Fiona Wright reveals the prose and the Tupperware Party behind her GDS No. 32 poem sequence, ‘Tupperware Sonnets’, in two parts.
1. Sans Souci Triptych
The light fades over the small bay, the yachts bobbing on water as still and warm as a bath. This is a suburb of cul-de-sacs, of roads that fork and split and wear their silent cops with something close to pride, of strata staircases that smell like old chenille. The curbs are wide. The car is still and dark and silent, but the man is agitated. He runs his thumb over his fingernails, the hard ridges and cold cuticles press against its tip. The car is dark and silent, there beneath a tree that drops its blossoms on the bonnet. He can see the room lit up against the bay. All this time, and they’d never bought curtains. He can see the dark wood of the dining table, the small wall cupboard filled with teacups, the paintings of poppies on the wall. There’s a sheet of paper on the tabletop, he doesn’t know what this means. White paper. The man is agitated, and he waits, his suit feels tight against his crotch. The street is dark and silent; all this time and he doesn’t see them, either of them, tonight. He’s a compartment. He wants to run upstairs and turn off that light that burns, the bare bulb imprinted on his retina. He knows he can’t stay here.
When the evening chill sweeps in, it leaps from the shop alleyways. Once the bins have been put out, and the outdoor racks pulled in, and the shutters have rolled over the window displays, it’s empty here, and quiet. The man is tired. He leans his head against the back of the cold metal seat, and the pink neon of the corner café lights up his dark hair. The man is tired, and he holds his heavy jacket to his chest, he imagines it’s a hot-water bottle, and the swooshing sound the passing cars make are whispered endearments, and the metal seat is soft against his skull. When the light falls here the buses don’t come regular and it’s empty and cold. As the traffic lights change the man watches the cars queue and tries to read their make and model in the dark. He tries to match their make and model with the silent figures at the wheel, who hunch as if they’re typing on the steering. A low-slung car is pounding music in the middle lane. The man is tired, and feels the notes reverberate right through his shoes. He holds his jacket to his chest and the cars pulse past and he thinks of her rounded vowels and thick, round spectacles and the way she scooped the hot chocolate froth with her pinkie finger.
When it’s dark he likes the tables by the window, on street level. Not outside, where the smokers drop their ashes in their pasta, and not upstairs, where there’s always a birthday or a sports group and an oversized mud cake; he likes the tables by the window, by the street. At the table by the window, the man can watch the street, the teenagers who trip towards McDonalds, the tracksuit parents carrying their kids in soft pyjamas to the video store. The man sits still at the table by the window, he likes this place, the way a layer of photos is pressed under the glass on each table, the way happy punters grin and hug directly underneath his knife. He likes the way the staff all recognise him, but don’t make a big deal of it, and how the salads are all iceberg and sliced tomato. He likes to watch the clumps of laughing girls who carry takeaways to choose their movies. He likes to watch them clutch their little chests and roll their eyes and gossip, and he wonders if she would have dressed like them, in stripy stockings and black bangles, or if she’d wear the sequined shirts that glisten in the streetlights like those girls who trip towards McDonalds. There’d be more photos here regardless, the man is sure, smiling up from under the glass of more of these wobbly tables, the odd shaving of parmesan cheese falling onto her shoulders.
2. Fiona Wright on ‘Sans Souci’ and the birth of ‘Tupperware Sonnets’
I just love my Happy Chopper. It’s just brilliant.
I don’t know where I’d be now without it, without my Happy Chopper. I love it.
I have two. I have two Happy Choppers.
That way I always have a clean Happy Chopper. Even when I haven’t done the dishes.
— from ‘Tupperware Sonnets’ (GDS No. 32)
His and Hers Bathrobes
One of my closest friends from high school got married at nineteen, had her first child a few weeks before her twenty-first birthday. At the time, I didn’t know that this is not uncommon: our selective public high school had all the pretensions of a private school without the resources or cash, our principal would remind us almost every week that we were the crème de la crème. We could do anything. We could do everything. Amy stopped studying and started a family and it was unimaginable to me at the time that that could be one of the options included in that everything. I needed quite a few more years before I stopped equating doing anything with trying to do everything. I remember being startled by Amy’s happiness.
A year or so later, Amy joined a mothers’ group in Sans Souci, near where she lives. I’ve always loved the name of that suburb, Sans Souci: no worries, mate. Someone in her mothers’ group had a Tupperware Party. If someone else agrees to host a Tupperware Party at the end of your Tupperware Party, Amy told me, you get some free Tupperware, as a reward. So someone else from Amy’s mothers’ group agreed to have a Tupperware Party, where someone else from Amy’s mothers’ group agreed to host a Tupperware Party and so on and so forth until Amy caved under the weight of all that airtight plastic expectation.
Amy invited her school friends and her sister alongside her mothers’ group, but it didn’t occur to me – as it did to the rest of my friends – to think of a competing engagement until it was too late. So Amy’s sister and I sat in this circle of strangers, looking at pictures of plastic boxes and listening to stories from the kinds of lives we’d never glimpsed inside before. We heard about pre-school pick-ups, about the spread of disgusting infant diseases, about leaking, hurting, chafing, dropping breasts. And we heard about husbands and the stupid things they do, about the things they might be doing while they waited for their wives to come back home, bearing more Tupperware.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the husbands, strangely excluded from this ducted-heated circle of women, as quietened and outside as I felt that night. Thinking about these husbands, scattered across the suburb and disconnected from each other, started me writing these small pieces. I wanted to contrast the loneliness I felt for them with the gossipy chatter and communion of the women I was sitting with, and so I interspersed each small story with the verbatim that later on became my ‘Tupperware Sonnets’.
It didn’t work. Together, the pieces seemed didactic; the ridiculous language of the sonnets undermined the stories, the sadness of the stories made the sonnets sound cruel and glib. So I made them go their separate ways. I bought a Bake 2 Basics Squeeze-It tool for decorative icing out of solidarity for poor Amy, because if she made just $20 more in sales that night she’d get some free plastic boxes as a reward for her selling prowess. I like to think I also got two pieces of writing for the price of one.
Fiona Wright is a Sydney poet whose first collection of poems, Knuckled (Giramondo Press, 2011), won the Dame Mary Gilmore Poetry Award in 2012. Fiona Wright is a past Going Down Swinging contributor and features in issues No. 23, No. 26–No. 29, No. 32 and the current print/audio edition No. 33.
Feature photo used under Creative Commons from Andrew Mangum