Nobody seemed to hold it against him
The family’d been out there for generations
And they weren’t her kids anyway.
He’d been down to Sydney for the weekend
And said, getting back, “I want you outta here
Be ten tomorrer.”
Eighteen years she was their “Manny”.
Next morning she was gone, her room
As though it’d always been empty.
Breakfast on the table, lunches cut
The laundry pressed.
Drove them? Too right he did. And hard.
“Here! Finish that after boys, I tell yer
Yer arses’re gonna keep pointin’ at the sky t’day.”
They said she cried for a week. Wept.
The publican wanted to turn her out
Of the room she took.
We felt sorry. I think everyone did.
But to see her in the main street
what could you do or say
That’d help in any way?
He was in his rights:
She was the housekeeper,
(After an incident in a Goulburn café)
In the background of a radio interview
From New York I heard
Dopplering sear-clean over every other voice
The unerring red-end needle-point of a siren.
Somewhere near someone’s life being reshaped
From what they assumed it had when, say,
They’d left their house that morning.
It’s the pitch of it, the cold metal scream,
“I am the Hard World! I am Urgent!”
Even here so hopelessly far away
There’s this widening burn
Which clears everything in us,
A paint-stripper skinning us neat as a gutted rabbit,
Coolly as anaesthetic. And you can’t do a thing
But be a figure in a photograph, whether by the kerb
Or, as now listening from the other side of the world.
And even if you could? As in those seconds
When you saw the stricken rictus of her face
Like one of the Burghers of Calais, how easily
She became something you couldn’t recognize,
How remote with only the breath. The breath?
“Shit, Shit, Shit! She’s not breathing!”
And our silly voices calling her to come back
So weak, so urgent, our words flapping like handkerchiefs,
We did not even hear the siren.
From a dream: maybe a timber camp
Look up from the table
At which you are seated
At the figure standing there
Before you, dark in the door,
His feet in sodden boots,
Snow melting in a pool
On a wooden floor
Maybe awaiting orders
Or bringing news on a piece
Of paper that’s limp in his hands.
Who knows? Next frame:
He’s just a voice now,
One among those of other men,
Easy in the way water rejoins water.
It’s the day you’ll remember—
A cold, blue light
Illuminating him from below
And with it all the silence,
The antiseptic smell, the clean, aching desolation
Of a country deep in freshly-fallen snow