The Centrifuge

By | 1 December 2009

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

Walt Whitman, 'Song of Myself'



Wading. Wading is itself a dying skill,
but fishing and wading through a hollow,
with the sun assaulting from above and below,
with the river just touching at the neck?
This is an heroic polaroid – snap it,
snap the boy as he holds his ground
against the surge of north-bound water.
Capture his surprise – the situation,
the regression of environmental flows
to the echoes of green torrent and flood –
to find himself wading, not half an hour
from greener playing fields, shopping-towns,
nipple-deep in a real gouge, an honest-to-goodness river.
Don't shoot the fight with quiet fish –
the inevitable fight, tangential drag.
Immortalise instead the coin of shadow.
Catalogue a moment of stand-and-stare,
when a soul blinks, stifles a metallic laugh,
seeing, in an eddy, the quietest pocket of himself,
surrounded on all sides by the liquidity of rage.



When the Titans tackle bags of sand,
lit by improbable lights, when the stadium
is quiet, and the peakhour Thursday night
traffic flows around a roundabout like the river
does around an abandoned car, our Odysseus
stands still.
Bearing the leaves of fried chicken boxes at his feet,
absorbing in his stance the tremors of nightly news,
holding off the song of Cleopatra's special feature,
he stands, not even wading, as a whole suburban citadel
sinks around him; the flood of Interest Free!,
the torrent of pornography licking at his thighs.



Before the scouting geologists and the thrum
of a swarm's construction, Warragamba
was an unassuming river. Like the Coxs,
the Nattai, Wollondilly and the Kowmung,
it squirmed and threw its back through green
ruffles and orange biscuit crust, unseen
by the families coughing out their little grids
in the arid valley.

Odysseus was christened
a day before the dam, as the river split like fruit,
and Burragorang Town broke its waters
and the coal mines became green fingers,
stiff with the dead silence of drowned work.



The valley of his youth is going slowly bald,
so the frigid hero feels ill at ease in a garden
so overgrown and dewy.
The evening yawns.
The barbeque smoke blues over sweetpea vines
and a cattle dog chases its tail on wet grass.
The night is a car park. His whole world, a carpark – 

bitumen night
sprayed with gummy stars and shooting durrie butts.

If he could just stand long enough, until
this beer shrunk in sun, until the river rose,
until the coin of shadow swelled to take it all –
‘Turn the music up!' someone yells,
‘The party's only just now getting started.'



When planning to build a dam, it's standard practice
to test a scale model in an industrial centrifuge.
The forces brought to bear are the same ones
that tear blood cells from viscous blood plasma.

That the wall will fail is never at issue.
Instead it's Chronos ‘gainst the clock. The spin –
the same lame trick Superman pulled in sequel –
skips the best bits of a wall's short life, speeds,
slows at a crow's feet fissure, groans and
when Jupiter booms ‘Enough!' and cleaves it through.



The high street brims with cotton-sack people,
and Odysseus stands
with Telemachus at the traffic lights. The green,
the red. The nearly dead pedestrians swell at the weir,
waiting, then wading through the road, to the shops.

The orifices of shopfronts, closed and opened,
closed again – tobacconists, gift shops and butchers –
give the street slack-mouth, like a row of carny
clowns switched off, ready for transportation.

Telemachus looks up – the bright, bright sky a lure –
and catching his father's face by accident,
asks with his quiet screen-burned eyes,
‘what does my shirt mean?'



A pair of black cockatoos chase a skywriter to the east,
and Odysseus,
still standing in the street,
thinks of Penelope – her sleeping, mountainous waist,
the deep water of her early morning skin.



rends the shopping mall, turns the spruiker stony.
Somewhere distant, concrete girders shatter.

Complication, like a deluge fans across the plain.
Hot signs hiss.
Lost children look to their palms
for answers. The railway station chimes for a train.
The Titans retreat to their world of entertainment,
leaving thick boys to cry on the distant shore.
Frantic tweenies turn in tightening circles,
chasing chimeras and High School Musicals.

Odysseus stands smiling in his river.

He called it with his quiet,
and it came.

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