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Inventing terror


It's Anzac Day and the country is asleep.
Somebody has welded a magpie to a letter box.
It throws me, momentarily, as the small gatherings
in towns along the Western Plains.
A girl sitting in a computer class
asks what is the war on terror?
Wikipedia provides links to Bin Laden,
Al Qaeda, Bush, September 11,
yet there isn't a clear explanation.
The neutrality of the article is disputed.
Jean Duverney founded Cressy in 1837
This much can't be disputed. A display map
nailed to the outside of a toilet block wall
urges me to discover the Western Plains.
Bush's promise isn't as clear as 2001.
I remember the newspaper sub-headings —
'war on terror', each page apportioning blame,
every fridge around the country doing its bit.
Still, the Woady Yaloak inches between reeds.
Around a sweeping bend, stands of eucalypts
lean in.

After days of relentless newspaper saturation
it comes down to this — wreaths arrayed
around cenotaphs, a circle of men
nursing stubbies outside a fire-station,
flags half-mast front of weatherboard halls.
Modest ceremonies for the men who jumped
to enlist, to escape, their names chiselled into stone,
remnants of an attitude, a value.
The frame of an abandoned service station
a scattering of sheds, a converted school,
yet the paddocks were always a memory field —
Fighting Waterholes, Murdering Gully,
car wrecks piled up behind farmhouses,
Metricon homes plonked in treeless bogs.
The girl will invent something about terrorism.
It will become an attitude.


Nothing is as real
as scraping squashed sultanas
from the kitchen's polished floorboards,
as picking up children's toys
with the radio on,
as returning lost bears to the collection
of soft toys and remembering the smell of babies,
as making plans to write
but realising nappy pants need to be soaked,
as diverting children's fights
while discovering more toys under the couch,
as being unable to shower, venture outside
hours slipping by like astronauts
floating off into space,
as giving your time to the dishes
your children's questions,
as listening to their imaginary friends
for intellectual stimulation,
as the unopened mail, smeared avocado on the floor,
as the sense there are other people living
beyond the finger marks on the glass sliding door,
your life advancing in the inches
you hadn't bargained for,
your glistening trail that sticks.

Grand Final Man

Arms outstretched, wavering
a misguided messiah who missed the finals
with a drop in form. It's his roar that gets me
as I try to outrun him across the bare patches of the oval,
be the first to clap the backs of my heroes
who smile, then walk away from me.
His voice comes from within the ground
no words, just an unstructured bellow
that unsettles you, unnerving as elation should be.
And yet, the same guttural cry I imagine
after the loss of a child,
a farm accident that is replayed each time
I see him — greying hair, more length in his eyes
a heaviness the town remembers.

It's the voice disbelief gives you —
human, discordant, life-changing
as the crowd after the siren
flooding the ground, car horns blaring.
This loping hulk of a man
clumsier than myself, defined
by the moments I return to
daring to let go, the man roaring to be boy.

Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan's poetry collections include Why I Am Not a Farmer and A Paddock in his Head. He has had poems and essays published in The Age, Australian Book Review, Island, Heat, Meanjin, Southerly, The Best Australian Poetry 2004 and 2007, and The Best Australian Poems 2006.

Topic tags: brendan ryan, Undertow, Real, Grand Final Man, new australian poetry



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