'Zero Degrees' by John Hawke

Rags of snow unmelting on the southern lawn.
Those younger ones, whose death turns

on the hair’s-breadth incidence of accident,
avoid this perduration of slow misrecognition.

He dreams his cotton blankets are combusting,
but won’t press the hospital buzzer because

the nursing staff are occupied extinguishing flames.
That vandals have broken into the cupboard

of the genial stroke victim in the bed next door
who says only, ‘Here it is’. That children are being

shorn in the corridors. That a chaotic darkness has fallen
on working class districts erased for the concrete husks

of a hulking and labyrinthine construction: apartments
for immigrants and foreign students, with mirrored windows

replicating glare to the suburban boundaries.
The view is of a miniature city in a bottle of smoke,

car pollution mingling with vaporised frost.
An extended family of currawongs gathers

expectantly for the faintest turn of leaf litter.
He requests that his communist newspapers be hidden

in case they are reported – but doesn’t say by whom –
and remembers an article he once wrote for The Nation

about poverty in the Blue Mountains: a young mother
with three clenched children, all without jumpers,

the temperature never lifting above zero degrees.
Soon a plush Pullman carriage will arrive to transport him

to the plains for further tests, flashing through all
the usual stations: Bullaburra, Linden, Warrimoo.

John Hawke

Published in November 2016, no. 386

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