Alison Gorman – Cowlick

Gorman LE P&W August 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023

Cowlick, poems by Alison Gorman.


For Will

Tucked in a tussle of fireweed and kikuyu, he could be mistaken
for a boulder or charred log, except for the quiver of dew
lacing the tips of his ears. Cutting the engine, I watch his breath mist
from glistening nostrils into mauve light. The dog noses my jacket
for warmth. We watch the calf raise his clumsy head from folded
forelegs. Black pearls veiled beneath an awning of eyelashes.
Velvet ears cup the air, listening for his mother, as she walks a
steady rhythm back to him. For the first time, I understand the
word—cowlick. The dark whorl of fur, styled into an abundant
toupee by his mother’s black tongue before she hid him in the

I longed to keep you safe, tried to hide your swirling mischief,
buttoned you into clean shirts, pulled up your long grey socks.
Wiping milk from your boy mouth didn’t stop your stream of
questions, nor your classroom wheel of chaos, all the red pen
teacher notes. Please forgive my instincts. It was a doctor who
told me, it was time to pull away. To let you graze among the apple
gums and run freely on strong legs.

those cold school mornings
warm spittle on my fingers
tames flyaway curls

Dinner Party, 1973

My mother bends to place a tray of devils on horseback in the
oven. Snug prunes swaddled with bacon and fastened with tooth
picks. Heat pours from the open door and ripples the silk of her
paisley culottes. She’s a kaleidoscope in tangerine and gold. Baby
vol-au-vents stand ready, their asparagus resting in bechamel.
Careful, they’re hot, she says, and passes me one on a napkin. I sit
on the kitchen bench, swing my legs, and watch her place the rest
on a wooden tray, tufted with parsley. I bite into buttery casing
and shards of pastry scatter over my pyjamas.

And this is where she’s been all day—here in the kitchen piping
boiled Dijon yolks into rubbery white halves and flecking them
with caviar. Scooping and chopping the sweet flesh of pineapple
to create her signature rice salad. She’s been broiling and braising
blanquette de veau, which she’ll keep warm through dinner on
her electric buffet tray. And there are spatchcocks in baskets,
wearing tiny paper slippers. But I’m thinking about the dessert
hidden deep in the fridge. Chocolate mousse and a biscuit torte. I
want to stay up late enough to watch brandy burst into a riffle of
blue flame on crepes.

Meanwhile, my father is in the good sitting room, preparing the
bar in his teak cabinet: stuffed olives, toothpicks and beer nuts.
Freshly showered and pungent with Old Spice, his shirt tight
and patterned with sunsets, palm trees and a half-naked lady. He
sings along a little out of key and dances an awkward cha-cha,
while Sinatra croons a bossa nova from the HiFi. Tall and tan and
young and lovely. He drops three clinks of ice into a shaker and
shakes, unscrews and pours in vermouth and gin—a splash of this,
a splash of that—then strains his martini into a glass.

Even then, I sensed a devil riding. The way my father sank into his
favourite armchair before the guests arrived and, just like that,
with the plop of an olive, his work was done.

The Urn

after Sharon Olds

My mother sits with her back to a locked cabinet of display urns.
Teardrops, hearts and silver birds rest on polished glass shelves.
We are talking options with Dianne. She slides a Simply Beautiful
brochure across the desk. There is a vase embossed with butterflies
and blossom, our most popular urn, or a hand-crafted box in maple
or oak, engraved with a seascape. Mum is perched on the edge of a
beige tub chair. Her worn hands grip the brakes of her walker. She
looks past Dianne who shows us an ocean sunset painted onto a
scattering-tube. There are other designs too— ascending doves, a
field of forget-me-nots and a starry night. Take your time. Dianne
smooths her black skirt and leaves to collect paperwork and my
father’s remains. Bronze plaques stud a memorial lawn outside
the window, unfurling in a green sweep toward the Garden of
Serenity. Blousy pink roses bow their heads in the rain. Dianne
returns with a blue box, the kind you might purchase shoes in.
Mum stifles a noise, a soft stridor breath. Dianne places my father
on the desk. We don’t choose an urn or a vase or a carved box
or a tube. I tap a PIN into a mobile cash machine. Mum wheels
herself to the front entrance. As we head out under a shared
umbrella, I am startled by the sudden weight of a father in my arms.

© Alison Gorman

Alison Gorman is a poet and teacher, living in Sydney on Wallumedegal land.  Her poetry has appeared in Meanjin, Cordite, Southerly, Mslexia, The Honest Ulsterman and Popshot Quarterly and two Australian anthologies. She was awarded a 2023 Varuna Residential Fellowship. Her pamphlet submission was a finalist in the 2022 Fool for Poetry International Competition. In 2022, she was shortlisted for the Mslexia poetry prize competition, the Wells Festival of Literature poetry competition and the ACU poetry prize. In 2016 she won the Dorothy Porter poetry prize. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Sydney. When Alison is not writing poetry, she teaches creative writing to children at Inkling Writing Studio which she founded in 2018.

2 Replies to “Alison Gorman – Cowlick”

  1. I enjoyed reading these works immensely Alison. Thank you for sharing and baring parts of yourself in such a beautiful way xx

  2. Beautifully described scenarios that made me feel like I was a fly on the wall. The devils and vol-au-vents brought me back to my own kitchen. Thanks for sharing these memories Ali

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