Anthony Lawrence has published twelve volumes of poetry and a novel, In The Half Light. His awards include the Kenneth Slessor Prize, the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize and the Gwen Harwood Memorial Prize. The Welfare of My Enemy is his forthcoming verse novella. He lives in Newcastle.
from The Welfare of My Enemy ~ a verse novella
A clear blue day in a black time.
I was waiting, then moved on as the alarm
of my pulse went off. I put two fingers
to an artery in my neck to monitor
fear, confusion, anger, apprehension.
Blood responds to being laid open
to all kinds of emotion. A life of trouble.
I studied track work updates, timetables.
I found stations with waiting rooms.
Those with ticket offices I underlined.
I began my search in the lit confines
of the head. I travelled with your name
and age, the looping swirl of your laugh, idiosyncrasies,
your shoulder scar, your habit of shooting the breeze
with strangers, homeless park-haunters, law enforcement
officers, taxi drivers… Wherever I went
I made notes. I left thoughts on a voice-
activated, digital recorder. The worst
thing was, I always returned with a pain
in my side, as if I’d tried to run a marathon –
a stitch that worked its way into my chest
and stayed there, throbbing. As for the rest
of my searching, my need to find out why
and where and when, I made my way
into the world, bypassing imagination
and its litany of scenarios, and I welcomed
the legal, usual, rule-by-thumb-by-numbers-
and ordered systems of engagement until I was over-
come with exhaustion and information. As a last resort
I drove to Mount Victoria, where we’d fought
over where to go for dinner. Who stormed out
and who gave in, who took the blame, who spent
the night with a blanket and a pillow
on the floor, whose blood flowed
faster, under pressure, who did what
to whom, and why did we constantly shout and fight?
I pulled into an old weatherboard
cinema’s car park. I could hear you, turning over in bed
and shouting, so I turned the radio on. I opened
the door and inhaled the pine-
scented air. Was it snowing, or
was it fog in the parking lights, giving another
angle to a thought of approaching snow?
I had nowhere and everywhere to go.
Lithgow, where we’d gathered magic mushrooms
as the prison lights burned into the gloom.
Bathurst, where we stayed in a bed
for three days in a cold white room in a bed
and breakfast. Jenolan caves, where
you abused a guide because her
flashlight kept wandering while she talked.
We were together and apart. We walked
to and from each other. Now you’re gone.
I’ll keep looking for you, but not for too long.
Your memory is the dull, cracked shell
of a list of words: Loving, Wild, Unfiltered, Dysfunctional.
The nightjar’s eyes are ajar, the little raven
eyes the ground as if it had been given
landing clearance. A ten year old boy
walks under two birds on his way
to the shops. He does not see them
as he is seen, from a distance, by a man.
A man has been watching two birds
above a small suburban park, the hard
morning light unspooling in his hair. The boy walks
towards the end of his life. The man takes
what he needs. Time is under house arrest.
Two birds leave the scene. As for the rest
of the story, reading between the lines
won’t help. What happened has now gone
to where guesswork turns to grief.
The witnessing birds, the belief
that order can be found where
chaos plies its trade. Terror
can be the sound of departing birds
or a child being approached, then led
or carried away to a waiting car
outside Tenterfield, Wyong or Caboulture.
He was into austere Eastern European architecture,
Kraut rock, graphic novels, Elizabeth Taylor,
swoffing for bone fish and baked beans from the can.
He was open, kind, loved animals, box kites, and when
he could, he’d hike into the mountains, camping out
for days. Here is a photo of him, soaking wet
on a cliff-edge at Govett’s Leap. It had been
raining all night. He lived life to the extreme.
He came home with a mountain devil pinned
to his oilskin. His hands were cut and lined
with dirt. He’d fallen as he tried to climb
out of a gorge. Two weeks later, his name
was in the paper. Missing in the Megalong Valley.
The search was on. That was twelve years ago. I see
him where they failed to look, which is where
the track veers left then opens out, under cover
of a canopy of dark, withholding sky.
He’ll not be found. His bones are lichen and clay.