Deb Matthews-Zott

Deb Matthews ZottDeb Matthews-Zott has published two collections of poetry, Shadow Selves (2003) and Slow Notes (2008). She runs the Australian Poets’ Exchange Facebook Group, which has a membership of over 800, and is convener of SPIN (Southern Poets and Musicians Interactive Network). ‘The Weir’ and ‘The Pug Hole’ are from her verse novel in progress, ‘An Adelaide Boy’.By day she is a Librarian.


The Weir – Changing

Generations of Adelaide boys
have fished and swum at the Torrens Weir.
There’s a photo at the State Library
of five boys playing in shallow water
on the other side of the sluice gates
before they were installed.
It’s taken in the early 1900s
and the boys are all naked,
without any shame.
Was it different then?
or did the men with secret desires
always lurk there in bushes and change sheds
awaiting their prey.

One summer I was taken by surprise
in the old stone building, cool and damp
reeking of urine and keeping the shouts of play
at a distance.

Paralysed, I clenched my whole body, aware of my skin
the tug at my swim trunks. Thick fingers trembling
over early pubic hair. The fight or flight response letting me down
as bearded lips brushed me there, thrill of tongue, trembling thighs
a sick chill in my stomach, being drawn in, afraid, confused, but
somehow pleasant, heart lurching, unsure how to move away,
to end. Creak of old wooden door, the slackening of a spider web,
a fly caught in sticky silk, to be devoured. The world of boys burst in,
innocent, the flick of towels, push and shove of rough play, breaking
the act, in a flurry of escape. Utterly changed.


The Pug Hole

From Port Road, Welland, to the brickworks
at Hindmarsh, was only a 3K bike ride.

Off the main road, just beyond the river
the pug hole was an adventure playground,
where we’d spend all day clambering down
into the cocoon of clay, with deep pockets
of water, sprouting reeds, and a cache of
rusted rotting junk we transformed for play.
Old corroded tins were threaded with wire
for catching tadpoles in murky puddles.

Abandoned car bodies, afloat in deep
wells of oily water, became pirate ships
as we straddled them, and fought each other
with sticks, constantly shifting our weight
to keep the wrecks from sinking into the mire.

It wasn’t unusual then for a boy
to carry a slug gun or .22, slung across his back,
and to fire at bottles or tins lined up at a distance.

There were holes all over Hindmarsh and Brompton
which, having given up their clay for bricks
became dumping grounds for waste
and a rich source of amusement
or childrens’ imaginations.

The watery fissures were muddy but slicked
with slippery rainbows. When you stopped to notice,
the smell was a mixture of dead animal, iron, and rotten socks.

When it was time to ride back home
we carried the swampy scent of the pug hole
on our clothes,
to our mothers’ ire and disgust.