Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Justin Lowe


I find myself at the water
the scratch and titter of the city
carried low like murmurs under a blanket
two of everything
two Customs Houses, two Darling Points
two Crosses brilliant in the brackish slick
I wish I had my line
the wind brisk in my face
and everyone asleep behind me
Sydney, AD 1924
as I think I may have mentioned
the gasp of a world away
still everywhere and in everything
and the thief
suddenly a rush of air beside me
your name is Albermarle Long
acting captain, DSO

there is a small rock
shows up by the pontoons at evening tide
the mustard lights from the city
paint a face on it
a sad, drowning man
like old Andrews
swallowed up by himself
kissing the hands of his gaolers
I often gaze at it
think the obvious thoughts
but tonight
I have this other face to mull over
it has been
quite a night for faces
I've been watching you, he says
I know what it's like, cobber
drunk as I am I know the spiel
one side or other wants my body in a hall
I tell him go hang
he grins that grin of captains on whistles
shifts his weight a little
cocks his head
trying to dodge whatever bullet
he imagines me loading


they will not leave me in peace
living or dead
imagine me idle
playing quicksilver to the fish
I am merely a shape to them
dough-faced atavar
something in which
they can house their definitions
but they are not the gallant heroes
some would make them
they brought a great malevolence
back with them
they cannot seem to bury it
the soil here too hard
even for so black a seed
there's plenty see me as a chancer
amongst those who stayed behind
chasing girls
dangling hooks off the pier

they don't know about the fire
in the soles of my feet
how I must plan each careful step


to find my mother dying
I closed my heart
to the ticker tape salutations
the victory march of thin-lipped creditors
I did what had to be done
although I could not muster enough
boys to carry the coffin
so the storekeepers shouldered up
pressed kind bundles
into my hand for weeks afterward
they were weeks of cloud
and the weight of my old voice returning
aged to a whisper
like the pages of a book hrmpphing at the wind
my mother's dying
was an odd kind of blessing for us both
she saw me home safe
through the patches in her fever
and then she left me
while I was changing her garlic presses

I have known boys
simply up and go from the gruff, halting questions
never to return
and for a while there I followed them
out west to those scratchings in the dirt
the desolate lean-tos
the clink of dead soldiers beyond the dug-out tallow
but eventually I returned
to the vast expanse of this house
where the only questions were mine
and the answers would come in time
until tonight, that is
and Georgia with her great sad eyes

Tiny Flowers

she is a dark girl
in a plain blue dress
she has a white mark
the shape of a lemon along her jaw line
her gloves have little flowers
sprouting blood-red at the wrist
her eyes are a mud brown
void of everything but one deep hurt
she is a little stooped already
like the widow Stuart next door
she cannot quite comprehend
where I have put the dog
she ponders over it
like a shy child pondering a kiss
she has the heavy lids
of a creature who cannot cry
sips her tea
with a little wombat smile
I don't think
she ever asked me my name
simply launched into her story
by which, of course, she means Braidwood
John "Jacky" Braidwood
the source of my great loathing for diminutives
wool classer out west
son of a Forbes wool classer
returned to his town and trade
with no great ceremony
people never gave Jack his due
a handful of victorious boys
swinging their arms wide to fill the spaces
he probably picked her up on the edge of town
one of those fragrant shadows
always ripe to take the heat
off such heroes


I was not
taught dogs as a boy
the time they occupy
the corner of your eye
that space between two thoughts
that is a man's only real estate
but since his friend died
little Satan has become my shadow to the pier
two, three telegraph poles behind
frozen like a furry little statue
if I happen to stop
to check he is the only one
it has been going on for weeks
but still he insists we play this little game
as soon as I settle in my spot
he springs on me
with a grin as wide as Sydney
and that dead eye gone oyster blue with cunning
we both pretend
the day made fools of us

he hails from wolves
but merely scratches at the call of space
while I lose myself
in that ghostly wink of oyster blue
settle my lines
and watch them fish out bodies in the chop
he is too tiny for this world
busy like a nerve-end with some ancient pain
sometimes I can hear them dynamiting
as I clear the rise
a red whisper that clings to the oil

- from “Magellenica” work-in-progress 2008

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