Beginning the long leaving
I’m taking off, I blurt in the hollow of night
sitting straight up, her struggling awake,
responding with alarm in the dark,
I’m going with you,
to face caravan days, house sold, our route
tracking towards the Tropic of Capricorn,
highway badged with burst cane toads
baking like flat turds,
towing through floods, cyclone’s aftermath,
then that terrible job in a coal mine,
bankroll bitten upgrading to a van
with aircon as altar,
sleeping before it, separate from her,
oblivious of vows made when young,
the future’s blindsiding ways,
love on the run to ruin.
The great black streets of early childhood,
cold damp soil smell, petrol, rust, coal smoke,
whine of bus tyres, light the colour of storms.
Constant rain washes away harsh secrets
the survivors of war don’t know and the dead,
including so many wretched relatives,
have taken to neglected English graves.
At fourteen, antipodean immigrant chaos.
The light fitting in my rented room trembles
as a Melbourne train echoes under the street,
my clock joining in until I smack it.
I should shift my arse, I think, roll a smoke.
Moments and my hated job tick into the past
as I drift back into sumptuous dreams.
We scrimp, buy at the suburban fringe,
the cheapest block on monotonous streets
where a restless bull patrols our perimeter,
almost a pet through the barbed-wire fence.
I toss, awake, my woman pillowed by her dreams.
Beyond this wall’s new paint, our children,
outside, a moonlit plastic swing on a pine tree.
Virgin’s first transatlantic flight from Gatwick.
Greenwich Village in July, car horns, boom boxes,
a new continent, new wife, tiered towers,
shafts of light and shadow, an electric thrill.
I sit for a street artist who wears a beret.
He flirts with her, adding a thought bubble
which could be about streets, all my streets.
As I watch over her I imagine
her floating through her mortal threads
hovering over tangled time,
a series of vignettes in colour,
this dream-journey of the mind
a shifting mural of days shared by me,
fellow dreamer, but the wide-awake kind.
Another bed, another country, another time,
I kiss her spread hair, air so cold,
walls oozing condensation.
Her eucalypt-scented sun-blasted teens
by the Wartook’s water or forest fringe
might almost seem irrevocably distant
in the way of loved, temporarily lost things.
Why this return to our old adventure,
maps tacked to those dripping walls
as if travelling was a life philosophy?
On tonight’s walls memorised photographs of boys
growing into young men, their frank stares.
I have been so self-absorbed since that icy room
a regret, as I secretly kiss her greying hair.
Welding Shop Blues
Sparks arced from steel melted by heat
all around that flashy crackling ghetto,
shadows pulsing below the rumbling jib.
Where men toiled to meet ends tension
simmered beneath crude camaraderie
like a live nerve in a great poem
with me the panther trapped in a cage.
Immigrants padded their vocabularies
in that acrid netherworld beyond the time-clock,
spectral warriors with shields and wands
wearing identical overalls like prisoners.
Our morals did nothing for their morale.
A German youth listened, asked, copied,
managed to tell of an impending visit
to his English aunt, a dowager queen, it seemed.
Grasping a fingerprinted mug of sweet black tea
while the doomed hectored with vulgar advice
I played the know-all regarding manners.
After his social call the German raged,
pent-up back-to-front mispronounced oaths
doubling blue-flashed denizens into guffaws.
The aunt cut him like an oxy-acetylene torch,
felling him in front of his young bride
when he asked, uncomfortable in a suit,
would she please pass the cocksucking jam?