My nieces and nephews are chasing me up the wall.
In my mother’s house they are mustered
year by year, just as I was: A.J.C. 30/8/63
(five foot two) pencil brands in paint.
Heels tight against the floor ankles strained
careless as shanghais they aim themselves up
quiver as their grandmother
flattens curly heads with the carving knife
& pins them like chrysalises to the wall.
(1963. My two brothers straight as arrows
shoot past me, threatening the ceiling where possums
and cobwebs hide the bullseye. Our first year
in this house. I had done all my growing.
I had left it climbing with small sharp feet in the houses
which came before. My brothers with their eyes on the sky
stuck their fingers to skin-thin balsa, floated model
aeroplanes over their beds and over the paddock
of palely shooting carnation-leaved stock feed;
talked of piloting jets, Mathematics permitting.
I began to look horizontally as far
as America in full colour copies of Life:
John F. Kennedy with a fatal, choirboy grin.)
1981. Up the wall now delicate as insects
my nieces and nephews leave their marks.
Somewhere in the flat distance, patterns of houses
like nomads’ tents – at the heart of each
one single pole a ladder
of wounded paint. In the steamy dust
the deserts we planned to cross wait still.
Memories, slick mirages, blind us. Here all our lives
settle back to this: on a wall, marks
of moths’ feet, reaching for the sky.
(from Verandahs 1990)