Afternoons Waiting in Libraries
On hundreds of afternoons after school
I waited in libraries for my father to finish
Work and drive me home. In primary
School I walked to the Springwood library,
Where I read Biggles, Asterix and Tintin,
Transported to far-away locations
Populated by exoticised others, seduced
By the charms of Panacea. Some days
I played cricket on the library lawns
With my brother and best mate, restraining
Our square cuts and cover drives to avoid
Smashing boundaries through windows.
As puberty crept up on us, we stole furtive
Glances between the pages of Playboy
And Penthouse, bewildered and intrigued
By the poses and revelations. I could not
Imagine the flat-chested, uniformed girls
In my class with ribbons, baubles and pig-tails
In their hair developing such adornments,
Shamelessly spreading themselves on car bonnets.
In high school, I waited in my school’s library,
Watching Gallipoli dozens of times, ingesting
Dialogue, mythology, music and landscapes.
I wrote essays on soil erosion, nuclear proliferation,
The 1975 Constitutional Crisis, and Howard’s
Failure as leader of the Liberal Party, explicating
The plethora of reasons why the “schoolboy”
Would never become Prime Minister. Glancing
Up from my books during any season of the year,
I saw the other waiters and time-killers, daughters
Of teachers with English surnames, adorned
With post-puberty glories. In summer, they wore
Green-and-white-checked cotton dresses,
Unfastened buttons exposing tanned chests,
Gentle swells and rises. Open vertical zips above
Hips facilitated the entry of breezes and gazes.
Long, toned, tanned, naked legs extended far below
Tantalizingly short hemlines. In winter, legs, hips,
Chests and arms hid cosily beneath black tights, tartan
Skirts, blouses and woollen jumpers suggesting sanctuary.
We took the V/LINE train
To Warrnambool in the summer
Of eighty-nine to camp for a week
At Surfside 2 Caravan Park.
My grandparents met us at the station
Where we loaded their Nissan Patrol
With surfboards, skateboards,
Backpacks, an esky, a camping oven,
A family-sized tent and a boombox,
Then rode our bikes down past
Flagstaff Hill to our campsite.
Setting up the tent, we blasted
RUN DMC, and Nana took us all
By surprise, rapping “It’s Tricky.”
Days were spent surfing and skating
With the locals. On the first evening
We rode out to the Lady Bay Hotel,
Where we bought slabs of VB,
Bottles of bourbon, and Stone’s
Green Ginger Wine. At night,
We roamed the caravan park,
Three sixteen-year-old boys
From the Goulburn Valley hoping
To meet bored girls on holidays
With their families - they came down
From the Mallee and the Wimmera,
And from all over the Western District.
We struck up conversations beside
The Gravitron and the dodgem cars,
Made casual invitations to drinking
Sessions around bonfires on the beach,
Found ourselves across the road
At Lake Pertobe in the playground
Pashing with pastoralists’ daughters
From Monivae and locals whose parents
Thought they were safely home in bed.
Holding hands in the back
Of a Datsun 180B
Driving south from Newcastle
In the hours before dawn
We did not bother to speak.
Drunk on vodka and raspberry,
We were content to speed
Through the darkness
Over bridges high above
Rivers on a freeway
Spearing through cuttings
Blasted out of hillsides.
We watched the Milky Way
Through the rear window,
Speechless, buzzing, content.
In the outdoor diving pool
On winter mornings, the State
Put children to the test,
Requiring us to prove we could
Tread water for ten minutes
While teeth chattered,
Swimming caps squashed
Ears, and testicles retreated.
As young men, we drove
To Creswick to test ourselves
By jumping into the old quarry.
The water was so far down
And away that only a sprint
To the edge could guarantee
Clearance of the bushes
And the rocks below.
It was Christmas Night.
She slid stealthily into my bed
While I slept and dreamt,
Awoke me with whispers,
Embraced me with sun-browned
Arms as I rose to consciousness.
I peered at her in the darkness
With silent wonder. How? Why?
She said she couldn’t sleep,
She needed someone to hold.
I eagerly took up the task,
Tracing the contours of her
Delicate face with my finger,
Gratefully inhaling her warm breath,
Entwining my limbs with hers,
Saying yes, yes to the unknown.