Stirring

The year I was fifteen
when the Show came to town
I went all on my own money.
I won at the laughing clowns,
had a whole fairy floss
to myself
and went on the gravitron
without throwing up.

Walking home afterwards, I left my girlfriends
at the corner,
headed uphill alone to the rectory.
The grassy side of the street
muffled all footsteps: the first sound I heard
was a whump between my shoulder blades.
Hot, shocked tears
stung into my eyes.
I whipped round, wheezing.
Rolling at my feet:
a half-eaten apple.
Twenty steps behind:
the Year 10 boys in a mob.

I could still feel the apple
in my back, a spreading
target-shape of stunned skin.
          ‘Hey, priesty-girl.  Goin’ ta church?
          Run home and cry to Daddy’.
Lava rose in my chest, hotter
even than tears.
My mouth opened
every swear word
I had ever learned
spewed from me
piling up
with the apple crumbs on the ground
until I was knee-deep
in filthy
glowing
four-letter
coals.

The street went very quiet.
Fifteen bum-fluffed jaws
dropped into the silence.

From Mapless in Underland, Ginninderra Press, 2004

Spring Street

One block long (and almost as wide)
the peeling houses and mangy lawns
faced each other all down the road:
a workers’ parade of ‘semi-detacheds’.

At one end, like a mislaid chunk
of ancient wedding cake, still sat
the town’s first Council Chambers (sunk
by then to the status of Sunday School).

From there to the cheapie patho-lab
behind steel bars at the other end
was property of the Spring Street Mob:
our one-road realm all afternoon.

There were the Brewers, who, if you ‘crawled’
would let you go on their slip’n’slide
all the way down their muddy backyard
in the merciless summer hoildays;

and ‘no-bath’ Mick, with snot-nosed sisters
sporting rag-doll hair; and Kim
who got the trampoline for Christmas
and split her head on Boxing Day;

and the Snells, who everybody knew
were far too closely interbred
(each year a wobbly girl or two
would pop out a child to her brother or dad).

We used to have raucous games of cricket
– the ‘our end’ kids against the rest –
with no ‘LB’, and a steel bin wicket.
Any front yard was six and out.

I remember the time the boys got caught
exploding the Hennessys’ letterbox.
The flames had leapt to fourteen feet
(or so the ropable mother claimed).

My brother said ‘Bullshit!’ (Lord preserve us –
he said it that way to the cops as well).
He still got off with community service
(always could dodge what was coming to him).

But we don’t own it any more –
the home have lost the families
they held; the yards fenced in; new doors;
and one or two ‘done up’. Who knows

the paths of all those countless Snells?
There’s none here now. The vacant block
has sprouted flats. A bright sign sells
them: ‘Home for Confused Elderly’.

From Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen, Ginninderra Press, 2001.

Dusk drive to Orange in the rain – the Cargo Road

Coming home again for Dad’s sixtieth
I leave the Canberra flat on a grey Saturday
to roll north through a thickening rain.

Hours later, as the car climbs the back of the tableland,
muddy water streams down the tattered road
and the potholes fill with milky tea.

Rags of cloud drift low over the orchards;
the town’s dusk lights wink in the next valley;
the bruised sky blots the mountain out.

I remember it in different weather –
the fires that scorched the mountainside
and left it bald for for years; the hail

that took the apple crop, but brought
a bumper year to every roofer,
set panel-beaters up for life;

the snows that cut off the Sydney road;
the plague of mice out west.
                                                              It’s strange
but even after twelve years gone

I can open the Central Western Daily
and know a face on the wedding page
or turn to the In Memoriam

and recognise a name. They’ve been
here all this time – anchored, it seems
in trades; the abbatoir; a child.

I, unencumbered, drifted off
to push my papers in another town.
I’ll never live in this place again.

Perhaps, time come, I’ll stay a month
to execute a will, and sell
the house – no more.
                                            But every year

when the car drops down the last long hill
on the Cargo Road, and the home-made signs
shout ‘CHERRIES FOR SALE’ in red and white

it feels a lot like coming home.

From Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen, Ginninderra Press, 2001

Playing

‘Where have you been, girl’?
‘Over the road, Mum.’
‘What do you do at the Fosters’ all day?
‘Nothing, Mum, nothing…

me and Sean Foster
played doctors and nurses
under the covers
up in the top bunk
under his red-and-blue
racing-car sheet-set

our thin, bony-shouldered
gangly foal-bodies

touching and smelling
peering and feeling
rubbing and humping…

nothing, Mum, nothing –
we were just playing.’

From Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen, Ginninderra Press, 2001

Legends

Rowdy, Chooka, Simmo, Roo,
PJ, Wardy, Macca too –
they strode the playground, bronzed and tall:
heroes, lions, legends all.

These boys, these men-to-be, had made
a very special kind of grade –
they’d cracked the footy hopeful’s dream
and made the Western Region team,

a sacred brotherhood which brought
an immortality of sorts:
all those who had ascended thus
were fawned on by the rest of us.

Big Macca couldn’t spell his name
but he was worshipped just the same,
and from the Senior Study portals
he dangled whimpering lesser mortals –

secure, his place as Chosen One
who walks forever in the sun,
never to be any less
than loved, and feared, and greatly blessed.

***

But, back then, none among us knew
that after passing singly through
the great white gate of graduation
old idols, starved of adulation,

thrown out alone, sans audience,
would never again seem so immense;
and age steals even the speed and skill
that made them kings of Footy hill.

Their immortality of sorts
a dusty file of sports reports.
Their path to greatness paved with tar:
the road to the job at the abbatoir.

Oh, some went out in a blaze of glory,
legends right to the end of their story –
forestalling ignominious failure
in a howling scrum with a semi-trailer.

But most have suffered their god-like statures
to be shrunk to the sidelines of Sunday matches –
barracking fiercely for Dave and Bevan
in the mortal clash of the under-sevens.

From Pushing thirty, wearing seventeen, Ginninderra Press, 2001