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Clean on the surface



Selected poetry



My father has laundry to do on Sunday.

Therefore he can come to Carnegie.

Therefore he can see me.


My father lives three suburbs

five kilometres

five minutes

away from Carnegie.


I see him when he can get away.

I don’t go there because that is their home.

He wouldn’t mind but his wife would.


It’s convenient to kill two birds with one stone.

I am a bird, he is a stone.

Sometimes I could kill my father.


We will go to the laundry and finish coffee in time

for the clothes to finish the wash cycle.

This is called catching up with my father.


He would say you don’t do this—

you just don’t do that—

talk about your dirty laundry in public.


Yet he takes my poetry and plays,

my stories, pretty well.

I apologise after poems, after plays.


But he says, well, why not?

It’s the truth. He can take it—

in the films he sees, the books he reads.


But catching up for coffee

is conversation light and frothy as foam.

If you bring up anything difficult.


Anything he finds depressing. He looks like

you’ve dragged him down, or you’ve

put him through the wringer.


And who wants to have that effect

on their father? Over coffee, he keeps

looking at his watch.


He keeps track of the time, so he’s not late

for the laundry. We finish when he’s finished

and head back for the dryers.


I spend the rest of the day

trying not to cry, trying

to write this poem.



Daddy long legs

It started with one. In the corner behind the TV.


Then there was another. Near the front door. Then there were

two, in my bedroom. They coveted corners, ceilings, or edges

of things. There must be a nest, said my mother, as if she was

an expert. She suggested vacuuming, but you’d have to make sure,


she said, cover the vacuum so they can’t get out. I knew

she could imagine me, taking the hose, heaving the thing out.

Dropping it, screaming; breaking it, as all those legs walked out.

Are they inviting their friends? Is it something about this house?


It never dawns on me to dust. I want to know their mystery.


I leave them there, as proof. Of what, I can’t say. I want to get rid of them.

It’s not as if this house is haunted. Who am I kidding? Of course it is.

You are not here. You never noticed cobwebs anyway, you allowed

them to accumulate. You always kept things clean on the surface.


So I leave the spiders there. It doesn’t matter how harmless they are,

I’m still scared of them. I’m frightened of killing them, I fear they

might call all their friends. Four or five — at a stretch six — I can contain.

But if they keep coming, I don’t know what I’ll do.


I know one thing though: there’s no point calling you.




We need more milk.


There is no we, only me,

running out of essentials

on a regular basis as if milk

is too thin to think of.


There is a dryness in this,

a bitterness, that begins

a day with television.

I say it’s for stretches

in front of it but we

both know it’s to fill up

your silence.


The TV and I share

an electric knowledge.

Nights where we both know

there’s nothing on yet

we’re still there

for each other.


I run out of bread too

but that’s to be

expected. One loaf is too big

for this narrow-strip kitchen

that’s right here

in the lounge room.


Open-plan living for

this space that feels so closed.


Where are you telling me off for

forgetting the milk? Giving me

that look. Over such petty things.


I always believed I had

better things to think about




Gayelene CarbisGayelene Carbis is an award-winning writer of poetry, prose and plays. Gayelene’s first book of poetry, Anecdotal Evidence (Five Islands Press) was awarded Finalist – International Book Awards. 2020 awards/shortlistings include: First Prize – My Brother Jack Poetry Award; and Finalist – Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize, and Woorilla Poetry Prize (Commended).


Topic tags: Gayelene Carbis, poetry



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Existing comments

Gaylene, Congratulations on Laundry. You did it. You finished the poem. I enjoyed it immensely. You have what I call the gift of three dimensional writing - it is something good playwrights have, or they develop it. You put me in the laundry, in the lounge room with Daddy long legs, & in the kitchen where I ask my fridge: "Why didn't you remind me we were out of milk?" Glad Eureka Street published your poems.

Joseph Quigley | 16 March 2021  
Show Responses

Thank you so much for all your feedback Joseph, really appreciate it! Just seen it now!

Gayelene | 25 January 2022  

'Laundry': Divorce is a concession to the stiff-necked and a confession of it because in the beginning it was not so. Remarriage after widowhood is permitted but nothing is said of a man leaving his children to be one with his wife. Licence is taking liberties with liberty.

roy chen yee | 16 March 2021  
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Thank you for reading my work and engaging with it, Roy.

Gayelene Carbis | 25 January 2022  

Moving poems that to me suggest the paranoid fears of Lewy body dementia

Josephus | 16 March 2021  
Show Responses

Thank you so much for engaging with and providing feedback on my work, really appreciate it, Josephus.

Gayelene Carbis | 25 January 2022  

Gaylene, I loved your poems. they reminded me of Bruce Dawe's poems. thank you.

Alex Nelson | 16 March 2021  
Show Responses

Thank you so much for your feedback, Alex! Love Bruce Dawe - what a compliment!

Gayelene Carbis | 25 January 2022  

Gaylene, a hell of a sequence here, so moody and so meticulously assembled.

Bill Wootton | 19 March 2021  
Show Responses

Bill!! it's you! Thank you so much for your feedback - means a lot!

Gayelene Carbis | 25 January 2022  

Thank you to all who have posted comments and feedback here, I appreciate it. All the best, Gayelene Carbis

Gayelene Carbis | 24 March 2021  

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