Sunday, 1 May 2011
Sunnybrook (from Trail of Bones and Godstones)
When we first met
a December windstorm
pelted granite across the gravel
and grazed the string from heat-stinking gums.
Mute black and white cattle sheltered
under the ribs of creaking pylons,
their tails crusted and sour,
and in Darwin there was a cyclone.
I moved into the house
in Holbeche Road
where Maltese farmers grew
and where a high tattered fence surrounded
a secret treeless place
where guard dogs were bred
to have no bark.
The paddocks were tortured with thistles,
the empty tin sheds bent under prickly pear:
the dirt poked full of dry dead things
like an insect Calvary.
The hollowed horses,
Regal and King,
collapsed in the dust, playing dead,
and exploded up to the fence
like the dark spit-flecked male things in dreams.
When the waters broke,
I was wearing rubber thongs.
It was hot, and they stuck to
the scarred soles of my feet.
I remember watching for the postman.
She stopped in a brown mini at ten,
slewing off the road up to the gate.
I would hear the crunch over the voice of Caroline Jones,
would watch through dust-sweet nylon curtains
while the baby tipped rank from my hip,
and I gagged on cold toast.
I pummelled nappies by hand,
filling stone laundry tubs
that smelt of hot-but-winsome days and a grandmother.
Cleansed in scalding water and sunlight soap,
while the baby drowsed in the square shade of the house,
the thick cool of that concrete was the only lust left.
When she was old enough for sandals
we straggled to the letterbox
waiting at every dry pothole
while she threw in a handful
of knuckle-like pebbles,
imagining a splash.
One nostril-drying day,
we went looking for cambungi
behind the brick school at the end of the road
and I saw a man loitering in white grass.
He had salt-pan eyes
and leeched-out cheekbones,
and velvet teeth,
like the bottom of a long-drained bore.
He turned and watched me
shoving at the old Steelcraft pram
and after that,
I was frightened:
wondering if he lived nearby-
if he would one day trick and brutalize
and leave in a dry gully
some happy child
skipping along the footpath after school,
a silver coin so moist in her hand,
on her way to that shop, lush and dark,
to buy damp yeasty bread for her mother
and maybe a yellow fizzy drink for herself
that tasted of unexpected seasons in another sweeter place.
I couldn't sleep
worrying about the ugly man
and the murdered child
until the day I realized that
the ugly man was my life,
and the child was me.
(Also published in The Nightjar)