by Anne Collins

Opposite the boarded-up mental health service 
set on fire four years ago by a client, 
there’s a group of flats for people who use the service
now relocated. On one doorstep in large letters 
is a mat with the words GO AWAY. 
Every time I walk past
I sense torment and humour in its anti-welcome,
feel a little relieved to see 
a cat’s scratching post and toys in the window.
Then one day when I’m walking in the smile of spring sunshine
I see a young woman outside the flat.
She’s breathing heavily as if climbing a steep hill,
standing up then sitting down again on the footpath’s concrete ledge,
her skirt up to her waist, her underpants exposed.
Three bags full of things next to her.
At that moment the sunshine feels cruel.
Beat it, y’ shit, she says as I get closer. 
Is she the person who lives behind
the warning of those words on the mat?
I pass her hoping that she can find her way 
back to a place of calm and safety.
Around the corner 
there was a sign in a window of a house. 
Sometimes a woman sits on the front porch there 
smoking as the traffic speeds by. One day an angry man 
was throwing things from the house onto the front patch of grass 
and loading a truck. 
The next time I went by the sign was gone.
On the way to the shops 
in a front yard
there are three dead-looking caravans. 
Next door to them: a dozen sunflowers. I am 
not afraid to ask them questions.*
*Reference to The Sunflowers by Mary Oliver 

Ekphrasis: Signs
In this poem I have broadened the usual association of the word ekphrasis with art to include the definition of the word found in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary: a lucid, self-contained explanation or description. So, in this wider sense, my ekphrastic poem is both a response to the “art” of signs found in everyday life but also a response to other things that are a “sign of” something, perhaps. In the ekphrastic sense of responding to a piece of art, I also make reference to Mary Oliver’s poem The Sunflowers with all its resonances. (The Sunflowers, Mary Oliver from her 1986 collection titled ‘Dream Work’ and found in the volume of selected works titled  Devotions, Penguin Press, New York, 2017.)

Anne Collins writes poetry and creative non-fiction. She has published five books, her most recent being a poetry collection titled: How to Belong (Ginninderra Press, 2019). Further information about Anne and her work can be found on her website at

%d bloggers like this: