Domestic Emergencies

You’re opening a packet of star anise with a knife
designed for taking the sides from fish, when
two things happen simultaneously: the muscle
below your thumb some call the mound of Venus
opens to reveal what surgeons know as the sub-
strata of linkages, root systems, cable ties, the red
wetlands of a wound in need of closure –
and before shock can set its timer for the ride
to emergency, a scattering of star anise,
like upturned garden spiders feigning death,
demand your attention. Holding your own hand,
you glaze them with the claret you’ve been
pollocking over the bench and floor.
They look like the main ingredients for a meal
some fiend, in need of sustenance, had been planning
to make on returning from a kill.

                                    *

Before the blackout, he lowered a needle
into a groove on Leonard Cohen’s
Various Positions. When the music stopped
and the room was dark, he lit a candle.
On his knees, he outstared the wall socket,
then played with chance by feeding it
a length of wire he keeps
for when locking his keys in the car.
The music returned, the lights came on
with a flash and flicker, then went out again
to the sound of a song winding down
like a pulse of bad timing in the heart
of a gambling man.

                                    *

Each time his voice breaks she gets it wrong.
Having an empathetic disposition, she feels

in tune with his every mood and word.
When he tells her he needs less intuition
and more unfiltered communication,
she turns away to turn the television down.

                                    *

Whenever they’re out and he takes too long
introducing her to someone from work, or a friend
he hasn’t seen in years, she’ll move from foot
to foot, or cough and look at him, though not
in the way she used to, back when they were in love
and dying for it. Even a hand on my neck
or shoulder would have been a start, she says,
as they drive away from wherever they were
and from each other.

                                    *

Knowing how it’s the simple things that matter,
I take you to the tree I used to climb –
the one with a single board nailed high into its limbs.
The board’s no longer there, the tree is low
to the ground, I’m sentimental, and things
haven’t been too good of late, but listen –
if you close your eyes and pretend, I’ll hammer
something fine from what we used to have,
and take you there.

                                    *

A bottle of eighty year old, single malt scotch
redolent of the ghost print of driftwoodsmoke and kelp
is no match for the glass of water she brings to him
out in the garden, where he’s been ripping
the frayed runners of bamboo from her lawn.
Soon he’ll have to return to his wife with a story
of how, while playing golf, a wallaby stopped
to rearrange the warm weight of what it was carrying
before deciding it was safe, and moving on.

                                    *

The clock is an owl. Its eyes used to move
from side to side with the seconds
and it hooted on the hour. To wind it,
there’s a pinecone on a chain, but no one’s
here to draw it down. It’s collecting dust
above the fireplace in a room with books
stacked on the floor, and antique furniture
covered by sheets. What happened is open
to conjecture. Some say the end of love
is to blame, others that it’s just a natural
conclusion to a life of hurt. On leaving,
you might notice a shape on the wall
like a map of New South Wales: rising damp
or a stain of blood, whatever the story,
this is the room and this is not the time
for explanation.

                                    *

Two eggs in a well in a mound of flour
on a rough wood table. It’s after dusk,
the hour before dinner in a farmhouse
on a windy hill. Someone has come
to harm. Who knows? Who will tell
that a working dog is dead. It lies in
shadow beside a disused tractor shed.
The door of a four wheel drive is open,
the radio leaking talkback talk.
A witnessing wind blows down the road,
with chalk-like dust in its wake.
A kitchen light burns, all else is cold
and dark. Absence is memorial
enough, and silence stakes a claim
on house and yard. News of this will
break and travel, word by word
until the facts are known or distorted
faithfully: a farmer, losing his farm,
farewelled himself and his family.

Published in April 2010 no 320
Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence has published sixteen books of poems and a novel. His most recent collection is Headwaters (Pitt Street Poetry, 2016). His books and poems have won a number of awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the NSW Premier's Award. He lives on the far north coast of New South Wales.

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