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Amnesia Lane, Fiction

From the Archives: “He Carried Oranges”

I have absolutely no idea what this prose fragment was supposed to be about but I do know that it’s been fifteen years or so since I cared one way or the other. I was probably reading too much Borges at the time.

Aldo said, in his very own voice, meet me here at half to nine in the morning – here at the top of the stair, by the locked door, when the sunlight creeps through the street doorway below, at the bottom. I am here now, here in enough time to see my normal self rushing across the square, gripping a perfect orange in my hand, my satchel thrown roughly over my shoulder, my hair still wet, the water freshly drawn from the well.

That is not myself, merely an imaginary person. Aldo is also imaginary unless he turns up now. The wooden stairs creak beneath my feet, the passageway in semi-darkness.

The table in the house, scratched and scorched by the years, my mother seated by the window, smiling as I place the orange in my bag, along with my books, along with my secret books. She calls me to her, holds my head in her hands: everything will be fine now, this is our new home, this is where we will stay. We can smile now. Go. Peace to you, she says, touching my cheek. I return: Peace.

Then walk out the door, wishing I had said the better word.

Half to nine, ahead of time, I watch the village wake. I head for the square, where the old church, with its catechisms and seasons, has been abandoned. The Town Hall replaces it in the people’s consciousness – a clock has been installed there, the only one for miles around.

Only here does time really exist. Here, in this sunlit stairway, by the locked door, the cobblestones faintly visible through a door downstairs.

The day awaits me, stirring half-excitedly like dogs in the street. My aunt’s dogs, wrestling in the dust in front of her house. She sits reading beneath a tree as wizened as herself; reading to me, from the book. My mother need not know of my tuition, nor of the old words I am learning.

When my father returns from the war and I am able to greet him in the old fashion, imagine how much greater my mother’s happiness will be. Reunited with her lover and with the ties that bind her to me and to him and to my aunt.

There is nothing I want more than to make my mother happy. So I sit and I read; so we sit and speak to each other in what for her are half-remembered mutterings stolen from elsewhere, such as my father and my uncle also used.

Some time in the past, yes.

Learning to copy the strange symbols scrawled in the books she has stored away beneath the winter clothes in her trunk, by the stove in the kitchen, beside the pile of wood I have chopped for her.

My uncle’s cold, blunt axe.

Today, after I have finished here, I will go to her house. We will sit beneath the old tree and I will listen, we will talk, we will read, I will write in the dirt at her feet. I read with enthusiasm; my aunt tells me I am progressing well.

My mother does not talk to my aunt.

Her brother is dead. She is all alone. She is waiting to wake up.

I often sleep. Often she will let me doze until mid-morning. I wake to find her sitting at the window with a faraway expression on her face. But today I have not been dozing; the sun has not been crawling across the room towards me. The boy with the orange clasped firmly in his sweaty hand is not me today. It is not yet the time for me to be late.

I hear the bells strike the half hour. At the same time Aldo’s boots begin stomping up the stairs.

But it is not Aldo. It is an old man I do not recognise. He rests for a moment at the top of the stairs, unaware that I am standing by the door.

You must recognise him! He is the old man whose teeth are cracked and yellow. He sits every day by the woodpile, wearing an old grey suit that is too short in the legs. He wears a yellow flower in his lapel and at night he wanders through the village, prowling.

He is the type that mothers tell their children not to talk to.

Take the image of this man, by whom you are so repulsed, and explode it. Posit him in a narrative, along with yourself and as many of your friends as you wish, until it becomes unbearably complicated.

When he looks up, his face is flushed and unshaven. He sees me and is startled – then smiles and walks towards me.

So you’re the young man. More a statement than an expression of curiosity.

Mandarin seeds on the window, the rats dancing mainly in the drain. The new moon last night was slowly making itself apparent. The fonts were full of Antiqua.

Never trust the story-taker, tour-guide, lie-maker. There’s a dead man, look at that! And a monkey, strapped in Parliament.

They buy coconuts in the marketplace. Why? They change the language. Why? They build water fonts all over the place. Why?

In every town square (why?), in every courtyard (why?), in every.

Do not buy coconuts, do not prance in the marketplace. Your fonts are filled with rust and your blood will wither.

Father! I exclaimed, you are now real.

Mother, I thought, do not cry, I am progressing very well.

UPDATE: the good folks at Going Down Swinging have cross-posted this piece on their site.

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Amnesia Lane, Poems

From the Archives: What a Bird

This is one of my all-time favourite poems, mostly because it’s just so daft. I probably wrote it in the late 1990s – it has a real ‘I don’t give a fuck’ feel about it.

well you've got birds & then you've got birds
haven't you? take your wedge-tailed eagle 
for example - what a bird you've got there!
whereas your common blue budgie - well he's

not so much a bird as a parrot is he compared
with your ibis your swan your albatross i mean
your budgie just doesn't cut the mustard does he
that's why you've got to keep him in a cage coz 

he wouldn't last five minutes in the wild what 
with all your other birds doing the rounds i mean 
your currawong your rosella your seagull your
bilby yes mate even your marsupial's more 

bird than your budgie another prime e.g. being
your koala - now he'd instill fear in your bravest
budgie - what a bloody mismatch eh? what a bird
is your koala - a bird's bird if ever i saw one

what a beautiful bloody bird! what a bird!

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Amnesia Lane, Poems

From the Archives: Sam & Dave Historical Tour

One of the things that I’ve been quietly bitter about for a long time now is the fact that the Wikipedia page for David Prater redirects to the page for Dave Prater from the soul duo Sam and Dave. Some time earlier this century I attempted to channel my misguided anger via a poem on the subject. You can decide for yourself whether or not I was successful.

sam & dave dealt out hits like ampersands 
that's s-a-m — & — hold on i'm coming!  — 
d-a-v-e! — thank you so much for going all 
the way to #9 with that one thus becoming 
for me the personification of the stax sound 
thanx also to the dynamic duo songwriters 
hayes yes isaac & david porter — not prater 
sam moore not born october 12 1935 ocilla 
georgia — miami based sam & dave did not 
meet when dave got up on stage after that
unsuccessful stint at a roulette table thus 
bringing the duo to the attention of stax via 
porter & hayes something is wrong with my 
baby that was porter for the most part it was 
'a throw away kind of situation' interesting in 
that sam & dave p broke up in 1970 prater not 
signing to the stax label when in 1980 sam re
cut soul man with lou reed dave was arrested 
following this attempt to sell out his life may 
have ended when his car hit the tree but his 
double hit the oldies circuit with sam & then 
along came soul man (#2, 1967) — that heady 
early morning hit-defining slam of sam & dave 
this must not be mentioned of course without 
crediting david prater born may 9 — 1937 at 
the king of hearts club — 1958 — he started 
singing with sam in front of the talent scouts 
one of whom signed them to the atlantic label 
under the agreement dave cut a flood of hits 
like when don't i look like i know what's going 
down with isaac hayes worked on the music 
there was no one else interested sam & dave 
anything did happen hayes was not ordered 
pursue a solo career in the end staying with 
the label sam & dave failed to recreate their
success together their personal relationship 
after all had never reached #1 sam & dave 
did not part for good in 1987 (news of which 
hit the charts at #30) instead concentrating 
his energies on selling undercover officers 
crack cocaine david prater's body was found 
in that georgia sycamore after all april 9 1988 —

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From the Archives: Desmond

I think I must have written this poem some time in the early 1990s. I have absolutely no idea what it’s about but I really like the concluding couplet, for some reason (and in fact I think I’ve even re-used it in other poems over the years as well).

 
desmond rejects the setting out of arguments 
he is neither analytical or lateral 
he dips his hand into a pool of water 
& it is cold 
 
just a moment ago it was dry 
it was also in my pocket 
my button remains there 
my belt keeps my trousers up 

desmond's house falls on him 
blue-green drops
 
there’s the sound at last 
of bombers falling in the grass 
will they ever retrieve the sky?
he kills a mosquito & stares at himself 
 
there is no need to be concerned 
a wheel churns in the gravel 
& disrupts somebody’s feet 
screwing neatly into the sky 
 
desmond follows all of this eagerly 
desmond forgets the earth 

the ivy wastes hold yesterday’s rain 
& crawl like a bereaved remainder


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