In that corner of the loungeroom
by the WonderHeat fed by blocks
of jarrah brought down from the hills
by that man with the straw hat and wild beard,
Michael would play with his Scalectrix
and listen to Deep Purple on the three-in-one.
The smell of the street would waft
in through the louvres, and he would sense
the traffic lights changing:
ears tuned to breaks and gears,
the pitch of engines en masse. The first time
he saw the woodman’s daughter
I knew there’d be trouble,
and told him—pleaded with him—
not to mess around with the child
of a hayseed. Especially
given the mother had flown the coop.
I was for cancelling the order,
but my husband said the wood
was cheap and burned hotter
than Hades… If God’s given us
gas and electricity, for Pete’s sake,
why not switch over? I asked.
I don’t earn enough, he’d say,
though I knew it came out of a wish
to be elsewhere: he stared into the flames
behind the blackened glass
more than he watched TV.
Driving those buses, he went places,
but never far—from Perth to Adelaide
every week, without leaving
the metro area. I’m a slave
to the city, he said. Hush, not
in front of your son, I begged.
At sixteen I caught Michael
chatting with her through the window
of the utility as the woodman unloaded:
her eyes green, and hair something
darker than black. I felt her face
too sharp, too angular
to ever live anywhere but the country.
I called Michael in to finish
his homework—his gangling
form straightened, and he swaggered
confidently and coolly to the verandah,
glancing back over his shoulder.
Consider the benefits of the city,
I demanded, and felt the security
of neighbours a stone’s throw away,
the convenience of the corner shop,
social activity of Garden City,
aspirations to good clothes
and Saturdays at the cricket or cinema.
There are opportunities here
for a boy as bright as you,
topping your class in physics
and mathematics: up there, over the Scarp,
there’s nothing, just alcohol and unemployment.
That girl’s either half-witted, lazy,
or a witch. She speaks a language
of eyes and nods with her father.
I slipped up, lost him with words
I couldn’t stop spilling from my mouth.
I’d lost him to sex in the open,
to burnouts and drags on gravel roads,
to drunken fights, labouring
in the paddocks. I can smell
the chainsaw on him while I grow cold
in the winters, offcuts of jarrah
there being no news to tell
as they keep to themselves,
the trees growing less and less.
John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry are Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems (W. W. Norton, 2003), Doppler Effect: Collected Experimental Poems (Salt, 2004), and The New Arcadia (W. W. Norton, 2005).