The bells

All the important buildings are on the hill, which is why the cathedral is so close to the prison that from the exercise yard you can hear the bells. When they ring loud and long in the afternoon I know that a couple are being married. That’s when I say to the guards, put me back. Lock the door again. That’s when I go to the darkness and silence willingly. When low spirits weigh on me worse than chains. But when the bells ring slow and lonely like sledge-hammer strikes at the end of the day, and each strike floats and dies before the next, that’s when I feel a kind of happiness, as if I could have played my part if only I’d been free to do so.

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A new project: Old Melbourne Gaol

I’ve just started a month long writing studio residency at the Old Melbourne Gaol . While writing in my 19th-century cell I’ll be posting a series of pieces inspired by the stories of this place.

Parole

Sav decided he’d have one chance.

The guards had him cuffed to

a table leg. Idiots. One yank

and he’d be finishing unfinished business.

A split second, all he’d need.

They’d be keeping him inside anyway.

New day

I’d put Highway 31 between us

but slunk back round the coast.

The Chrysler smelled of menthol cigarettes.

Rain fell through lonely headlight beams.

Now I’m outside your flat again,

window down, waiting for another sunrise.

Charity

He’s twitchy. No eye contact. As he passes my pace quickens. Footsteps move away. Then stop. I turn as he charges. Perhaps there’s the glint of a blade. I swing my briefcase in a dangerous arc. But I don’t know there’s a knife. I’ll knock him cold if I connect so I try to fend him off instead but miss. And I’m wide open.

The pay off

She changed the spelling of her name so it was hardly a name at all. X-oe; how the hell did anyone pronounce that. Drawing on her loyal art school friends she developed signature projects; animations, improvisations she performed at clubs and parties, spoken word rants, flash installations and endless images. Then she hit social media hard. She established a profile; X-oe, anti-art assassin, whatever that was, because it was just a bit of spin she concocted one morning in the midst of a vodka and pills hangover.

The art-suckers bought it. She traded in her old friends for a more influential bunch. Momentum built around her, a reputation that needed form, because anti-art had become more art than art and it was time to cash in. She created a single non-art work, an unlimited edition of unsigned solid cubes that could be recreated endlessly in whatever size, colour or material the non-art collector desired. Business boomed.

X-oe incorporated, skimming an executive salary while finding others to fill the orders of art fans keen to get onboard her non-art wagon. They outdid themselves on size and materials. She went viral. She went global.

The Guggenheim called. The Guggenheim! It was enough to crack even X-oe’s non-art cool. Her time had come.

Transfer it to the office, she called. She took a long breath before lifting the receiver. Yes…Speaking.

We’re acting, a severe voice replied, on behalf of the estate of…

X-oe recalled—but the memory was vague because she’d spent so many hours trolling the internet for exploitable ideas—a manifesto written by some post-dada, beatnik hack.

Chances

The way I figure it I’ll have, if luck is with me, five chances. Tomorrow will be like today and all the days since my capture so my reckoning is sound. My first opportunity will come early, in the crossing. Sometimes my guards are too eager. If I slow they come onto the bridge to jab at me with bayonets. They are vulnerable above the drop.

The second comes when our work party is given its implements for the day. A hoe would be little use but a spade, hammer or pickaxe; only circumstance makes them tools rather than weapons.

The next chance comes at lunchtime. The broth is little more than peelings and salt but at least this new cook brings it to the boil. Sometimes he adds an onion or two or a yam from the forest. He is better than the other, who served it safely tepid. No matter.

Another, of course, is the crossing back to the camp, when the guards are tired from the labour of watching.

But it will be the last chance I take again, when the candles have been snuffed and stiff limbs stretch on stiff bunk boards. That’s when I will act. Dream it again; the brief pleasure of another’s death scream.

Ingest

No good can come engaging fools as fools,

Leave fooling for those few who do it best,

who understand, though fooling eschews rules,

the import of the judgement of the jest.

 

Have all true fools in foolish roles employed,

in wars or sales or screwing lids on jars,

Judge where they’re fit by that they should avoid

such tasks as ill-judged sense of humour bars,

 

For poor fools fancy they’re the kings and queens

they think their daily audience so dead

as not to judge their foolish utterings.

These naïve jesters loose their foolish heads,

then find decapitation gains attention

where foolish fooling barely got a mention.

Realisation suite

At first I cannot stand the

acid on my lips, the sourness

beneath the sweet. Loretta biting down,

peeling back the rind, swallowing, smiling,

then taking another quarter. I know

I’ll end up savouring the taste.

 

Just before the first rockets hit

I listen, through the open bedroom

door, to Juan’s singing, strong, sweet

and vain. I know I couldn’t

care less about him, but not,

yet, that I couldn’t care more.

 

I will wait forever, not because

I’ve romanticised a future for us

but simply because desire holds me,

its hurtful desperation a small price

for stolen moments I might miss

if I let you slip away.

 

I have grown old enough already.

That approaching years mock those past,

yet in my time there’s much

I’ve avoided learning. The secrets of

my lover’s kiss. What to call

the colour of a Jacaranda flower.

Fatherly advice

(because the world doesn’t have enough nonsense sonnets…)

 

Fatherly advice

Fear not, dear boy, the vicious wombacat,

the drop bear nor the turgid cockenbull;

fear not, for you’ll disturb those horrors that

awaken to the acrid odour, dull

but sharp, of childish terror. Do not fear

the codger nor the turgid numbacrunch

the deadserts lying in their boggy drear

nor, close by them, the fickle justahunch.

The bloated blotto sloping down your street

can sniff the frightened out from half a mile,

avoid its wrath and likewise keep discreet

where betterarfs lurk armed with powd’ry guile

Your choice then; face the holshebbang front on or

fear fear, you’ll still be soon enough a gonner.

Diminuendo

I was there the day Destiny was shot. She’d just come off stage, ignoring boos and catcalls. Other times I’d seen her, countless shows all over the country, the crowd had always called for more. But some time since the last tour she’d chucked in her hard-core grungy sound for more of a big band thing; country swing meets gospel. Her fans wanted angst, not hope. We wanted dark eyes and slow grind. As she skipped offstage with a wave as if the world would always be perfect, the hall fell silent. In shock. There was an explosive crack. After an initial collective gasp all eyes went to a stage light smoking, but that was just a ricochet. I was there. I was in the wings. Still trying to comprehend.  I saw her fall. I saw her look my way.

At first light

I wake you in the morning

when your sheets in swales lie

and in fens and glens of cotton

gathered, places long forgotten,

and your length the range untrodden

upon which, in rose red sky,

clings a cloud, the red sky warning

formed of curtain-filtered light,

as I wake you in the morning,

as you wake me in the night.

 

Her dark ground

Adelie kept a book of them;

recipes for black. Thirty or more,

each with its mood and purpose.

She covered each canvas with one

before obliterating it with swirling colour.

Her hidden darknesses, her sweetest secret.

 

The Hercules train

When he reached the edge of the world Hercules looked out at the heavens with a heavy heart for this, his greatest quest, was over and it was the pursuit of it he had cherished most. The edge was like a beach, oblivion lapping onto it in wavelets. He had an urge to see what was beneath, so he lay flat on the sand. Carefully he leaned over to see. That part of him that extended beyond the world stopped being. The sensation was of weight and mass and energy reaching only to those parts of his body that stayed on the sand. Beyond these, where his head and his fingertips had been there was a blind consciousness, which Hercules told himself must be the state of his soul. He had endured many hardships in his life and the Gods had taunted him with endless trials for the body they’d made him. The sensation of nothing that could be seen or touched, excited him. Only beyond the world could he be freed of his need to be and become, instead, only the notions he held true of justice and honour. Without a thought the hero edged forward, neck then shoulders gone, then chest. He found a purchase on the sand and pushed towards where zero and infinity were indistinguishable, where now was all of time and peace as absolute as its absence. He let himself slide into it. At the last moment as the hero struck out beyond his embodiment the buckle on his sandal caught on a length of vine. But, as his physical consciousness had been all but extinguished, he had no idea, as he drifted out, of the calamity he had set in train, as first the vine, then its roots and the things it had ensnared slipped towards nothing and the world he’d honoured with his bravery began slowly dragging itself, each small part so connected, piece by piece into a void beyond.

The lover

Twin sisters shared their girlhood home in a way. One occupied the rooms in front, back to the kitchen, which was in the middle of the house. The other took everything to the rear. A schedule, pinned to the kitchen door, limited their need for further contact.

They were seen coming and going occasionally, but never together. Over time the occupants of nearby houses changed and the knowledge of the family that once lived at the house was lost. In its place a single woman, pleasant but reclusive, emerged, though no one knew her name. Beyond Luskin Rd, in the files of the country’s corporations and agencies the women disappeared as well. Surviving frugally, as their father had, taking only what they needed of the savings he had hidden in shoe boxes beneath the pantry floor, they left none of the usual evidence of their existence.

When the fire broke out – old wiring in the roof space – it spread unseen above them before bursting through old ducting into rooms at either end of the house. It converged towards the middle, the kitchen, where two charred bodies, embracing in death, were to be discovered by fire-fighters dousing the embers.

So it was that a mystery woman, an unknown lover perhaps, became the talk of the people of Luskin Rd in the days after the fire. Only the old cat, who had been with them all its years, knew the women’s real story, but it took that secret with it days later when starvation overcame it.

 

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