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Carnival

I remember hemlock
drugging the air
and you
far from the carnival

running through heat
and sweat, the sword swallower
gone to his tent, his wife
curled up

in her crystal ball.
I remember you had
fled the flattened yellow grass
the clown's last laugh

the sounds of excitement
squashed under a weekend
of agricultural feet
parked wheels

and heavy lashings
of too much sun. Ropes of flags
had been draped over
the stomach of a hill

to hold it down.
From loaded cows, potholes
were white-lipped
with dropped morning milk.

You remember
the displayed pygmy
the animal clothes of mottled skin
the spear, the rage

of his solitary
confinement in a shrunken
skull. Africa,
a desiccated and preserved ear

flopped over the branch
of a dead tree. Africa to him
squeezed into the
small complexity

of his pint-sized self.
Away from this harsh-blue lens
of sky and cloud
the smell of enjoyment now gone

I recall the moment
when you stood beside me
locked in your own version
of freedom

wishing for the tents
the people, nature's freaks
the coils of the big white
sousaphone

to appear in the field
to top up your reliance on
comedy, on the farcical
uglier side of life.

 

Liquefaction

Caught a snap of him
passing, a webbed hand
flapping like a fan

a face
steaming and hooded
under hot clouds.

Lollies punctuate the air
and the small Michaels and Rebeccas
of this world

all squeal, spread their arms
and a sweetness
hits the turf

and there's this scramble
for fun.
The crowds cheer

and toss lumps of words
at their idol made flesh
for another year.

San Gennaro's blood
liquefies
and the cave dwellers

emerge
to stand at their exits.
I flatten my nose

against the sky's window
and push it across a landscape
of oranges.

At night, men gather to talk.
They swap places with angels
flying out to hunt

and feed on stars.
They avoid
this grassroots bloke

his cup running over, gifting
smiles every second
and cures made of herbal teas

and giving voice to poems
wrapped up in beads.
Water runs off his back

reshapes his profile
and makes him question
who he is today

who he should be tomorrow.
He waves his hand
as he swoops the loops

and does a fly past
and lands
in a wheatfield.

I'm no good at joining crowds
to listen to some pretender
who wants to rule

by sitting on a stony throne
who works miracles
at the flick of a finger.

On a clear Saturday
a cripple walks properly again
the schizophrenics

straighten their faces, the boys
in their prime make rainbows
while the sun shines.

The blood in the glass
glistens
trickles.

The children
know the signs
and leap after him.

I pull back from the scenic frame
of town meets country.
A woman on the road

calls up the moon
and a flock of starlings
pecks at her blackness.

 

Native born

he tests the morning air
with a finger

refers to my thin armour
as his house

is happy to let himself
walk in my shoes.

Before we visit the ruins
he tells me no one

of significance lives there
or eats spuds or carrots

kills the birds
which eat the fruit

the sweet fat bugs
which hollow the trees.

The coming of the horse,
cow and chainsaw

changed all that
the savage offspring

of a dead English mother
changed all that.

No one of significance
rolls down the aisle now

marrying similar skins.
No one thinks

to rebuild the tabernacle
in ruins.

He picks what he likes
to look at.

Music fills the blanks
between the cut-down

narratives of old storytellers.
It rises and falls

amongst the morning's
chants, the man on his roof

talking to the sun, the woman
at her fire cooking,

the children spinning their tops
their songs whirring

in the dust. The future
is about smaller paddocks

squashed-up streets
houses packed

with too many arms
and legs.

He chooses what he wants
to show me, tells me

it's safe now to go further afield
pretend the scene

is coated in chrome,
marble is the rock to stand on,

that the savage offspring
of a dead father

is of no consequence
any more. He compares me

wrongly
to a blood companion.

 

[Iain Britton's first collection of poems Hauled Head First into a Leviathan was published by Cinnamon Press (UK) in February 2008, which was a Forward Poetry Prize nomination. Interactive Press (Australia) will be publishing his second collection this year. Poetry is published or forthcoming in Ambit, Agenda, Stand, The Reader, Magma, The Stride Magazine, The Warwick Review, Mimesis, Wolf Magazine, Succour, Mimesis, London Grip (UK), Harvard Review, Drunken Boat, Slope, Nimrod, Tinfish, Rattapallax, Fulcrum (US), Poetry NZ, Jacket, Cordite, Heat, Southerly, Meanjin, Island and Harvest Magazine (Aust). Iain Britton's website.]

Copyright © 2009 by Iain Britton, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.