a madman’s lullaby


it’s an obsession, the doctor said, but you disliked hearing that word, obsession. it wasn’t the colour that you disliked. in fact, you said, the word is colourless but tastes like burnt toast.

obsession, your brother once said, is hazy-lavender.

my son’s words are extraordinarily colourful, but he’s never tasted language. my words are neither coloured nor flavoured.



at the time, you were trying to figure out what becomes of meaning when two coloured words rub up against one another. what happens, you asked, when two primary-coloured words, such as sunshine and concrete (yellow and blue), bump into each other? does that make meaning green? is concrete-sunshine green?

perhaps, i said.

perhaps concrete-sunshine is green.



i don’t know how spirals work, you told the doctor. only that they do. only that spirals are the fingerprints of god.



what is called a beautiful bouquet nauseates me. what i admire is the macabre-scent of a single flower dying, with the colours fading and the petals so brittle they disintegrate when rolled gently between my fingertips. what i admire are flowers that delight in death and decay.



for several years we, your father and i, brushed off your spiral infatuation. a phase, we told one another. a passion. just a creative preoccupation.

at times you endeavoured to hide your desire, tried to act as if nothing was going on. but there was no point, you were transparent. you wanted to be normal. but you disliked fleshy-umber, aftertaste of dirt, normal.



as a small child you nurtured certain words, such as: galaxy, the sharpest red; and fairy-floss flavoured yesterday; and bright-electric blue, with a hint of peppermint, ripple. your favourite word was purple which just shimmered and tasted of plums. this made jacaranda-mauve, 8, your favourite number.

i remember how your dark eyes shone as i listened, nodding my head in agreement. i still cherish those moments, when your reasoning made sense to me.



there are certain sounds, like the fracturing of autumn leaves underfoot, that evoke something within me reminiscent of childhood. even still, during these times of tender nostalgia, i lack some fundamental ingredient in existence. i lack the flavour of being real. as a child i would tell myself that if i believe i exist then i think i exist then i do exist.



every picture, every early doodle, you drew was a maze of spirals. the repetition, the troubled insistence of curved lines, alarmed me. the absurd intricacy, the assiduous attention to detail, always astonished me.


let’s presume that, in a twist of fate, you were born with this passion. let’s presume that, indeed, you fell in love with a shape:

a spiral…

a pattern persisting in time.

a romance, unfolding slowly: an early fascination followed by appreciation, adoration. and in an instant lust becomes love.


the outline sweet and terrible

shaped like a madman’s lullaby

how dangerous… you wrote

to finally have something worth losing.



did you use your whole body to taste that first instant of love? did pure silence vibrate within you? did a melody of diabolical joy dance in the shadows of your loneliness? did you tremble with pleasure and, for a measure of unutterable instants, were you free?



when you finally started speaking, your little voice always sounded plagued by pain. as if every word uttered had just escaped the torture chamber of your mind. each word released in a state of mutilated shock.

you were 4.

i was more than alarmed.



your father denies synaesthetic tendencies. i remember how thrilled i was by the idea that we’d created synaesthetic twins. as though, together, we’d produced humans with a language of their own. i imagined the microscopic meeting, dancing, twisting, twirling and replication of our genes occurring in a helix of colour and flavour.

i was mystified by my own capacity to create. i was mystified that my children could feel the smell of words, that they could see the silence that follows each sound, that my children were four dimensional.



we gave you butterfly nets, snorkel sets and totem tennis for your eleventh birthdays. that night, when i tucked you into bed, you said: sometimes i wonder about the silent colours, the ones i can’t see. then i feel empty. then i bash my fists into my eyes until i’m lost in a labyrinth of colour. then i feel better.

you were attempting to explain. i was attempting, desperately, to understand.



once i had a dream within a dream where reality and fantasy both had instantaneous lifespans. one could not interfere with the other for one became the other. reality was fantasy and fantasy was reality. reality was not to be confused with fantasy and instantaneous lifespan was not to be confused with average lifespan. but in this dream within a dream the spiral was the only one who left everything as it was, the spiral was neither fantasy nor reality, but the spiral was a real thing. i woke sobbing, and my pillow was damp with tears.



as a child you spent your days building kaleidoscopes: aluminium tubes; triangles of mirrors; tiny windows, and coloured plastic-globes caged in acrylic perplexity. you spent your nights peering into the soul of colour.



‘my soul is a black whirl pool, a vast vertigo circling a void, the racing of an infinite ocean around a hole in nothing.’

—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.



in a later attempt to explain, you told me: my thoughts simply appear in the form of spirals, circles that begin but never end, continuous circles refusing to return to the same point.

que será será, i thought, my daughter’s mind moves fatalistically into the future.

other times, you said. my thoughts begin as a single interstellar spec and spiral inwards, evasively entangling my mind. twisting my thoughts, tighter and tighter, until i’m completely fixated, isolated, and confined in despondency.



in lipstick you wrote on the mirror: like ripples in a galactic pond, my lover’s spiralling arms, simultaneously, embrace me and show me the way. Our passion moves in circling waves.

then you carved three deep spirals, one on each thigh and one on your left wrist, allowing the pain to orbit out of you. i found you coiled, like a haunted fetus, in a pond of your own rippling blood.



we’re here to help, they told you.

you didn’t go peacefully.

with the brown buckles strapped tight, you screamed and struggled in the straightjacket until, finally, you passed out.



‘i’m no more your mother

than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow

effacement at the wind’s hand.’

—Sylvia Plath, Ariel



a form of objectophilia, they told us, an intense love of inanimate things.

you rejected this completely.

spirals, you said, give birth to animate matter. they shape the precise instant when inanimate matter is endowed with sentience. spirals are the pulsing lifeblood of all inspiration, of all creation, of all thought, of all being. circles that begin but never end. spirals are the souls of things.

tell us, they asked, why do you hurt yourself?

that was your first admission, this is your eighth.



you have less spirals in the asylum and the medication locks every word, every sound, every number in a military green, flavoured of hailstorms. you spend your days horizontal, in sedated fits, tangled in bed-sheets. you spend your nights, in heavy silence, believing your lover waits in the shadows just beyond the gate.



[after the painting of the same name by Daniela Bradley, 2012]


The mother so distressed, a plover pecked her son, was compelled to campaign. Blood was drawn she said, and invited me to join her Facebook page, ‘The Conservative Management of Pesky Plovers’.


Initially, the mother posted only occasionally, offering titbits of advice such as, ‘an eggless-nest is a simple fix: pick it up, bin it.’ Now my newsfeed is swamped with these posts. She updates her status about twenty times a day, with things like, ‘omnivorous disease-causing plover-poop covers everything,’ and ‘whatever you do, when a plover attacks, don’t lie-down,’ and ‘lock-away your birdbaths the plovers are coming.’

The mother and her son live (four doors down) in the white fibro house, with manicured lawns and flowering star-jasmine.


The manager of IGA is also the local Australian Seabird Rescue volunteer. He told me the Egyptian plover is referred to as the toothpick-bird. Egyptian plovers, unlike our awkward black-helmeted yellow-masked plovers, wear black as if it were a fashion statement. Only segments of white separate their jet-black crowns, masks, backs and breast-bands. And wear tinges of blue (on their legs and wings) with pride and importance, like interns masquerading surgical scrubs. On the Nile, Egyptian plovers earn their keep by cleaning crocodile’s teeth.

I think they should be called croc-bytes.

A float of crocodiles is the collective noun for a group of crocodiles.


Recently, the mother uploaded a picture of herself, pegging out washing. For protection she wore a plastic ice-cream container on her head, red flag jetting out the top. In conjunction with the photo was a microblog-thesis.

l Remove plover-eggs from within and around your yards. Wear rubber gloves. Fasten a washing-basket to your head, use tea-towels as cushioning. Ensure gloves are on securely, head’s protected, dog’s locked-up, and go outside. Go to nest (on ground somewhere). Make no sudden jerking-movements. Pick eggs up, usually 2 or 3 brown-speckled sandy-coloured twenty-cent-piece size eggs. Take eggs to sand dunes, be sure plovers are following. Scrape a shallow depression in sand, lay eggs.

It had  like, I didn’t Like2 or Share .


The manager tells me that sometimes plovers strategically feign injury, dragging a sandy-coloured wing along the ground, attracting and distracting potential predators. Sometimes, instead of swooping and piping, plovers just carry-on behaving casually, pecking in the sand, pretending to eat, as though there were nothing worth protecting. He says the truth unfolds when someone or something gets too close to the fuzzy grey-hatchlings.

Alarm in a plover’s voice is warning mistaken for anger.

Martyr n. 1 a person who suffers or pretends

to suffer in order to obtain sympathy or pity.

2 (foll. by to) a constant sufferer from

(an ailment)


The manager questioned the mother’s status, ‘Plover Spurs are Poisonous,’ asking, ‘isn’t the boy killing plovers in this clip your child?’ And posted aYouTube video on her page.



The post promptly disappeared.


Perhaps the plover should take a leaf from the Osprey’s book, and build nests on top of light-posts and mooring-pylons.

A duet of ospreys is the collective noun for ospreys.


A few nights ago, when the manager was leaving IGA he found a plover, neck wrung and de-winged, between the windscreen and wiper-blade of his car.

A wing of plovers is the collective noun for a group of plovers.

Martyr n. 3 a person who is put to death for

refusing to renounce a faith or belief.


Dozens of rotten eggs were hurled at the mother’s car.


The manager used to live in Adelaide where he worked with Mr Percival, the pelican from the film Storm Boy. He tells me that after filming the movie in 1976, Mr Percival spent twelve-years at Marineland aquarium, then lived at Adelaide Zoo until, in September 2009, he died from old age. Thirty-something. The zookeepers called him Gringo.

A pod of pelicans is the collective noun for a group of pelicans. A squadron of pelicans is the collective noun for pelicans in flight. A raft of pelicans is the collective noun for pelicans on water.


Superglue was squirted into the locks at IGA. It took the manager three-hours to pry open the sliding doors.


Plover nests were raided. Eggs were smashed.


Silently, we stood watching plovers collect and carry away pieces of shattered shell in their pale-yellow beaks. The birds continued coming back again and again, yellow lidless eyes scouring the sand, until the last unhatched fragment had been carted away.


Martyrdom n. 1 the sufferings and death of a

martyr. 2 torment. martyrise v.tr. & refl.

make a martyr of. oo martyrisation n.



[1] Bradley, ‘Martyr’, painting in ‘An Implicit Inheritance’, exhibited Lismore Regional Gallery, April-June 2013, http://www.danielabradley.com.au/project/the-martyr/

Martyr, from An Implicit Inheritance, was first published in Coastlines 5: An Anthology of Creative Writing from Southern Cross University, 2014.