States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | 'Visitation on Myrtle Street' by David Malouf

I was woken at some hour
of darkness before dawn by a scent so heavy
on my senses, on the room, that I was convinced

a burglar had broken in
and was loitering
upstairs or in the hallway, or having caught

my step on the stairs above him was lying low
in the laundry, or sitting
upright and unbreathing

in one of the Windsor chairs, unaware it was
his scent that betrayed him.
I checked the door to the balcony, then the door

to the street with its double lock. In the dark front room I checked
the sofa. Stretched full length
on its French blue he'd be hard

to detect. No one was there
but the scent was overpowering. 'What kind
of scent?', K would enquire

at breakfast. 'Was it
musk? Was it pine?' 'No, something sweeter – why
do you ask? Something sharper, maybe cheaper.'

'Because that would tell us,' he told me
seriously, 'what kind
of angel you were visited by.' 'Here?'

I protest. 'In Myrtle Street?' 'Why
not?' I took it in. Sometimes I wake to the smell of coffee
being brewed downstairs. It wakes me. Why not

the smell of an intruder?
When I woke again the scent had faded. What
had not was the change I felt

on my skin, on my nerves.
Later I worked for an hour or two
at my desk, struggling with angels

of another sort, who leave
no trace I would call a scent. Of musk or sweat,
or pine. Only pen-strokes on a page

they have changed with their lingering, when they deign
to linger. Or a dazzling
blankness when they do not.


David Malouf

David Malouf

David Malouf

David Malouf is the internationally acclaimed author of novels including Ransom (2009), The Great World (1990) (winner of the Commonwealth Writers' prize and the Prix Femina Etranger), Remembering Babylon (1993) (winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award), An Imaginary Life (1978), Conversations at Curlow Creek (1996), Dream Stuff (2000), Every Move You Make (2006) and his autobiographical classic 12 Edmondstone Street (1985). His The Complete Stories, published in 2008, won the Australia-Asia Literary Award of the same year. His most recent books are A First Place (2014) and The Writing Life (2014). He was born in 1934 and was brought up in Brisbane. David Malouf is the ABR Laureate.


(photograph by Conrad del Villar)

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