Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Compass Is Broken And Does Not Point North

The world outside was cold, dark and smelt of burnt cinders. He drew his coat close around him and set out for the barn. He looked out across his father’s land, so different to what he had once known. The spindly, barren trees reached up desperately into the night sky, as if searching for God’s hand to pull them free of the scarred earth.
They had been lucky. The fires had come awfully close.
The winds picked up as he reached the gate, and he saw that his father had been right again. The horses were spooked all right. The gales howled through the rafters with a haunting melody.
He moved to quiet the horses, their eyes like liquid fire.

* * *

His mother moved about setting the table and fretting. His father and Eli took their places at the table as he opened the door and came inside, shaking off his coat. He sat down as if in a dream, his mind in other worlds. His mother closed her eyes and began to say grace, but he didn’t hear or see it. Instead he saw the quivering ghost of his dreams: a place far away: a city.
A land so bright in his imagination, it shone and rippled like heat rising from the tarmac on the highway.
The highway.
The only paved road for miles, at least half an hour away from here.

He picked at his food. His father said nothing, eyes never leaving his plate.
The clock stuttered from its place on the wall.
Mother began to clear the plates. Eli excused himself and scampered upstairs to bed. His mother disappeared into the kitchen and returned with tea and coffee, setting the tray on the table and smoothing the tablecloth. He reached for his cup in the implacable silence, unnerved. He shut his eyes tight, unsure of what he feared most: continued silence or the questioning.
The steam rising from the cups seemed to cover the room in sinister mist.

* * *

He walked up the stairs with shrieking voices in his head, loud enough to cover the hushed tones of his parents’ voices down below.
The silence in the house lay shattered like glass.
He walked into Eli’s room. The little boy was in bed with a book in his hands, brow furrowed in concentration. He sat in the seat by the bed, watching his brother.
“Bobby, what does this word mean?”
“Aw c’mon. You know I’s never one for them fancy books.”
Eli looked pensive for a moment and then put down the book.
“Bobby… what did Mr Jamison say?”
“Ain’t no good news. Still no work for me,” he said with a grimace.
“Does that mean you’re gonna stay and keep helpin’ Daddy on the farm?”
“Don’t look like I got much else to do,” he said, smiling and punching his brother’s arm. He tousled the kid’s hair and said goodnight as he got up to leave. At the door he stopped and turned.
“Hey Eli. Whatchoo wanna be when you grow up?”
“A fireman,” he said sleepily.
“A fireman? Why you wanna be a fireman?”
“What’s better than being a fireman?”
Bobby smiled and shook his head.
“Goodnight, little buddy.”

* * *

He walked to his room, shut the door behind him and gazed out the window to the stars. The darkness hid the destruction from sight, but in his heart he knew it was there. No matter what happened tonight, come morning there’d be no birds singing in the trees.
The scars would remain.
He shut his eyes and leaned his head against the glass, hoping it would cool his burning mind. He wanted to rest to purge all thought from his mind. There were so many tough choices ahead. He thought about his little brother, so sure of himself.
A fireman, he thought.
He wished it could all be that simple.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

At a Bar, And Afterwards

A room of recognizables, but strangers nonetheless
I sense the ghost receding, pressure easing in my chest
A world of dancing dangers lurking down around my knees
Is somehow strangely soothing even when I hold the keys

A synapse fires early, and the words escaping out
Conspire to overthrow me, get the General to rout
Decorum is the enemy, I hide behind my eyes
And all their polite questioning is only to disguise

The mottled, blind, self-interest that makes me so forlorn
An answer out of category will win the people’s scorn
And when did the brains trust decide that this was all okay?
For cultural myopia to rule the children’s play?

Alone, at home, I feel that I’m that cat inside the box
Equally alive and dead, so long as no-one looks
And why can’t I express the things that mean the most to me?
Her words take me to other realms I feel but cannot see

And yet my words fall silent, dead before they’ve left the tongue
Perhaps the words have dried away, used up when I was young
Or maybe I can find the words in someone else’s song?
And use those ‘til my own return, I hope it won’t be long.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Near or Far

You are my late nights.
You are my early mornings.
The robin’s sweet song and the cool breeze from the North.
Far from sight but never from mind.
You make my heart dance, dance, dance like soda bubbles.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Strange Man

I met a strange man in Arts Lecture Room 8.
He frightened me at first glance.
He had the look of a wild dog backed against a wall.
I swallowed hard when he sat next to me.

He wore a long-sleeve collared shirt that might have started life as white,
But had long since been stained yellow like the teeth of a pack-a-day man.
The shirt had a print that looked as though it had gone
Out of fashion in approximately 1971.

On top of the shirt, he wore a shabby brown vest, woolly and dirty.
Brown pants with no belt.
Tattered shoes clinging desperately to their own remains.
Dark hair, unkempt. Dark eyes.

Unshaven. A slight odour.
The general look of a man who had spent the last ten years
Grifting his way through the mid-West.
A time-traveller from the Depression-era.

He sat next to me; I kept my head down, kept reading.
He muttered to himself incessantly. He made me nervous.
He asked what I was reading: Calvino, for Post-Modernism.
He said: “I loved it. Did that unit. Did pretty well. Wait til Murakami though.”

He asked about my summer.
I said it was good fun, but that (as usual) I’d got to a point
Where I was itching to get back to doing something real.
He said he didn’t have a job over summer, so he’d had a great time.

After the lecture, he got up and walked away;
With the posture of a bald eagle, rigid, unyielding,
But the fluid movement of a dancer,
The jittery spasms of a junkie,
The imbalance of a drunk.
He was gone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Polemic in the Dark

‘Neath buckled concrete, splintered wood
And metal contortionist,
Entrenched under wrinkled, thin-skinned tarp,
Bones writhing in the feverish yellow lamplight.
Consumed with ache for empires lost.

Oh! White pillars,
Oh! Sweet river in the reeds.
For azure sky, untorn,
For golden orbs draped from the boughs,
For reckless love and glowing fingertips,
What I would forsake.

A jolt! – The sky splits electric.
The burning drops begin to fall
And sleep refuses the bleary eyes.
Hard broken ground in vicious segments
Ravages the aching legs and back
And the solitude stings.
The only companions the soulless,
They of pelt or scale.

And yet…
Summer in the Wasteland
When the sun briefly burns away the haze
And all around the bare threads of colour manifest
As grey mists recede…

Shadows of forgotten time, etched in landscape;
The light glints off the rusted chassis,
And the edifice of past life stands still,
And the tiny mosses grow amongst the skeleton trees.
There stands amongst the ruins – a blueprint.
The possibilities of beauty half-forgotten
And Hope.

And in the hard rain
‘Neath the slick and sodden tarp,
In the cloying dark and asphyxiate fear,
He thinks of yesterdays.
Before the rain
Before the war
And then he thinks: tomorrows.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Miss Stormy Weather

I knew something was up instantly, from the moment she walked in. Actually even before that, when she called, I knew something was wrong. Of course that didn’t mean much. I was always on the ball with reading people’s emotions. That didn’t mean I was any good at dealing with them.

“I feel shitty,” she said presently.

“Can I do anything?”


“There’s nothing I can do to take your mind off it? Or do you want to talk about it?”


“You sure?”

“For fuck’s sake would you just drop it? I already said there was nothing you can do. Get over it.”

I grimaced. Things were off to a good start. As usual.

“Hey, did you see yesterday’s paper?” I said, moving into phase two. Phase two is the part where I try to act normal, as if I can’t see the invisible worm that’s chewing up her insides minute by minute. The part where I pretend there isn’t a sympathy worm tearing up my own guts.

“I dunno. Why?”

Short and sharp. She must really be in a bad mood. So much for small talk. I wonder what it is this time?

“Oh... well it doesn’t matter.”

Funny. Whenever I have bad news she always presses me for it. Grinds it out of me like the enamel of my goddamn molars. Nothing worse than grinding teeth while you’re getting your daily shuteye. If I could just get a solid forty winks just once it’d probably be worth forty grand in dental work later in life. Hell, The way I look these days, I could use it.

“Wanna go to town, get a bite?” I said.

“I’ll come, but I’m not eating.”

“Not hungry?”

“Just don’t feel like eating.”

“Babe, you gotta try to eat something.”

She just shook her head. I grabbed the car keys. My piece of shit Bug wouldn’t start at first, so I had to push-start the fucker. Once it got going, I tried to fiddle with the radio but it was no use. The thing hadn’t worked since January. I don’t know why I even bothered. Probably to get my mind off the cold front that had developed between the coasts of the driver’s seat and the passenger’s. I tried to think of something to say but nothing came out of my mouth. Nothing came out of hers either. I kept driving.

In town we hit some crummy fast food joint, and to my relief she ordered a burger. She picked at it sullenly for a while, but she did eat it. She even managed to say a few words about nothing in particular. Now seemed like as good a time as any to start phase three, which come to think of it, is a lot like phase one: trying to figure out what the hell is wrong.

“You know you can always talk to me.” I said. I braced myself inwardly. Her reaction could go either way.

“I don’t need to talk! There’s no point talking to you about it, you can’t change anything about the situation so why would I bother?”

That wasn’t so bad. She was mad that I wouldn’t drop it, but she hadn’t stabbed me yet.

“I know, but I can listen. I can care.”

She looked me up and down for a moment, gave a look of irritation. Just when I was about to give up on the whole damn thing and walk away, she started talking. She laid it all on the table. Some Joe she was seeing had been jerking her around, not treating her straight like a real man should.

I felt that worm in my stomach again, but this time it wasn’t just a sympathy worm. She must have known how I felt about her. How much it hurt to hear some of the shit she said about her and some other schmuck.

But I asked and there it all was.

“So there,” she said, “now you know all that useless shit that you can’t change or help me with, and I feel even worse.”

I felt a lot worse too. But that didn’t matter to me so much. I was used to it. We trudged slowly back to the car as I again tried to think of something to break the ice. As we got to the car park it started to rain, and I mean really bucket down. Great. God’s not just spitting on me, now he’s pissing all over me.

We jumped inside the Bug, drowned as rats. I knew the car wouldn’t start so I didn’t try it. We sat there awhile looking through the waterfall windscreen at the blurry patterns of the world outside.

“You know what’s worse than raining cats and dogs?” I said.


“Hailing taxis.”

She gave me that look for a moment. The incredulous one that looks adorable. Then she burst out laughing.

“You’re such an idiot sometimes,” she said as she chuckled.

It was a pretty bad joke, but it cracked that safe on her face and made her smile. Things were okay again for a little while.

The Destined Burn

The more I find, before my eyes
The gridded lights of tomorrow
Wired awake and burning cold, the more that
Painful bright seems translucent and
Just out of reach

My attention is
Diverted by diverging lines
Which sweep through and seep
Into me and stretch into frightful, eternal space
Like LA from the approach

But I am trapped in-
side a box with the rigid Now;
Unbending, cyclic
Epiphany follows regression, regression
Chases epiphany again, again, again

Today I can
Accept it, take it all in stride
You are, like me, imperfect and beautiful and I can
Accept it with open heart but
Tomorrow it’s unbearable

You are perfect again
And I am a stain on the curtains.

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