Books

Age

The clouds parted

and like light through the trees,

the sun danced around the puddles

shining like coins on the wet, shiny stones.

My legs hurt from sitting down all day

and I didn’t feel well

I was too fat

and the less I did the lazier I became.

The oval was wet

and the heels of my boots sunk into the muddy grass

and I remembered when I was a boy

that I loved to wade through puddles and sink into mud.

I was so thin when I was young,

and full of energy

but I could sleep for 12 hours straight too if I wanted.

Those times seem lost now,

gone cheaply

as if I took fifteen years of my life and set them on fire.

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Apartment building on 347 Favoux Street

The clerk working in the bank

Itching his legs under the desk and getting up to go the bathroom

For the third time this hour.

He walks home after work.

It has been raining and water pools on the footpath

And drips from the shop awnings.

 

At home, he stands in his kitchen and heats up

A packet of noodles.

Outside it begins to rain again and his little window mists over.

The water boils in the saucepan slowly,

Like a bath.

 

He has talked his neighbour into going out with him.

She is a small woman, with a friendly smile.

He meets her at her front door,

She is wearing a blue dress with blue buttons

He is wearing a brown polo shirt.

He takes her to the movies.

Afterwards, they walk along the pier

And eat spiralised potatoes.

 

She tells him about her last boyfriend,

And how he drank too much

He listens with a pretend interest,

Hiding his annoyance.

Back in her apartment

She puts a movie on Netflix

And they sit down to watch for a while,

Until yawning, she asks him to come into the bedroom

And they have sex.

He leaves at two am

Feeling the dampness that the night brings

And the dampness that this kind of love brings

And he sleeps a deep sleep

That only the numb can sleep.

In the morning he wakes late and has to rush to work.

She wakes late, and not having to start work until the afternoon

She takes a bath.

She makes it as hot as she can

And watches the clouds through the skylight

And wonders what the day will bring.

Calmly she thinks about last night;

As if youth lasted forever.

Movie Stars

She was beautiful and innocent,

She would wear plain, shapeless dresses, but on her

They looked like summer rain on the canna lilies.

She turned 18 in 1997.

Back then,

On a rainy day, when I was even younger than her,

We went to a bookstore.

Timber trestle tables were set up, and cheap books were spread across them

All in a jumbled pile.

She picked up a book on actors of the 20th century

And took it to the old man at the cash register and bought it.

At nights, she would read the book to me

Telling me the life stories of these actors and the movies they were in.

These people were so far removed from our lives

But they seemed so glamorous.

She would tell me one day she’d go to Hollywood and see where these people live,

See their mansions.

Sometimes, she would take me to the movies

And we’d see films,

Cartoons and whatever was playing.

Over the years that old book,

With its heavy hard cover,

 would come out and we’d go over the names and photos.

Every time an actor would die, she would carefully, neatly

Write in the date of their death next to their name.

Years past

And many of those old actors died.

Beautiful women with long blonde hair,

Men with burning eyes and large chins.

I would listen to the news and when an actor died,

I would rush to her room so I would be the first to tell her the news.

It was a morbid connection.

The movie stars of the 20th century

The old world stars slowly fading and disappearing.

She never made it to Hollywood

Instead she met a man

And she married him.

Still, when a celebrity dies, I think of her

And I’ll text her

Hoping I’ll be the first to tell her the news.

work tomorrow.

The first day on the job,

I wait in the meeting room reading Anna Karenina.

The tour happens painfully,

miserable people look up from their desks and smile.

This is

(I can’t remember names)

she found her son dead in their bathroom three years ago.

This is – and her husband left her for her best friend

This is- and he has a drinking problem, and he takes a lot of holidays to Indonesia.

I look around the office and smile back at them.

 

The night feels like a hot bath

the people are ugly now. Twenty years ago many were beautiful.

Everyone is angry.

Nothing is true.

The fear is to be felt most keenly

As the years pass and begin to pass quicker still,

A fear of opening the front door one day

And stepping into a quiet hall

And thinking

‘I am alone.’

 

Standing outside my old house on that beautiful street,

too late in the evening,

being watched by every dog and old woman.

I run my hand along the fence and remember I did this 30 years ago.

The broken sidewalk has been fixed,

the streetlights are brighter,

but that is all that has changed.

I think about the legs as they cross themselves in late night cafes

I watch the waitress as she wipes down tables.

She has a blue-black eagle tattooed on her bicep.

She looks around blindly

And occasionally laughs at something the cook says to her as she passes him.

 

I have heard the words of beauty,

And I too have had to get up from my stool

And catch the bus,

It arrives at 2 am

And leaves at 2.03.

Kitchen

The small kitchen only had room for a fridge and a bench,

But it had a window that overlooked the city.

I remember visiting her for the first time, finding her

cutting vegetables next to the stove. She grinned when she saw me and

opened the fridge door,

it banged against the cupboard.

The radio was on, a song she remembered from high school played,

She sang along.

The next time I came to see her she had a guitar in the kitchen

She played it and sang a sad tune.

We watched the lights come up in the city and the old clock chime eleven.

All the other windows in the place faced onto brick walls.

She would have friends over and they would all sing

Their voices melting into one another until it got late

And they started to sound like tomcats, howling at the moon.

The place had a dark dining room with antique furniture,

The bathroom was small and damp,

her bedroom was tidy and filled with books.

But the tiny kitchen was the heart of that apartment.

The pier

 

At night the lights on the pier come on,

and this cheap part of the city becomes a carnival.

The darkness sits on the water,

waves dance with white caps.

The pier looks to be a mile long

all made of timber-

it stretches out forever.

The sea sings its careless scratchy song.

White lights hang above the balustrade

giving the appearance of the path to heaven

or some great party where everyone is late.

 

A cold wind blows from the islands,

something swims underneath,

an old man stands to one side with a fishing rod.

I stand near him and look down to the black water.

The line disappears as if it is tied to some point on the ocean floor.

He doesn’t look at me. He hides in his huge woollen jacket,

his hat is pulled down around his ears.

I have seen babies wear hats like this

so their ears are kept warm.

But his skin is brown and wrinkled like sand.

He looks as old as this pier.

 

Lord Byron on Vorm Street

Sitting on Vorm Street

minding my own business in the sun

a guy came up to me.

I knew him. His name was Byron and he asked people to call him ‘Lord Byron’

but no one did.

“Did you know it’s going to rain for the next six days?” he asked.

“Yes I heard”

“I want to sell my car. I’m moving to Brisbane.”

“How much?”

“$2100. No offers.”

“No, too much.” I said.

He waved his hand at me and walked into the café I was out front of.

The door opened and cool air rushed into the street like a river.

I heard the voices of women inside, a baby cried.

A cockroach ran on the wall beside me. It trod on the bricks carefully

like a man does when he is barefooted on sand.

I looked at Byron’s car. It was eggshell blue and forty years old.

He would be selling it because it would never make it the thousand kilometres to Queensland.

The man also smoked in it.

I bought a pair of second-hand shoes off a man who smoked once,

the shoes forever smelled like smoke.

Every morning when I put them on

I would smell smoke.

I wore holes in those shoes, but they always smelled.

That car would never be any good, just like its owner.

Byron came out of the café and stood next to me.

“I’ll take $1500,” he said.

“No. What do I need a car for? I only live around the corner and the centre of town is only

over there.”

I pointed into the distance where the bridge could be seen stretching across the river.

“Driving only makes things complicated” I continued.

Byron walked away. He looked angry.

I had seen him swear at a man outside a nightclub once

The man knocked Byron down.

Byron’s confidence was never as great again.

New life.

Sitting by the cradle, next to my son,

I listen to the wind howl outside.

Winter is ending and leaving on frosty wheels.

I close my eyes and think of things I do not have.

These thoughts are like a worm

That burrows into my head.

My father’s painting hangs on the wall

And the yellow light picks up the brush strokes.

I concentrate on the oil painting and clear my thoughts.

My baby sighs and makes a sound like birdsong,

And my thoughts fall upon the future.

Life is sadness and joy,

 

As it is darkness and light.

 

This yellow room,

The painting on the wall,

The wind against the window and

My son dreaming in his bed,

What joy.

But time moves on, seasons change and soon the morning will

Walk across this very roof.

Enjoy and be satisfied with what you have,

Success lies in happiness.

School book room

They took down the war memorial today.

It stood in the park near the river

And the workmen removed it stone by stone.

A few people stood on the bridge and watched it come down,

I watched too. I watched an old man come out of the library

And cross the road.
He spoke to a workman in a red
hard hat

Until the workman shook his head and walked away.

I wondered what the old man said.

He wouldn’t leave,

He stood in front of the memorial and watched.

Even as I went into the library and found a seat near the front window,

He just stood in the park watching.

It reminded me of the book room at my old high school.

I used to love going in there.

It had piles of books.

All Quiet on the Western Front, the Great Gatsby,

The Red Badge of Courage, Poetry of Robert Frost,

Poetry of Wordsworth. To Kill a Mockingbird.

The books filled the shelves.
The smell of paper, the look of different covers.

There was no racism, ignorance, fear or loneliness in that room,

Those feelings were for the playground.

I took a book once because the cover had come off and

I thought they would throw it away.

I wanted it, it was The Red Badge of Courage.

A year after I left that school, someone lit a fire in that room

And burned half the school down.

That someone could set fire to that room

Shocked me.

That room where God lived.

A few years later

The school closed down.

I could take you there and show you where it stood

If you would meet me in my home town.

 

Internet dating

Summer came into the city

Like a train into a humid station.

Stepping down from carriage 7B,

Tom’s boot went into a puddle

And the water splashed gently outwards.

A relief to climb out of that underground station onto the early morning streets.

A homeless man who had slept the night outside the main entrance

Had wet himself. Piss ran across the pavement

And people rolled their luggage through it.

Tom stood a moment and watched the man sleep so gently

On a street where buses were running past him with a deep roar.

The street stretched down a steep hill into a canyon of buildings.

The city was so silver in the morning light.

A clock marked out that it was six and the people who were around him

Faded about like electricity.

 

Tom went to dinner with Megan.

They had met on the internet.

Tom spoke to her about his life in his hometown

And she spoke about her job and movies she liked.

She took him home and was his friend for the night.

In the morning, as she dressed for work

Slipping her thin body into a business suit.

He offered to take her for a coffee

And then he followed her to the office.

As she swiped her access card,

she turned and looked at him one last time.

Her eyes said she was a friend no more.

Tom turned and looked at the city

Again at six o’clock in the morning, he gripped his bag tighter.

The city didn’t look as clean as it did yesterday.