Excerpt: 'Bloodthirst' by Mira Schlosberg

Art by Will Thompson

Art by Will Thompson

  1. Crocodile

    In February of 1985, ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood was attacked by a saltwater crocodile. She was in a red plastic canoe, in the part of the river she was told not to go to. She tried to jump from the canoe into a tree to escape the crocodile, but the crocodile jumped too. It death-rolled her three times in the water before she managed to escape and crawl to a place where a ranger found her.

    After surviving this attack, Val Plumwood wrote extensively about how the experience had illuminated the ways humans separate ourselves from nature by denying that we can (and, according to her, should) be eaten by other things. We imagine that we and we alone own our bodies and that we are above being eaten, but we are wrong.

  2. Vampire

    Val Plumwood was a colleague of my father, and when I was nine we visited her at her house below Plumwood Mountain. The house was a stone hexagon, one room except for a curtained-off shower in the centre. There was an outhouse and a glass-walled guest room, both detached from the house. The furniture in the kitchen had been chewed by a wombat, who she said went in and out of the house as it pleased every night. In The Eye of the Crocodile, Val Plumwood writes:

Upon death the human essence is conventionally seen as departing for a disembodied, non-earthly realm, rather than nurturing those earth others who have nurtured us. This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food web, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters separate from it. Death becomes a site for apartness, domination and individual salvation, rather than for sharing and for nurturing a community of life. Being food for other animals shakes our image of human mastery.

Val Plumwood said she wanted to introduce us to her friends. She led us to a patch of mud a few steps outside of her house. She was wearing sandals and she put her feet into the mud and stood still as leeches wriggled up and began to bite her. She told us she liked to come out and feed them maybe once a day.

Plumwood writes about the existence of two parallel universes—the universe humans live in, where the body belongs to the individual, and the universe of the food chain, where all bodies belong to all others. The golden eye of the crocodile is the portal she travelled through from one universe to the other. She says, ‘Horror and outrage usually greet stories of other species eating live or dead humans, and various levels of hysteria are elicited when we are nibbled by leeches, sandflies, and mosquitoes. But humans are food, food for sharks, lions, tigers, bears and crocodiles, food for crows, snakes, vultures, pigs, rats and goannas, and fora huge variety of smaller creatures and micro-organisms.’ She writes that the body is like a library book, subject to recall by any other organism, at any time.

We went for a hike in the forest. My sister and I knelt down to play in a stream and when I stood up again I felt a cold thing crawling up my leg. I screamed. Val Plumwood calmly demonstrated how to get rid of a leech that hasn’t bitten you yet—rolling it up into a ball in her palm and flicking it away. My parents say they had to give me whiskey to make me sleep that night.

3. Ghost

I feel happy so I stop going to therapy. I begin to experience irrational anxiety walking home at night that I may encounter a ghost or a demon. I develop anxiety around cars; that I will die in a crash. I look in the mirror and feel I am looking out from far, far inside my body. I get a haircut and it doesn’t help. I get a tattoo and it doesn’t help. I have an anxiety attack while watching Killing Eve, begin to panic at my own impending death. For over a month the world seems unreal, the participation of others in it unbelievable. Every indication of the passage of time distresses me. Looking in the mirror or letting one body part touch another body part distresses me. The part of my leg that I shaved to get the tattoo feels cursed. I am crying into Eloise’s faux fur coat. She is putting her hand on my hands to hold them still and I didn’t even realise I was wringing them. I am spending every free moment watching TV in bed, lying as still as possible.

4. Vampire

I read an article about Hereditary and how horror movies use transness as a plot for demonic possessions. In Hereditary apparently Toni Collette has two children; the girl is possessed by a demon, but the demon is unhappy in a female body, and so the girl is killed so it can move into the body of her brother.

I remember as a teenager watching Toni Collette and Julianne Moore kiss in The Hours during English class. Both of them in terror at not being able to be women in the right way. In the opening scene, where Virginia Woolf drowns, her shoe floated off and some girl said, ‘I want those shoes.’

Val Plumwood writes, ‘I met the crocodile like a child who has just become aware of the evil in the world, a sharply demonic experience of some great wrong done to another.’

5. Crocodile

I can’t remember when my fear of insects began to centre on cockroaches, only know that my body’s response to them is the worst of all. Hot flash, heart pounding, dizziness, clawing at my intestines. The fear is simply that they will touch me. And the sounds they make—scratching, fluttering, swooping—make me the most nauseated, because in the sound you can hear the weight of the bug and know how heavy it would be on your body.

I can remember being less afraid of cockroaches,or at least able to get over it more quickly once the insect had been killed or trapped inside a vacuum (plastic bag fastened over vacuum hose to prevent escape). Remember opening my eyes during sex on Valentine’s Day to see a roach crawling on the ceiling above us. At this time I had a partner who would kill and catch them for me. One night I was woken up by the sound of a cockroach’s wings in the room. After that, my fear became ridiculous. I took beta blockers, Valium, Xanax, drank whiskey, wore earplugs, but I would still lie awake the whole night, my entire body wrapped tightly in the doona. Eventually I began to sneak out when my partner had fallen asleep and go back to my own house.

When I see other insects in the house, the fear spirals to cockroaches, and to global warming, and to money. The hotter the summers get, the more cockroaches there will be. If a smaller bug can get into the house, then a larger one might. If I don’t save enough money to move to a colder climate, I will be trapped with the threat of these insects crawling on me always until death.

This above is an excerpt from a piece originally published in The Lifted Brow Issue #42. To read this and many more brilliant works in full, get your copy here.

Mira Schlosberg is a writer and comics artist whose work has appeared in Meanjin, Rabbit, and others. They are the editor of Voiceworks magazine and edit comics for Scum Mag. Their comic book Guidebook to Queer Jewish Spirituality is available through Glom Press.

Will Thompson (they/he) is a self-taught illustrator and animation student. They work mainly with traditional mediums and enjoy making things with their hands

In Full: 'Root Bed', by Cassandra Rockwood-Rice

Root Bed is an excerpt from Cassandra’s manuscript, <i>The Bed Roots</i>, which she calls a "Troema": her definition of a 'troema' is a poetic narrative, spanning many pages, that maps the language of a traumatic experience across an experience or across an entire lifetime. In so writing the troema, the writer observes and bears witness to the trauma in an effort to help de-stigmatize the nature of living in a traumatized body and/or mind. It asks the reader to look closely at the damages resulting from oppressive and abusive behaviors, in our interpersonal relationships and in society at large. It asks that we build compassion and take responsibility for our actions.

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To celebrate its launch we’re sharing an excerpt from the book, which spans a year in the life of the protagonist and those who surround her. Dive into the first 33 days below.

This above is an excerpt from When One Person Dies The Whole World Is Over, published by Brow Books. You can purchase a copy of this book by clicking here or at all good bookstores.

Mandy Ord is a comics artist, a cartoonist, an illustrator, a speaker and teacher of comics, a greengrocer, and a disability support worker. Mandy’s first graphic novel Rooftops was published in 2008, followed by her second book Sensitive Creatures, published in 2011 and which received a White Ravens award at the Bologna Book Fair. Mandy’s comic stories have also been included in a variety of local and international publications, such as Meanjin, The Age, Voiceworks, The Australian Rationalist Magazine, The Wheeler Centre website, Trouble magazine, SBS Cornerfold, Going Down Swinging, Tango, and Inscribe magazine. In 2018 Mandy illustrated her first book for children, Chalk Boy, written by Margaret Wild.

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Mum received an invoice for $1000 the other day, seemingly a fee expected to be paid by the next of kin of someone who has died in custody. My brother Wayne spent six days on remand at Yatala prison prior to the three days he endured on life support in the Intensive Care Unit of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Ceasing to regain consciousness following the events of spit hood and positional asphyxia, he died. Two years on and the coronial inquest into his death has commenced. As I sit in the coroner’s court each day I grow more uncertain about the likelihood of charges being laid upon the state, who were responsible for Wayne’s care in his final days.

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A young man becomes the victim of a heinous crime. While out on the town one night, he is dealt a blow to the back of the head by another man’s fist, enters a coma and, days later, dies of his injuries. The young man is a victim of something unspeakable. That an innocent person could be attacked at random and for no apparent reason speaks to some festering wound in the organ of society. The media and social commentators call for swift justice to be sought against his perpetrator, and the morally righteous demand deep institutional changes in society. No one questions the validity of this young man’s experience, nor the suffering of his family and friends. We take at face value the urgent need to address the causes of an act so deplorable, and everyone feels personally affected without insisting upon the details. Alcohol is to blame; lock-out laws are put in place, and police presence in popular nightspots is increased.

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When Franz Kafka wrote “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” he was describing a need for writing that cut through cultural insensibilities. Now that we are living in the epoch of the Anthropocene, writers are reprising Kafka’s call to “read only books that bite and sting us.” Theorists, such as Kate Rigby, are asking whether stories can rupture indifference, cut through “the psychic numbness” engendered by ways of thinking and being that “render us insouciant towards suffering, heedless of injustice, content with affluence, and dangerously unaware of our own imperilment.”

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Purple silk sheets, wind chimes and a closed door. Curly makes me wait in the living room while she follows Miss Diamond into the bedroom. I hear Curly’s high-pitched voice through the fibro walls. Why did her boyfriend ditch her at the Prairiewood Macca’s drive-through? Would she ever get to lick the cheese off his greasy Quarter Pounder again? Miss Diamond’s response is buffered by thick phlegm.

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“I wish I was gay so I could like… Kelly Ray Jetson?” said my girlfriend Lauren, rubbing her fingers against her dark buzzed undercut. We were driving past Helen’s Pavlova Palace in Yagoona, red and white lightbox sign illuminating the baby pink storefront, where a couple of weeks ago the owner kicked out a hijabi for asking if the food was halal. I was playing Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Favourite Colour’ from 2015’s E•MO•TION

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I wake up at 4am unable to breathe as usual and I check my phone to see if Liam Gallagher has texted me back, which he hasn’t. I take my inhaler and shoot four puffs into my mouth. I’m supposed to take two puffs with two short, sharp inhales, which right now would be like telling someone with two broken legs crawling on the floor to jump twice, just two little jumps, and their legs will be fixed. All I can do is rasp, unwillingly slow.

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'A Basically Marxist Analysis of the Rise of Activewear' by Lauren Carroll Harris

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Before approaching my desk today, I walked for half an hour along the coast where I live. On my walk, I saw nautical-striped stretch camisoles, floral sports bras, and quick-drying ballet crops. I saw gorgeous leopard-print midi pants and silky monochrome tanks matched perfectly with oversized sunglasses and enormous takeaway coffee cups. I saw lightweight silver jogging shorts, metallic snake-print bandeaus, seamless perforated micro-shorts, and draped jersey tees.

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Excerpt: ‘The Detention Centre Diaries’, by Hessom Razavi

In mid-2015, I received an email from International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), a contractor for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. It was an invitation for an ophthalmologist to visit the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and provide eye care for detainees. It posed a moral dilemma, which I mulled over for a while.

As a migrant from Iran, it was easy to identify with people who sought refuge from danger or oppression. As an Australian citizen, I was upset by the appalling reports of how asylum seekers, including children, were being housed and treated. I was angered by our government’s punitive, rather than humanitarian response to a global refugee crisis—a crisis that we arguably helped foment through military support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oddly or not, this treatment also reminded me of my work in Indigenous communities where the biggest buildings in town are often the police station and jailhouse. I imagined a national tagline to capture this panoptic treatment of the destitute:

AUSTRALIA: land grabbing since 1788, handcuffing those who plead a share.

Would a visit to Nauru or Manus constitute tacit acceptance of these policies? Would I be a pawn for Australian Border Force? If I didn’t accept, who’d provide the necessary eye care for detainees? How many Australian ophthalmologists spoke Farsi, had lived in Pakistan, and were familiar with Sri Lanka and the Middle East? Was it morally unacceptable to not go?

Since my visits to Nauru and Manus in 2015–16, things have changed. The centre on Manus was declared illegal by Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court, and the fraught process of shutting it down continues. The Australian government agreed to our country’s largest human rights payout, tantamount to accepting the harm done to refugees. An undisclosed number of asylum seekers were granted resettlement in the US, but the Trump administration has stalled the process. Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015 was changed so that doctors, teachers and other workers are free from its secrecy provisions, making it safer for them to speak out without fear of legal reprisal. Previously, all employees and contractors risked being sacked, prosecuted and imprisoned if they disclosed information about detention centres to anyone. The coalition government announced an additional intake of twelve thousand Syrian refugees, but expressed a preference for Christians over Muslims, in spite of a non-discriminatory mandate. More recently, in the face of a global refugee crisis, Peter Dutton advocated fast-track visas for a select minority of immigrants—white South African farmers—in a shameless display of systemic, unprincipled bias towards white Christian migrants.

The passages that follow were written before the gag order was lifted. At the time, I faced the unsatisfactory choice between speaking out and facing possible prosecution, or remaining silent and returning to visit the detainees. I chose the latter and shelved the writing. However, in 2017 my offshore visits fell through, due to the frustrating bureaucracy of IHMS. Now that I can’t visit the detainees, I’m blowing my whistle alongside the dedicated others who have been doing likewise for years. At the time of writing, over fifteen hundred detainees remain in limbo, and they need witnesses, not handcuffs.

22nd August, 2015

At a dining table in the staff mess, the doctors gather for lunch. As a newcomer to their group, I join them to eat and chat, hoping to learn more about the centre. I listen as they discuss the difficulties of becoming accredited to work on Nauru, about hopes to emigrate from their homes in the Philippines, Poland and Zimbabwe, to Australia or the United States. They talk shop, compare the earnings of different specialists, contrasting their deployment here with facilities elsewhere: military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, oil rigs in Nigeria. They speak about their rostered days off, cruising the island, visiting the Chinese eateries, checking out Anibare Bay.

Their tone is light, humorous, coloured with aspirations toward a better life.

Rarely do they speak about the detainees. When they do, they refer to them as ‘clients’, rather than ‘patients’ or ‘people’. Over a buffet of roast lamb and vegetables, detainees are mentioned with a roll of the eyes, a knowing look, a shift in tone. Scepticism moves in like a low cloud, undeclared but tangible. At times, the feeling verges on scorn.

What is implied, again and again, is that the detainees are not real patients, their conditions not real pathology. Their vague symptoms, such as headaches, non-specific pain or malaise, are difficult to diagnose or alleviate. Some have genuine afflictions, such as atopic dermatitis or upper respiratory tract infections. But their symptoms seem amplified, bordering on hysteria or the bizarre. Consequently, detainees are labelled malingerers: the scourge of doctors, feigning illness for personal gain.

My colleagues seem unaware or uninterested in the psychological impacts of detention. As a more sympa-thetic counsellor tells me, “Asylum seekers arrive here with post-traumatic stress disorder from the horrors of their home countries, develop anxiety about the welfare of family left behind, and fall into depression when we lock them up.” At our table, there seems to be little appetite to consider these more complex dynamics and how they may manifest as somatic symptoms among trapped and disempowered fugitives.

I peer around at the painted grey walls in the staff mess, the fluorescent tubes over stainless steel surfaces. I feel discomfited; I swear the aircon is dialled to Arctic. The mess, like the rest of the compound, is militarised and highly administered: monitored hand-hygiene stations, high-visibility vests, muscle men with buzz cuts. Last night, a security guard did me a kindness, permitting me a second orange after dinner by looking the other way. Even citrus can be contraband here.

23rd August, 2015

The eye conditions afflicting detainees on Nauru range from mysterious to tragic. Many suffer a form of allergic conjunctivitis, where the eyes become red, gritty and sore for weeks on end. I suspect it’s due to a local antigen, perhaps phosphate dust from the ubiquitous open-cut mines, or airborne fungal spores from mouldy accommodation. I see a three-year-old boy from Nepal with this condition. His eyelids are swollen and excoriated, and he has similar changes on the soft skin of his armpits and behind his knees. I prescribe anti-allergy eye drops and show his dad how to administer a steroid cream for him. But as long as he and the other detainees are exposed to the environmental toxins here, it all seems like band-aid medicine.

19th September, 2015

On Manus, I meet an Iraqi man who is blind in one eye from traumatic optic neuropathy. This is a case of ‘damaged wiring’ between the eye and brain, which occurs when the eye is struck so hard that a shock wave passes through the bony socket and shears the nerve fibres where they enter the skull. The nerve atrophies and the blind spot expands until eyesight is extinguished. The man tells me he sustained this when local Papua New Guinea (PNG) men stormed the centre and bashed his head in with a wooden bat. Another asylum seeker, 23-year-old Reza Barati, was beaten to death in the same riot.

I tell this man that his blindness is permanent and he slumps to weep in front of me. Has he not lost enough? What’s the price of his sight, to him and to us? On our government’s watch, his vision had been halved, his future prospects permanently diminished. Yet I doubt many Australians will ever hear his story. I trace the cause of his blindness back to the illegal invasion of his country by Western governments including ours, a spiral of dominoes fanning out to flatten the dignity of civilians.

This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #38. Get your copy here.

Hessom Razavi is a doctor and writer, born in Hamadan, Iran. He grew up in Tehran, Karachi and the UK, before his family moved to Perth. His poetry has been published in Australia and the UK, and his travel writing and videos are available online. He works as an ‘outreach eye doctor’ in remote communities in Australia and overseas.