Each day in hospital I wake
to a reading from The Book of Screams.
It comes, apparently, from the bathroom
situated two-thirds of the way along the hall.
No one talks while the screams linger.
I pass the time by counting in my head.
Thirty-five. Seventy-two. One hundred
and nine. Two hundred and thirty-one.
The screams are high-pitched and continuous,
as if she has been chosen for her ability
to hold the note, to produce abrasive chords
when her lungs must be almost airless and empty.
The ruckus shakes the thin partition around my bed,
it rattles the cups and saucers in the kitchen,
and threatens to shatter the high frosted panes
of glass that leach feeble light onto the floorboards.
At midday and again in the evening I reluctantly
listen to recitals from The Book of Screams.
Afterwards, the ward is sombre with silence.
By the third day, I cannot bear it any longer,
I tear the bandage from my eyes and march
down the corridor to see for myself, drawn
to the noise the way iron filings are attracted
to magnetic north. Two nurses cradle
a young girl, supine, in a bathtub.
Her eyes are closed, her lips collapse
into an involuntary O that corresponds
to the coordinates of her mouth. Her skin,
though I am not sure you can still call
it that, is the black of newly laid bitumen.
Impossible to comprehend agony—
to understand how one scream seems
to necessitate another, to grasp how a voice
can travel over rice paddies and rubber plantations,
under jungle canopies and down boulevards
resplendent with French architecture, before lifting
into the flying arches and buttresses of the mind,
until we are all dwelling in a cathedral of screams
whose substantial form cries out for mercy.
But I have no mercy to give. I gaze
in dumb horror at her right leg, where
the white ghost of her femur shines
through murky water, at the charred
oozing mess of a knee. Her body is
no more than a diaphanous veil hanging
between this world and the next.
Later, they tell me about the morning
of the bombing and its aftermath.
Now, when I hear the word napalm,
I remember that girl’s face,
her eyes opening as I turn
to leave, her raw cries staying
with me and spiralling outwards,
forever travelling, like radio waves
rolling end over end
into the windless chasms of space.
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones