|Stephen Ros Zavitsanos is a 20-year-old university student studying a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Creative Writing, and is currently reading poetry for Frontier Magazine and sub-editing for Farrago Magazine. He has previously self-published a short poetry collection entitled ‘cherry whine’, and had writing appear in Melbourne University’s Inkspot Zine and Farrago Magazine. He has also won the Australian National Campus Writing (May 2022) competition, and was shortlisted for the State of Victoria Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award.
If tomorrow you suddenly turned into an animal
If tomorrow you suddenly turned into an animal
you would be an albatross who couldn’t fly –
not a flightless bird,
just one with a sore wing
unable to take off.
You’d either be scooped up and nursed to health
or maybe surrendered and put into a
But if tomorrow you turned into an albatross
and you survived
you’d learn to fly again
and make the sky
your new home
and soon forget language beyond chirps,
you’d sing a song you’d heard before
and remember human me and think
what animal is he?
But if tomorrow I too turned into an animal
it’s likely I would just remain human
because if you’re an albatross
I would have to be the one to scoop you up
and make you forget your wing was ever sore at all.
Levi, the family dog
I’m now standing in the middle of my garage,
screwdriver in hand, tissues
on the floor,
disassembling his kennel
because it doesn’t make sense to keep it there and
even if I don’t sell it, another could certainly use it
so I might just donate it.
I’ll slowly take out each screw and question
what it is I’m doing and if maybe
I should stop because maybe
he’ll come back and maybe
it’s just a red herring
and this is all a great lesson about
But I never do stop because
at some point all four walls collapse
and timber covers blackened blankets and
the screwdriver joins the tissues on the floor
and I learn that you can cry so hard your head hurts and
no amount of Panadol or Nurofen can stop it
so I just sit beside the taken apart kennel and remember that
some time ago it wouldn’t make sense for me to ever own a kennel
because Levi didn’t exist, and
that past is just like my present
so if I’ve lived this all before why am I still crying so hard that my head hurts?
god please line my pockets
I searched for God in my pocket –
beside my loose change and lint –
and when my clumsy hand finally found him
I scooped him up like you would
running water to splash your face
and brought him to my ear
where he begged me to stop in a tiny voice
but how could I
when I turned the tables and
for once in my life
I had him in the palm of my hand.
smile me stupid
I. THANK GOD FOR MEDICARE REBATE
My therapist told me that as I’m drifting off to sleep, I should assign the day and its major events with a number between one and ten. With ten being winning the lottery, and one being your house burning down. And then, compare if it was worth getting such a score. A sort of re-wiring process in your head. Making you understand why you think the way you think.
I hate karaoke. Though, like anyone, I do love music. And my friends. And alcohol. But I really, really hate karaoke. I lost my karaoke virginity at the end of last year. And went again, four times over. It was a fun and different activity. Getting dinner. Getting drinks. Going to sing till you can’t (or your time runs out). Drink some more. It was like a drug. The first time I went, I was hooked. But it lost its charm quickly.
I fell for my friend. Hard. I think I find it difficult to distinguish platonic feelings from romantic. I often crave attention. When I get it, it never feels like it’s enough. And when I don’t, I collapse in on myself like a dying star. We’d been friends for two years. Only close for about three months. We had done every sort of ‘activity’ you could think of: Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Beach. Bar. Escape room. Club. Movies. Musical. Shopping. You name it. We’d done it. Leaving only karaoke.
III. THE LAST TIME
The fourth (and last) time. Drowning in seven bottles of soju and gorged with Korean. We, and our three friends, decided it would be a perfect time for karaoke. We blinked. And suddenly we were there. Ugly neon lighting. And for some reason, a huge SeaWorld-sized fish tank. Blinked again. We were in our room. As she always managed, Ariana Grande dominated the night. The quintet ate up 7 rings and God is a woman before deciding to also conquer Taylor Swift. We shook it off. Had wild dreams. And calmed down. We flirted. A lot. What else would you call that closeness and smiling? I maintain. We flirted.
We had this game. We’d both stare at each other. Deadpan. Waiting to see who laughs first. I always lost. But I loved playing it each time because he’d look at only me for a few seconds. And everything around us faded while we shared that moment. I thought, why would he play such a game if there wasn’t something there? But I knew he used to play it with his friends in high school. You know how these things are. They make you abandon all reason.
IV. IT’S ALL OVER NOW
This wasn’t a particularly bad experience because of the retrospectively meaningless flirting. The bathroom brought the evil – surprisingly, not in the forms you’d expect. After pissing, he caught me on my way out.
‘Do you like her?’ he said, unassumingly. I know where this is going.
‘Her? No’. Killing the seed of that thought.
‘Oh, good’ he laughed nervously. Exactly where this is going. It all stopped for a second. We didn’t play the game. We dined in the silence.
‘I do. That’s why I ask.’
I did not know where this was going.
What I said earlier about collapsing in on myself like a dying star. This was one of those moments. Hanging off a ledge. Cornered by barbarians. Walking the plank. Rejection without being rejected.
The bathroom was my paradise. Sink my river. Stall my cave. Toilet paper my blanket. I’d planned my year-long survival within those four walls. What good did the outside world with their skies polluted with light and damning issues do me?
Homelessness? Huh. We don’t have that in a 2-metre-wide bathroom. But apparently, if you go to the bathroom for forty-five minutes and don’t return. People notice.
VI. BLINK TO ESCAPE
So, I return. Playing the game alone. Permitting more liquid inside of me than, maybe not what’s possible, but advisable. Tequila this. Rum that. Fireball who. A cocktail made in my mouth. Resting alongside bibimbap and tteok-bokki. They would all be leaving soon. From which side, hard to say.
He got close to her. Still maintaining a friendly distance. Maybe he was acting as he normally would. But knowing what I knew, they may as well have been fucking right there.
I sat across from him until I couldn’t. I blinked. But I was still there. Why didn’t it work in reverse? I had to actually stand and leave, unfortunately.
VII. FLINDERS STREET STATION
On the street. Missing my paradise. Home as the intelligent destination. Or more wandering… The latter sounded delicious for now.
First, a rest was in order. Regain all energy lost in that battle before pressing on. A nice slab of concrete snuggled me. A thousand years later. A man came up to me and asked if I was okay. I fell out of my body. How was I in a position where I needed sympathy from strangers? Was he just kind or did I look that bad?
To be fair. Tears must’ve painted my face. Alcohol my breath. And a look of dishevelment. Is it that surprising someone cared to notice?
I fumbled. Nodded. Smiled. Thanked him. I didn’t need to talk about it, certainly not with a stranger. Even if I knew him, I didn’t need to talk about it. There was nothing to talk about. My journey continued.
VIII. HOME SWEET HOME
By the time I arrived, the birds had sung three times. There’s no place like home.
A water bottle and sausage roll from 7-11 and things were peachy. My bed, not quite as alluring as concrete, greeted me. It was like someone, knowing I was returning, had fluffed my pillows, cooled my sheets, and made sure the room was dimly lit.
IX. AGAIN, THANK GOD FOR MEDICARE REBATE
The disaster of the night ran laps in my head. I’m a dying star. Doing what my therapist told me. Numbers flooded me. Danced around. I take a dart. Cock my arm. All my force behind it. It punctures Two. Straight through the heart. My eyes flutter. I’m a dying star.
being quiet feels like holding in a sneeze
when midnight has left me stranded and I search my phone like a mad man trying to find someone to talk to like if I don’t say what I want to say I’ll die in that same breath so I keep moving my finger against my sticky screen and attempt to find someone who isn’t asleep or out having fun because ruining someone’s night with my problems is so much worse than dying so I keep scrolling and swiping and taping and moving that finger until I reach the inevitable conclusion that there is no one for me right now and that’s probably fine so I’ll just take a minute and sit down outside this 7-11 and wait for the worker to let me in hoping that maybe he’ll speak to me so I won’t actually die holding in this breath that feels like a sneeze and I tell myself that I won’t be scared of those people also waiting to be let in because maybe they’re just like me waiting for someone to let them talk