Joy Chambers & Reg Grundy Award – Open Age Other Poetry
by Brett Dionysius
Its skin was the colour of boiling bitumen,
As the body of the young whale absorbed
Double Island Point sun & started to bubble.
It was as if a mound of tyres had been thrown
Recklessly onto the pristine sand of the beach;
Black fleas sticking out on the white feathers
Of a chicken's head, but to the country cousins
Clambering over the rubbery surface it had all
The mystery of a sideshow alley ride, a once a
Year test of balance walking inertia's lack of will.
On the return journey, the grill of the Willis jeep
Sniffed out the cetacean's final resting place,
The stench now a roadwork to be avoided, its
Blue carcass slowing traffic like a speed hump.
He watched a fish demon on the b & w television
Who was trying to be human, killing less & eating
Less & practicing his religion. In Thomas Jack Park
He reversed the situation, scooped up the x-ray plate
Guppies with his mother's invisible Tupperware jet.
In his shared bedroom, he grew sea green skin for his
Fish tank, a Hulk project that made his mother angry.
When death spread like algae over this world he took
Care of the rites, emptying matches over the linoleum.
He packed the inside of Redheads boxes with cotton
Wool, a soft ride for the aquatic afterlife he imagined.
A necromancer, he would quarry their bodies some
Weeks later; their coffins stained like the space inside
His empty aquarium. An early cult of purifying flame.
He loved his inhuman power to make them angry.
Some invisible length of string ran from his brain
Along his left arm & out to his hand. His mind's
Guy rope jerked if he spotted a good-sized colony;
Fingers unstabilising the dull mood of the morning.
Antithesis of a Jain monk, he would stir up the red
Meat ant nest by shot putting rocks at the entrance
Holes. As they emerged, furious, he squished them
Like little wet robots, his size differential negated by
Sheer weight. They defended their nest to the death;
He worked out the reptilian/ autistic edge of childish
Angst. Their wave formations never broke, he would
Always be forced to withdraw, devoid of all emotion.
He gave them sugar; the total cost in life, unknown.
Damp silky skin greased his hands as he reached
In & lifted out the colony of green tree frogs that
Made their wet habitat in the toilet bowl & cistern.
Hides bright as uranium flecked Depression glass,
The black hourglass pattern of their pupils refused
To flinch as he deposited these palm-sized emeralds
Delicately, as if grounding a golf tee, into the vault
Of the back lawn. Cautious of their rapid amphibious
Assault on the outside loo, his mother would engage
His knack for rescuing small animals; salt alternatives
By his nature, too reptilian. Frogs, showered in moths;
Outside lights a powdered waterfall of insects which
Flooded summer. He was adept at this nightly ritual,
A soft boy who trained hard in the art of gentleness.
Preoccupied with rewriting his top ten girlfriend list,
He missed his window to shut the chooks up at dusk
Too scared to split night's curtain & shunt close the gate
His cast of suspected evils, a stage fright barring his will.
After a while the foxes just killed them for fun & chased
The pale, blind birds out into the dark. Some dead grass
Fringing the grain shed shielded the chooks' last stand;
As vixens taught cubs how to practice their night-vision.
When his parent's headlights washed over the final act
A change of scenery had taken place, the foxes cloaked
In black had exited the drama & white chickens lay like
Half-eaten pavlovas on this tragedy's after-party plate.
His reviewers stayed silent on his late-night performance,
& the smoke from burning feathers warded off his ghosts.
As if the bottom of a kid's cordial-filled tippy cup
Had been upended, the cane toad's eyes brimmed
With red, as if something sticky had spilled on the
Inside of its lids. His daughter caught & paraded it
Around the yard like some hideous frog prince, its
Pitted eyebrows ridged in concern, its mind closed
Behind the pillbox of its head. Sensing the failure
Of its armoured hulk, it sweated out its poisonous
Liquid paper & so shelved its early release. She
Squeezed it like a familiar pet, leashed it to fate.
In the end, it inflated like a flabby wrestler, or
A barrage balloon tethered to death. The steel
Cords of its fingers curled like witches' toes in
Defeat, as she nursed it gently into its final state.