Erin Shiel has poems published in Meanjin, Cordite and Australian Love Poems. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the University of Canberra VC Poetry Prize. She is writing her first collection.



Grace Bros Miranda Fair Lighting Department

In my childhood home, three bedrooms
and the lounge room had chandeliers.
Not purchased in bulk from the coffers
of a French Noble, once lowered on feast
nights and lit by servants scurrying
before the guests arrived to drink claret,
eat suckling pig. Not made by Venetian artisans
blowing bulbs by mouth, twirling rods
in hot ovens until glass dripped like amber
sap. Our chandeliers were bought one by one
with five dollars saved from each pay week
for the best part of the year
I turned seven. Chandeliers need flock
wallpaper to accentuate their luxury
so my father spent weekends lining up
the patterns of one strip with the next.
Some of the houses of the brickies
he worked with were lined with Opera
House carpet, Regent Hotel tiles. Our
chandeliers were bought from Grace Bros
Miranda Fair lighting department.
On Thursday night or Saturday morning
we’d visit that hot cave glittering
not with seams of gold quartz crystal
or glow worms, but with chandeliers
(and their poorer, colonial style cousins
destined for country kitchens).

A thousand price tags dangled above our heads.

*After visual artist, Nicholas Folland, The Door is Open, 2007 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. See image online at


My mother, balancing

On the first day of my mother’s first job the boss
sent her out at lunchtime to order a toasted ice cream
sandwich. All the men in suits thought it was funny
when she came back with the sandwich dripping
through the paper bag onto her white gloves.
At her second job she got married and they held

a farewell party. But I don’t want to leave, she said.
They thought that was odd. My mother’s work was at a desk
with a large accounting machine with so many keys.
It had its own rhythm that I never understood. Cha Cha Cha.
She was always racking her brain for a missing invoice payment
of $36.20. At her third job she was allowed to work even though

she was married. When I was born they delivered the accounting
machine to her house so that she could find the numbers
that weren’t quite right while I slept to the Cha Cha Cha.
She had rubber thimbles on her thumbs so she could flick faster
through the papers looking for that number that wasn’t right.
She made friends at work. They shared recipes and diets

and stories about their children putting plasticine in their ears.
They paid each other’s children 50 cents on school holidays
so they could keep them quiet and bring them to the office
to file or organise rubber bands. In the lunch hour they rushed off
to the supermarket to shop for dinner or school lunches.
…. Mince…. Oranges…. Bread…. Milk….

My mother’s job was before work too. She would dust the house,
put a casserole in the crock pot and hang the washing on the line,
cracking in the wind. The cold singlets would flap in her face
as she said her prayers. She said it was the only time she had to pray.
The magpies and the cat hung around her feet until they were fed.
At her fourth job in the furniture factory, when she did overtime

she asked for cash but received diamonds and shares in uranium
mines instead. She sold them quickly to pay for my school
uniforms. When she lost weight she admired herself in the window
of her office causing trouble on the factory floor below as the workers
stopped making chairs to whistle. She walked over the sewerage pipe
at the Botany wetlands to save on bus fares. I remember lying in bed

watching her do her hair for work, still a bit sleepy and loving her
scent swishing by my bed. Twist, twist, twist it up into a beehive.
Tweed skirt, twin set. Perfect for the office that is air-conditioned
for men in suits. At her fifth job my mother paid doctors’ wages
and minded kids with disabilities so their mothers could have a break
and go to the hairdresser. She still managed to balance the books.

When she retired, the women she taught to balance books came
to visit her. There were funerals of the women who had taught her.
She found that missing $36.20 in the shower. In her mind she saw it,
in the wrong month. The credits and debits fell into place
and she felt easier. But that was just one part of the rhythm restored.
There was the mortgage too, the school fees, the meal planning,

the lunches for my father, the trolley shopping, the jibes from tuckshop
mothers about her latch key child. The day off when the child was sick.
The saving for the trip to see the in laws she had never met. The shiny
bloke in the office who made sleazy comments. The boss who kept
a second set of books. Her father’s angina tablet prescription, clutching
at her heart. Her mother who needed help choosing carpet… Cha Cha Cha…