When the city spoke back to me


Selected poetry


best of us


I'm lying in your bed, watching a late-night

rerun of some SBS movie, drowning in the

bouncing blue light of the TV. Breathing

and hearing you breathe next to me, sigh

deeply, swathed in some peaceful dream

my hands outstretched out of the covers, waiting

for the nail polish to dry, I fall asleep.

You wake up in the twilight hours to go

to work, when it's still dark outside and

the roads are quiet, but for the sleepy

six tonners hurtling along at a dignified pace.


You switch off the TV, bend down

to give me a kiss before you leave

wrap my arms around your neck

whisper 'David, don't go'

you hold me, say you'll see me later

pacified, I fall back asleep.


Back then I never doubted a word you said

I wish that never changed.



floods across the border


Flash flooding near Wangaratta

forces me to 3-point-turn my way outta

knee-high flood waters consuming the Hume Freeway

group of men in high vis surveying

the long line of cars gently advancing

one sees my numberplates, calls out 'going back to Tassie then?' 

I laugh

mossy water seeps into the Camry

soaks me to my ankles

   extra weight, she lurches each time I hit the break

on the old highway, I pull over on the side of the road

use a bowl for the cats to scoop out excess water.


Finally reach Kingsgrove, free the cats from their carrier

set down some bowls of kibble and water

take a long hot shower

wash the floodwaters off my tired, pruned feet

by the time my head hits the pillow I’m asleep

in the early hours of next morning I dream of David

me crying, him moving on top of me, lifting me out of bed, my legs

wrapped ‘round him, hushing me, smoothing my hair.


Wake up, message Johnny first thing

tell him I'm headed his way after a quick shower. Can't wait to seeya.


Just past Emu Plains, the drive gets real quiet

the highway slopes and swerves, the ghostly Blue Mountains in the distance

looming and full of secrets

my head fixed on thoughts of Johnny

sagacious, towering, brutal

the time he choked me

longer than I expected during sex, bruising my neck.



when the City spoke back to me


when I wait for the tram on Swanston Street

hear the drumming and chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Rama

a group of dark people in canvas white singing

the women in long skirts

circling each other, a stranger twirls a skinny bystander

in a Hawaiian shirt and chinos.


when Sneha asks me to meet her at a pub near St Kilda

on the corner of Chapel and High St

she's out drinking with friends for her 29th

she works as a consultant now, still in financial services but not a banker anymore

her friends are all bankers, though

or partners of bankers, or former partners of bankers

two weeks ago I used to be a lawyer

don't know anything about bankers except they make lots of money, work long hours,

have an endless capacity for menial blah-blah, what do you do for work? water-cooler talk

        ask Sneha 'where’s the cocaine at?'

Tony, her line manager, stands drunk behind her

sips from his cider to conceal a furtive smile.


when back at her unit, I sit on the arm of Sneha's sofa

and he walks over

says we're playing drink-what's-in-the-brown-paper-bag

and I take a swig

pull a face 'cause it tastes like shit

the way every dark liquor goes down for me

this one's a bit sweet, which makes it worse

ask if it's Fireball, he says it's JD Honey

learn if it's dark and it's sweet, there are two things it could be

and they both taste like shit.


when I wear the little black dress a girlfriend gave me

so short, so tight the lycra-net material keeps

riding up from the bottom, pulling down from the top

if I don't pull it up or tug it down every few steps

wear that lipstick David used to like, it's a dark maroon

couple of guys in a ute stall on the road to press their horn at me

give ‘em a giggle, bit of a joke, just a waif

standing outside a pub having a quiet smoke, where it's safe

groups of young people laughing

two security guards, other cars, it's okay.


Come the next set of lights, you won't remember what I look like

              you'll all go back to your lives

thinking about your wives, girlfriends, kids, parents,

brothers, sisters, lovers, friends,

husbands, boyfriends, whoever, not me.

But I needed a night out in the City

                             and the City spoke back to me

when I had no one else to spend the night with.



Laila NawsheenLaila is an award-winning Sydney-based writer with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Creative Writing) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons). Her poetry has been featured in Baby Teeth Journal (January 2021), NWG Inc Pop Up Zine (2020), ZineWest (2019) and will appear in future editions of Quadrant Magazine and Going Down Swinging.


Topic tags: Laila Nawsheen, poetry



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