Month: October 2016

A new bookstore opened in town a few weeks ago

And I went in today.

New carpet, high shelves, fresh clean books

The radio was tuned to Classic FM.

I looked through the books; they were expensive

But the guy running the place was having a go to succeed

So I bought one.

A fat woman sat in one of the chairs near the large windows

And she spoke loudly so everyone could hear.

“A poet has to be able to read their work aloud to audiences,

Writing is not enough

A great poet in a great actor.”

I took my book off the counter and asked for a free bookmark

And scurried home to write some poems

I’ll never read aloud to the all-knowing crowd.

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Johnny

The smell of fresh soap

in a crowd set him off.

A man walked passed who smelled like cheap soap

and Johnny lost it, screaming and punching people

until the cops came and arrested him.

I went to see him in the religious place they put him

St. Joseph’s Compassion,

a place for the broken minded.

When I found him, he was lying on a bed chair

on the back lawn in the sun.

I pulled another chair across and sat next to him.

“Hi Johnny, how are you?”  I asked.

He looked at me and smiled. He knew me.

“You won’t believe what goes on here,” he said, a big smile on his lips.

“What?”

“The nurses come out on the lawn here, naked, completely naked.

You should see the sun shine off their skin,

they lie down, and then the doctors come out

and fuck them right in front of us.

We have to watch.

It all happens after the visitors leave.”

I listened to him, and I couldn’t remember if you should play along with a madman

or let them know you think they are lying. So I said nothing,

but I nodded and looked out across the thick green grass.

“We watch the doctors do this every night.”

“What do the female doctors do?” I asked.

His face became serious and strained

and he rolled onto his side, facing away from me.

It was a beautiful day, so I looked out over the grounds

The grass looked so thick and soft here.

used car

The car sat on the road, two wheels up the gutter,

two down on the road.

It was a big car, sleek, and flash

but it was old and well used.

“It has a lot of kilometres on the clock,” the man said

touching the steering wheel gently.

“But it’s a good car.”

“Why are you selling?” I asked.

“I want something new,” he shrugged.

The car was beautiful, but you could tell it had been used a lot.

The seats were crushed down; it had the smell of history,

and there were scratches and tears over it.

“Just because it has been around, doesn’t change the fact

it’s a good car. It has never given me trouble.”

I liked the car

but the thought of all the people through it

all the problems that might come up

made me worry.

“I once drove this car across the country,” he said.

“I had a girlfriend I used to pick up; she lived out of town.

We did it in this car a number of times,” he pointed to the large back seat.

“The guy before me drove it an hour to work and an hour home

five days a week.

Before that an older guy had it, but even he didn’t buy it new.”

We started it up and he let me drive.

I had trouble changing gears; they seemed loose and hard to find. It wouldn’t drive for me very well

as if it didn’t like me.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Give me some time to think,” I said.

On the bus home, I kept thinking of it

and looking at all the new cars parked in the houses as we passed.

Mrs. Bertram

 

She sold dolls with hair

They use in human wigs.

The dolls have ball joints and elastic cord

With vinyl skin for easy cleaning

And soft hugging.

The eyes close when you lay it down

Just like a real baby.

“I’ve made the outfits myself,” she said.

“See her range of swimsuits,

Casual gear, day dresses…”

She paused and opened a drawer

“And this, look…”

She took out a long white dress

With beautiful lace patterns

“A wedding dress.”

She held it near the doll’s lifeless face,

Its eyes like ghosts.

“Did you ever marry, Mrs. Bertram?”

She smiled and put the dress away

Covering it with a sheet of thin tissue paper.

Morning and evening on this very day

 

Walking along the lake’s edge, I halt in the long grass and look down at my feet in shock. A baby bird, black fluff and nubs for wings sat just beyond the toe of my boot. In terror, it rolled on its back screaming and shivering. Its mother and father, two large waterfowl swept toward me. Surprised and shocked I stumbled backward and the baby ran away on tiny red legs to join its mother.

She said to me gently in the moonlight that her friend had not yet met someone and felt terribly sad about it. Everyone needs someone she said. I turned away slightly and looked out at the distant lights of the city. I wondered how many people were alone, I thought about the pain of loneliness. All our stories, I thought, are about people meeting. Where are the stories of the people who never meet anyone?

Ex-teacher

I went and saw the guy who lives in the apartment next to me

To tell him his car’s interior light was on.

He came to the door in a yellowing t-shirt torn at his right hip.

I told him about the car, and he thanked me,

Asking me in for a beer.

I sat in his fat armchair; it smelled like sweat and cat urine.

“Do you have a cat?” I asked.

“Nope,” he answered without any hint of surprise.

We started talking about his past.

He worked for the local water board; he dug trenches

And helped the plumbers.

A big man, he leaned on his chair, it groaned under strain.

He put his legs up on his table and sucked at his beer.

“I was a school teacher once,” he continued.

He told me he had lost that job after he beat a kid,

“He was a big kid,” the man laughed.

“I beat him because he spat on me, I beat him until he pissed himself.”

I stayed silent, drinking my beer in short sips.

His face grew dark and shone in the electric light

Like waves in the moonlight.

“I was walking past the local high school the other day, at about one pm.

Some kid I didn’t know, on the basketball court, started to scream something at me.

I ignored him, but he kept screaming at me,

He was calling me a pussy,” he halted.

“Calling me a pussy,” he repeated.

“There was a big fence around the court, and I kept walking

The kid’s voice grew louder and deeper; he was almost hysterical.

I wonder if me ignoring him made him angrier. I hope it did,”

The man leaned forward, took his feet off the table and looked me in the eye

I looked away from him. I couldn’t hold his glare.

“That kid had no idea that I would have cut his throat,

If given half a chance.”

Silence. Then he let out a deep laugh, slow and dreadful.

“Imagine the fuss!” he leaned back, smiled at me and winked.

Finishing my beer, I thanked him and walked home,

The light was still on in his car.

My heart is like my phone

My heart is like my phone

I carry it with me always.

It’s scratched and cracked

I am always using it,

Looking to it for advice.

Old people look at me as if they’ve never known these things-

But they know.

Even though it’s different now, it is the same.

It wants me to contact this girl and that one.

Once I handed it to a lover

And she dropped it.

A nasty chip cracked across the top

But I can still use it

Only, every time I do,

I see the crack and I think of her.

In the cold and lonely nights, I know it’s there,

I run my hand across and feel it.

I know you have one too, I hear it in the quiet of the morning.

Call me so I have your number.

 

Bronze lions

The lights of the street flickered in yellow and red, Maisie pulled her jumper down over her hands and looked at the red lights above the buildings. She always felt relaxed and sleepy when she saw a red light; she remembered the rooms she used to stay in when the streets were too cold. A bar heater would be turned on, and it would glow on the wall. It stayed red all night. The girls would struggle to get a bunk nearer to that heater. Tracy came and sat beside her, and they both spent a moment looking at the bronze lions that flanked the steps of the library.

“Tony told me that if he could flog those lions, they’d be worth a mint,” Tracy said. “Do ya have a smoke?”

A smokes worth a dollar, but I have one for you,” Maisie answered, pulling two cigarettes out of a wrapper that once held a hamburger. A little bit of red sauce stained the paper of one of the smokes and Maisie saw this. She wondered if it would burn ok or if it’d taste different. She held the stained one back for herself and gave Tracy the other. “Smoking,” Maisie said as she handed the girl the cigarette, “Kills 480,000 people in the US each year.”

“God, I hope I’m one,” Tracy laughed.

“So when’s Tony gonna do it?”
“Do what?”
“Steal them lions?”
“They weigh too much to carry off.”
Maisie lit her cigarette and then lit the other. They both took a deep breath of the smoke.

A working man coming past stopped and looked at Maisie. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” she answered.

“You should be in school.”

“I’ve graduated with a degree in minding.”
“Minding what?”
“Minding my own fucking business.” The girls began to
laugh; the man said a few more things before walking off, but they ignored him. Just as he was speaking the morning sun came over the copper roof of the library and lit the square. The street lights, still aglow, would soon be off.

“I love this time of the morning,” Maisie whispered.

“I hate it; all the creeps are out. Early morning is the worst time.”

“Where’d you sleep last night?”

“I worked, I did a few jobs. I’ve not slept yet. Where’d you?”
“I stayed at Carla’s place.”
“Was her boyfriend home?”
“No, I wouldn’t be there if he was.”
They sat silently for a moment as a flock of pigeons gathered by the statue of T. S. Eliot.

“What are you doing today?” Tracy asked, dropping some ash from the end of her cigarette.
“I’m working at Ericson’s. They’re putting me on the register today.”
“It
don’t pay much, why don’t you come with me? I made twelve ‘undred dollars last night. Here look.” Tracy opened a cloth bag studded with red and blue sequins. Greenish blue looking notes were shoved in so that they were all screwed up, there were a lot of them.

“Give us a twenty?” Maisie asked.

“Sure,” Tracy pulled a twenty dollar note out, smooth it between her fingers and passed it to the thin blonde girl. Tracy was chubby, with a beautiful face, but she would, in a few years, become fat like her mother. Deep down she was jealous of Maisie; Maisie was thin and sharp like she had been cut from stone.

Maisie put it in her pocket. “I gotta start work now,” she stood up and lifted her jumper to show her supermarket uniform underneath. Her thin legs showed prettily under her dress. She let her jumper down and then dropped her cigarette and stamped it out.

“See ya; I’ll be here tonight at five if you want to get some dinner.”

“OK, I’ll meet you here.”

Maisie smiled and climbed down the wet steps that seemed to slope back too far so that each one held a puddle of water. Maisie then skipped from a patch of sunlight to another. She looked up and noticed the lamps were all off now and the early morning sun danced in the leaves of the Kurrajong Trees. She turned back to looked at Tracy and stopped. Tony held Tracy by her arm and was violently tearing her purse away from her. Maisie felt the twenty-dollar bill in her pocket.

The conference

-How do you discriminate between the staff?

He asked, leaning back in his chair.

The place was an old winery

That never made enough money, so now they held all the university meetings here.

-Why would I?

The woman answered.

-How do you decide who is good and not so good?

The whole room of people stirred uneasily.

A fox and a hare had run past the window earlier; I watched out the window

Hoping they’d return; I began to daydream.

I remembered the night the old man started to cry in my office.

He was telling me how he had cut down German citizens from his Spitfire in World War 2.

They hadn’t done anything,

He just had bullets left.

He saw them crossing a field,

They were old men and woman and children

One of them had shaken a fist at him,

He could see their faces,

So close was he as he flew over them.

He turned and unleashed those barking pipes.

He cried that night as he remembered.

Now we sit in a meeting and argue about adjectives in our communication documents.

The old man had said to me that night:

-It’s a terrible thing to grow old

But it’s better than the alternative.