The companion

In that town of men
there lived this boy
slim and pale
though worthy of Yale
he was nice to everyone
family though he had none
walked his dog all arvo
a black spaniel so bravo
came from a slaughterhouse
became more like a spouse
bounding eagerly through the town
bearing his name tag like a crown
such was the dog’s devotion
to the boy whose only motion
was to share his milk and cookie
in rearing though he was a rookie
knew that two packs on supermarket haul
was the secret to a life without a brawl
the talk of town they remained for long
the lovable guide dog and its blind boy

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Choices

Garbage bags are trash
and so are candy wrappers
delectable coffee k-cups are as well
oh, but wait—not the to-go cups

Bottled water’s plastic, mate
and less is more since it’s waste
but wine’s mine, and that’s fine
glass breathes better—now don’t you pine

Think lean, mean, and buy in bulk
for killing fields are war scenes
they’ll forever haunt as packages
the convenience buyers—those savages

Landfilling bags or recyclable tins
beans from scratch or scratched open lentils
is one friendlier, healthier than the other
questioning, my friend—it’s just the first step

Fine wine indeed

Like wine was our relationship
those mellow tones at the beginning,
deep and divine flavours soon evoking
it could cut through all bitterness
each sip unlike the one before
left us both whining for more
every day we cherished our prize
drowning sorrows in sweet shiraz
our conversations revolved around it
giving expecting voices a chance to rise
halfway through lightheaded we were
having said too much already to take
shoving pizza helped calm the nerves
a temporary solution for aching insides
like plaster made of oil and water
only so good before it slides all over
for unlike ever before we’d talked
and what a shame to stop progress
now past that intoxication point
and so we plunged on, on and on
draining the last of the fine wine
inhaling like oxygen under water
exhaling grape breaths of regret
oh, those eight servings of wine
gone without even lasting four
laid out flaws in plain vain sight
the gluttony, greed, hidden hatred
ending the mighty fight for high
all that remained, of wine, of us
was a broken bottle and a slit wrist

The Bush Capital

“I […] picked up the notebook and pen and, after a minute’s thought, wrote, “Canberra awfully boring place. Beer cold, though.” Then I thought for a bit more and wrote, “Buy socks.”

[…]

Then I decided to come up with a new slogan for Canberra. First I wrote, “Canberra—There’s Nothing to It!” and then “Canberra—Why Wait for Death?” Then I thought some more and wrote, “Canberra—Gateway to Everywhere Else!,” which I believe I liked best of all.”

Excerpt from In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson.

I read that piece of prose about a month before I moved to Canberra. A good friend, American, suggested that I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country as a way of getting into the moving mood. Of course, my friend meant well—though he couldn’t recall Bryson’s exact feelings about Canberra, he did mention that Bryson covers the whole of Australia from an American comedian’s perspective. And that’s just what the book does.

I’d done some research on my own and everything I learnt hinted at a great place to live—a quiet small town with lots of greenery and large lakes, stunning autumnal sunsets, and frostbiting winters. And so it surprised me to read the author had suffered great boredom in Canberra. In the book, Bryson moves on to Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, narrating his observations along the way. And sure enough, in comparison to those metro cities, Canberra is rather subdued and humble.

Estimated population of Canberra in 2035
Estimated population of Canberra in 2035

But Canberra is far from a boring place. I’ve been exploring the area and town life every day since I moved here a month ago. And there’s not a single thing that didn’t amaze me. Aside from the old parliamentary building and the old law-making systems, the national war memorial that brings to life each war Australians suffered, and the museum of modern history that plays host to thousands of years’ history, the city by itself has a story to tell.

The National Capital Exhibition is a smaller building than the other tourist attractions. However, it hosts hundreds of interesting titbits about the city that’d make any Canberran swell with pride.

Canberra is a planned city. When the government decided that neither Sydney nor Melbourne can serve the purpose, they weighed various criteria to choose the capital city. With sufficient resources for agriculture and cultivation, natural scenery that’d attract visitors and locals alike, a secure landmass away from the coast and naval invasions, and an accessible location from all over the country, Canberra became the ideal capital. As I read through each point in favour of Canberra, I found myself nodding in agreement. This is a great place. And the best part—not many people have discovered it yet, giving it an excellent population balance.

Selection criteria for Australia's capital city
Selection criteria for Australia’s capital city

In the exhibition is a large 3D model of Canberra’s layout, lit up, and highlighting the geometrical marvel that the city is built upon. The parliament building is on top of a hill. Looking right across from the top is the national war memorial serving as a constant reminder of the consequences of any decision made inside the parliament. Branching away from the centre are the main roadways—the spines for the many suburbs woven around them. From above, Canberra looks like a spider’s web. It’s well spread out and yet interwoven to make sure you can drive from one corner of the city to another in 30 minutes or less.

And then there’re the lakes. Although artificial, Canberra’s primary lakes, Burley Griffin and Ginninderra, complement the many natural forests around the city. Footpaths go around the lakes and the bridges over. It’s as if no humans can ever disrupt the calmness of the lake or disturb the babbling ducks in it. Looking at the Lake Burley Griffin through a window, I wondered how much the city’s designers (Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion) would’ve appreciated and yearned for nature that they decided to plot such big lake right in the middle of the city.

  • What is Canberra to you?
  • What is Canberra to you?
  • What is Canberra to you?
  • What is Canberra to you?

Sure, Bryson was right in a few aspects—the shops close at 5 and the night scene is still quite bleak, but this is the bush capital. If you like yourself some greenery, Canberra won’t disappoint.

Parting thoughts: Never judge a place based on a few authors’ descriptions. Everything is subjective.

Other mother

What a mother she once was
wearing scars of child bearing
for years she nurtured them
with care that none deserved
spewing endless love across
her arms stretched, welcome
she enclosed a world within
and stood proud ever beaming
with firm grasp on the ground
a spine supporting a tall back
stood the mother many an age
though forces came her way
shaking and sucking her youth
ever unyielding, always protecting
never she’d taken any her way
for only given away all her life
until a warm, fateful day in May
kids now grown and all knowing
felled her from the roots to tip
dragging off to where she’d die
withered, weather worn, and sad
betrayed and tortured, forgotten
rested the mother awaiting a devil
the chipper that made firewood