A Western Suburb
People who spoke from the side of languages
arrived along this haft of highway,
a bow sending semis dopplering southwards
the hollow tin of their passing
a single fact queried only by the creeks
sunset tendered in their reeds
to the saltworks’ desolate ziggurat,
the city’s distant barcode.
They laid bricks on clay that rose and fell
as if the swamps, newly named,
still clotted at the doors; fenced off
miniature replicas of fields back home,
places for seeds that had made their own travel plans
espaliered by lore, forever marred
by the wrong kind of rain and the wrong
kind of heat at the wrong time of year.
They bought grapes from the back of lorries
in puddled, pitted vacant lots
where factories once stood, from men small
and dark as sultanas; sampling
the dark little clouds, pushing them askance
to the tongue’s tip, to the side, splitting
and spitting the skins, nodding at those ready
for miraculous vintages where each year
is worse than the last.
Wives pined for countries that no longer existed,
drawers, like quarrels with history, never quite sorted.
Still, a consolation of sorts took place too:
the kids learned the dialect (but
answered in English), its inflections
part of the apparatus of small projects
— like the lugs, flanges, block and tackle,
pop rivets, self-tapping screws — by which yards
and lives are changed, tinkering
in sheds beneath tinkling ironies of hooks,
years twisting like children held up for a neighbour.
They left their wives and daughters to a reticent grief,
a dwindling group of friends huddled on a knoll
beside the unrelenting highway,
trefoiled and plaited there like their stories
of priests and documents,
children and conscripts
crossing the unfathomable fields and forests of the past;
stories that I didn’t understand, who scoffed at stories
often told, who missed the point in the telling.
The freight train’s rhythm dissects the long nights.
Demijohns lie half decanted, pulleys half hoisted,
the shed door half ajar, as though someone who had gone
for a spanner was about to come out; buffets and tallboys and cots
ageing into their own honey-coloured epochs.
Only a panel, here or there, splits from time to time
in the uncured circumstances of a dry climate.