Youth

1 May 2018

You’re walking Lovers Lane, paperbarks
warp and woof overhead. The poodle
is at your heal, a cloud of impossible white.
Seeding clouds in the outback,
gramps and gran were gluttons for punishment.
The poodle’s coat is dreadlocked with long-grass,
between her hind legs blood fresh and wielding.
The bush is in heat, the smell of broken leaves
burning your sneakers. You didn’t want to return a murderer.

She’ll need a mate, gran said. So she’d sit on a stool.
Sit there for hours, wait for a royal mounting.
And you remember you’ve seen the red
between your mother’s legs, dark rivulets
mapping her inner thighs, her blonde pudenda so unlike
your brown, hairless skin when you washed with her
in the shower. The same heat. The same red.
The white cloud would be for the silver cloud.
The white cloud would yowl, it made you curious, this pain.
Gran became goddess of conceptions,
patience and silence, orchestrating litters
from here to eternity. The border collie would lurk
on the sideline, waiting for gramps to call her up to the ute
so they could round up the sheep
he’d shave and take to Goulburn, ending in scarves
noosing necks from here to London.
He hollers at you, you and his dog to hop in the back of the ute.

Speeding past and ducking into the yaw of lightning rod
eucalypt down to Dead Sheep Gulley, the back-burned underbrush
bares skulls of sheep that lost their way,
the collie expectant, its face stretched
as far forward as the fast ute. You’re a flying banshee,
this is what it is to be a banshee —
Flying on the back of the red ute.
Gramps knocks on the rear window,
so you pretend to oblige momentarily
holding on, your hair tied back by the wind. Banshee.

The dam’s drying up, the yabbies are still biting,
breathing holes punctuate life’s insistence
at the cracked edge. This country is carved by hoof
and bone, cliffs of dust… The whole erosion.
You got drunk at the wake, crawled
into the scrub beside the pub where you slept
most soundly. You disappeared on Hal’s Hill,
sitting there wet-faced searching the cold light
that disturbed you with its infinite.
This is where the demented flock roam,
this desert country in your deserted head.
This parched youth. This outgrown youth
that tracts then inside now, there inside here.
You burn in a plot of glowing silence,
your mother calls for you, you cannot tell her
when she embraces you she is embracing a stranger.

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