Thursday, 31 January 2013


Before you founded Eden, you were a one fingered private from the fourth battalion killing Nips in the jungle, and each Nip you killed bled colours into your lapel of glorious royal green and silver and red and gold and the blue of your eyes which cried clear teardrops into the mud that swallowed the faces of men so that he died alone with his eyes closed and his lips pressed lovingly against hers until he is sodomised by a bayonet and the mud drains through the plug hole in his back until the final gurgle of his throat proclaims all of the lessons and miracles of enlightenment, the poor soul, carrying a burden heavier than a lee enfield while your feet lick feebly at the mud until you are ready to follow your muddy footsteps back from Papua to Melbourne and the clean carpet which the government rolls out in you honour leads you down a corridor of grey wallpaper until the carpet turns to gravel and the gravel turns to mud and the mud dries and the rabbits dig their holes in thin drays to ratchet your square of departmentally issued Mallee scrub by the highway which runs to both sides of your eyes: Up to where the silhouette of a grain silo blemishes the line of the horizon and Down to where the scrub stretches its spindly limbs high into the empty sky and lone clouds wonder as lost sheep, and you stop tending the rabbit holes to watch their shadows passing freely over the wire fence that you had thrust into the soil along the line on the Government’s map of the empty blue sky, the blue of your eyes which are parched and dry and follow the trail of strawberry seeds back along the rabbit holes to your shack where the great irrigators rest in the tin hanger like buffalo on the plain, walking up and walking down pissing life and mud through the mornings until fat bloody strawberries, like the hearts of men, rise from the mud and fall into your basket and the basket into punnets and punnets into the shed you found, hot and flyblown and reeking with a gut full of maggots and rusting drums of peroxide that give each strawberry a bloody glaze found only in Eden, dropped by lost clouds into plastic punnets for two bob a kilo from large wooden trays built from the twisted Mallee scrub under an abandoned sheet metal bus shelter by the asphalt catwalk of utes and paddock bashers going from Up to Down to Up to slow their tread to a stop then leap down from their carpets somewhere between the silo and the horizon at a paper sign waving furiously in the borderless winds and screaming ‘Garden of Eden Strawberries’ into the dusty gale where the buffalo and the rabbits are locked as zoo beasts behind the wire staff and you stand bearing the smile you learnt from the scantily clad harlot on the cigarette box and a genial greeting of “hello sir, I have tended the government’s garden well and the lord has rewarded me with strawberries that taste of God’s own blood” and the stranger takes the fruit between his fingers so that he marks his fingertips in the peroxide glaze, and then the stranger takes the fruit between his lips which fall into a smile and dribble juice down his chin and he tells you of his boundless fortune in discovering your oasis in the Mallee scrub and you smile as he leaves you with several gold coins and the joy which beats in your chest for the knowledge that you have made a man happy and as you wait at the bus stop in the afternoon, cars come by like lost clouds and their vampire smiles continue towards the horizon until the sun is punctured by the silo and you return to your fibro shack to eat war rations of stale bread and butter then sleep in confidence that a new sun will arrive soon to follow the old and in its light the buffalo will rise and piss soil into mud and by the afternoon men will disembark from their lost sheep with tales coming from Up and Down of the scrub swallowing rams with their jockeys slumped against the steering wheel smiling while the sun drapes down their faces and a new sun the next day and again and again the smiling men with bloodied chins leave you under the sky with a smile on your face reminding you that you have created something so precious and beautiful that it makes a man happy and content in their own death, so you wait behind the strawberry trays on a rusty banana lounge beneath the bus shelter through the empty silences that sing the same tune as the Papuan jungle until a flurry of noise (from the distance; from close by) leads to an exchange and you keep the lee enfield propped up against the bus shelter to calm some fear you remember from before you started dealing in joy but in the silences you find some discomfort as you watch the rotation of the silo’s shadow and question what lies within its shell that it should be a pulse to blemish the flat horizon so you bargain with a Model T to take you there and your hair pulls backward as the vehicle pushes forward and the scrub circles in from all sides and it is crawling with Nips who want to push your face into the copper dust and piss in your hair until you become lost in the mud and the bamboo shoots sprout through your chest, your mouth and splay branches of strawberries as full and as red as your heart should be if only you could see it and you are marooned by the highway with your legs twisted and splaying beneath the soil until you are plucked by the vampire teeth of a passing car and dropped at the foot of the silo which is as empty as the sky had told you it would be and you wonder where the other soldiers went when they stepped off the carpet into the scrub if they are not beneath the dome of the horizon which swallows each sun and vomits a new orb into the sky to awake the buffalo each morning but the peroxide tins are almost empty and you don’t know where to get more so you ask a smiling vampire that afternoon what there is when you reach Up and he tells you it is the town of Rainbow and you ask him what is there and he tells you it is nothing of interest and he doesn’t think they have stocked peroxide since the war ended; so you ask the next handful of coins what is Down and he tells you it is the town of Rainbow which you clarify to be the same Rainbow as before but the cars continue to strut by along the catwalk from Rainbow to Rainbow, exchanging coins for joy before continuing towards nothing of interest, not even the peroxide which you empty onto your final punnet of strawberries then sit by the road beneath the bus stop and wait for a car to come and take your final smiling mouthful of joy a little bit closer towards nothing of interest and you feel as empty inside as the horizons around you where the buffalo and the rabbits are still and the silo stares at you and you stare back with the strawberry between your lips and a smile on your face as you lean your back against the bus stop, hold the lee enfield in your finger and take pot shots at the sun.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Two Smokers on a Sunny Morning

Mick and Tim lean on their shovels under the row of elms which mark the point where the cemetery joins Roy Canning’s cabbage field. Roy liked to joke that all the human meal in the soil was doing wonders for his crop, and that the people of Inverell would be less likely to buy his cabbages if they realised it was their dead friends and relatives which were giving them the flavour. But that is the magic of death, the men would say: nobody is supposed to think about it too much.

The two men smoke and watch the magpies picking worms from the ceremonial lawns. It is late in the shift and already the first of the day’s funerals are gathering around the newly dug graves. They shimmer in the mid-morning heat like a poorly tuned television that at any moment could change stations to something more jovial.

“Funeral clothes aren’t very suited to summer,” says Mick. He drops his cigarette butt into the buzz-cut grass and lights another. The lighter is the cheapest Bic he could find at the IGA and it takes a few pumps to get a flame. Mick knows that with his smoking habits he will have a blood blister on his thumb in less than a week.

“Then why don’t you market a line of clothes especially for summer funerals and see how many you sell,” says Tim.

“It was just an observation,” says Mick. “A joke really.”

“I know,” says Tim. “I’m joking too.”

Dust blows across the cemetery, like the bodies of ghosts, to where the pale sky meets the fields. The mourners hold their jackets up to their faces. Somewhere in the distance a car hushes past.

“Look at those people,” says Mick, jabbing the hot end of his cigarette at the neat crowd of mourners. “Do you think they have any appreciation for what we do?”

“I suppose that depends on how much they want to see their friend buried.”

“Like, I know we’re just digging holes. But they’re a very specialised type of hole. If we dig it even a fraction too small then we can turn the whole grieving process into a farce. When people talk about grandpa it’ll be the thing that they remember.”

“Oh yeah. And anyone buried five feet under is gunna look like an idiot for the rest of time.”

“And the walls need to be dead straight and the bottom dead flat and its all gotta look perfect. It has to be perfect.” Mick’s voice trails off. He looks across at Tim. He’s got to be about ten years older than Mick, with a sun-beaten face like cracked clay. He’s not old enough to be Mick’s father, but he’s not young enough to be Mick’s friend. So what is he?

Aware that his eyes are lingering for too long, he loses himself in the thick mess of lawn.

“I don’t want someone like us digging my grave,” says Tim eventually. “I’m gunna dig it myself. Then when I’m lying in it, I’m gunna have a little label over my head which points out to passers by not to dig in this spot.”

Mick cracks a grin and nearly loses his cigarette. Tim is staring out over the lines of graves. There is a wry smile in the corner of his lip and his cheek crinkles around it like a cloud of arrows.

“You’re absolutely right,” says Mick.

“And I’m not gunna have a funeral, because who wants to spend a whole morning feeling bad about themselves. And worse: having the expectation that they should feel bad about themselves. What sort of friend would want to inflict that kind of pain onto the people he supposably loves?”

“I’m not even going to let anyone know that I’m dying,” says Mick. “I’m just going to leave a note at home saying that I’ve died and am buried in a non-descript place. Somewhere out of the way. I suppose a cemetery is as out of the way as you can get.”

Tim looks across at Mick and drops his cigarette butt into the grass. It smoulders briefly in the nutrient-rich mulch then goes out.

“Let me ask you something,” says Tim. “Why do you care how you die? Or what happens after? You’ll be dead anyway.”

The mourners are returning to their cars across the lawns. They talk in hushed tones and make mournful sweeping actions with their heads. A few people linger: two girls, two middle-aged men wearing sunglasses and an old man. Then they turn to leave too.

“I don’t know,” he says finally.

Tim stamps on his cigarette butt. He wraps his well worn fingers around the handle of his spade and swings the shaft into his other hand.

“I suppose we better get back to work,” he says. He begins walking across the lawns, scattering the magpies as he goes. Mick watches the old man walk away. For a moment he imagines he is on his way to dig his own grave.

When it feels like he has waited too long, he follows.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Eleanor Rigby

Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.


I never really noticed that there are people who live in the houses that flicker past the carriage window. I wonder if they would invite me into the house to drink coffee at their breakfast bar, or if they have any Kafka in their bookshelves. They must have read at least one book that I like. Suddenly we have a conversation and they invite me back again the next week, this time to sit in the lounge room. Making friends is easy because everyone is doing it.

            The girl sitting across from me is reflected in the carriage window. Each house passes through her head like a thought then disappears.


Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where her wedding has been. Lives in a dream.


She is watching the window too. Her eyes are heavy with mascara to hide the wrinkled lines of fatigue. She is imagining the end of the world. The sun falls out of the sky and the water climbs out of the sea and the lounge rooms and rumpus rooms and living rooms and family rooms all crumple into the ground.

            And still this train keeps moving to wherever it is taking her.


Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?


I know where it is taking her.

            It’s her second year since high school, her first job. At the call centre, today is the day she will be fired and she is excited. She will tell the customers that she doesn’t care how they’re going. Then she will tell them about the company’s competitors. If they are still listening then she will ask if they are lonely.

She has made up her face and undone her top button for someone. She doesn’t know this person yet. She looks for him in the street or around the office or on the chat forums when she should be working.

Tomorrow she will sleep in.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


But meanwhile the world is ending. She watches God rain judgment on the people of Earth. She thought God had forgotten about Earth since he’s been building the universe.

            Instead he is opening fissures filled with fire.


Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear. No-one comes near.


There is a boy sitting next to her, about the same age. It is impossible to tell how much time he has put into choosing his polo shirt and shorts or arranging his hair, but his eyes are heavy and his cheeks are shaven until pink and his skin is dry like dead leaves. He picks at a scab on his knuckle. His eyes remain on the window.

            He cradles a backpack in his lap. Padlocks remain on the zippers from some lonely adventure.


Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there. What does he care?


He is going from his mother’s house to his father’s house, but somewhere along the way he has forgotten where he lives. He is going to the city to walk through the busy stations of white and grey people brushing and pushing but never touching each other, appearing and disappearing behind buildings until it looks like they are not moving at all.

He will move through the crowd and search for memories, painful memories preferably, directing him where to go, and losing himself in the depths of his head where he can finally be alone.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


But he won’t get there. He will notice her face in the window, will see how long she has taken to make herself beautiful and assume she is taken.

But he will try.

He will mention the copy of The Bell Jar closed in her lap and how much he loved it when he read it in high school. But he has never read it. She works this out quickly. It’s cute.

He will ask where she is going and she will tell him about the call centre and how this evening she will be fired. He will ask why should she wait until then? Why not skip work and have coffee with him? She’ll smile and show off her pretty teeth that her parents paid for in time and her in pain. She likes the effort he has or hasn’t put into his appearance. She says yes.

By the evening they are in love.


Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.


Except he doesn’t notice her. They simply watch the townhouses and diorama gardens and letterboxes flicker by.

            There is no apocalypse either. Now that she thinks about it, the whole idea seems silly. Why would God create life if he wanted to destroy it?

I watch a house, small and single storied and containing a small single storied family with a dog named Spot and a Corolla and a mortgage they will have paid off in three years and a copy of The Trial on their bookshelf, and I watch it slide across the window until it hits the frame and simply disappears.


Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came.


Something moves. It is his reflection, his head then his lips. Something about The Bell Jar? She laughs and turns away from the window until they are simply staring at each other. He takes his hand from his side and places it on her knee.


Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from her grave. No-one was saved.


He leans forward until their noses are almost touching and their lips come together. She pulls closer and opens her lips, letting him inside.

            When it is over he holds her in his arms.


All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?


She buries her head in the cradle of his neck and together they stare at the city flickering past. Or maybe they are staring at themselves. People who are looking for love tend to find each other in the end.

            Or maybe they are watching me.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The girl in darkness

I will confess that physical attraction drew me to her. But lust is a natural benefactor of love and love is a meaningless word used by fools. What we have is more than that.

            I don’t know her name so I call her Juliet.

            I have seen her only once. It was enough to notice that long blonde hair which can be summarised only in the vagueness of perfection. I watched it fall over one eye to be impulsively swept away with a playful flick. Then, like a dog with a stick, that hair just came on back again to cover her eye. She has condensed the mundaneness of awaking and thinking and consuming and feeling and hating and living and forgetting into a simple reflex. And she is too alive to even notice.

            Her strides were so delicate. Her screams silenced the birds. She was not afraid to let me see her cry.

She had enchanting breasts.

            She lives on the uppermost floor of a drab 1970s apartment complex on Sixth Street that is so unbecoming for her. I wait in the street below and paint pictures onto the black depths of her window. She never comes out. But humans are weak: she will need to eat something soon.

I need to eat too. I think about nothing else. I am such a simpleton. I have impure thoughts of my teeth in the soft flesh of her wrist as I take her as my own. A love bite. I will bite her where I was bitten. It will be so poetic when we are in love.

It seems I am starving myself for her. If only she could see what she is doing to me. I am disappearing, rotting, fermenting in the sun that watches me forever but is forever out of reach. I am making myself ugly for you, Juliet. Only ever for you.

I walk around the building. I push at the fat ceder doors and rattle the bars across the windows like a prisoner trying to break in. My mind slips under door. It knows the inkblot grains in the polished timber floors of the lobby. It climbs the six hundred and thirty six stairs to her door. It has laughed on her sofa and lain on her bed (What a bed! Plain. Shameless. A place of business). It has taught her about impressionist art and romantic poetry. It has heard stories of her childhood under the folds of a blanket of Minneapolis snow.

And every time I will look at her I will be amazed by her beauty. Beauty is so rare since the outbreak. I know she is smart too: the way she sneaked home in the dead of night so no-one could see her beauty. No-one but me. What a brain she must have encased in that fishbowl.

Sometimes I worry that she won’t love me back. I worry that what I plan to do is sexual abuse. If only she knew the agony she caused me every day just by living. Is that not sexual abuse itself?

She is so beautiful.

Tonight I am watching her window and imagining her waving to me. Her waves are slow and rhythmic and completely erotic. She doesn’t blow me kisses like a cheap whore. Just a gentle smile as she plays with her hair until suddenly there is a flash of torchlight across the glass. She is coming to me, my love. The beam of light descends to the fifth floor, then the fourth. I hurry across the empty street. I have rehearsed this so many times. I have seen her open the door and fall into my outstretched arms.

I stand behind the door and listen to her untangle the chains on the other side. All that keeps us apart is six inches of dead wood. I listen to the short shallow drags of her breath and allow them to fill my chest until with a sudden sing-song scream the door opens an inch, then another inch and I can see her short chipped fingernails curl around the ceder. And then her breasts appear and her hair and her smooth round skull encasing that perfect brain. It is even more perfect for its little bumps and flaws, because it is the soil that sprouts her perfect hair, because it is right in front of me.

She turns. She sees me. What does she see? I can see the blood pulsing over her temples. I need to say something.

“Brains,” I say.

I have never been good at first impressions and this is especially poor. She screams. Oh that beautiful voice, like a siren song it paralyses me and suddenly she is running across the street. Her footsteps tread where once my own had been, waiting. And I can’t do anything but watch as she morphs once more into darkness.

My love has just gone out for a little while. She will return. This is her house after all and she has nowhere else to go.

The lobby is not as I imagined. It is carpeted and soulless and filled with cheap and spiteful chairs. I count seven hundred and fifty six stairs to her filthy Ikea apartment. Food wrappers are strewn like seaweed around a yellowing mattress on the living room floor. There is no art or even wallpaper. But then I remember her beauty. And that hair, forever falling, waiting to be caught. It crosses my mind that maybe I am only in love with her beauty, that once I have her I will lose interest. I don’t care. I will do anything to stop feeling this way.

So I sit on her mattress and wait for her to come home.

When the sun finally rises I feel completely alone.

Love Poem

If I were an ending
I’d want to end where you begin
And if I were a black eye
I’d want to catch on your skin
If I were a curse
I’d want to flow across your lips
And if I were fat
I’d want to hang around your hips

If I were broken glass
Then I would give you what I had
And if I were anger
I would love to make you mad

If I were a bee
Then I’d offer you my sting
And if I had nothing
Then I’d give you everything

If I’m at rock bottom
I’d be there to break your fall
And if I were silent
I’d answer when you call

If I were unhappiness
I’d be there when you cry
And if I were deceased
I would wait for you to die

And if I were to be me
Then I hope that you’d be you
And if I say “You love me”
Then you’d say “You love me too”