prose poetry

Hammer and nail

In Byron Bay, traces of you remain— your two schools, the laneway cafés, hempwear, prayer flags, clairvoyants. The sun like a bruise on the horizon this late afternoon with the kids in the pub by the beach, it could be you’ve come back to live here and I check each face, the strong sinew of young arms I imagine yours. Why wouldn’t you be young here with the ocean and long haired girls and boys and the Sea Shepherds and life lived in campaign against waste and for diversity? I want to imagine you somewhere in your bare feet, your skin drinking the heat, building something hammer and nail with your principles. It’s such a pretty thing, youth and why not let it flower hibiscus-like in the sub-tropics of ethical sustainable living? My own youth was grimy and aimless built as it was on parties aflame in the night or the blue-light disco at the scout hall and secreted bottles of cinzano, a drunken pash and grope with a girl. What a world, spinning madly through space and full of so much experience; mine here with my beautiful kids and you, my eldest, still missing – a fucking great hole in my heart I’ve no way of closing; yours, somewhere — here, I hope, wearing tie-dye, drinking chai with like-minds or standing on the rocks out at Tallows watching the whales gambol, maybe thinking it’s time to meet your little brother, play with your sisters again, see your dad who hopes you grow wild like the grasses and clean like the rain.

Startled birds

People are made of porcelain, poor pretty things they break like rain on the hot road, their voices released skywards, startled birds and then nothing sings. Who knows what awaits the last concentric ring as it crosses water to the shore, that dim misty thing, coldly pebbled, so bleakly peopled. There will always be flowers and blooming days to leap like leotarded kids from the emptiness but what view is there from the foggy pier in the dim twilight where boats come in one by one? The passengers forlorn and craning disembark to gather dumbly on the shore to see where hope is flaring pink across the distant blue and dying.

If we knew how it ended

If we knew how it ended, where, when, we’d not send days up in balloons to drift against the blue. The roads, unsigned, trail away and end somewhere at foggy farm fences, dull cul de sacs, fallen trees, become impassable through rain or might even seem to run straight through wheat ablaze with sun; either one is an end and then what? You’re only young and cannot say and me, I’m so much older and cannot say. This day sits like light on water hoping, the great blue looks on mouth open with the wonder of what we might do. I fathered you, listened to the strange sounds you made alive but two days, built a fire for you and warmed you with the flames. You might reach me through the darkness if you knew and I would call your name more shrilly in the dead night if I could count the grains within the hour glass and know which would be the last to pass. My hands open and close hoping for things to hold: a picture of you, a thought you wrapped in words and left absent-mindedly somewhere, some small thing that retains your warmth still. My own father’s grown less substantial and his voice falters down the line and we could never unwind the tangles, nor mend the torn fibres in the rope between us; at least, we can face each other, camouflage the distance with a joke or a beer or a meal. But your distance and mine knows nothing but itself, blind in the darkness, unaware what cliff edge sits smugly waiting for a misstep.

The skinny souls of children

Where did he go, my little boy, my leaping frog, my jumping jack-in-the-box? When I look back, he’s up to my knee and not yet lost in the maddening throngs, making tracks on the skin of the shuddering earth with billions more. The heavens swirl in agitation that the skinny souls of children wearing coats too big for them are so swallowed. These cracks in the design keep opening and babes with wide eyes and pretty little o-mouths are surprised, go down without a sound. The last time I saw my little man, his ears were red from the cold and he was trailing behind me on his trike, a rope attached to the handlebars so I could pull him up the hills and the universe was as small as a house, a street, a nearby park with swings and slide. Today, he’s grown light and see-through and the wind has scattered him to seed in mad patterns discernible only from a great height to which I cannot climb. Nights I look for traces, signs that he’s having a good life, any life at all. As I have tried to say, he is lost to me, the little boy, the young man too and it is my great sadness, a feeling that sits like a dune on a beach. It’s slow effacement, grain by gain, at the wind’s hand sets me thinking. Children are stolen by time, great disappointment, misfortune, but stolen for spite? Such a sad dune has no place among the rolling haphazard sands of life’s pain, its accidents, built, as it is, deliberately by someone’s hands.

The stuff of life

The tide came to take you like it took Simon, dead upon the sand, silvered by the moonlight, made marble and whole beneath the troubled clouds. The watery angels dressing his hair lifted him gently and bore him out to sea. Were you as free when you travelled past the blank faces of children, the cold, clutching hands of the living? Nights when I left my body and walked the streets wet with light then crossed the line, between the real and the really imagined, I thought I had found the stuff of life; a mind, an interface and time eternally mine. But certainty has slipped its mooring and drifted out to sea, little rudderless dinghy. The horizon seems hand-painted, the sun daubed there haphazardly to shine upon the cresting waves. Days piggyback on days and I bathe in the warm water of the shallows with the darting whitebait as if unafraid but on my back I fear a hole in the design, a tear in the blue up there. I fish for meaning: wind lifting sand and leaving corrugations, fishermen put-putting in old wooden boats against the tide, my breath in and out until I am just electricity, the heady stuff of someone’s memory, another nagging question for the living.

Nothing at all to be done

The night my father cut his hand and lost so much blood, I saw him stand and stagger pale-faced and uncomprehending doubtful of the floor’s ability to hold him up. My mother caught the spurting blood in a towel and sat him down and I slipped into a realm without sound, where movement too was subdued. The air was thick with frying fish and a bright fluorescent light sat upon the still life there – the bloodstained fisherman’s knife pointing at the half-full glass, the chopping board heaped with fillets, heads and guts. Outside, I saw a bird flitter and land on the verandah, cock its head – little blue-breasted wren – wait as if all breath had gone, all time had taken flight and left it there. Later, Dad lifted his glass, alive with beer and light, the injured hand so deftly bandaged, his pride pricked hardly, and made a joke about the resurrection; but the wren was still there stuck in a moment it hadn’t counted on: too much weight for its impetus, the curtain drawing back to show the actors and their props so inanimate and nothing at all to be done.

Penny for the Guy

Exiting the Station my eyes hurt, just enough light and too many pints at the Manby Arms the night before; watched two men play pool, one with a hand behind his back all cocky-like – me and Keith taking pot shots at each other’s drink with torn off bits of beer soaked coaster (Sunday arvo, too many loose hours flitting round us like wind-blown crisp wrappers.) Along Broadway, three kids pulling a cart they’ve made from bicycle wheels and a wooden crate. I skip sluggishly left, take a half-step, want to avoid this collision. But they’re in my face, one wearing a way too big woollen jumper and a fiercely, friendly grin. ‘Penny for the guy?’ Holds out his hand, taut like a flower straining too hard for the sun, drained of colour. He must be eight. Among rags in the cart is an effigy I mistake for something dead, a doll the size of a small baby. ‘Penny for the guy?’ This is old England swinging and Big Ben and bobbies on bicycles and I’m a kid again in my backyard with Papa and all the Sky Rockets and Tom Thumbs and Penny Bungers and Catherine Wheels alight at once from an errant spark and we’re diving for cover behind sheets hanging from the Hills Hoist. I’d never heard of King George and Guy Fawkes was a hero every November ’cause I’d cycle down to the milkbar on my dragster with ten dollars Papa gave me to buy my wares. At Stratford station, I’m penniless and hung over and a long way from the shop and the time in this light with these kids and their Guy dead in his rags, eyes agape and a rude little mouth open as if it might utter something.

City of lost children

In the city of lost children the streets are cluttered with the vaguely-wandering and the stunned-still rooted like stunted trees or trees malformed around some terrible blockage. Across the rooftops carried by storms the cries of children break and fall; the walls show pale shapes, shadows grotesquely thin and over-tall and music cannot lift its soul to be heard at all. In roadside stalls hawkers peddle useless wares like silk ties and powdered rhino horn and shoe lasts to prop open doors in homes these homeless cannot enter any more. There’s no currency, no law, and time is hanging in the clouds too afraid to come down and restore a narrative of sorts: some sense like this was meant to be, or it started here or there and progressed and this is where it ends and why it came to be. No, the children wander murmuring or murmur stock still that there was a thread they pulled and lost and buttons fell not even catching light or sound as they hit the ground.

Why this wind

The universe doesn’t love you, won’t stretch its starry fingers down to caress the gentle nape of your neck, won’t mirror your steps as you tread the potholed roads with their solitary street lamps and dumb craning trees; it does not know what it sees. But I see you, my boy, even in the dark of your absence, even with the walls pressing in on me. When I leave my body and trawl the breathing night, the wet streets sparkle with your tracks, translucent things like trails snails leave, and I trace my way to you. When you leave this place to light up like spring blossom in foreign climes, between drinks and kisses and sweet utterances, stop to wonder why this wind, why the humid traces of an unremembered time, why the earth trembles while the sun smiles. It is my ghost still walking without its body collecting the flecks of you practising its lonely art. Everything it has it sends to you like a spell or a thought so strong it shines, has wings and can fly.

Nights I cannot sleep

Thoughts late at night when the wooden beams contract and the children roll and murmur in their sleep come crowding like the curious at a crash scene, themselves a sight with their mouths open wide, heads hanging down or turned aside, deaf, blind to their contribution to the moment’s poignancy. I cannot sleep but know what happened, this arrangement of different things at the same time hanging in the air like a frozen zeppelin, simply is, like a cliff face or an opening in the earth that took a town. I struggle against it, knowing that life lived lies tangled and heavy like the discarded nets of fishermen – it’s wet and real and populated with lice – but life lost is cruelly imagined like stories of near catches told with hands held wide – ‘I’ve not got the span to tell you what might have been.’ This is how I think of you, my son, late at night in my bed, as if you are one dead who might have lived and painted things. I lost you and your loss was incremental but I feel it like some terrible, single event that swoops down from somewhere high and hidden, hard beaked and beady eyed that wants to eat the heart of me. Nights I cannot sleep pass slowly with my thoughts and my sense of a great ill will and you somewhere having lived a whole gap of time without me.


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