Knacker Brown, her grandfather,
fed her on sights and smells
and little presents of boiled meat
hauled clean from the seething broth.
In winter, when the carcasses
lay cold on the sloping flags,
the boiler house breathed warmth;
the fierce walls of the vats,
thick with their years-old grease,
rose into wreaths of steam.
Drawn by their dangerous heat
she edged carefully between them,
hearing the comfortable bubbling
she feared to see when lifted tall.
She grew up close-acquainted
with blood’s many lovely reds
and the sequence of its thickening:
an opalescent stripiness that seeped
in rivulets and slowed to form
flat pads of solid-seeming matter:
rubbery, perhaps possible to peel
and lift? She prodded with her toe;
never touched with fingertips.
Her hands stroked and stroked
smooth quiet necks, so slack,
deep knife-slits almost sealed.
The bleeding done.
Damp heat and thick silence;
butterflies, haphazard, diligent.
My baby, in her long-legged basket,
sleeps on the verandah—shaded by blossom
and drugged with the scent of frangipani.
She does not stir at the rifle-cracks I recognise
from elsewhere, pictures deep-imprinted. I leave Lucy,
pelt across wide space to next door’s empty bungalow.
Too late. No silence here—white-walled verandah
splashed with blood, three pups already dead
and the bitch, shot through the belly, screaming.
I shout at them, two startled Tamils, one Malay
who holds the gun. I stretch for it—try
to make him finish her—he shies back
from me: white woman, ranting gibberish—
wilder than the bitch? I’ve no words
to tell them all I want is her quick death.
They stare—somehow get a rope around her neck,
drag her, writhing and half-choked, inside their truck;
doors slam, they drive away. The air grows quiet.
Lucy is still sleeping. The red of bougainvillea
hangs safely over her. One mason-wasp
explores the whiteness of our wall.
Dear stranger on the Inter-City,
forgive some cautious questions
before this brief acquaintance
gains significant momentum.
I already know I’m drawn to you:
your smooth-worn Aussie hat
shading well-travelled eyes;
your handshake, courteous,
but more a way to touch
after close exchange of talk,
phone numbers, e-mail details.
Well-met, no longer total stranger,
you live wide-spaced hours from me.
I find I want you near.
would you make me listen to Scott Joplin,
barber-shop quartets or Welsh male choirs?
Or tell me how you don’t like dresses
with buttons down the front?
Do your gardening-skills depend
on mass-murder of wild life?
Could those lips make soggy sounds
with cereal? Breakfast, day on day…
Would I still love your shoulder-curve
if it dragged the duvet off me in the night?
This isn’t premature; think hard,
write your list. Do we dare to start?
‘You mean you let him sleep?’
‘No point in waking him. He was
‘But in your lesson!’
Her eyes don’t yet reflect
that I am pleased.
have let me in. We slam the door
on seethings, apathy, explosions
- all the negatives of school -
policed by the prowling Deputies.
This group has no feud that I can
feel – doesn’t splinter dangerously.
There are off-days, some gloom;
blessedly, no bloody-mindedness.
So when John laid his head
on his spread arms while I
held forth on Thomas Hardy,
I’d seen his late night eyes:
this wasn’t meant to undermine.
Paul, beside him, grinned at me,
signing should he prod him. I
waved my hand to leave him be.
We talked on, over his dark hair
flopped across one hand, the other
flung to hang a little off the desk.
He looked childlike as he woke.
But his grown-up self took over,
came to murmur his regrets
as 5B moved on out.
‘It’s a compliment,’ I told him.
(If the DES were different,
I’d like it on my reference.)
‘You felt safe enough to sleep.’
*DES: Department of Education and Science
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