Category Archives: writing

The Big One – JKLeahy Memoir Stories


The Big One – J.K. Leahy

(A special tribute to some of the powerful women that influenced my life).

With Ma Yang. JKLeahy Watercolour 2018.

My line stretched beyond the width of the fat river. The water was slightly brown-greenish – you could see fish swimming under the surface. There were plenty. Debris from two other smaller river mouths came towards us and unfolded to the current that spread across the wider larger Socwa river. The 250gm nylon fish line pressed an unseen line on the glassy surface. We were in the swamps of Wagang Village, Lae, Papua New Guinea. I felt good my hook and bait was close to the other side. Maybe it will catch the big one.

It wasn’t a race between Ma Yang and I. It was a process of an apprentice with her teacher. And the apprentice in her final learning stages before graduation. The river had risen and covered the mangrove and pandanus roots and low-lying branches are now touching it.  A mix aroma of wild tree flowers hung in the air, but the sweet pandanus penetrated the balance. With the deep current, yellow and peach awaho flowers flowed in a line that meandered through the low-lying branches like ballerinas in their fluff skirts. The flower centres popped out like mini umbrellas in deep maroon and gold flecks.

At eight, I was in primary school. But in my fishing years, I was ready to enter university, so we were there to start that course. This location is not for kids as my aunt would say.

“Only for those who are special” she said with a wink.

I knew my aunt had many secret fishing places. But if my mother knew Ma Yang had brought me here, my aunt would have been in trouble. Mother was mostly away and she would never take me to such places; she said “gaming sac” – meaning bad place, and they were full sorcery and other spirits lurking in the shadows.

Our teacher – my late grandma Tinang.

My lead fishing teacher was beside me, and together we carried our old rice bags, roughly cut at one end and filled with bait (shrimps).  The bait were all alive. We had a bush string each for our catch tied to the bag and dangled in the water. My teacher carried a knife. Sometimes we carried a roast banana or kaukau. Dry biscuits were okay, but they made too much noise when we snapped them with our teeth.

“We can pack them, but eat them on the beach after”, she said earlier this morning.

Ma Yang and I had planned this fishing trip for days. Yang yang means yellow in my mother-tongue, Bukawac. (Aunty Yellow was nicknamed “yellow” because of her skin colour).

Today the river swelled. Lup suc means the river had fattened with partially salt, debris and waste from rotting leaves, swamp and other fish life that would provide feed for the ‘kol pis’ in pidgin which means ‘cold fish’ – these are several breeds of swamp river fish.

I suddenly felt a tug and reeled in a cold fish. It was scaly like a python with brown green and bluish undertones. My aunt looked at me to say, ‘well done!”, but it’s all in the eye-talk.

The mosquitoes were biting, but the adrenaline from the fish bites created some tolerance to the annoying buzzing and bites. Sometimes without feeling the sting, when I took my eyes off the line,  I saw mozzie bellies getting bloody and tight, then the mozzies would fall off and fly away.  To constantly smack the mosquitoes meant an intrusion to the balance of the stillness, and the fish would move away.

Mamang eng – be silence as Ma Yang often warned when we entered a sacred place. Every great fisherman knows that”. With the mosquitoes, she said if we put up with pain and irritation, we would truly master the art of fishing for cold fish.

I put some water on my brow to keep me cool. It was lovely under the trees but still hot. My next shrimp bait was peeled and neatly tucked over my earlobe like a cigarette – Ma Yang did the same.

The youngest of the sisters, Aunty Giuc.

We had travelled to this spot along the beach away from the village and deep into the swamp. Aunty Yangyang always picked a new spot for fishing, because she knew. I know she learnt it from her mother and my grandmother. My aunty’s mother was my grandmother’s sister. I was always excited at the anticipation of what mystery and beauty we would discover next and the fish we would catch there. My teacher never told me where we were headed next until we got there. That was part of the lessons – I had to pay attention to the land marks and work out how to get there on my own in the future. We used only shrimp baits for cold fish. We caught the shrimps the day before in a separate stream not far from our small village.

Travelling waist-deep through the wetlands and thorn bush, sharp objects, shell fish and branches and often stepping on kalum (thorn snail). This small snail is dangerous.  Its tiny spikes broke  off into your foot when you stepped on it. This often  got infested, and can immobilise you weeks, if not dealt with early. It is funny because the word kalum also refers to ‘havoc’ in our language. The more difficult the journey, the more fish we caught, at least that’s how I saw it.

As my line raced across the flat surface, I pulled. Before I pulled out the fish from the river, there is a dance. The kol pis likes to jerk the line a couple of times and then let go. After a few jerks, it pulls hard and that’s when you know, you have got it. Aunty Yangyang taught me to not hesitate but also, not pull too soon. If you do, you lose the fish.

After years of fishing with Ma Yang, I learnt that some of the kol pis like eboob and ewayum took the lines like the ocean travelleys and made a dash for it.

I took my fish off my hook and I put the bush rope through the gills and dropped it into the water. It was now swimming again with the others I had caught.

Ma Yang was very quiet, but she had her eye firmly on the dark corners opposite us. We had fished for most of the afternoon and had been there for almost six hours already, but she was set on catching the big one. The big one is called “ee oc”. Both our catch lines were about a metre long. This would feed several households.

The big cold fish usually came at the end, like the grand finally and often this fish would come before or after you catch an eel. They co-existed  in nooks of tree roots in swamp holes – both this fish and the eel. When my aunts and grandma and I catch these with our hands, you stick both hands into the holes and gently move along the belly of the eel to find the other. In my learning days, my grandma would find them and guide my hands to feel through the thick swamp. It was exhilarating, but all done in complete silence.

The sun was setting, and it got cooler. I had questions, but I was taught not to ask questions on the job. Anything I needed to know would be asked while we were walking home or by the fire at meal time. No-one spoke when we were ‘in the zone” and the fish were biting.

It was almost time to go home, but I was not tired. As the sun threw its last rays of a golden pink powder over the open space and green scaly pandanus – its reflection came closer to us under the awaho tree. She touched  the water and I looked at her. Ma Yang’s fish line raced across the water and cut in a straight line as if a knife was being inserted into a cake. My teacher flexed her large, dried palm fish rod. It bent completely to the weight of what glided in large curbing circles in front of us.

She glanced at me. The finally dance began. I knew, the big one was here, but I must keep still.

…………………………..

Ma Yang died a few years ago after a long illness – there is an earlier post about her. I miss her. 

Hominid Tools; Giant Gemstones Maybe? A Science Discovery in India


http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-02-01/mystery-surrounds-ancient-but-advanced-tools-found-in-india/9379078?section=science#lightbox-content-lightbox-10 (Supplied: Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, India)

Archeologists are mystified by recent discovery of a series of stone tools found in Attirampakkam, India. Researchers are unsure about the creators of these sharp-edgy collection.

The large collection poses a challenge to the existing prehistoric discoveries about places and movements of humans. Belinda Smith from ABC Science reported that in the Nature, International Science Journal, the discovery of more than  7000 tools showed advanced or more skilled techniques of shaping in these stones.

Shaping techniques such as these dates back to 350,000 years. Researchers say the tools may have been made by an archaic species of hominin, rather than modern humans – but this is not confirmed yet, so it poses quite a few discussions and arguments about the existence of humans and the stone makers.

What if a bunch of giant women were sitting around making their stone jewellery and left these ‘beads’ or their ‘gemstones’?

Okay, no jokes, I do love Science and seriously, this is an interesting discovery.

Read more here.

(Supplied: Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, India)

 

A Blue-Tongue Lizard and Then…


A Blue-Tongue Lizard and Then…Short Story

(Memoir) J.K.Leahy

It was a very pleasant Thursday, ending with an evening conversation with both my sons who are away. I sent a picture of the blue-tongue lizard to  Nathan and Chris about 8:30pm. The reptile was staring at me this morning about 9am when I went to let the hen out in Bellbowrie, Queensland. Its brown carpet patterned scales and raised head had stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was a carpet snake at first.

I had seen a carpet snake, this size and only a teenager, in November near the hen pen. The lizard’s arms and legs quickly gave it away.

My older son Nathan texted me back to say it was cool to have a blue-tongue lizard in our yard. It was common for the family to share our discoveries of creatures that lived on our property and the local bushland. There are many beautiful small creatures such as this lizard and water dragons, possums, koalas and other animals and birds of many kinds in Queensland.

I didn’t hear back from Chris, (my younger son), about the blue-tongue lizard. I thought maybe he had gone to bed, because he had started work at 5am.

Nathan texted me again to say an owl threw itself into his car as he drove home tonight. I thought it was strange and I gave Nathan my various symbolic meanings of why an owl would cross his path. It was mostly to do with deception and revealing truth, but when I thought about other meanings, death was one of them. I didn’t want to tell my son that. We talked a little more before he stopped texting back.

At that moment when the owl discussion came to an end, I heard cars speeding, tyre squeals and a loud bang! It was coming from the junction, 100 metres from our house. Suddenly it was eerie and the night was very quiet.

Nathan didn’t text again. I checked my phone twice.

“I think there is an accident”, I texted him again probing for a  response.

From the direction of the accident, I could hear a high pitch horn of one car continuing, even after the crash quietened down. I was in our lounge where the sounds coming from the junction were the loudest.  When the crash happened, I had been in my office. I moved here because it made me feel better somehow.

There have been many crashes on this junction – Moggill, Lather and Sugars roads in Bellbowrie. A few years ago a 65-year-old motor-bike rider was crushed by an unknown vehicle. Later, the man died in hospital. It took police a while to find the other driver.

I had this urge tonight to run 100 metres up the road to the crash, but part of me felt weird and uncomfortable. There were sounds outside my house; voices, branches breaking as if someone or people came into the property through the bush, and then more voices came from the roadside. I could hear other cars drive and stop at the scene. Two minutes later, I heard an ambulance. I felt relief. Some of the birds near our house made noises – echoing the high sirens. The accident must have woken the birds.

Then, a police siren started in the distance and then got really loud before it stopped at the junction. There were more voices, but no-one screamed or shouted. I heard louder vehicles come and then whinges, metal on gravel and then car doors shutting. I could not see  the road; the huge gum trees blocked the accident scene. The sounds were very clear.

I kept thinking I should go and see it, but something stopped me. It was a fair walk in pitch black.

I texted my sons again about the accident. My older son did not respond. I thought he went to sleep. I called his brother Chris.

“What do you want me to do?” Chris asked me when I told him about the accident.

“Nothing – I’m just afraid, so I texted you,” I responded.

“I’m going to sleep”, he said. Chris was travelling for work in the Sunshine Coast.

“Goodnight son, I love you,” I said and hung up.

By the sound of the siren, a second ambulance arrived. It could have been the same one leaving. I wasn’t sure.

More voices came through the trees. I WhatsApp my cousin in Papua New Guinea – and he agreed, I should stay home. If help was already there, no need to go and I can find out more tomorrow. He is a cop.

My aunt called on WhatsApp and I told her there was an accident and that I felt scared. Over the phone, she said she was scared too.

“I think someone is hurt, the horn didn’t stop honking for a long time,” I said.

“Don’t go there”, my aunt said.

She diverted the conversation and soon, behind the night bird calls, the normal traffic sound returned. I shut all the doors and windows.

Two hours later, my son Nathan responded: “Oh shit! I hope everyone is okay… can you see any cars? ..if you can, do you recognise them?”

“No Nat. I was scared to go and see. The ambulance and police came straight away which was good – but the accident sounded bad.”

“That’s awful”.

I said goodnight to my son and told him I loved him.

“I love you too mum”.

I hope no-one was badly hurt or killed. I will know soon.

Friday – 19/1/2018 – Update

To those that read this story – as it turned out, a friend drove by the accident last night between two cars. He said no one was seriously hurt, even though there was a lot of damage to the vehicles. I saw the remnants of the accident this morning, but I’m glad to hear that it wasn’t as serious as I thought.

 

Merry Christmas! See You Next Year…


I am away from the blog again, but I want to wish all my followers, readers, family and friends a very Merry Christmas (and if you don’t celebrate Christmas) happy end of 2017. I wish you all a wonderful, spiritual and joyful 2018. Here is one of my favourite musicians, Sona Jobartha with a joyful tune. See you all in 2018. Joycelin

Mother’s Creations – Poem


Handmade by Freda Kauc – acrylic and wool bag. (sold).

Mother

JK.Leahy  – Poem, Memoir

A wrinkled dusky pink sheet cradles a flowered meri blouse, a laplap and a bible – a word or two in the bible is for me, she echoes…

Room scented with sea, woods, coconut oil, eucalyptus and basil

A lotto ticket to set me up for life (her farewell and a surprise gift)

“If I won,” she always said, “I would let you decide what to do with the money”

We had laughed and discussed the possibilities

On the bed, an italic old-style farewell, handwritten in a very neat prose, mixing pidgin and dialect –

“Pawi – my child, I will miss being here…”

My mother was in a plane and gone

Twelve months threaded colourful bilums, gardens, and stories,

bringing me back to the first ten years of my life.

An assortment of brown hue – sculptured gum branches stacked for winter’s fires

Through the window, her many familiar artwork marked my surroundings, reminding me of her even bossy ways

-purple and green kaukau leaves sitting neatly on mounds

“You have sweet potatoes for winter”, her voice reminds me.

The large elephant leaves of pumpkin spreads and sprout golden flowers – a promise for more food.

But, I miss her telling me her stories.

Freda Kauc mobile phone bags.

See below some of my mother’s creations. All her bilums featured here were sold before she left Brisbane for Papua New Guinea. If anyone is interested to purchase my mother’s bags – please write to: joycelinleahy@gmail.com

Freda Kauc bilum – handbag.
Freda Kauc handbag and mobile phone bag.

 

Day’s Reflection – Poetry


Day’s Reflection – Poetry

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JK.Leahy©

A reflection mirrors today

In trapped waters, blue melts white light

Finding its way as water may,

where leafy dense could not steal this sight

Far beyond, a rainbow display

as if to say, blue sky has come to stay

Things My Mother Obsesses About – Story


Obsession JK. Leahy memoir

The kitchen in Bellbowrie house was marvelous. It’s Wednesday today, but the kitchen also looked marvelous on Tuesday and Monday.  I simply wanted to make chicken soup tonight, but I was afraid to dismantle this piece staring at me.

I looked at the stacked white cups, plates, and silver bowls that made this strange beautiful body and then the cutlery that made its arms and legs. Each item was part of another. It was a tidy dishwasher look without all the sections, except it was arranged to come together as one piece. If I had built a kitchen sculpture like that myself, it probably would have already unraveled when I got to stacking the spoons and the forks. And right now, if I tried to remove one cup or spoon to use, the rest would come crashing down like a dismantled sculpture. My son Nathan washed our dishes sometimes, but this was not his work of art – it was clearly my mother’s. My mother is obsessed about cleanliness and obviously tidiness. She has her own unique way of doing it.

Our kitchen has been so clean and different in the past six weeks since my mother has been with us in Brisbane that I’m inspired. I made a promise to myself; I could live up to this new expectation after she leaves. May be I could cut down on writing, art, a job, the garden, birds…It was not that we lived in a dirty house, but when my mother does something, especially cleaning, she takes it to a higher level, and makes you feel really good about it.

I could not have made this kitchen any cleaner in the past five years. Mother was not only obsessed with cleanliness, but getting any job done. Her gardening was the same and she began early and worked long hours. She was determined to clean the whole area and I reminded her some parts of our place was meant to be bushy for the animals. My siblings had asked me to bring our mother away from PNG to rest – but you think she would listen to me – no. She loves working hard. She attributes her strict work ethics to her parents, nursing, and her early learning from the Germans and Americans after the war.

I was grateful for her help now, but I fear when her holiday ends, this kitchen would return to the way my sons always left it; filthy with empty containers, piled up dirty dishes, peeled purple onion shells and spilled beverages. I clean it but it was never easy to maintain that pristine state for more than two days.

I took out the thigh fillets and started making chicken soup for my mother, my younger son Chris and I. Nathan had cooked his own meals for nearly a year and since he started a special fitness programme.

Across from the kitchen, my mother was folding the clean washing. Her knitting was on the dining table, colourful and laid out in neat bundles of colours. Mother folded all our clean washing like the way a machine would have done. We did sit and tell stories while we folded, but I soon gave up folding with her because she tended to unfold and re-fold the clothes I folded. And, if I told her she wasted her time because the clothes were meant to be worn again, she just giggled and said she preferred they were ‘properly folded’.

As I watched the boiling pot of chicken soup, I pictured Mother laying out all her medical tools on the shiny trays and pushing them from ward to ward on her tall shiny trolley. She is staring ahead with her white cap and apron crisply ironed and sitting in the precise position on her green uniform. She walks with her head held high and exuding a presence of authority when all around her is turmoil. I wondered if anyone had ever messed up her display of shiny metal pieces on the trays when she was a nurse. I once asked and she told me – never!

I think Mother’s cleaning and folding obsessions started from the hospitals and later, H.C. Leo a Chinese clothing manufacturer in Port Moresby hired her to fold completed garments. She was so precise with her craft that customers thought the cellophane packed and sealed shirts were done by machines.

My mother’s dedication to what she loves doing is second to none.

(To my regular readers – I wrote this draft/story yesterday, a part of a longer piece for Isabel D’ Avila Winter and our last Creative Writing Workshop group next Tuesday in Kenmore). If you expected drama while reading this – well there is, but it is in the rest of this story in the memoir – thank you for reading).

Reality versus Fiction


Reality versus Fiction
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Watercolour image courtesy of haruki-murakami.com

You have not posted on this blog for ten days, (Oh my! Was it that long?) How time flies when you are pursuing reality; trying to get as much out of my mother for a memoir after 50 years or so of your life and finding that you still can’t get her to talk about EVERYTHING, applying for many jobs and getting no response and it is ok when it should not be (because you are worried about your mortgage and your bills and what your family is going to eat), trying to stay positive while the news about how your country (PNG) is going to waste away at the hands of politicians, university students being shot by police because they want to voice what is right, and another bright young student loses his life to Malaria when he could have been saved, receiving sad news that one of your heroes (Mohamed Ali) has died…and the list goes on.  

Many writers are faced with reality versus fiction every day. Sometimes it can be hard to separate the two, and it makes you think hard on what is real and what is not. I also found it interesting that my perception of some important things I remembered when I was a child was different from what my mother told me today. Sometimes, in our recent discussions, I even realised it was not even the reality versus fiction, but a different or two conflicting points of view – hers and mine. Perhaps I found myself thinking too hard about this topic in the past few weeks that I needed to write something about it. 

Anyway, I’m rambling, but glad to be writing here again and I have a piece here from my friend Teresa Buisman about 1Q84 written by Haruki Murakami which I think is relevant to what I am writing about. A few days ago, Teresa watched the documentary I posted on tribalmystic blog about Haruki Murakami and his work of fiction. 

I was surprised to learn that Teresa had read 1Q84, a trilogy I bought for my son Nathan two Christmas’s ago, but he never read the book so I read it myself. The only complaint I have about this book is that, it really strained my finger muscles while reading it in bed, (it is of 1300 pages and heavy) and if you are into this kind of story, be prepared to lock yourself in a room where no-one can disturb you for five days. If you ask me if I slept at all – I probably didn’t, but I can’t remember anything else except the story. This piece on reality was written two years ago as Teresa was reading the book.

On Reality by Teresa Buisman

I’m reading a book called 1Q84 by Japanese author Haruki Murakami – I love his writing; it gives me food for thought. One of the things that he’s making me think about this time is the perception of reality. The book is set in an alternative 1984 and whilst some things are the same as “normal” other things are completely different.

For instance, there are two moons in the sky – one is the regular moon as we know it, the other is a smaller green moon that sits beside it.  You would think that people would notice such a change in the night sky but it seems that the majority don’t.  They keep living their normal lives, going to work, doing the shopping, moving through their days as they always have.  Our heroes, however, are experiencing changes at the core of their reality. I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who want to read it but it struck me that reality is perception just as much as perception is reality – does that make sense? What is real for some people is far-fetched and out of reach for others.

Look around you, there are examples everywhere. Take the lady on Hay Street this morning: a very chilly morning for Perth at around 2oC.  She’s there on the street with her little sign asking for your spare change. The sign tells you she’s homeless, suffering with MS and has no money. She’s got a blanket over her knees, she’s shivering and dishevelled. Her eyes are dim pools of hopelessness, she’s given up. This is her reality.  Does she ever see that there could be another reality for her?

As I pass I drop a few coins in her collection box, hoping that other people will also be kind and that she’ll find warmth and comfort to help her through the chilly days ahead.  I don’t know what to say to her, she’s from a different world to me as I head off to my corporate job in a swish glass and marble building with warm drinks on tap and wonderful views down to the Swan River.

Do I feel guilty about the relative affluence of my reality? Perhaps I think I have worked hard and deserve my good fortune? Or perhaps I feel bad for only giving her enough coins to buy herself a coffee instead of slipping her a quick $50 that I probably wouldn’t even miss? Or maybe I just take it for granted and don’t think about it at all?  But whichever way I look at it, the MS lady and I live in very different realities – in the same town – working in the same street.

Do we make our luck, our own reality, or is it fate – destiny? Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the affluence of the western world have the opportunity to make our own reality.  But what about the MS lady? What’s her story? She’s from this same westernised affluent society isn’t she, so what makes her reality so different?

Reality is very subjective.

 

Latin Skirts of Orchids – Photography


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When the Cattleya orchid bloom, the petals remind me of watercolour on paper. Translucent layers, flow the streams into each other. Lights, waiting to burst in unseemly angles. The orchid’s veins like fine ice crystals are so delicate that it bruises to touch; such a complete contrast to its thick leathery dull green leaves.

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Inside, many secrets are kept. But who is to know…

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When you are up close to a Cattleya, there are so many things to look at and the mind can play tricks on you. I get lost in the ‘skirts’, the twists of the lines, and ruffled ends of its petals that tilt like a Latin dancer’s skirt. Sometimes the ruffles can look like bird feathers.

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It is not hard to see a Latin dancer stretch her legs and throws the ruffled hem back, leaving the wind and the music to take her. Round and round in her twists and turns until the last note, a high-pitched violin is played to bring her home.

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That note is also the mosquito humming in my ear as it bites me.  I know I am staring at the orchid under the tree outside my house. Show is over.