The Altercation but

31 October 2012

Prelude:

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.

Chorus:

Fitzroy, Melbourne, the kind of strip that strips everyone down, right to the bone.

A ute, a traveller, and no way home.

Traveller:
What was a ute doing in Fitzroy? Hadn’t they cleaned this place up?

Chorus:

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.

Traveller:

What am I doing?

Chorus:

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?

Traveller:

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.

Man:

What do you think you’re doin’?

Hands off the dogs.

Hands off.

Chorus:

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.

Man:

They’re farm dogs.

Traveller:

They’re puppies.

Man:

They’re farm dogs.

Traveller:

But it’s just.

Man:

Don’t touch ’em, right. Now git out now. Git.

Chorus:

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.

Traveller:

But I have one at home.

Chorus

She should stop

Man:

These here, right, are farm dogs.

Chorus:

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.

Man:

Hands off the dogs.

Chorus:

Though they were (we checked).

Traveller:

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.

Chorus:

It’s doubtful. In any case she fled, as travellers do, the scene went on without her.

We were there, we took a statement:

Man’s 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.

Chorus:

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 …

Man:

The altercation but

that was truth.

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