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