They were acting crazy around the card table.
She was trying to teach the guys how to deal
poker hands, the way it ought to be done —
she was bluffing, they were too stoned, in this
motel room like a cheap movie set with the television
in the corner unreeling garbage into the air
while my future toppled back and disappeared —
I could see fragments glittering — pieces
of my hopes, I guessed — like goblets catching the light
in a cabinet full of crystal dishes
as it crashes to the floor.
These dinners — why did I pick on that
lovely young wife — lovely, my interpretation —
getting anxious about her hubby’s promotion,
spilling soup into the boss’s lap — no —
the nights were full of accidental spectacles,
rockets up the chimney, lecturers
who looked like monkeys, angry servants,
riot in the kitchen. But Professor Pauline
had a balloon bobbing over her head with a picture
of her stupid fucking husband flinging himself
into the job of leader — boy scout leader —
she must have been mad, or drunk — daydreaming,
maybe — saying one thing to her husband
and something different to the sales executives,
then going behind his back to fuck that other man
by the sea, almost every night (can you believe it!),
the breeze through his window — the breeze
I’d invested with my stupid hopes and dreams —
this other man — checking the market — this other,
better man, myself — then her
usual ungendered dream, a train wreck.
Time passed. Months. It could have been years
but I was in no state to notice. Absinthe and daiquiris
were the only suns on my horizon as The Lost World
stealthily substituted itself for this country
I once loved — now, I was only patriotic to a memory
of her — her — dizzy in my arms, the furniture gloating
and hungry, and wishing it were in my place.
The rumours? They feed the anxious,
that’s what they’re good for, isn’t that so?
And to think, I’d stood on the edge, stood
there in my y-fronts, ready for National Service,
and let it go. As if my sex had something
to do with it. The press blamed Petrov —
am I supposed to be grateful? Will someone
Oh, let it go, I thought. And
herself? Down the long epic poem of a big
city firm, designing linguistic tubes,
she had come to rest at this awful place,
pushing for fifty miles down the road of drink,
full as a bar on Saturday night, out of control.
My work went to the dogs, though my critics
claim this was my most fruitful period — stupid
pricks — a couple of paragraphs here or there,
a drunken TV interview that had them rolling
in the aisles — and that was in the studios!
The producer reckons it was the best piece
of impromptu television he’d seen
in a career stretching back over twenty years.
I woke up freezing,
on a linoleum floor. My left side
was numb, my other side
was hardly there.
The balloons rose
again, swaying above the table,
and I couldn’t help myself saying
out loud: Damn your babble, any idiot
could chatterbox these so-called intellectual issues.
Go and piss on your dollars! she said.
In any office in the real world those words
would lose you your job, but this was the Fairy Land
of Academe — hot diggity! — before the bean counters
had gutted it, and I dragged her to the Staff Club,
bought her a stiff pink drink, then rushed her
to the beach house, taking the opportunity to whisper
that song from long ago, Let It Be,
into the scent of her hair. Did I
pass out? Maybe.
You wanna dance?
the Professor asked, shaking my body
like a dog worrying a bone — Then
bring out the gramophone,
don’t bother the others, wash up later,
this is holiday time! So much for small talk, she
turned the analytic flamethrower on my careful
chatter. In the morning she’d turn up after her run,
shower, makeup, eat a hearty breakfast.
Like shifting tenses
it’s to be expected.
After about eight months I gave her
a piece of my mind, and she had to see — deified desire —
had to see how it would be hopeless, always,
with hubby. It was a magic time,
maybe it was a spell of some kind, irresistible,
a curse she’d hexed me with — but
what if it went wrong — I don’t want this
cut it out! I was lost, then found.
When it was over I went back to the flat
by the beach and looked at it, empty.
The sense of emptiness was like a pain,
you could feel it in the air, aching.
I read all the self-help books I could find
but nothing helped. I confronted her one day
in the corridor, I laughed and shook her hand,
thanking her for the break. I noticed later
that my hands were trembling. Thanks, I had said.
It had made me get out of the house for a day.
Why was I caught sobbing in that snapshot?
I ended up defeated by the competition,
dealing a losing game — is that right?
I reconciled myself to the way things were —
bluffing my way into a winning position
and then ruining it all with a nervous tic.
Oh, to be back in a modest hotel room
with a few pals. Hearts. Drunk,
acting crazy around the table,
while my future toppled over —
a cabinet full of crystal ornaments.
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with 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: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith 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