Alyson Miller


That trace under the ridge of collarbone, a milky sweet scent not her own. It grows with the warmth of the room, the heat of touch-sticky skin under yellow-stained sheets. It is her night but small invasions burrow bone-deep; those alien hairs that creep across the pillowcase, a menthol smack of toothpaste. His body is stitched tight with other teeth and tongues, with whispers that speak of god and ecstasy and the sanctity of sisters, held fast by inexhaustible cock and childbirth. Her womb is a communal space, occupied by other wives and the strange pulses of embryonic creatures, scratching for light. As a child, her mother slapped her legs for eating the last apple, stinging flesh a lesson against gut and heart. When he’s inside her, their ribs locked, her mouth licks against the jugular artery, tracing the thick neck root like a map-line, or a promise. She fights the urge to bite, to choke throat-full of viscous, tangy metal. In the morning, she strips the bed, bleaches linen calcium-white in scorching sun.


They exploded, the oven contracting with that strange pop-whoosh of detonation. You’re supposed to pierce the skin first, force a knife or skewer through the skull-thick husk. Breathing holes for living things. We didn’t know, panic-threw the tray into the sink to cool the bursting fruit. The flesh was grooved like tiny cerebra or large thumbs, the bodies round like the curves of hearts and knuckles. You nestled one in your palm, caressed the splintered surface as though pacifying some small creature. It ruptured in a sudden exhale of steam and shell and meat, a chest-leap moment. There was a small scald above your left eye, something charred and fibrous in your hair. For weeks we plucked the shrapnel from the rug, wiped clean walls and cupboards and floors. The belly of the stove remains choke-full of burnt skins, the kitchen ceiling star-speckled with a grainy constellation of hulls.


That night going the long way, round the back-roads with the real gardens and the old people’s home and the footpaths twisted like broken teeth and drunkenness and that lie you told the day before. All Saint’s Eve, choked with allergies and lost bees and milk-pale skin and the promise of heat. There had been too much garlic in the moo nham tok, not enough chili in the gang massaman. You took photos of a grape vine seeded in a rotted pipe, the clusters of green fruit dick-shaped and hard and bitter. At the bus-stop, a woman asked the time; she had to lay flowers at the cemetery for a husband who survived the Holocaust but not the flu, who died hot and aching and tired. You worried about her fumbling around tombstones on an evening for undead things, and she told you she’s nearly there, that the tock-tick of limbs was slowing to the lub-dub of a heart filled with ghouls. At the end, she said, small things will catch you, worm inside like a black thought and fill up the spaces between memory and bone. In the morning, you found a bush rat on the front lawn, its little body matted thick with brown ants and flies. You buried it beneath the jasmine, ribs skywards, pink belly split wide, and tucked in the dirt like a benediction, a blessing for the safety of the ground.

Alyson Miller is a lecturer in writing and literature at Deakin University, Australia. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in both national and international publications, alongside two collections of prose poetry, Dream Animals and Pika-Don, and a critical monograph, Haunted by Words: Scandalous Texts.
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