Changing the Names of the Past in the Years of Curious Habits

1 June 2014

1. Melbourne, 1968

Except for thistle girl,
we never questioned wiping up
the hidden pools

of urine from under
someone else’s skirt.
Mother Eucalypt’s voice,

known as whip crack,
pitched to scatter even
the suggestion of ants.

There was no use for the yard
either. Outside the Morton Bay fig
tugged threads

from under doors. The four seasons―
did what they were supposed
to do. I swear,

for the well-thumbed chapter of a year,
we never left that room.
Inside the clock spoke

conferred with a no-way-back
roundabout of hymns, confessions,
multiplication tables.

Thistle girl, clever by account
of her ancestral belligerence,
keen to stand high-toe kilter,

described the yard through a porthole―
like us, the yard existed as if
never knowing its purpose.


2. Melbourne, 1970

Seven years old, caught under
the abstract glow of her grimace,
Sister Heath’s

bull-dog eyes appeared
at the palm-end of her
air-curling finger―

if you walk your muddy soul
in the gully, you’ll meet Death
like Mother Magnolia.

Sister’s neck muscles
snapped into inimical position,
tight bundles twanging.

And even though a body
would follow the black trail of her
into the dormitory,

her cold breath huffing
new lists of punishments,
my mind was back in the gully,

inside a vacant bower―there, looking up,
seldom a presence in the light,
pollen’s blanket floating.

Sitting in low-limbed shadows
with moths, the conversation
of leafhoppers, away from Sister’s

God, the one with his own troubles,
away from all
the bleeding bones.

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