In nineteen sixty three at age nineteen, I crossed
the Nullarbor, the longest straight stretch in the world sitting up on Australian National
railways, Sydney to Perth.
too old to stay with Mother,
I rented a bed in a boarding house
above a city cafe. Living on savings,
I shared a room with a stranger
to stretch the point to its limit.
An LP cost 52/6 back then.
the man in my room was
thick-set, of medium height
with curly close-cropped ginger hair
and cloudy hazel eyes, a fireman
from Perth City Station, a loner
who grew up in an orphanage, taken
from his mother in England and shipped
to Australia 'for his own good'. Try
asking him about that, 'for his own good'.
So much bunkum. As we came and went,
he marveled at the girls I knew and I
believed his dramatic tales. He had
no one, said he wasn't worth it, had
a beer at the end of the bar occasionally,
bet on the ponies with his loose change,
but otherwise, read popular magazines
on his bed, chin thrust forward against
whatever the world served up next.
Sunday's the cathedrals' bells
scattered pigeons, while in our quarter
the streets lay bare. Right by Perth's
central fire station was the Salvo's Citadel.
Sunday mornings their brass band would
set up music stands on a nearby corner
and play. The fireman and i would go
there, not for the message but
the music. talk of God was off limits, we listened in silence. Ten years
between us, curiosity kept us
in each other's company. That's the way
of poets and fireman, curious to a fault,
late night creaking on ghostly beds.
'Turn your light away, will ya?'
'Yeah, sure, sorry.' He huffed.
'And don't apologise every five minutes.'
'Sorry.' we both laughed and turned back
to Pix and Time.
One day I arrived
to find him throwing his possessions
into a duffel bag. 'What's up?' I asked.
He looked up, eyes clearer than ever,
and spat, 'I'm outta here, that's all,'
threw in two magazines and tied up.
I followed him to the stairs, bewildered,
silenced by the hostility coming off him.
The old bat who ran the joint waited
at the door. Sniffing came from the kitchen-
loud, melodramatic sniffing.
I shouted, 'Where're you going?'
from the top of the stairs as he
stopped at the door and turned.
The old bat barred the door with her body,
as he shouted over her shoulder,
'See ya, mate." I stood still as he took off.
She watched him, then shouted,
'Good riddance! and slammed the door.