Filaments and Firmaments

The Truth the Dogs Know

I don’t choke on my toast or slip
and iron my hand instead of the collar
on my button-up when it happens:
when a siren pierces and drains

the calm of morning like a giant
yet incorporeal paralysis tick;
though I might pause a moment
and attempt to gauge how close

the emergency is by studying
a scuff mark on our hybrid floor
or the patch of paint that’s peeling
from our ceiling. When an ambulance

imitates a distressed donkey,
hee-hawing its way through suburbia,
I might admire the grand design
that adorns the spine of an antique

book on my bookshelf; I’m inclined
to drag some long-dead poet
off down the hallway, reviving him
or her in the light of the living room.

However, I can never raise the TV
volume quick enough to mute
our next-door neighbour’s howling
Rottweilers; with their snub noses

aimed skyward and ears cocked back,
they believe their presence repulses
a genuine threat as the clean-shaven
alpha of their pack sleeps inside

his palatial den. When an ambulance
shot past today in the pallid dawn,
it came alive with an arresting flash
of colour like a merry-go-round

or Christmas tree, and I waited
but didn’t hear any siren sound
or butcher dog utter its guttural
drawn-out cry of memento mori.


The Compact Mirror

1.

After a screen in the airport lounge tells us
our return flight to Newcastle will be delayed
a further three hours, I launch into a whiny tirade,
which shows how a solid year of being at peace
with things beyond your control can dissolve
quicker than the icy heart of a sun-flung comet.
Instead of sugars or artificial sweeteners, I lace
my skinny flat white with sour sighs and groans
until my tongue burns from a beverage so bitter
one sip could turn any cool-headed astronaut
into a red-eyed lunatic. We float past clusters
of other families towards the newsagent/chemist
all the while gazing down at the virtual contrails
of bad reviews this airline has left in its wake.
Soon a voice gives muffled yet audible proof
that we’re doomed to remain in a strange state
of inertia and languish outside a numbered gate.

2.

It’s about perspective: the view from inside
the bowels of the Tullamarine Airport
is nothing like the vista that fills the toilet
seat-shaped windows as travellers sail home
over unbroken reefs of sun-flushed clouds.
I ask my sister-in-law, who’s a parent/teacher/
counsellor, if the resignation flooding me now
is indifference or acceptance; she looks up
from a page of glossy photos that divides
a murderer’s life story into two crappy halves
and says adults reach an age where they learn
whatever is just is. Oh my God! Did we pass
through a space-time rift or cross an Einstein-
Rosen bridge? How long have we been stuck
here? Am I even the same person who arrived?

3.

Many a general theory of transit monotony
begins with a human subject who fidgets
in their chair and ends with a lengthy period
of people-watching. Your empirical findings
in between should include: true crime podcasts,
cat videos, clickbait, ad nausea, abortive naps,
involuntary checking of social media feeds,
newspapers, sudokus, horoscopes, magazines,
scalp-scratching, nose-picking, earwax-mining,
chit-chats, ascetic silences, objectless walks,
and hedonistic splurges at vending machines.
You must allow for variables: a senior cracks
open a bottle of water and fumbles for the lid
when it explodes in his lap, a luminous trail
of vomit leads to an American-themed eatery,
a swarm of baggage handlers buzz around
a phone as they urge on/praise/beg/lambast
emaciated greyhounds chasing a fake rabbit,
and a young woman plucks a compact mirror
from the black hole she calls her handbag.

4.

Questioning our materiality and stripped
of our humanity, we wait in a snaking line
to be spat out of the departure terminal
like pieces of half-chewed food. Today
I won’t wave goodbye/blow kisses/smile
à la a movie star or charismatic president
when I climb the rolling stairs. No, today
I’m a zombie in Billy Joel concert merch
who shuffles along the runway and refuses
to glance back at the vacuum that sucked
us up like dead skin cells or cosmic dust.
Once our belts are fastened and everything
is airtight, we shoot skyward until the last
crumbs of Earth’s crust vanish from sight.


Lachrymose Sunday Drivers

The windows are down and the radio’s up,
and I’m crying behind the wheel of my Kia sedan.
My Kia was made in Korea, and the knowledge
of this compels me to think of someone

who may be crying in Korea, but, as it turns out,
I’m not someone in Seoul or Pyongyang;
I’m someone in peri-urban Australia—a silly man
who cries behind the wheel of his Kia sedan.

The powder-blue Isuzu ute ahead of me
negotiates the same patch of liquified freeway
as if it was stuck on a huge hellish treadmill,
which means there’s a solid chance I’m also stuck

on a huge hellish treadmill. The sun’s endless
self-immolation continues amid the indifferent
clouds while the tongues of cows in a paddock
work over mouthfuls of grass or flick at the breeze.

The eco mode’s on and the petrol light’s off,
and I’m far from Comfortable In My Own Skin—
my lips twitch like spitfire grubs and each hand,
with its bulging veins and downy hairs,

is a haphazard system of tunnels passing
beneath a sparse forest of denuded trees.
I’m once again entering the Central Coast,
where potholes become sinkholes and the traffic

never flows because of mobile speed cameras
or those Sunday drivers whose crying borders
on laughter as they roll into service stations
behind the wheels of their family sedans.

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE