You were a young boy yearning in parallel universes: grocery stores, parks, schools & their transplanted lawns filled with three cornered jacks & bindies. You carried paintbrushes in your pockets, wore overalls sticky with brown lacquer. Shavings from pencil ends. Lathes, chisels.
You were a sundowner staring out through the peppercorn leaves. The city cajoled you with a burning cigarette butt. An imaginary bridge crossed the dried-up river. Underneath a twisted gum you watched as the sunlight hammered down. You saw the flood marks on the bank, at its roots.
There was a moment, a conjoining flash of earthly eel, of all evils. No fish, only carp in the canals whose flesh crumbled like chalk or clods. The sun leered from the riverbank, where the rushes were stacked like mohawks. You were like a fruit fly inspector, or a lockmaster.
Ripples of a duck's wake divided & then dissipated like smoke from a thousand campfires at dark, lit by the ones you called 'the lost'. You watched dusky pink galahs eating black stones and drank lime cordial laced with charcoal dirt. My hands were on your chest, dragging those stories from you.
You were never satisfied with something from a bag & clutched at a kewpie. Your bedsprings were narrow gauge railways. You heaved lines like hook & bait into the muddy waters of youth, never to resurface. Swings of knotted ropes, diving for crays purple & river-green.
Clay-stained alpine cabins, vast wagon turning spaces. You were corralled by regulations: river levels or yardsticks, shotgun places. Memory paid for by donations of moonlight gazing straight back at you. The young boy who once said boo in green grass shipped from another century.
Tall stories and roadside mailboxes composed of stars. Above the chicken wire compound the sky's empty promise. Death hanging like a crow or an omen from your best friend's bottom lip. Green armbands. Yes, black rain. Snakes flattened by the plow in the field.
Like a bruised storm, on the run from mourning in hay bales. Decorating a bowl with marbles in the ground. Several weeks after the incident, you found & kept hiding quartz. It was rumoured to be more valuable than meh. You were the green tree & I was red mud.
The days drew scarecrow circles beneath your eyes. Plums smeared on, wheat dumps painted accidentally. Clinging to your flared sailor's trousers, just as McCubbin would have liked it, entering the room. Near some clearing beyond B, spacelike. You were the reeds.
You had no emergencies left to announce except the foggy crispness of early morning, or mallee roots slowly welding together in a woodshed. You ignored autumnal ghost trains blasting cockatoo feathers. You went where old butchers go to dream & to die. You fell asleep on front porches.
A fantastic star broke the surface of things hidden by fences & rain gauges. Only the temporary darkness of gigantic fires, your ears the ana branches. Somewhere in there girls whistled with raspberry lips, Saturday afternoon sirens on standby ready, with liniment or quick screams, road kisses.
A dead uncle in the white sheet, no longer Fenian. A soothing cream for eczema during harvest seasons. Boys asleep at mass, in stirrups. From the desert-streaked paddocks to the anonymous graffitied wheat belts. Dreamscapes elegantly flat & full of bones beneath a sickle moon.
Did the milky way's abandon, pale as a child's footprint in the red sands, resemble the earth inside your head? Around the bend, in a sickening crunchiness of gravel & glass, another town appeared, its population of swinging saloons. You laughed at sentimental bluster & colonial boosterism.
You harboured imaginary quarrels, punching miniature bullies square in their flat faces. Their scrawny sticks for legs. Leaders were born from the blurred stockades of foreign militarism. Avenues of reflection. Loud tremors from the moonscapes of the plain.
Blasted by winter's icy streams filling with broken teeth, wire barbs and chipped porcelain. Did you wipe that blood off the banjo? Did you pull down the stained southern cross tilted like a twentieth century telegraph pole? All I had to do was take you home. You must close your eyes.