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Article
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Poetry

Poetry | Whirlwind duststorm

Through scrolling lines on an antique television,
The Omega Man watches Country Joe and the Fish
at Woodstock, clutching the stock of his machine gun,
cheering the military parade from a trench
haunted by recollections of La Belle Epoch
by the hourglass of the yellow river, a shotglass
of vodka on the dustcover photo of ‘Nugget’ Coombs.
But this was just a day job, the real work was
dovetailing tracks for his community radio slot,
Venture Capitalist versus Angel Investor,
an abstract title to hang the offbeat tunes on:
Whirlwind Duststorm, Dead But Not Eaten,
I’d Rather Be Left. Outside the market cracked
from bow to stern, shelled like a crashed skull.
Why did she call them winter roses? The wrinkled
buds grinning faintly at their tips. Willpower means
grimly not doing, he remembers, cast in that predatory
hawk shadow. Years angling for the perfect
position where everything drops into your lap,
before the usual perfunctory blacklisting,
then the final collapse of the Soviet Union.
Life’s been too good to you, mate, you’ll
go one day you’ll go. But he’s the full bottle:
you have to watch he doesn’t spill, the way
the pumped balloon man in the car-lot shudders
and snaps his tassels over an artificial squall.
And withholding forever can be just another
means of expressing this indefinite silence
when the receptor doesn’t exist. Lank fringe
of a self-administered haircut, treasured
in a tiny casket, amongst slips of names
never to be revealed. After the facile Party
classes, cigarette embers ground into nylon
rental carpet scattered with worthless shares,
her phrasing rounded as Sandy Denny’s,
expounding Eureka Youth League precepts
from her freezing camp in the Grampians,
looking completely worn out under the communal
crocheted throw. But broken entirely when
her white-anted State public service job was finally
hollowed clean by consultants. Then a torpor
of hypothermia that chills through empty years:
shrinking hours for hand-to-mouth contracts,
chronic fatigue. Exchanges effaced in the half-light
of early morning before the long commute
toward the repetition of terminus. With no child
to arbitrate between them, only the ectopic
smudge on an ultrasound: mist spilling over
the escarpment, filling their pillows with damp.
Easy to pinpoint the exact moment a curse
commences: a too vivid dream of the tarantella
imprinted in afterimage as the Oil Shock settles,
then spreads. Raw lump of a spiderbite on waking.
All their money siphoned to the finance sector,
then shielded in impregnable offshore accounts.
While he was consigned to forms of employment
the Council found for the town drunk, his father,
after his hand slipped on the farrier’s hammer,
discovered conversing with a statue of Our Lady
on the high street in mid-afternoon. Always
clicks and pauses of static on the phone line,
spooks in the meetings from quisling agencies
recalibrating his permanent record. Someone
you met only at marches slipping ballbearings
under horses’ hooves. But the anticipated Fall
never happens: only this sensation of perpetually
plunging through routine cycles of boom and bust,
marked by demands for self-appraisal and negative
performance reviews, the same job application
resubmitted for rejection, or shuffling concrete
for fifty hours a week in the shadow of sheer
vacancy: the blacked-out tower blocks, deserted
balconies of city apartments, freeways abandoned
to juggernauts. Rose-blue fading from flat stratus.
She’d had some private meetings with her workplace
psychologist, just a sprinkling of aspersions, like
tripping an outside light with everything exposed
in their night garden. Her journal of affirmations,
and clandestine library of works by Solzhenitsyn,
a fragile defence against the onrush of hard
liquor, his relentless negations and rescissions,
evading the obstacle of his own forgotten name.
This command economy attended by great famine.
This superstructure of confidence that is not
material. The control panel shattered, he leans
into the monitor to restore another demoted track.

 

 

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John Hawke is a senior lecturer, specialising in poetry, at Monash University. Poetry and the Trace, an anthology of critical essays co-edited with Ann Vickery, appeared with Puncher & Wattmann in 2013.

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