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Exchange / Value

Published 10th February, 2020 in MRP Guest Blogger

My children excitedly clutch two end-of-term vouchers to a burger franchise. On each blue rectangle of cardboard are their names written by their occasionally exasperated, but most often excellent, kids’ gymnastic coach. They’ve been looking forward to this day. They’ve waited—not patiently—through the post-Christmas consumption of obligatory left-overs and for relatives to return to the other side of the globe. Back to places they have been assured are now covered in a thick layer of snow, and were told over a Christmas dinner that consisted of baked fish and cold prawns, that they, the rellos from the other side where it is currently snowing, most definitely do not eat prawns for Christmas. My six-year-old mutters no prawns under her breath like a mantra and blows the whispy ends of a grown-out fringe above her brows, as if she cannot imagine a thing such as no prawns for Christmas.

We drive into the Woolworths parking station and navigate the unfamiliar subterranean space. The place feels like it’s 150 degrees. The fumes from the cars mix with the smell of hot tyres, producing an odour like a type of cooking oil. We finally find the ramp and the kids race ahead, swerving around men with beer bellies and couples with babies in prams. The kids spy the neon sign five hundred metres away and race across the tiles of the food precinct in this brand spanking new Land Lease development. They run to the counter scooting across the Nordic-styled hardwood floor and come to a screeching halt in front of the burger board of fame, with something akin to wonder: they’ve come to exchange the blue piece of cardboard held in their sweating fingertips, for a burger. And they know there’s something magical about to happen.

Leaving aside the strange terms and conditions of the voucher, the most exasperating being that the burger, limit one per paying adult* must be consumed on the premises. The two paying adults have managed to taper their cynicism and stop-gap their grumbling to agree to this “free” meal with adult purchase. The kids think they are getting a bargain; the adults grumble over their credit cards, tapping the piece of plastic on the side of the Tyro box. Just down the road—a five minute drive away—is a park and a beach to enjoy. The cool of the evening has just started to settle; the mantle of dust that has coated everything for weeks is beginning to lift on the evening breeze. The terms of the voucher state we must stay put. I order a cherry ripe wine that I’ve been assured is on the dry side. I squint at labels of the beers chilling away in the fridge, unsure if I’ll regret the choice I’ve made.

While I’m staring at the calories displayed under the vegetarian burger, versus the vegan burger that looks like it’s been drowned in a deep fryer, versus the meat varieties, I think that there is something in this excitement displayed by my kids. I think back through the scorch-filled afternoons to remember when I last saw, if not the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my children getting a burger almost as big as their heads, something similar. And I remember, I most recently saw it on display at a poetry reading, when mid-break, over the rim of 1970s style cafeteria mugs—full with black tea you could stand a book up in, this exchange was happening. Poets swapping books, complementing each other on their work, pressing palms containing chaps often with a little flourish, and often with inscriptions from the author to the receiver. Poets appear especially adept at exchange, perhaps because of the traditionally smaller market for the sale of poetry books and the audience—the readers of a poet’s work—may often be other poets, or aspiring ones, and there’s something to love about this: a connection between the creator and reader.

Some of my most treasured poetry books, found on trips to small towns secreted away in dust-filled stores, contain inscriptions from poets to people I have never known. I often remove a volume from the shelf and wonder about the event when Bob met Les Murray. For Bob, with my best wishes and those of Freddy. I enjoy the thought that Freddy, the protagonist in verse wishes Bob, my imaginary boss cocky, the best, as his author Les does. I wonder why he underlined those.

Uralla is a tiny town in country NSW. The main street only goes for four blocks. And yet, here is a bookstore with a dedicated poetry section. As I browse the shelves I notice that there are many books with inscriptions to people, now probably gone. I wander around, pulling a book off the shelf, looking at its foxed paper, wondering how all these books, many familiar from my childhood, came to be here. How did they lose their owners? Perhaps packed away when a bookish parent, aunt, or uncle died and there were no bookish offspring interested in their pages.

From the store I unearth a copy of J.S. Harry’s A Dandelion for Van Gough, its pages loosening from the spine like the fruit from a dandelion and the Collected Poems of Jennifer Rankin, edited by the recently departed Judith Rodriguez—in pristine condition, its thirty year old spine barely opened. I do a quick Google search to see if Rankin’s work is still studied and pleasingly, find both Bonny Cassidy and Melody Paloma reference her work. I place these books along with Les Murray’s verse novel on counter and wait for taciturn owner to tot up the numbers in his ledger. I hand over my cash and bring my hoard back to the city.

I have a pillow made by my aunt that she originally crafted as a tapestry and for some reason, ended up as the front piece of a pillow lovingly stitched together by my nan and mum. My daughter has that pillow now. It’s on her bed and lives there with its squirrels and other animals that she only sees in books. It’s a connection to her family in Canada and the United States and I love how something made long ago, can go around for another generation. Just like I imagine those poets’ books being read and handed around, and eventually shipped off in boxes to second hand bookstores in the wonderful, dusty corners of the country.

You can read KA Rees’ first blog post with us, ‘Sickness in a fire-ravaged landscape,’ here.

KA Rees writes poetry and short fiction. Her poems and stories can be found in all the suspect places.

Her short story, ‘Butterscotch,’ was shortlisted during our last competition and published in the resulting anthology, We’ll Stand In That Place and Other Stories.

We publish high-end literary fiction, crime and the best short stories currently being written in Australia.

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