As a watched kettle we were boiling


Boiling kettle

The Price We Pay
I keep men waiting
as my father before me
kept us waiting.
my brother and I were always standing by the sidewalk
on tenterhooks, our need like a big red tongue
hanging out and panting
for a drop of rain
in drought.
bills were never paid in our house.
our landlord (a nice man) waited months
before he told my mother
the rent hadn’t been paid.
we spent a whole childhood
outside houses
fighting in our father’s car
while women served our father
(such a nice man)
coffee and cake.
the day was drawn out
as a watched kettle.
we were boiling.
we wanted our lives
to take off, like a train
with a clear destination.
instead, we rearranged things
round our father,
believing every time
he’d turn up
but finding ourselves
always alone on a platform
watching trains pull out
without us.
now I call myself feminist
and make the men I live with
it’s taken a lifetime to learn
my father’s promises are full
of air and leave us steaming.
and yet he’s so well-meaning.
yes he’s a man who means well,
he tells us all
‘leave it with me.’
we spend the rest of our lives
trying not to.

The Child I Never Had    
The child I never had
walks into the room and sits softly
reading a book (like her mother).
She won’t look up until
dinner, cooked by somebody else
(in that world, I can cook
and I’m wise and wonderful).
The child throws her arms around me,
wrapping me warmer than the brush-cotton
dressing-gowns I’ve worn since childhood.
We hold each other at least a minute longer
than we need to or should. And then,
let go, turn back to our books
and all the lives we live in them.
We turn the page into our parents.
My daughter stands at the door
watching. But when I look up,
she’s gone. And I let her go.
I am a good mother. I grow older
but I never grow up.
Our words, like children, won’t wait for us.
The Weight Of Words In Our Hands Like Water
Our fingers on stone nearly touch. Our eyes
meet and look away and return. We watch
hundreds of boats ahead,  poised for some
purpose,  a solitary figure standing, a shadow
that stares out to sea, an invisible fishing-line
with its incredible patience. And a couple
sinking in sand, kissing, throwing a stick into
the sea back and forth. Their shaggy dog
rushes in after it, returns, shaking water
all over them that breaks them apart
until a hand heaves again, shaking with
laughter. Every time we turn we see the dog
in the sea panting, paddling, swimming back
with the stick in its mouth, lapping the water
like a scene on replay.  It takes awhile to take in,
that there is a couple kissing. We look away,
you don’t watch that. We watch turned away
from each other. We don’t talk much, we don’t
walk, we don’t do the things we came here to do.
We sit on the low stone wall and watch and wait,
wanting, the sea so close, the sand a thin line
between sea and shore a few footsteps from
here. I say into the sun going down: “Wouldn’t it
be wonderful if the sea came right up to here
where we are?”  but you say, “You’re scared
of the sea.” Yes, those dreams, the way
it keeps coming after me, great giant waves
washing over me, pulling me under, and
I’m still under when I wake and it’s real,
that drowning, that tide that takes me away
and everyone I love with me but this is still
day not dreams not night not yet. We watch
the sun go down further till it touches the sea
while I tell you what I mean and don’t mean,
still looking out, or down, tracing the sand
with one sandal: “I don’t mean immersion –
I mean at a distance.” And you turn the tide
that will carry us away using words,
my own words, against me:
You mean – like we are now?”


Gayelene Carbis is a Melbourne based writer and teacher who was awarded a Poetry Scholarship in Banff, Canada, has recently completed her first poetry collection and is writing a one-woman show for Clara Pagone, to be performed in New York, Chicago and Melbourne.

Kettle image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Gayelene Carbis, modern Australian poetry



submit a comment

Existing comments

it was great to step into so many different worlds and moments this morning through reading Gaylene's work. Thanks
Mary Stack | 14 April 2015

So very beautiful Gayelene. So incredibly visual.
Catherine | 14 April 2015

Mary and Catherine, thank you so much for your lovely fedback, really appreciate your responses, Gayelene
Gayelene | 15 April 2015

Thank you Gayelene. Beautful, moving poetry.
Kate Maclurcan | 15 April 2015

Kate, thank you so much for your feedback! Gayelene
Gayelene | 15 April 2015

These are wonderful poems. Congratulations to Gaylene for writing them and to Eureka Street for publishing them.
Lyndon Walker | 16 April 2015

Moving account of your allegiance to words, Gayelene. You certainly give birth to thoughtful and thoughtfully arranged poetry.
Bill Wootton | 17 April 2015

Thank you so much for your feedback Lyndon, and thank you for sharing my poems on your FB page!
Gayelene | 17 April 2015

Bill, thank you for your thoughtful response to my poetry, Gayelene
Gayelene | 17 April 2015

Congratulations on your successes. Powerful and moving writing.
Margaret Ryan | 19 April 2015

Margaret Ryan! Is this the Margaret Ryan who was my English Teacher at Avila for the year that I wasn't there for 1 year???!! Thank you Margaret, for your feedback. Lovely to hear from you (I think it's you???) Gayelene
Gayelene | 23 April 2015

I don't always read Eureka Street but I read this one because Marg Ryan told me to. I was utterly delighted at the beauty and the sensitive insights of your poetry, Gayelene
Pat Hall | 01 May 2015


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up