Holy Cross College is very proud of the recent success of Senior School student, Jhermayne Ubalde. Inspired by Maya Angelou’s words ‘talent is like electricity, we don’t understand electricity. We use it’. Jhermayne continues to display a knack for making her talent visible. Recently she has achieved the following:
- Selected as one of 26 representatives from Western Australia to attend the National Youth Science Forum in January 2021. This is a fourteen day residential program designed to give students a broader understanding of diverse study and career options available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to encourage continued studies in these fields. Normally this forum in Brisbane and Canberra, unfortunately with the current travel restrictions Jhermayne will be flying virtually for the forum.
- A Distinction for Chemistry and Credit for Biology in the Olympiad Qualifier exams through Australian Science Innovations. These are a national enrichment programs for secondary science students. A excellent achievement.
- Finalist for the Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers in the Creative Nonfiction Category with an Open Letter that she wrote.
- First place in the Woorilla Poetry Prize, while also receiving runner-up, highly commended and commended awards.
- First place in the Chevron Focus Environment Competition. This was a photography competition to raise awareness about West Australian wildlife, habitats and conservation.
- Finalist for the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Poetry Prize. The results will be announced in December.
Please join us in congratulating Jhermayne for these fine achievements. Below is a copy of the poem that Jhermayne received first place in the Woorilla Poetry Prize and the open letter submitted for the Young Writers competition.
4.6 billion years ago
she watched the birth of gods
a silent passenger
bones of iron forged by Chaos’ hand she, the ichor
3.8 billion years ago
she raised up stardust with hearth-warmed palms umbilical vents gently rocking to a volcanic beat a primordial lullaby
In the strange, lightless trails of her womb
life took shape
400 million years ago
she ascended with the tetrapods
clinging to salt-gilded skin
her slender fingers caressing that reptilian maw and trembling with the sweet release of breath
65 million years ago
she wept at Armageddon as
the fire rained down
the taste of copper on her tongue the heavy bodies at her feet
sank into her grieving embrace home
300 000 years ago
she kissed the feverish lips of
the homo sapien
walked with them out of the burning plains
she scalds the earth with bitter tears
hair pulled back
jaw forced open
the noxious sludge of civilisation poured between melting lips
she lays powerless against the capitalist bed frame
screams her throat raw to the corporate pounding of the machine a queue of pinstripe suits at the bedroom door
demanding more, more, more
swollen with the melting of glaciers cheeks blushed red with heat
her skin peels away in flakes
she burns with her children
where colour once bloomed
and clownfish giggled amongst the shaded pines the bleached footprints of death are all that remains
Amongst it all she mourns
the volcanic beat
the cradle song
the stirrings of life within her belly
a forgotten dream?
An asthmatic, who’s been reading Etgar Keret, learns how to breathe
You are the sweet elixir of life. You swim in the veins of every living creature, a messiah rushing through billions of scarlet tributaries. One tiny molecule capable of corroding iron, incinerating coal, and powering civilisations.
The thing is, though, I didn’t even notice you until you were gone. I’m sorry; it must have been jarring when you rushed into my lungs and was met with an impenetrable barrier of goo. I promise I did everything I could to help you stay. I used the inhaler everyday, with the plastic canister to get the dosage right. I avoided pollen like it was the plague. Unfortunately, in my professional and entirely credible medical opinion, asthma hates you and wants you dead.
I was prepared when I had that asthma attack. At least, I thought I was. Crisp blue brochures from the doctor’s office had spelled out the syllables in words I tried, and failed, to understand (Cor-ti-coh-steh-roids. In-fla-may-shun). Poring over the crude diagrams of Trusted Adults and Step-By-Step Healthcare Plans did nothing to prepare me for the symptoms in their execution:
-coughing that won’t stop
-chest tightness or pressure
-an overwhelming inability to breathe; an all-consuming terror of the existence of mortality;
-a desperate desire to get to the next breath — the next breath — the next breath
The diaphragm comes down. The ribcage comes up. The bronchi swell. The mucous rises. You were trapped, lodged, dead, in my throat. The next breath — the next breath — the next breath — every shuddering gasp was futile. The only oxygen left was the vestiges of the previous breath left in my lungs. Maybe 30% of a breath. According to Keret, that’s about three to six words, depending on volume, length, and overall breathiness. Let’s round that to four.
Four words per breath. What was I supposed to do with four words?
Suddenly, the words “let’s keep in touch” were inadequate to capture the tear-streaked goodbyes, the inside jokes, the taste of friendship distilled into a glass of apple juice on the summer holidays.
Inhale — exhale —
“I’ll see you tonight” would pale in comparison to the years; the honeyed hymns sung in the holding of hands, painted in scars and callouses and wrinkles over the decades; the freshly cut daisy flowers, offered shyly on a distant spring evening, now arranged by the bedside everyday.
Inhale — exhale —
“The witness signs here” would be decaying leaves in the face of a lifetime. They would crunch under the weight of a high school graduation; a university degree; a love; a family; a million unsung moments; a million moments captured in dusty photo albums; a white picket fence; paradise in suburbia; blood; sweat; tears; a grey hair; a black veil; stories and picket fences and moments and tears passed from fading palms to the ones that go on. (Not a good crunch, either. The kind of crunch that happens when you see the dead leaves, all excited, and stride up to it and lift up the sole of your shoe, and then when the sole comes down the leaf is still kinda springy and makes a sad little ccch noise like a dead slug).
Inhale — gasp — choke — exhale.
At that moment, four words fluttering pathetically in clammy palms, there was a world of difference between “I love you” and “I really love you”. Especially when those words could’ve been “hospital”, or “call triple zero”, or “where’s that blasted inhaler?”
I guess what I’m trying to ask, oxygen, is why you’re so damn easy to waste.
Life is so fast nowadays. The next payday. The next job. The next weekend. Repeat. The diaphragm comes down, the ribcage comes up, and the air comes in. Inhale. The diaphragm comes up, the ribcage comes down, the air comes out. Exhale. The next payday. The next job. The next weekend. Repeat.
The next breath, the next breath, the next breath.
It’s funny how in chasing the next goal, the next breath, we forget to actually breathe. It’s a weird paradox, isn’t it? We chase you all the time in workplace promotions and A-grades, and yet we don’t appreciate the satisfying clack of a laptop keyboard or the giggly, manic high that seems to possess caffeinated people at 3 AM. We get on a rollercoaster to hear the dying rumble as the carriage slows to a stop at the end, forgetting to throw our arms up and enjoy the ride.
All these years, I’ve been treating you like a single-use plastic bottle; discarded and replaced, discarded and replaced. I’ve wasted words. I’ve inhaled, exhaled, got the promotion, inhaled, exhaled. I’ve wasted you. Funnily enough, you’re one of the few things that does grow on trees (in a way), but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to apathy (on the receiving end). I’ve forgotten the feeling of what it’s like to just be; to let you fill my lungs and to smile with the sensation of fullness, soft and curled up inside my chest.
What would happen if I stopped trying to get to places for the sake of it — and just — breathed?
If 30% of a breath is four words, then (doing the math) 100% of a breath is about thirteen. What can I do with thirteen words?
I think I’d say “I’m grateful. I still laugh at our inside jokes, still taste apple juice.” Inhale…
I’d say “Life is short. Success is meaningless in the whole grand scheme of things.” …Exhale.
I’d say “I’ve learned that love isn’t finite. I love you. I really love you.” …Exhale.
I’m sorry it took an asthma attack to realise that.
A desperate desire to get to the next breath — the next breath — the next breath — hyperventilating, hyper- fixating on what may never come. Maybe the most important thing is to use the oxygen we do have; to appreciate the value of the small things. Whether that’s a final hug with a friend, a good cup of coffee, a book you couldn’t put down. Or words. Four. Five. One thousand and two hundred. However many we’ve got left before the diaphragm comes up, the ribcage comes down, and the air comes out.
Sincerely, An asthmatic