Barbara Kamler

Barbara Kamler was born in New Jersey and came to Australia in 1972. She is the author of many academic book titles, over sixty journal articles and book chapters, as well as a poetic memoir based on the life of Blanka Wise. She has published poetry in The AgeThe AustralianAustralian Poetry JournalPoetrixPoetry New Zealand and various anthologies. Barbara is Emeritus Professor at Deakin University, Melbourne, and mentors early career researchers on academic writing and publishing in Australia and overseas. She lives in Melbourne.




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Plonsk Poland 1907


Nana is leaving Poland for the promise of America. Leaving her mother four brothers three sisters. Fuelled by hate for Plonsk. Hate for boys who scream Jew. Hate for her father Jacob who left them behind for America. Every afternoon she runs to her Buba and begs. Write to him. Tell him to send money. I have to get out of here. Ch’shtarb avek. Tell him. Two tickets arrive for the eldest children. Nana and Meyer. Fourteen and thirteen. They are not lone travellers. Two of more than a million already fled. Nana doesn’t know this. Only that she must leave the shack at the back of her uncle’s house—three rooms no water no heat no light. No family photo for the journey. Just Nana’s mother sobbing with Hymie and Louie the twins in her arms. Uncle finds a carriage to take them to Hamburg. Crammed into steerage narrow bunks dark steep passageways herring and potatoes. Nana falls down thirty two steps in the cargo hold. Bruised black and blue. Retching. Terrified. But thrilled to be leaving. She arrives at Ellis Island on the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving. Got zay dank.

Hallandale Florida 1972

Mama wants a wedding no matter what. Even if she hates the groom. She can’t have her daughter unmarried. Living with that man. Out of wedlock. So far away. The good girl likes being bad. Committed not tied. But she agrees. Restore harmony. Before she leaves for Australia. A wedding at her parents’ Florida apartment. Magistrate Abrams from the yellow pages. Jewish justice of the peace. The bride wears a mini flowered dress she did not buy for the occasion. The groom jacketed in black and white check. Photographer. Snap. Bride and groom first. He fluffs his shoulder length hair. She clutches a bouquet of lilies. Snap. Sister of the bride maid of honour. Snap. Brother of the bride best man. Snap. The proud parents. Mama in white Father in shock. Snap. Mama works hard to cater an event no one wants. Champagne canapés dinner at a Michelin star. She becomes a wife on January six. Months later Mama sends a small white photo album. Superglues her daughter to a union that never sticks. Snap.

Wagga Wagga New South Wales 1974

Happy new year. She never imagines the river will break its banks. Seventy-seven floods since 1841. The estate agent never said. Waters rise all around. Their weatherboard house drowns. They attack with buckets towels mops. Lift fridge raise bookcases. Too late. She thinks of Job. The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath. King size waterbed floats out the door. Beanbags filled with polystyrene beads burst. Pool lifts to roam paddock. Shag carpet lies soaked in the lounge. Murrumbidgee silt in cupboard cracks. Damp. Mildew. Fungus. Rot. Months and months. The smell. Acres invaded by armies of frogs. Two hundred books ruined—shelves and shelves of swollen print. Why am I here? As advised she swaddles page after page after page in cling wrap. Into the deep freeze for six months. But the things are deformed. Never the same. Unreadable.

Dream I
Melbourne Victoria 1987

In the dream she is searching for her son. Night after night she can’t find him. Up down back forth not in his treehouse not at basketball not in the pool. Where? Where did he go? How did she become that terrifying woman who leaves her child behind with the father? She knows what to do. Get a white horse. Get him back. At midnight she rides bareback into Wagga Wagga. Finds street. Finds house. Spots the blonde curls. Her boy on his bike. Scoops him into her arms. Laughing laughing into her arms. He sits behind on the high white steed small arms grasping her waist. They canter gallop fly out of town over Hampden Bridge past Wollundry Lagoon onto Sturt Highway past the giant Murray Cod grin. She throws the torch. Red crackling torch the town to the ground. Gone. Husband gone. Town gone. Despair gone. She and her boy safe. Together. No one but them. She wakes.

Brighton Victoria 1999

First glimpse. He is standing by the fireplace. Grey cable knit sweater. Bald. A gentle face. Gesturing with his hands. She turns so he won’t see her looking. Sixteen people have gathered this Saturday evening. Seven couples. And them. It has been arranged. Like pinballs they bounce collide converse then retreat to other corners other conversations. Did you know G likes to play Scrabble? He can join us Friday nights. I understand G was in London last month. Weren’t you there at the same time? G is a storyteller. He tells a joke she will come to know by heart. A man is wailing at the graveside. Wailing inconsolably. Why did you die? Why did you die? When bystanders witness his distress they ask. Who is this person you’re mourning? You must miss them very much. Yes the man says. He was my wife’s first husband. The room opens into laughter. He is modest in the limelight. Quiet at the centre. She is not afraid. Twelve years post divorce. Four five six tangled liaisons since. She sees him. Sees herself. Golden wattle buds in this garden of their friends. Tonight their hearts will turn. They will embrace one another. And they will never waver.

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  • Leaving New Jersey

    This collection recounts the story of leaving America, where the author was born, and of arriving in Australia, where she did not plan to stay.  It is a tale of unsettling and resettling, of leaving as an ongoing process.  Each micro-scene is a snapshot of time and place — spanning decades and moments, continents and conversations, wars, dreams and kitchen tables — to capture the psychological and spatial tensions between “here” and “there”.  Leaving New Jersey is a lyrical re-experiencing of putting down roots and tearing them up, an extraordinary poetic account of an ordinary woman’s quest for home.

    $12.00 (GST-inc)