When you are seven years old,
lying in the back of a station wagon
while your parents play night tennis;
when the knowledge that you are going
to die one day comes through
the rallies, players’ voices,
and songs from a dashboard radio
left on like an audible night light;
you listen hard to the faultless
workings of your life: your heartbeat
mufled under a blanket; your breath,
painting cone-shaped plumes on the glass.
You trade sleep for the ache
of a nameless concept, and feel
the margins of your days begin to close.
You are not prepared for this.
You leave the car and look beyond
the capped, swinging court lights,
blurred by an attendant rain of moths
and flying ants, and you search
the sky for meaning. Linking stars
and smears of low, transparent cloud,
you find a wound in the side
of an overripe fig; a lizard,
its position on a stone betrayed
only when it blinks. But then
a tennis ball clears the fence,
a player laughs, and your parents return,
smelling of sweat and cigarettes.
When they ask why you’re up so late;
what you’re doing outside the car;
you’ve not the words for what you know.
On the way home, you lie down
and stare at the backs of their heads,
which are dark, then silver
in the lights of an overtaking lorry.
Your father turns the radio off.
Your mother turns to look at him.
They do not speak. You touch yourself
under the blanket, carefully,
and forget about death for awhile.
When the backs of their heads
flare again, you promise yourself
you’ll remember that moment;
and you do, thirtytwo years later,
sitting up in bed, when your wife’s face
is lit by a car pulling into the drive.
In the dark again, you sense her
glance at you. The glance returned,
you ask if she remembers
how old she was, or what she was doing
when her first thoughts of death arrived.
When she doesn’t answer, you say
Star, fig, lizard, and wait for the lights
of another car to print
the shadows of your heads on the wall
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHCOMING SOON with M Takolaner 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