Is it really true that one can’t change?
said Oscar Wilde, whose ode to metamorphosis got stuck
in the rot of a painting, while the youth
stood with features smooth as the beginning.
Fitzroy, Melbourne, the kind of strip that strips everyone down, right to the bone.
A ute, a traveller, and no way home.
What was a ute doing in Fitzroy? Hadn’t they cleaned this place up?
A traveller pulled by a rope of longing. Scrap that. She had no control.
The payload: a swarm of blue puppies, black spots turning eyes into chasms.
Their mother lying snout to floor. Her teats, ten props abandoned.
She dipped one hand over the edge. She did. The ute squeaked.
What am I doing?
A question she didn’t ask. We were there:
the mew of the puppies wriggling over one another.
Their necks tied to the floor. A series of black chains.
A rusted bolt. A medusa of pups we thought.
The mother doing nothing. Was she stoned?
Stand back, we said.
Too late, a melee of tongues and she was over, the traveller,
over the back, frolicking in her own
what? Mad max trip?
Or did she believe she was Actaeon,
testing the fidelity of the hounds?
What was it about this place? It was nothing. It just propelled people.
Like the way the sun, weak from winter, got taken over by a man
whose thick shadow I now wore.
What do you think you’re doin’?
Hands off the dogs.
She turned, smiling, as if it was a joke, as if she would see someone she knew.
The shadow shook his head. She was the type
he could see right through.
They’re farm dogs.
They’re farm dogs.
But it’s just.
Don’t touch ’em, right. Now git out now. Git.
She picked up the wronged hand with her right and removed it to her side. She slipped out of the ute. The rust fair sliced her in half.
The puppies swooned in their chains.
But I have one at home.
She should stop
These here, right, are farm dogs.
He spat. He did. The length of the street seemed to rip
from its spine, torn like so no-one could see. She faced the shadow. He in his hat,
the things below brimmed in darkness.
She thought she saw a mouth, but it could have been a scab.
I’m guilty, she thought.
Hands off the dogs.
Though they were (we checked).
Why hadn’t I changed? All this time away and I get cracked up by a ute.
As if my home was some imaginary farm. As if my soul had been swapped
for a few foreign coins, and down here, in some wallet, my face could be burning.
It’s doubtful. In any case she fled, as travellers do, the scene went on without her.
We were there, we took a statement:
She was as dumb as any city, I swear
that’s what I thought.
I scratched my hat. The day could wait.
I had saved a seat in the café and there would be time to savour it.
I mean, the bit about the farm dogs.
And the bit about the ute.
A truly cunning creature, man
Aristophanes’ birds once sang.
Some thwart the gods, others their husbands,
but this man picks out strangers:
all cunning for cunning’s sake.
Wait, we swear, one more thing …
The altercation but
that was truth.
- 99: BROWNFACESUBMIT NOW with W S Dunn 98: SINGAPORECOMING SOON with A Pang and J Ip 97: PROPAGANDACOMING SOON with M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones