Seven reasons for leaving you
I had a large bag of stars
and I shook them up like popcorn
My heart stopped beating
I remembered how to breathe
Kids were doing the twist
and shaking tiny fists
A grey-hatted man was talking loudly
At the bottom of my whiskey glass
I found six baby teeth
In the darkroom I saw a photo
floating in a lake of chemicals
7. Youâ€™re talking about the time the circus
came to Streetonâ€¦I donâ€™t know where Streeton is
Boarding the Ark
and itâ€™s strange the way we write our histories as if time were running out of breath. The tram moves down the road like a river barge. The cold yellow of autumn leaves choking the gutters. Shoes lined up on boxes and a girl with red lips and armfuls of mandarins. Last night we sat in the window of the pub and watched the street. The lights clinging to buildings and the blur of passing traffic in the dark. I tell you that I saw your face through glass, as big as the city, your eyes like stars on top of the Arts Centre spire. And you ask me to stay. And I tell you I canâ€™t.
Now youâ€™re gone and the winter roses have started to bloom. The tips of their fingers tinged pink, their petals blank as egg white. The sky is set high against the buildings, reaching up to touch the night. Inside the trunks of trees there are small animals sleeping. Itâ€™s raining still and the garden seems to be sinking. The backyard is filling up with pairs of animals. A large ship has parked itself in the No Standing stretch of our street. Thereâ€™s music coming up from holes in the ground, pouring out of the exhaust pipes of slow-moving cars. I see you walk down the street and line up to board the Ark. Youâ€™re holding hands with a giant panda. And I ask you to stay. And you tell me you canâ€™t.
Uncle Sam and Dr. Seuss
We are at school and we are young. We are Communists. We are singing The Internationale. The most beautiful boy in the class is Lenin and you and I march either side of him, swinging our arms ridiculously high. Someone in the back of the line is crying. We file onto the school bus still singing and suddenly weâ€™re old. The two of us stand like frightened trees amidst a sea of red party hats.
From above the earth
In a small cabin in the woods a man has nearly finished fucking a woman who may or may not be his wife when he hears a knock at the door. He hides the woman in the bathroom and dresses quickly. The man laces his shoes and walks silently down the stairs. It is winter. From across the room the man watches as the doorknob turns. He longs to call out, like an owl, into the dark. But he is silent. Between the man and the turning doorknob there is a bundle of newspapers tied with string, one skating shoe, a tin of paint, a roll of canvas. As the doorknob turns one final time the man will build a raft from these things. And he will sail out into the night.
In the pines
As kids we were told not to stand underneath the powerlines. We were told that their magnetic pull would scramble our brains. We rode our bikes to the powerlines in secret, lay under them and listened to that restless hum of electricity. Lines stretched out like track marks against the sky. At night in the backseat of the car on the way home we sent our tiny dreams hurtling down those wires to the city. When we shut our eyes we could see the lights flickering on in buildings like hundreds of eyes opening. Our house had no curtains. When it stormed the lightning tore down the passageway and into the bedrooms. And the rain at night on the tin roof. From our beds we could see the city far away through the trees. One winter a brother and sister killed themselves in the pine plantation up the road. They left a note on the kitchen table. It said that they were leaving to be with Kurt Cobain. In the pines, where the sun donâ€™t ever shine. At dinner Dad made us put down our knives and forks and listen. He said nothing, nothing, is ever so bad that it has to come to that. I was eleven. My brothers were nine. We ate the rest of our dinner in silence. The next day we rode our bikes up to the pine plantation. A policeman stopped us on the road, told us to go home. We rode back towards home. We sat for a long time under the powerlines, watching the city, watching the dark start to creep across the sky.
The large, dark room
You enter a large, dark room. There are people lined up against the walls. They have their eyes closed and a tall woman stands in the centre of the room. She is turning slow circles and watching that everyone keeps their eyes closed. She motions for you to stand against the wall and close your eyes. You motion that you hadnâ€™t meant to end up here and that youâ€™d thought it was the car park and that youâ€™ve just finished your shopping and that you need to get home to get the milk and meat into the fridge. But her face tells you to stay. And so you back up against the wall and close your eyes. On the inside of your eyelids a black and white film has just begun. It is you and everyone you know. It is now and then and before and forever. You see that you were born behind a circus tent on a bed of rough straw at the edge of a small town. You see that you born not to a woman but to a small, low-flying planet. And this explains a lot.
When I was born
When I was born I saw the beginning of things. I saw the tide roll in and the tide roll out. I saw the moon change shape and the hospital walls grow white and fly away. I saw my mother a mess of blood and skin. My father stood by the bed like an open book at an empty page, waiting for my angry cry. I was an ugly, screwed-up thing. My face was red and my legs were strong. Outside a glass bird was calling from a tree. Through the night white women rolled in and out of the room on tiny wheels, carrying towels, needles, bowls of things. They hummed soft songs while my mother cried and my father slept and I watched lights dance on the ceiling and wondered vaguely at the strangeness of it all.
The old man on the tram, his face red-raw. He was toothless, jamming his naked gums at the skin of a plum. People were watching him. He was like a dog attacking a bone, he made small sounds and looked at no-one.
The woman who climbed onto a chair and removed all the fluorescent lights in her office. She had put up with their flickering for five years and could stand it no longer. The small tear in her stocking. The shower of glass.
The girl on the train, paper bag in her hand. The train was flooded with fumes. Her face was smeared with sunset pink. A can of spray paint. And her eyes. Her eyes as black as an absence of stars.
The old couple on the seat outside the supermarket. The weight of years had left them sloping toward each other. They had a silent film playing behind their eyes. They had each other and they had many, many grandchildren whoâ€™d all grown up and vanished.
Photo by Ella Holcombe. Top photo by Eugene Holcombe..