My life is in a state of flux paired with uncertainty that I have never known before. Pockets of time I have for myself are written into my schedule, reserved for the sole purpose of dedicating precious seconds to my love when we are both free to focus on one another. I wonder whether this is a moment in my life I will be writing about for some years to come, particularly as the years begin to provide wisdom I have not yet gained.
Turbulence, by poet, critic and journalist Thuy On, gives me hope that the wisdom will come, and reinforces the fact that writers are constantly creating art by trying to make sense of impossible yet very ordinary situations.
I brought Turbulence on a flight with me for a 48-hour work trip. It seemed appropriate to devote the uninterrupted, untethered three and a half hours on the plane to read this particular collection of poems; a collection of such remarkable detail that somehow even the dedication spoke to a series of changes in my life right now that are truly no different from what others have experienced previously. On is like a generous older sibling, ready to share wisdom of “life’s urgent pressing face / against the glass so smudged”, insights into Dating as Slush Pile and other themes that it feels like a disservice to rattle off in a list.
I turned through the pages quickly but paused at Shogyo mujo (translation: nothing is permanent).
“you can’t, you don’t know
what days carry within
a waiting, a hoping”
I distracted myself for a moment from a combination of motion sickness and a newfound anxiety for flying during a pandemic. After catching my breath, I realised that my eyes glided too easily across the pages; On’s words were easy to absorb yet the effects long-lasting.
I returned to Turbulence to assess the ways I wanted to consider On’s words. The complexity of her writing made me want to consume them from every lens possible. As the collection progressed, there were moments of speed interspersed with luxurious lingering, returning, absorbing, combined with relief that my mask provided privacy to laugh, curl my lip in anger, frown and swoon in quick succession. The careful consideration within the writing leant itself to being reread, reappreciated.
Café Au Lait winded me in my airborne vulnerability. I was initially unwilling to read it more than once because the realities of it were too real for another body from a “sweltering hell hole”, experienced in being appraised in the way with which all women of colour are familiar.
Turbulence evoked a complete spectrum of emotions, a whole sum of a person provided generously and unpretentiously. There is something calming in On’s almost scientific clarity and reflections. Like watching a movie on a plane, they provided me the freedom to appreciate every emotion I felt in the process.
I carried Turbulence across the country and near my heart for the opportunity to reread it in my family home, my local café, in the arms of my love – the realities of On’s experiences behind each carefully refined, meticulously crafted poem are just as breathtaking in any of these settings as when read in the confines of a too-crowded cross-country flight.
Turbulence, by Thuy On, is published by UWA Publishing.
Haneen Mahmood Martin is a Malay-Arab migrant settler on Larrakia land, who writes and makes art the way food should be shared – for those who need it most.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.