by four frame. Suddenly she speaks, and her face comes alive, with charm, with engagement, with a particular kind of homely seduction.

“Me, do you want me? Oh I’m sorry.” She says with a wry and cheeky twist to her smile, the dark pits of her eyes shining, in a kind of Sally Field at the 1980 Oscars moment.

One moment of performance, an awards show, after the fact of the film, the other a screen test, before, and yet otherwise remarkably similar. In the former, a fictionalised, indeed weaponised account of a real woman who rescues her daughter from an oppressive, patriarchal, enemy, regime, given highest honour; in the latter, a nonfictionalized account of a mostly imaginary woman who is rescued by her daughter from a similar condition of ignoble erasure. In both, a woman must efface her true self, in disguise, in obfuscation, eyes only occasionally meeting ours through the veil, to reform her image, to rescue herself. Throughout Sarah Polley’s film, it is only in those liminal, pre-performative silences where something like the truth beyond our narrative constructs emerges.


At 38.30, in an email exchange narrated in the originator’s own voices, Sarah Polley arranges to meet Harry Gulkin, at a city café, in her quest to rescue the memory of her mother. “I always remember my Mom spoke of you with such affection,” she says. While a ragtime piano score recalling the light, farcical melodramas of the silent era plays, the meeting between the two is reproduced in the grainy, over-dark, over-saturated colours of Super 8 film. The drama is revelatory; there is an instant connection between the two, and one imagines gleaming twirled moustaches and the back of a hand raised to a lead-white brow in shock and feint (and I do mean feint), as, through the course of the conversation, Harry eventually reveals he is Sarah’s father.

However, it is not the drama of the scene that is important, but the means of its representation. Leah Anderst (2013), in an article that is mostly wishful thinking, describes Polley’s overall method as one of “choral autobiography” that democratises and lends “equal weight” to each voice, and this scene in particular, where the performers perform themselves, to represent – documentary style, recent events, as a “partial simulacrum”, as if such a thing could ever actually exist. I suppose the assumption is, capturing something in grainy mocked up super 8 film convinces us the way Schrodinger’s Cat does; that until we actually observe the cat, we do not know if it is dead or alive. In this case Schrodinger’s Sasquatch, perhaps, as the grainy film that we would normally find so unconvincing, is, in this case a partial simulacrum, its actual state can neither be observed, nor ignored; Sasquatch must, therefore, despite being in a quasi state, must be real. This is just an elaborate why of demonstrating that the implication of the partially simulated, is necessarily the partially real. The entire formulation, with its obvious anachronisms, (because even in 2013, when this meeting took place, it is fairly certain that both father and daughter had camera phones in their pockets capable of immeasurably superior sound and resolution) is fairly disingenuous.

Anderst (2013) says, “Although the viewer must realize that the “original” of the scene was never filmed, Polley gestures toward the style of those types of archival footage that are most often taken as evidence in documentary films.” I’m not sure exactly wha documentary films Anderst is referring to. The Zapruder film is perhaps the only Super 8 film I can think of with any evidentiary significance, and again that film obscured more than it revealed. Most home movies are depict distinctly artificial moments, so for a more accurate representation, let us cut “gestures” and splice in “dissembles”.


Thus the implication of the term, partial, is that another, unrevealed part is not simulated, but residing, with edges only slightly blurred, firmly in the bounds of the real. Let us loosen the grip on our own meaning, discarding the forensic precision of a high definition for the grained and indistinct frame of reference of cinema verité, wher “partial”, does not mean a part thereof, but rather, biased, slanted, taking the part of. When one takes a part, even when that part is truth, one puts on costume, and performs.

Gulkin and Polley sit at a table. He eats soup, she films, or parodies filming with a handheld Super 8 camera. It is a scene with a sense of ease; an intimate, familial scene. Various prostheses, of life, of film-making, are scattered in foreground and background; tripods, light stands, a vodka bottle. On the wall is what appears to be a window, sectioned and framed in small bright squares. In the periphery we see Sarah’s reflection move, and realise; this is a mirror, not a window, and therefore, in its relation to light, obtuse, not transparent. Do these many small framed views make what Anderst thinks of as a “chorale”, or rather, does truth remain small, discrete, impenetrable reflections, that return only what they already contain?

 The archive is not the history, and it is certainly not the reality, nor is it even evidence of much, beyond that an archivist chose to arrange materials and recordings in a particular order to create some sort of semblance. Anderst (2013) finds in the conflicts of such an arrangement as Polley has produced, that we have been given “access a multivalent, plural truth”, but if truth is a multivalent , plural representation – does it stop being truth?

Impossibly, Polley turns the mimed camera on us, where we are positioned, perhaps just on the cusp of the imagined proscenium. Are we, therefore, auditioned, captured, transfigured, fictionalised, reduced, bastardised, abandoned and honoured?
Or captivated in the gloss of that small piece of deluded acetate, are we now reduced to the merely observed?

Anderst, L. (December 2013) Memory’s Chorus: Stories We Tell and Sarah Polley’s Theory of Autobiography, Senses Of Cinema, accessed 21 May 2021

Polley, S. (director) (2012) Stories we tell [motion picture], National Film Board Of Canada, Canada.