J o h n T r a n t e r
There's a gap electricity leaks across
between the eyeball and the page, between
the demonstrator showing off the dicing knife
and the tired woman going home on the train.
For five million people Paris is a place to work,
not a fucking vacation. So the young flirt
went to Europe, meaning to spend her money.
Cigarette packets, rain showers, Existentialism
blowing through the groups of confused tourists
whistling some tune, these prisoners of air,
a sad little melody that spelled out how
lost they were, under the European weather.
She walked in the rain, the acid drench
that was pouring on the new wet paint,
wading through sheets of green gauze.
Her anxiety was quickly dispatched, and the messages
soon sparked down the wire to clang the bell
back home. The hot air was shuddering, they said
it was necessary voice flattened by the phone
to make an example of the rapist feller;
and the girl reporter read about it on the Teletype
and came down here looking for trouble.
We gave her trouble, more than she planned on.
Click. I guess it was some family habit.
She was working class, all right.
You could tell, under the cunning accent
she put on, something hollow, stained, fake.
Everything in the kitchen could be overheard.
To paint that's all she wanted to do,
even if was just grasping lies.
You could take it that this was only a moral lesson,
or you could imagine more. That's up to you.
She pushed the doors open, looking in
at the confused diners, and only a moment ago
she'd been fascinated by history's obsession with itself,
how we stayed up and talked till dawn
when we were just dumb kids, like philosophers.
She drank ouzo and retsina until even the Greeks
wouldn't have any more of her, drank
till dawn, threw up, then drank some more.
It had been raining in the square,
the cobbles were slick, and coming home
from another binge, she slipped, twisted her
ankle and knocked out a tooth on the kerb.
So the biographer says.
She wore a raincoat everywhere, a matter of
style, to work, to the toilet, God knows, and
when she let it slip to the floor the buckle clacked
on the tiles. She saw her future rise up, a sheet
of lightning. Paris or Peoria, it's all the same.
You get yourself a beer from the fridge, pour a glass,
and stand, watching the froth settle, remembering
or you're leafing through a magazine at the dentist's,
and you see a colour photo of a fox in a forest
I was after this fox, he said, looked everywhere.
Clever bastards, they know more than you do.
I must have walked four miles through the bush.
I took a rest on this big hollow log. Lovely morning,
dew on the grass, everything quiet. I rolled a smoke,
very peaceful. Heard a noise, looked around,
and the bloody fox shot out of the log
and off into the bracken. I just laughed.
Remember? Dad's laugh had a special resonance,
his voice, relaxed, the rhythm of breath I hear it
sometimes, now that he's gone, long gone
under the ground, smoke up the chimney,
I hear it sometimes at a party, from the next room,
and I go in to look, anxious, excited no,
there's no one there, except myself in the mirror.
The drink it's just something to get you started,
breaking the ice of the held-in talk. He said
a rabbit would stretch the meagre rations
during the war which war? baked in milk, very
palatable. And the old radio on the kitchen table
was thronged with the noise of the city celebrating,
far away behind the eucalyptus-crowded hills,
and yet close enough to touch. The traffic drone
came from behind the scenery, the urban horizon,
fixed about so high, and there were closer sounds
talk, murmurs, the noise of people shopping.
Are you just passing by? I whispered for they
had an odd look: just visiting the planet aren't we all?
And that struggle, growing up, dying,
what does it matter now? His son
had read the story he particularly liked
the whish of passing tyres on the street outside
seemed to spell out a message that he was doomed
to linger in this dim room, lonely, bored,
trying to understand the television that seemed to be
speaking another language to the furniture
until he could be rescued by his family only
one problem he didn't have any family.
I am my father's son. In the empty kitchen
the crockery was cold, the dishwasher had stopped
long ago, the detective reasoned he'd retired
from his position examining the books
for this so-called library, what a laugh, and now
he was raking over the detritus of a life spent
trying to farm stubborn soil. Take me
back to my real parents. I am that detective.
John Tranter has published many collections of verse, including a Selected
Poems in 1982, The Floor of Heaven (a book-length sequence of four verse
narratives) in 1992, At The Florida, in 1993, Gasoline Kisses (Equipage,Cambridge)
in 1997, and Late Night Radio (Polygon, Edinburgh) in 1998,
as well as a book of computer-assisted short stories, Different Hands
(Folio/Salt), in 1998. His work appears in the Norton Anthology of Modern
Poetry. He co-edited the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry
(1991), published in Britain and the US as the Bloodaxe Book of Modern
Australian Poetry. He is the editor of the free quarterly Internet literary
magazine Jacket, at www.jacket.zip.com.au/welcome.html