Poet Vicki Viidikas died in Sydney on 27 November 1998. She had been ill for some time.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 64]
We are coming and going. At last you have arrived, your suede shoes like soft faces brushing the floor. Advertising, you say, recognising your face stacked on a library shelf. The thrushes have left the eaves. You are alone inside the tower, respected, working. And elm knocks on the window. I come in wearing blood, a cloak edged from outside. How many times must I walk this threshold? You swivel saying, I have lost paradise, I thought I was done.
I am bringing you rain and African deserts, animals in need of shelter. We are arriving in a circle, we are coming through cultures and lost continents, sometimes I don’t know what to tell you. Act, I think, I never know where to begin. You fall away a glass paperweight, a faded map of lost Peru. I am a stranger in your drawing room, want to take you outside. I say, these are the knives, take one in pledge. You have a history to reject as I recreate idols. Voodoo men own my laughter, they have a claim on me like you. The shaman is out to get you, make you jangle inside of Paradise. Chaotically we’re arriving. This time the risk is gold.
I have your feather, I never forget.
A Trunkful Of Structures
Daylight hasn’t entered this library. Beaded fluorescent lights shine like dominoes on the ceiling. Traffic is steadily flushing its own purpose down the street. No good, you say, meaning I do not fit into your life. No good. The streets are full with
[The New Australian Poetry, page 65]
animals carrying sharp sticks, handbags, cruel eyes. It’s the beginning of another week and we’re all moving into familiar patterns. You must keep your car repaired, you who never risks buses.
I am stalking a zebra crossing, lunchtime crammed with shoppers and stale sandwiches. I am in a library, my feet up on a chair. Great Lives, Great Men and Great Words confront me. I don’t even flinch. Curtains keep the sun out, readers have fallen asleep in chairs. I am among the shelves looking for a book. I am rummaging among the shelves searching for a word. You’re nowhere in sight. And I’m looking for something. Not perfection or great lies. Not complicated gestures. Something to replace your strained eye. You’re out of control. And books are leaning posts. These days it’s hard to conjure up devils when there’s only an hour for lunch.
I’ve never been in this library with you. Or in a pool room, or on a zebra crossing. I’ve been in bed with you, kissed you and wanted to draw blood. I imagine that is significant. That I have been in bed with you. That it was you and not a ghost. I imagine I can recognise, claim you, have you in my sensibility. Dream of fire and water and symbols to bind us together. But I can’t.
Not you or anybody. I can acquaint myself with the edges of lives, read the intimate journals of some great writer. Tell others about you. Know it won’t be you or anyone I’ll spend 30 years of my life with. And the books are saying, believe, believe me. I exist. You exist. Readers adrift in dreams exist. Separately. So long into death. Into memories of your eye, ‘how it was’, the quarrels we never meant to have. My sagging bed, ‘our romance’, ‘our affair’. The bridges you’d built and the water flowed under them. Each of us seeking belief thinking, I am significant. Want no more lies. Loved us away from structures, the closest thing to being free. Made us scent each other’s blood. Away from tired defences. So we believe.
It’s not true. You have dragged your ghosts with you, unable to fob them off. You’ve come rattling a trunkful of structures saying, here, try this one, perhaps it will fit. Like hats or shoes. They didn’t. So you feel let down. Having my own trunk, and a sagging bed with a cat for a hot water-bottle. You’ve gone off wearing the old coat saying, no good. The structures like clamps. Leaving me to mine. Each of us squeezed breathless.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 66]
It’s not enough, looking at you blundering like a turtle against the stream. Prowling my room like caged animals. Mud slinging. Nothing more violent than turning the eye in like a knife. I see. Fingerfuls of affection falling away like flesh. I imagine what her bed is like. You dropping into her like a well, forever lost, bottomless. Another territory.
Madness is in your eye. I want to carry you off and say yes, I’ve something more than a bed of straw. Yes, you’re a coward, want to blow you up with words. Got a match? I can’t replace you. I’m saying there’s more to life than love. Eh? Yeah, Words, Structures.
The man in the communist bookshop was a capitalistic pig. Personally. And I say I’ve set up my affections like tin gods to be shot down. Absolutes. Wanting permanence. In and out of the line of vision. Fire. Essences. What more essence is there than your seed? Tomorrow night it could be in her. It’s natural. I won’t accept her. You? Tweed coat betrayer. Nonsense! I’m making a farce of it — this possessiveness, this claim. Removed from cities to mud huts. Honey I’m going to howl. Get your spear. It’s my line.
Going Down With No Permanence
I’m finding it impossible to begin, as you’ve ended so little. Last night my heart was a cheap flag waving to the nearest mirror in sight. I couldn’t believe anything, seeing you drive away into others’ arms. I’m no sweet virgin sock-washer either. So it’s a matter of priorities I guess, just who wants to gamble. Talk of loving when there is no goal. Of belief when there is no road. My shoes are off and I’m walking barefoot. Down a long avenue of arms and kisses like knots. I’m getting tired and angry and thinking hell, I’m no sock-washer but there must be some other venue. I say my heart’s big enough, it is. Every time it’s eaten and collapses like a cough.
Today I’m trying to be reasonable. You’re having breakfast with her. And there’s no wedding ring, baby, fidelity, photo. No day to week token of what we have, a visible future. Crazy thing, it’s happening everywhere. You waft into my room bringing delicious words, eyes, every other love you’re still attached to, claim.
‘I want all love-rites simultaneously.’
‘I don’t want to negate anything.’
[The New Australian Poetry, page 67]
Yes I understand. Incredible egotist! that one cracked heart is your own, gyrating in its uncertainty. Adoration. Adulation. Your heart seeks to reflect itself. Narcissus in the bath. How many loves do you want? Are you never full, leaky bucket?
And now you turn to your sock-washer reasoning socks are better than none. So you’re surrounded again. Pursued and claimed. A shroud of outrage going up. Thinking of numbers and lines. It sharpens your humour. While I love this one the others must love me too. I’ll keep my heart spinning. You think you’re responding, keeping all the doors open. Yes. Yes.
This is the road my bare feet touch. Going down. The avenue with few affirmatives. Going down. With no permanence. This is the alternative to restrictions. So we assume. Without end.
Oh boy Ken the smiling mountain is playing his guitar
The beautiful trembling Irene is taking another pill
A lid is being prised for the thief’s delicious grasp
The fridge is full of dope and he’s trying to live a quiet life
Tigers are eating through walls and Hendrix is playing from hell
These words are loaded hearts
Dennis is rolling a joint
Jenny’s a Buddha Harlow
Dave’s in the yard singing jail was never like this
[The New Australian Poetry, page 68]
Oh boy to the phallic teashirt
Oh sigh to the Baba breadknife
Oh gee to the landlord’s prayer
Where are you P.J. Proby now that our minds have split?
Hello Cacao Alexander
Goodbye to surf music
Our fingers are snarling in chaos
Oh take it easy baby the lords have too many kingdoms
They’re playing darts with hypodermics
The fools are recording pain
HIS FACE BROKE UP
his face broke up yeah you wanna watch your mouth
on the pavement breaking glasses
you betta watch out someone’s gonna get ya
his face coming up against mouths shut steel doors
hinges catching him rusty womens bodies
bringing him down
its no way to be a thief when you deal in small
his specifically city jailhouse of escape his own
past and invisible mother a dead apron
an orphanage door
[The New Australian Poetry, page 69]
stolen cars and rented hours make the show worthwhile
allotted on a pawn ticket outside the law inside
books and heroin are better than babies and lack of
It doesn’t really matter if I met him in a bar, picked him up or was picked up; in the morning he pushed me out of bed saying, ‘You must go, my wife’s due back.’ And catching the 7.43 am. bus I thought, it doesn’t really matter, what did I expect? These are my fingers spread out to touch, the palms turned down, the kisses like nets; these are the lines, when I was a girl the fortune teller said, ‘You will travel.’
STEVE AND THE BIG SMOKE
She has a long pale face, a stringy basin haircut of disputable colour. ‘Hi man, got a j?’ at any concert in the foyer she’s hustling, at the showground, the Art Students’ Ball. ‘If all these cats put in a buck each they’d have some gear and I’d have some lunch. Where’s the love generation gone man? Once I had dope laid on me wherever I went, these days you can’t even get a j.’
I could unravel dialogue like a flag and wave it in your face like some kind of evidence… Insist it’s the facts, but I’m no reporter…
Nobody quite could take away that face with its fine network of lines, those bright feverish eyes shifting thorns and veils, the pointed tongue eternally licking dry lips. I could sculpt the hands into plaster bookends, copy the wrinkles on her palms and tough bitten fingernails. Someone could steal the body and freeze it into wax — those pear
[The New Australian Poetry, page 70]
shaped breasts or a thousand reflections of Maillol hips. Dress it in jeans, boots, tight leather belt, Vincent de Paul shirt, authentic Spanish hat. She could be erected as the man she was, complete with unwashed hair and furry eyebrows. She could be cruelly derided for her condition — the lack of paint on her face, the discolouring of her eyeballs, the scar on her cheek.
Oh maniac photographer you can be so false.
Oh Madame Tussaud you should be boiled in your own
I’ll call this lady Steve and you’ll know it’s fictitious, but maybe you’ll see her in top hat at a demonstration scoring some good acid, or hiking across the Nullabor, the only person in sight, offering you a joint then striding off into the dust. She has a habit of temporarily borrowing/stealing cars when she needs one. Had a black FJ called Thunderbolt, drove it like a horse, in suede waistcoat and borrowed riding boots. Has a habit of running out of tobacco and having to smoke some of her deals. ‘It’s all one big smoke to me man,’ commenting on her thirty-five year life. Has a habit of eating a slice of bread in every house she visits — ‘It’s less hassle, they can spare a bit of bread can’t they?’ And there’s hundreds of houses — every head from Byron Bay to the south coast. Her basic possessions are a man’s silk kerchief, a water tankard and sleeping bag. There’s not much to own.
‘What do you want that for?’ she asked me one day, pointing to an ancient rusted clock I’d found.
‘I just think it’s beautiful.’
‘That’s no beauty man, that’s history. Been dead and gone, long since ticking. It’s served its purpose, why preserve it? It’s ugly man, it’s junk. You want junk?’
And I had no answer.
‘You want to have sex?’ she asks me one night, sitting in my room smoking her little roaches. ‘I want to make love to you. You want love from me?’
I’m thinking, I like this woman but I don’t want sex with her. I say, ‘I’m happy with men Steve, I get what I need. I don’t need to go to bed with you,’ feeling like a heel passing back her roach.
‘It’s not a need is it, it’s love… isn’t it?’ she looks away warily.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 71]
I feel like a creep and have no answer.
She’s sitting in my room rolling joints as thin as fingernails, producing miraculous roaches from her pockets, sitting crosslegged as a Hindu, her long tired face half hidden under her hair, sitting there like a rock eternally waiting and saying, ‘I want to make love to you, I want to touch your body like I touch your mind — that’s Cohen — he’s said a few things. I didn’t think you were straight. Do these men bring you love or just sex? Don’t you ever want a woman? Is it more sexy to have a man kiss you than me?’
And I’m offering a million justifications.
I’m not camp.
A woman can’t satisfy me like a man.
I’m a hedonist in search of the least limiting pleasures.
My body is made to hold a man not a substitute.
It’s quality I’m after.
My mind is female.
My love seeks its opposite.
‘You must still think it’s wrong to love your own sex,’ Steve’s saying. ‘Your body can hold anything… like your mind. Maybe you dig sex first, not love?’
I could write an ode to Steve.
Because of the fact she’s butch.
Because she’s a thief.
Because she’s been a junkie.
Because she’s a pacifist if possible.
Because she’s an orphan.
Because she’s tried every drug.
Because she can look beautiful.
Because she plays guitar better than Slim Dusty.
Because she collects young boys.
Because she’s an institution.
I don’t know if any of these things are important or relevant. The fact she’s been in jail. The fact she can be trusted. The fact she believes in anarchy and is a threat to
[The New Australian Poetry, page 72]
herself. And these words could be a short story, a villanelle or a delusion. I wonder if Steve would think I’ve written the truth. I’ve no idea what the truth is, or if this is secretly a love letter. I’m not a hippie, a junkie or a lesbian.
Steve is a lonely woman with high blood pressure and fucked up kidneys. She’s already had a heart attack and probably won’t live long.
She’s a pessimist, a battler and an anachronism. Her acid punch has real fruit in it. ‘Happiness? It’s all one big smoke to me, man.’ She’ll smoke her joint till the end.
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