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The museum of unmet expectations

How discreetly birds must die elsewhere!

Here, the entrance is littered with tiny carcasses,

beaks up, as if the sun were some last, huge seed

            of epiphany.


On street corners outside, laughter’s a kind of currency.

But as you pass, the moneychangers go tsk

derisively, thumbs stationary,

            as if affronted. 


Once inside, the quiet reminds you

of cavernous antiques stores in country towns.

Sickly grey squares all that’s left on the walls,

            so labels make do


for the awkward few shuffling in from the provinces,

too sheepish to rise to the tour guide’s provocations. 

A guard texts surreptitiously

            to fill in the hours. 


A group of schoolkids points to a diorama

that shows a chiming forest, and a tribe that mourns

downtime, the way other tribes grieve during

            a solar eclipse. 


They have no expectation

that as their screens darken, their kin will reappear. 

They’re turning off the lights in the long galleries.  Loot

            from sundered empires


has been packed away,

embroidered platitudes pricked into samplers

by girls with ruined eyesight grow mouldy

            in the damp basement.


So you join the families picnicking by the exit,

kneel with them on rugs

to dispense fairy bread to children who nibble, then spark

            off across the lawn


like sub-atomic particles in trajectories of joy

midday’s squat shadows mimicking shrieks and laughter.

And when the kids have gone, you stare after them,

            over their heads


into the distance, the way people do on the news

when they are trying hard

to focus on a reporter’s questions. As if after a great storm.

                        As if after fire. 

2nd Place, 29th Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize

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