Heather Taylor-Johnson

This Summer, With Vertigo

(listen to the poem, read by the author)

Some things hurt;
we are all bruised.

In this body, a pretty body: my heart
a bloody thunderclap
the bones of my neck
like balloon strings,
tethering and tethered

When I’m not lying down
(or stretching or moving or

sitting or squatting or crouching)
I am standing:
not quite statue, not quite tree
not quite as inexhaustible
as a garden shed.

Some people think that all of these words
I, body, tree – are virtually the same

but because I’m also wind and wave
so crookedly contained

I say to them nu-uh: with a small click
at the back of my
pretty throat.

This feeling’s not the worst but if I could master re-feeling
I would choose that first summer, a dark room

my fingers searching
your thickness of hair
transmitting these words
from your brain to mine (so pretty) –
life, legs, now

back when we were famished
too full to move – remember?

Our after-breath like wind, our skin like waves.
I remember, as a summer night might:

bedside lamp and shadow
window open to the street
no other feeling existing.

Trying to Read About Ménière’s Disease

(listen to the poem, read by the author)

Where is the book of falling – not in love, not out of it
nor from grace – just down? The book that loses balance,

that chapter about feeling ok in the shopping mall but then

there’s a shiny-tiled incline leading to the sports store
& the heroine pushes her trolley up, entering another headspace
where matrons circle like paid extras that’s what it felt like

and she’s lost, not even much of an incline at all, not a hill
or metaphor steeped in anything but certainly a challenge,
like learning to walk after your legs have fallen asleep

& she’s got a tilt so light & to the left you wouldn’t know it
if you looked at her, that line from Dead Poet’s Society
about seeing the world from a different view?

I’m not saying this isn’t normal; I’m saying it is & that’s the problem
I always seem to have when I’m feeling ok: one minute the reflection
in the glass is slick & honest & the next on an incline it bends.

I wonder what my eyes would look like if I was the protagonist,
that fear & surprise paired with déjà vu, the plot so mundane:
Mother Goes to Shops for Soccer Socks.

About the Author

Heather Taylor-Johnson is an American Australian writer living in Adelaide, South Australia. Her fourth book of poetry is Meanwhile, the Oak. She is the editor of the anthology Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain. Her second novel, Jean Harley was Here, was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Fiction in Australia and reviewed in the New York Times. In 2018 she was Writer in Residence at the J M Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice at the University of Adelaide, where she is now an Adjunct Research Fellow.

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