Friday night, 1997

Locked gate with heavy rusted lock,

Metal fence with chain link,

One section broken, wire opens back like a flap of skin,

Allows us to duck in.

Cement columns holding up the highway,

The overpass, dirt floor and vandalised walls.

Someone has a fire burning in a metal barrel.

The kids stand around nervously warming their hands in the strange half light.

Cigarettes and laughter, stories of sex and drugs

I watch mesmorised as two older kids kiss,

The girl has dark hair and black eyes.

A firecracker is lit and explodes in the night,

The sound of traffic above is a roar

And the night runs on like sharp needles and broken bottles.

A homeless man was murdered here

Simon claims.

John, the school’s football hero,

Sneers and takes his three friends away.

But we sit by the fire on the cold cement ledge

And talk about Mickey and how he and Wade were arrested one night

And someone throws another bottle and we watch it explode into shards.

Tom and Ben would have to sleep in the abandoned shop on main street

Because they’d been kicked out of home.

They sit apart and look thin and proud.

Jenny’s mother has a new boyfriend and she can’t stand him

Sandy is pregnant and Mat wants her to abort it,

Robert is gay

And his boyfriend will be here soon.

Friday night, winter, thoughts of girls and grown up jobs,

No money to spend and stolen beer.

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washing day

Fabric softener destroys the machine,

The machine that spits out wet clothes, half clean.

 

The clothes that dry so quickly in summer,

Under that cancer giving sun

 

Hang soggy on the stretched line and grasp at the grass

That has turned a peculiar sickening brown.

 

Walking out on that winter day

To get away from the smell of clothes

 

I see a man come out of a café

With a face wrinkled so badly, that his eyes are invisible.

 

He looks at me as if he knows me,

I look at him, but look away.

 

It’s so cold, I step into a supermarket

And pick up a basket and walk the isles.

 

The old man with the brown folded face is there too,

He walks toward me, then steps aside at the last moment.

 

The bright shopping centre lights

The old hard bread; the pink deli meat makes me tired.

 

I walk home as the dark evening falls

And I know the clothes on the line will still be wet.

God in a bottle

 

Robert did not know much about God

But at 16 his father was shot in front of him.

Standing out the front of his house,

He watched the murderer,

A tall man,

Wipe his father’s blood from his face,

The sun shining from his black curly hair.

 

 

Robert sat in the carpark at 23

In the driver’s seat of his car

And thought about his father’s last breath.

His girlfriend climbed in beside him, and she smiled,

The white of her teeth and the warm sun from her eyes

Made him feel whole again.

 

He still did not know much about God at 31

But looking at the red neon

He thought he could see an angel

Moving about on the shopping centre’s cold steel roof,

And he dreamed of what his baby might be.

 

At 45, God was only a small thought in his mind,

As he sat in a bar and thought about Mary

Who danced there after 7 pm.

He looked at his watch and it was only 4 pm

And felt annoyed at how slow the days went.

 

At 60 Robert sat in the Church and prayed.

The Church was cold, but warmer than the street.

Last night, at 3 am, as he slept on the steps of a men’s clothing store,

Someone broke a bottle near his head.

As he opened two sore, sticky eyes

He watched the lights of the city twinkle in the crystal shards.

The freezing night

Standing outside the hot potato store
That sits beside the Irish pub and the supermarket
I saw a man making his way along the street.
He had one arm and one leg,
Both on the right-hand side.
He sat in an old-fashioned wheelchair
And by stamping his only leg
He pulled himself forward, slowly.
He had an old thin face
And a grey beard,
So he looked like a veteran of the Napoleonic war.
His right arm twisted sadly around the armrest
And his left sleeve was pinned to his chest
Like a torn flag.
I watched him pass.
I thought he would ask me for money,
But he continued slowly, in silence.
The night was freezing,
The man looked desperate,
As if he had nowhere to spend the night.
Outside the pub, he stopped, turned slightly and looked long into the dark street,
A traffic light glowing red
Danced shadows on the old man’s face.
I walked away so I could get home,
It was late, and the air was turning from mist to ice.
I thanked God for my health, but what good does it do
For the man with one arm and leg, alone in the frozen night.

To a brother, now gone.

Adopted by wolves,

The baby was.

Taken on a heavy moon night

When the wet grass turns to ice, and the wind investigates what the day left behind.

The gray mother-wolf carried the tiny boy

Through the hollow and into the forest.

Brushing his tiny face against soft leaves

And supple branches, until turning twice she curled up with the babe

And fell asleep.

The baby lay for a while in the heavenly fur,

Snuggled with the warm animal, smelled

The dog smell,

Framed by the damp forest scent

and looked out past the fur and leaves,

glimpsing the silver apples of the moon.

This baby, raised on bitter wolf milk

Grew stronger and dog-wise

Until one day, in a clearing, when the boy was older,

The pack saw humans on a brown leaf path.

They froze, and turned, fleeing into the thick trees

Of that autumn palace.

Stars over Pirate Bay

The white stars do not lie

Or rewrite history.

Their silent distance,

Their authority

Makes for pretty nights.

The stars reflect off the bay,

And as we sit in the sand

We glance up and see those white lights just above the trees.

Do you remember running our hands through the tufts of crabgrass?

Did you see the meteor?

I swear it must have crashed into the sea.

Poetry

She told me she could write poetry

And she could.

She told me Penguin were publishing it.

She showed me pages of her writing.

“I wrote this,” she said

“After dinner at my parents.

We just sat there, no one spoke.

All I could hear was the silver scratching on the fine china

And the neighbour’s kids playing outside.

I gave birth to this after that terrible night.”

She held the pages up and shook them.

I nodded. It was well written.

But poetry isn’t only written over silent dinners.

It’s also written over lonely nights in cheap apartments

when no one is going to visit you, or cares if you are alive.

It’s written when a woman screams abuse at you on the street

Or someone jumps you for your phone in a park

as you walk home minding your own business.

Poetry is written when you know she doesn’t love you

So you can’t get it hard

And you look at it in the bathroom and think about ways to leave

Without saying goodbye.

Poetry is written when you are standing on a city street

And you see a man hit by a bus

And he drags himself off the road

With a leg twisted behind him.

It’s written at 2 am

If it’s written well it burns out the top of your head

And you know you earned those lines.

 

 

Return of the beloved

She takes her coat off and leaves it on the kitchen bench,

turning out the lights, she gives life to a flame, lighting a candle,

we sit down by the window and speak in whispers

about people we both know.

A woman from our school died,

a sister divorced,

a child from our hometown, drowned.

Exhausting our gossip,

we begin to talk about God,

politics, movies, and the future

until the old clock chimes out three a.m.

and the candle passes away slowly from old age.

I take her into my room

and we hold each other

sleeping through the morning

and missing the traffic that races to desks in white offices.

Moments on East Park Street

Mary opens the window and leans out

The cold weather has set in; the rain will fall soon.

Her boy is in the garden

Moving the 3rd battalion against artillery.

The artillery is dug in and cuts the brave men down.

The cavalry charge, to some success

But for the 3rd it is too late.

The boy laughs and clutches a tall soldier with a red coat,

His wife will never see him again,

The worms will destroy and conquer all.

 

Mary pulls back and shudders,

The boy’s father works on the fishing ships and comes home drunk

A heavy man with coarse ways.

But the boy always has shoes and clothes

And more toys than he needs.

The little girl in the bassinet cries softly once,

Turns and falls asleep.

Mary closes the window and watches as the first raindrops fall on the window.

 

The boy feels the rain too,

And smiles.

The cavalry becomes bogged down in the muddy ground

And riflemen come out and cut them down.

The rain comes harder and the boy can’t find the reinforcements,

They’re lost in the clover.

 

Love overall

I love you because regardless of how hard the world is

You continue to love

And continue to breathe the air as a child does,

With wonder, hope, and joy.

I love you because seeing a rainbow makes you excited

And you tell me it’s the most beautiful rainbow you’ve ever seen,

No matter how many times we see a rainbow.

 

I love you because you have never seen a shooting star

And you make me promise to show you one, one day.

I love you because you are allergic to dogs

Yet love my dog.

No matter how cold, you walk me to the bus stop.

And I love you because when things hurt me,

they hurt you too.