The superintendant with his lisp and stoop,
Between fixing lifts and mopping foyers,
Tells me the suburb’s stories of depravity
(Or those that can be seen from our floor);
Shivers over certain parks and certain corners,
Backed up with scrapbooks, carefully kept,
Filled with labelled white chalk silhouettes.
“Here he died,” he will say, or “killed her mother”,
That empty square of pavement and gutter,
This bench beneath an empty trellis,
The super says, have all borne witness
Though papers lie and news remains indifferent.
(And like some infamous European field,
Suddenly the street seems poised and ready
To belch up murders, drunken killings,
Suicides, and children’s ghostly bones,
All with the first hint of heavy rain.
So the super would have me believe.)
Still the night sets in, same as ever,
The afternoon orange on the fence-tops,
The park-birds calling in the figs,
The hush and hiss of passing cars
And lock-step couples walking home,
Smokers on the steps of terrace houses,
The smell of cooking, sound of game shows,
The quarrelling, the unanswered phones.
(The dead under the blocks sleep chaste,
Unmolested, or perhaps unmoved.)
And yet so many in these alleys disappear,
Snatched away by ambulance or old age,
A quiet or a fretful, a still or squalling death,
In the bathrooms, taps still running,
In the shower, on the laundry floor,
In kitchens, just as the kettle comes to the boil,
Halfway between the clothesline and the open door.
(I must ask the super how to recall,
Show reverence, be discreet and solemn,
Care about how ever many spirals spun,
Lines ended, seams and stitches come undone,
The dull images of life, now ending, now gone.
How to be solemn, wholesome and concerned,
But quietly, firmly removed.)
And though I wake up with the street
To barking dogs and slamming doors,
The cries of the morning children
And shouts of midnight drunks;
Though I walk the darker lanes unhurriedly,
And sleep sometimes by the skinny backs
Of the street’s young women,
Hear their sighing, floral dreams,
No one I know has died here.
I will stay awake into the early hours
Learning skylines, names and faces,
Some grand speech of transformation,
Some sense of place an author wrote,
(Appended by some cunning editor
Intent on making new money off old work),
While my flat nestles in the crook
Of the suburb’s twinkling arm,
While new buildings grow out of old bones,
But I will never sleep beneath the blocks
The way the super likes to say we will,
And, in truth, neither will he.
ABOUT THE POET
Elias Greig is a PhD student at the University of Sydney, working on Wordsworth, Revolution, and British Romanticism. Other research interests include the republican agitations of the 1790s, the critical styles of William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, and the radical ironies of Robert Burns. His poetry first appeared in Hermes, the University of Sydney’s literary journal, a publication he was lucky enough to edit in 2010, and remains a hobby rather than a vocation. This is his second appearance in Contrappasso and he is proud to be included in such an exciting new (and young!) publication.