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.

Offset 2012